Travel Notes and Lessons

The following are some lessons learned and lessons remembered as well as general travel notes inspired by my 2019 trip to Ireland.  The following notes are organized by topic. I offer no guarantees, these are just my opinions and I suspect that some will have other opinions and will publish their opinions on their own blog.

TOPIC: Currency, Credit Cards and Related Topics

Since this particular topic discussion is verbose; I will give the short version which is always carry plenty of local currency and do not over stress worrying about exchange rates and always carry a good credit card and an ATM card.

In preparing for this trip I would occasionally see discussions about currency exchanges and getting the best rates. What I found in general that is there is no general rule that is absolutely perfect. I usually try to avoid changing money at an airport since typically an airport does not have as many competing firms where as in the center of a city like Dublin there are a wider variety of exchanges often relatively close. I arrived in Dublin with Euros in my pocket which I had kept from from trip to Paris a few years previously. This allowed me to quickly buy a bus ticket into Dublin where I went to my hotel, checked in and then went to exchange a larger amount. I suggest always changing in large amounts of $100; doing $20 or $40 just is a waste of time. Also your time in a country is limited and there are more interesting and valuable things to do than waste thirty minutes of time and six Euros in taxi fees to get a five Euro better exchange rate.

My practice is to carry plenty of US Dollars in case I need to change unexpectedly as well as a card for doing cash withdrawals from an ATM. There are more ATM locations than currency exchanges so plan to use an ATM at least once in your trip and probably when you do not expect it.

I was fortunate to have the Capital One Venture card with Contactless technology which meant that as long as a shop's sales terminal supported Contactless then there was no need to do the signature step. And almost all stores in Ireland had terminals which support Contactless. Note that the staff at a store tended to look at the front of the card for the Contactless symbol while on my card it was on the reverse. Also they were not used to people from the USA having Contactless cards so I would proactively hold up my card and say "Just need to tap this" and depending on the location of the terminal either the cashier or I would do the tap and the transaction would proceed. I found no person there using the term "Contactless" everyone used the term "Tap" and  even though it technically does not require touching the card to the terminal almost everyone does touch the card to the terminal rather than try to find the distance where the transaction went through.

One value of using the Capital One Venture card for many of my purchases such as museum or event admission fees and meals is that when I got home I had a record. If I asked myself what was the name of that nice little cafe where I had lunch on a particular day I could get the info from the transaction history online from the Credit Card website.

In the four weeks of this Ireland trip I used my Capital One Venture card about 110 times on everything from snacks to lodging. Just do the transaction in Euros and let Capital One do the conversion.

A final item that many do not consider but which I recommend is using the Starbucks mobile app payment system. Yes I know there is better coffee than Starbucks but that is a discussion for a different time and a different venue. I have used the Starbucks app many times in the USA and when in Dublin I needed a bit of energy so I walked into a Starbucks where I got a double espresso and a croissant. The cashier scanned the Starbucks app on my phone and international tech worked perfectly. Of course the Starbucks store reader needs to be working, a few days later I went into a Starbucks with a broken system and they were waiting for repairs. But in general having the Starbucks app with at least 25 dollars credit on it is a good idea. At this point someone is saying that this is giving Starbucks an interest free loan of 25 dollars. To which I reply well obviously and so what, the convenience factor in my value system far out weighs any trivial amount of lost interest.

Which leads me to the final point; always carry the local currency with you. In addition I always had an emergency twenty Euro note with me but stashed away from the rest of the currency as a "just in case" something happens like being mugged or pickpocketed or loosing the wallet, fortunately none of those happened to me and I never needed to use the emergency twenty euro note. In Dublin twenty Euro will typically get you a taxi back to your hotel.


I used taxis in Dublin about three or four times and a couple of times in Belfast and twice in Kilkenny and one in Limerick. What I found was the cost was lower that I expected however with one exception taxis were cash only. The exception was Dublin. When I first got to Dublin I saw reference to an app FreeNow which one installed on their smartphone and added a credit card then used the app to pay for a taxi which was part of the FreeNow system or to both summon and pay for such a taxi. I tried it and it worked sometimes and sometime it just would not work. In one case I got a taxi from a taxi queue and during the trip asked the driver about using FreeNow to pay and the reply was sure. When we arrived at the destination I brought up the app on my phone and the taxi driver did like wise and both were connected to the service however each time the driver tried to do the charge the back end glitched. Fortunately I had currency so I paid currency. Just as I was leaving Ireland got an update the app notice that a new version was out.

What I found out near the end of my trip is that Uber is operating in Dublin however not with independent drivers but only with regular taxis. So the last time I needed a taxi I got out my phone and fired up the Uber app and did all of the steps just like I normally do. It connected with a taxi and give me information about the vehicle and the name of the driver just as usual and I saw the little automation as the taxi got closer. The driver got me to where I was going and the Uber app did the charge to my credit card just like it always does.

I have been told that Lyft might be trying to get a foot hold in some parts of Ireland however this is not something I bumped into so I do not have info on that.

TOPIC: What to see and do

The most important this to remember is seeing everything is not realistic expectation. There will be either a lack of time or lack of funds or logistical problems getting to a location. Or the "if I had only heard about it when I was still there" lament heard when someone hears about some fantastic thing as their bus, train or plain is taking them to their next destination. If one expects one of the above to occur then when it does occur it will not be such a shock.

One approach is to have a list of items for each local longer than time, funds and logistics permit. Thus it is easy to go to the next one on the list and not fret. Good websites provide reasonable evaluations. I have used and booked through TripAdvisor and Viator for various tours and events and have found them both to be accurate in the description of the tour or event. Certainly there are others just be careful to check them. For example I used GetYourGuide in Dublin for the first time and all was as advertised.

I suggest stopping in the local tourist office and looking around at what is advertised, many of the items might not be to your taste but typically they have some good information. For example in Limerick that is how I found out about The People's Museum of Limerick which had just opened was not prominent in search engines and is too small for Viator or TripAdvisor.

And be aware of individual interests, just because several people like Cathedrals does not mean that they are a must see. Personally I am not much interested in Cathedrals, Synagogues, Mosques, etc unless there is some very important architectural feature. Some people like to visit the graves of important persons; others like to visit their birth places. So decide what interests you and if with a group realize that you might be in the minority.

TOPIC: Communications (T-MOBILE)

This short discussion about communications is only focused on T-Mobile because of the different practices of the various providers.  I am a T-Mobile user so what I describe is T-Mobile specific and plan specific.  As a T-Mobile user with a good plan I was able to  land in Dublin and if I let the phone auto connect to a cell service it did and I had voice and text.  So someone could call me at my usual mobile number and it just worked.  Or they could send me a text.  This is due to an arrangement T-Moblle has made and it is great.  Well almost great because the data part of T-Mobile was not included.  So what is required is go to the T-Mobile website and buy a supplementary data plan.  The one I bought was about 50 Euros and it was worth every Euro to have data for finding museums and checking restaurant reviews, etc. Someone might be saying but 50 Euro is a bit of money and my response is a person will more than recover the cost in terms of a better quality of trip and will very likely save almost that much in finding less expensive restaurant options.

TOPIC: Food and Eating

Almost every large hotel has the breakfast buffet which as the advantage of being able to serve many people relatively quickly. This is particularly important for large bus tour groups. August was tourist season and there were many of these tour groups. Typically there are two prices; cold buffet which is cereal, fruit, pastries, juice and coffee or the hot buffet as a higher price which includes the cold buffet as well as scrambled eggs, grilled tomatoes, potatoes, bacon and sometimes sausage. Some hotels included breakfast in the price of the room and some did not. I would sometimes do the hot buffet for breakfast and then do a light lunch.

I seldom eat at McDonald's in the USA however I will occasionally eat once at a McDonald's in another country for comparison. For example the best McDonald's meal I had outside the USA was in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; the worst was in Yokohama, Japan. London England and Paris France were sort of in the OK middle was was Australia. Of course I realize that single point samples are not valid for much however I find it interesting. In Waterford I got the Quarter Pounder with Cheese Meal (fries and Orange Juice) for 7.10 Euro. The burger was just barely OK but the fries were definitely below par so I would rank it in the lower tier along with Yokohama.

I found that Yelp reviews and Google reviews were usually very accurate in recommending places to eat. Overall the quality of the food in Ireland was very good and the service fine.

TOPIC: Head, hands and feet

In some parts of the world such as Ireland one will often encounter ancient stone steps, spiral stairs, low ceiling and door frames so here is a reminder:
1. Keep one hand always on the hand rail
2. Go slowly and carefully and watch where you put your feet.
3. Keep the other hand palm up and flat about two centimeters above your head.
4. When you reach a level area and there is no longer a hand rail and your hands feel wet avoid the often unconscious impulse to wipe your hands on your clothing. Your hands might just be wet or they might be covered with rust. Particularly in open air sites such as King John's castle in Limerick Ireland there any many bare iron hand rails and door fixtures. A little hand sanitizer and a facial tissue will take off the worst and later when a restroom is available a vigorous scrub with soap and water will take care of the rest. I strongly suggest always carrying a small packet of facial tissues at all times.

In some "Out in Nature" sites there was no wind protection so one should be very careful that one was not blown off one's feet. I was not blown over however during many sudden gusts I noticed that I and many around me were bending over with our hands on our knees in order to lower our center of mass as well as reduce the surface area for the wind to impact. Plus one had to be careful about stepping because some of the rocks were not stable as well as being slick. The trick was to always look ahead before one took a step to where one could reach out a hand to steady oneself on another higher rock nearby in case of a wind gust or a slick or unstable rock.

TOPIC: Multi-person All Gender Restrooms

These are not new to me since the are several "Unisex" or "All Gender" (the two terms are often used interchangeably) restrooms in the greater SF Bay area. I am mentioning this here because I expect they will become more common.  The one I encountered was identified with a sign outside the door saying that it was "unisex and for all" and also indicated there were gender segregated facility elsewhere.  In this facility my memory is there were about seven stalls with lockable floor to ceiling doors and an area with about four soap and water stations for hand washing and a baby changing station. I did not think much about using it however it seems that this was the first time that some had seen this based on what I heard on the day tour bus. The comment from one person on the tour was something like "We do not have anything like that in the state I come from. But I did give a try to see what it was like" and it appeared the commentor had no problems. One reason that I predict the "all gender" restrooms will become increasingly common is that it allows more efficient use of space for example in just needing space for one baby changing station instead of two.  Another reason is for venues which have events with varying uneven gender attendance there facility doe not need to create a facility which is underutilized a various times.

TOPIC: Hints on what to wear and what was useful

I joking told people that weather in Dublin for Worldcon in August was not that different from the weather in San Jose in January. Well it was a joke but with a bit of accuracy. There was wind and some precipitation on many days and the temperature did not get very high. I wore my black Scott T5 Travel Sport Coat and it worked incredibly well. In addition to the usual outer left and outer right pockets it has many inside zippered pockets for security as well as convenience. I found that I could carry all my Euro coins in the left front pocket and if I needed to pay a small about such as one Euro it was very easy to dip my left hand in to the pocket and bring up the coins and use my right hand to find the ones I needed. Yes I know that a skilled pickpocket could maybe reach their hand in the pocket and maybe I would not notice but at most I would loose maybe a few Euro which was trivial compared to the convenience of getting to the coins quickly.

I also had a monocular that I had years ago purchased for about $25 dollar on Amazon. The key thing about this monocular is that it has one hand hold and operation. Focus is done by a rocker on the top which you control with your pointer and middle fingers; the thumb and other fingers grip the unit. The one hand operation is really very handy. This is not precision optics but it is good enough for looking at architectural detail up on a building or a better view of birds on the water away from shore.

I will also mention Sea to Summit wallets. I have two; one I carry everyday at home and one which is only for travel. Thus when I arrived in Dublin I just needed to switch wallets since I already Euros in my travel wallet. And the Sea to Summit wallets are RFID shielded which is important. They are not cheap but I think are well worth the price. A hint, if you buy them on Amazon make sure you are getting the size you want since when I bought mine the Amazon listed three sizes on the same page and it was important to click based on size not on color. The smallest size is what I use. Also if you get the Fisher brand Telescoping Space Pen it will just fit in the zipped coin section of the wallet so you will always have a writing instrument with you and it writes at any angle. The price for on Amazon for a genuine Fisher Telescoping Space Pen is about $30 but in my estimation is worth it.

I hope these comments have been helpful.


Ideology And Tribes

For over a year I have been thinking about writing a blog post concerning ideology.  I made some preliminary notes but none seemed sufficient to convey the my ideas; partially I suspect because I was still developing and expanding those ideas.

It was the something which popped up on one of my social media feeds that prompted me to make this post.  The piece titled "I left the Republican ideological bubble. I don’t want to join another." can be found at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2018/12/03/i-left-republican-ideological-bubble-i-dont-want-join-another/ the author is Max Boot.  I am not a Republican however the points that Max Boot makes are not Republican specific.

One way to avoid getting into an ideological bubble is to be aware of the areas where one's own ideology is incomplete, lacking in explanatory ability or simple not accurate.  And the same goes for one's tribe.  And let us acknowledge that the term tribe as used here is not precise however it does serve the purpose of designating for any individual the persons and organizations which tend to have similar values and positions and typically are what the individual might call "my  people" or where a person might feel at home ideologically.  Yet I submit that it is with those that one feels most close to ideologically where one might start a critical review. And note this is not about personality but about ideas.

So as we reflect on the year almost concluded and look forward to the year about to begin it might be worthwhile to examine our own ideological bubbles.


Tools and Resources For Critical Thinking

This is blog post will contain some pointers to tools and resources related to Critical Thinking, Rationality, Skepticism and related topics.

I might add additional items in the future and it is possible that I might add some commentary but for now this is a place I can document some resources and then point interested persons easily.

Of course I do not agree with every item listed in this post; just because I list a resource does not mean that it is correct in every respect.  This blog is not even correct in every respect and I am the author.

is an introduction to Pan Critical Rationalism from a rather unique point of view.

The Stanford Encyclopedia entry on Popper

It is worth reading the following Wikipedia entries

    Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality fanfic by Eliezer Yudkowsky

    There is also an audio version available.  This is an often recommended work.

Blogs about improved thinking.

Center For Applied Rationality

Rationally Speaking Podcast is really good


Rapoport's Rules of Criticism as summarized by Daniel Dennett

There is a site with Logical Fallacy and Cognitive Bias Posters for purchase or download


Notes On Discussing Religion And Terrorism

I have had some of these thoughts in mind for months however it was a social media post with its limitations for discourse that has prompted me create this blog post.  The general thrust of the prompting post was about Islam and terrorism. I suspect that most have heard some variant such as either hinting implicitly or stating explicitly that Islam is somehow inextricably linked with terrorism. I am not going to quote or link to the exact prompting phrase because I want this essay to be more broad than just a simple reply to a Facebook comment.

It seems to me that when attributing an attribute or action as being necessarily part of some religion one runs up against several problems.  Such as who is the authority on the features of the religion. Is the authority comprised of the scholars of the religion who are inside the religion? If so which subgroup? For example in Islam is the authority the Shia or the Sunni or others?  And consider the example of Christianity; is the authority the Protestant, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Mormon or others? Is the authority comprised of the scholars of the religion who are outside the religion? Even looking in at a religion from the outside as a non-member the characteristics that the scholar considers as essential might vary depending on the background of the scholar such as historian, sociologist or philosopher.

And the question is further complicated by the question of what sources does one use to determine what is necessarily part of a religion; does one base the conclusions on the behavior of persons who claim to be adherents of the religion or on the texts held sacred by the religion?  But this raises a new set of questions such as if there are two or more groups each claiming to be the true adherents of some religion work and that the others are at best well meaning although confused or at worst are heretics and apostates.  Not an easy problem to solve. And if one tries to analyze a religion based on texts then one runs into the problem of which texts, which versions, which translations, etc.  Not to mention that religious texts typically are full of allegory, fables, metaphors and literary allusions; not to mention the obvious inaccuracies, contradictions and what might appear to some being as simple nonsense.

Now certainly I am not saying that distinctions are impossible; only that they are more difficult than we often realize.  And in particular I suggest caution when either embracing distinctions which reinforce out pre-existing opinions or rejecting distinctions which are counter to our pre-existing opinions.

And this is not just idle speculation. Christianity is sometimes called a peaceful religion but tell that to the people of Béziers.  And remember those that suffered in the religious wars in Europe just a few centuries ago.  Also let us not forget the troubles in Northern Ireland.  Even in this supposedly modern era one finds persons around the world claiming to be Christian and engaging in what are generally considered terrorists attacks. So is Christianity a religion of peace or a religion of violence and terror?  How does one the one hand balance the quiet Quaker couple working at a soup kitchen feeding the poor against the phrase "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword."

So is there any major religion that has have the problems I mentioned above?  Maybe the Jain. Perhaps others but I think focusing on the religion misses the larger question.  At the risk of some over simplification I will pose the question as:  is it outside the bounds of ethical and moral behavior to harm, kill, assault or otherwise terrorize someone because that person holds different beliefs on religion?  Some people say No and some say Yes.  This is I suggest the crucial point; that once a persons adopt the position that others can live with their beliefs whatever those believes might be then that is what is critical.  If everyone took the position of religious tolerance then that universal religious tolerance would not necessarily lead to the end of violence and terrorism because there are other causes than just religion.  However sometimes a person's experience might make it difficult to understand that there is more to a religion that what their immediate experience.  For example consider those persons who lands were confiscated and who were forced to work building missions for the Spanish conquerors; it might seem that the religion of the Roman Catholic Church was one that was inherently violent and terrorist.

And as a purely practical matter I suggest that attempting to characterize an entire religion as inherently violent or terrorist is probably counter-productive.  Consider that humans tend to have much of their sense of self identity bound up in group identities such as Muslim, Christian, American, Egyptian, Republican, 49er Faithful or Raider Nation and so forth.  Of these religion is one of the strongest so let us consider a religion which has two groups of persons who claim that their group and only their group are the true adherents.  The first group is comprised of those who take the position that violence against non-believers or heretics is not a part of the religion.  The second group is comprised of those who take the position that violence is justified against non-believers or heretics is a necessary part of the religion.  As an outsider do you really want to be supporting the position of the second group?  In most cases probably not.  Actually I suggest that in most cases the best thing the outsider can do is shut up about internal theological disputes and instead just take a pro-peace stance without criticizing or praising the religion one way or the other.  If the persons in the second group start adopting the position of persons in the first group then so much the better.  And likely there will be those still in the second group saying they have the only true version of the religion and that those in the first group need to get into the second group to be truly part of the religion.  A person on the outside may not like the religion at all and thinks that for both groups abandoning the religion would be best. However for this person on the outside I suggest do not become a megaphone for a position that is the worst of the two possibilities just because it is not the best that you can imagine.

I realize the previous paragraph has been a bit convoluted so let me give a historical example; evolution.  Christians had a split which can be roughly categorized as compatiblist and non-compatiblist.  The compatiblist position is basically that accepting evolution does not mean one must reject Christianity.  The non-compatiblist position is basically that evolution is not compatible with Christianity. Of course there are variations and nuances which would take a book to cover but for sake of this discussion consider just these two positions which are theological and not scientific  Now imagine someone on the outside of Christianity who wants people to accept evolution so that school biology textbooks are scientifically accurate since the textbook standards are set in their jurisdiction by an elected board. I think the best course of action for this concerned person is not take a theological position which says that Christianity and evolution are not compatible therefore persons must give up Christianity because Christianity is false because it does not accept evolution.  Given human nature I suspect that it not be very successful and for those persons who are inside Christianity who are compatiablist and who also want good science textbooks it would likely be a hindrance.

So what to do?  In this example I think the better action is to promote accurate science and to be quiet about theology.  My general advice is be a megaphone for science and not a megaphone for a theological position which at best you might not fully understand or at worst is opposed to what you claim to desire.

But what about terrorism?  My suggestion is to promote peace, liberty, benevolence and the other similar humanist virtues and be quiet about theology.  Avoid taking a position that pushes people who want to maintain their group identify into the arms of those who advocate violence as necessary for being a member of that group.

At this point there is probably at least one person ready to claim that I am coddling terrorism or that I am a naive fool or a pacifist; the short answer is that I am not a pacifist, I am not coddling terrorism and that I am working on reducing the amount of error and foolishness in my opinions just like I hope we are all.  What I am saying is that there is a way to oppose terrorism which makes sense to me and which I suggest using.  And I feel that there is a way which I consider counter-productive and this is what I suggest avoiding. And for the person who wants to claim that I am some sort of cultural relativist who thinks all cultures are equal; the short answer is no I am not.  And someone else probably has fingers over the keys right now wanting to ask if I have abandoned self-defense or the defense of others who are innocent?  Again the answer is no; what I am saying is that a good first principle of defense is do not weaken your own position while strengthening your attacker.

Now some might ask what about saying Buddhism is a religion of peace, Islam is a religion of peace or something similar.  My first response would be politely to ask about your qualifications to be making theological statements about some religion, for example list the texts of the religion with which you are familiar.  My second response might be to want to know why the statement is being made.  Making the statement could conceivably be an informed analysis; or it could be make in order to signal that one is hoping that all adherents of the religion in question will behave peacefully; or is it that one wants to signal their disagreement which those who are bashing the religion.  My suggestion is to avoid theological disputes unless one is well versed the appropriate theological tradition.  Persons who persist on making theological statements about religions in which they are not well versed might find themselves viewed in the same manner as the flat earth advocate who is attempting to lecture a gathering of geologists on the structure of the earth.  And just another note of caution; let us avoid confusing statements of wishful thinking with clear and concise analysis.

Thus I advocate peace, liberty, benevolence and the other humanist virtues as the best first step.


Thoughts on the 2016 POTUS Election

After a few failed starts over the past weeks I am finally documenting some of my thoughts on the 2016 POTUS election.

I am going to comment on the four Presidential Candidates who are on enough state ballots to win in the Electoral College.

Donald Trump by his statements on policy issues has demonstrated a profound lack of basic understanding about many areas including as far as I can tell not even having a good comprehension of some aspects of the Constitution of the United States.  I will mention immigration as one example where I think Trump is deeply misguided; the other examples have been well documented.   I am very concerned about the way Trump discusses women and minorities.

Jill Stein might think she is on the side of what is generally termed 'working class' but looking at her policy positions on issues related to the economy and minimum wage I do not agree with her proposals.  I think she has an inadequate grasp of basic economics and does not realize the harm that can be done by the policies she advocates.

Hillary Clinton at least has a basic grasp of the state of the world and does not have totally delusional views.  Some of my concerns about Clinton are that she does not acknowledge the continuing damage done by the War on Drugs and she still does not appear to understand the problems caused by the USA engaging in military and covert adventurism around the world.  And as some have pointed out her relationship with some Wall Street firms might be a cause for concern.

Gary Johnson has executive experience as the two term governor of New Mexico which is a plus. And Johnson seems to understand the harm done by the War on Drugs and has pointed our the problems with actions such as the Iraq invasion. However I have been disappointed with the Johnson campaign.  Johnson is not perfect but I find him more palatable than the other three.

I could continue with many more pages but just writing the above has been depressing enough.


Thoughts about Twitter, MLK and lessons

Every few years I re-read the "Letter From A Birmingham Jail" by Dr. King and today I read it again. It is one of those pieces of writing that are worth revisiting periodically and I do recommend those who have never read to take time to read it. I suspect that nobody will agree with it totally. The value of the piece is not so much in the answers but in the questions that it raises as we reflect on the context.

Twitter, like most of the more popular Social Media platforms, can be a useful tool or a great time sink. For me the value derives in following people on Twitter who either tweet useful comments or point to useful information or both. Jesse Walker @notjessewalker is one who often does both. Today in a tweet
Jesse pointed to a specific instance of someone attempting to use MLK to justify a position that one would not expect MLK would support. Jesse referenced the article he wrote in Reason about this:
In the article Jesse Walker describes a particularly egregious example of someone attempting to use a historical figure such as MLK, Lincoln or JFK very much out of character to support a position instead of sound and coherent reasoning. My experience has been that usually the more an argument relies on appeals to historical figures the weaker the argument.

Near the end of the article Jesse Walker quotes from King's Nobel Prize speech and one of sentences that I had forgotten grabbed my attention. The sentence that struck me was: "A so-called limited war will leave little more than a calamitous legacy of human suffering, political turmoil, and spiritual disillusionment." That sentence is from the Viet Nam War era; yet I wonder how things might be different today if Bush and Cheney had spent more time in serious contemplation of the sentence from Dr. King and less time being deceptive, foolish and mendacious in arguing for an invasion of Iraq.

The military involvement into Viet Nam was a terrible catastrophe. Decades later the military invasion of Iraq was a terrible catastrophe. When will people start to learn the lessons?


Reflections On The Horrific Events In Paris

Friday evening on my way home from work I heard about the horrific events that had occurred in Paris.  I began to think about writing this blog post as I continued toward home and then later after arriving home.  I wrote the majority of this post Friday evening but decided to wait until Saturday morning to see if sleeping on it would lead to significant changes.  And after some reflection this (Saturday) morning I realized that my post had a flaw.  But I am going to make this post with the flaw and then at the end add a short discussion of what I considered the flaw.

I expect that much ink will be used and many electrons excited about the horrific events in Paris being the responsibility of either religion in general or one religion in particular.  But I think this misses a crucial point.  In my opinion there is something even more basic.

The more I reflect on our world today the more I see there is a decision that each person needs to make.  Under what conditions will you take direct action to kill, kidnap or otherwise seriously harm another person?  This action could be by bomb, gunshot, knife, bare hands or many other methods.  The question is what situation would prompt you to take action?  And to be clear the question of harm coming to someone due to inaction is being left for another discussion.  So your ideology says that your particular set of beliefs about the transcendent are the most important thing in the entire universe; would you attack your neighbor who does not share that belief and chooses to live their life differently?

Just as not all persons professing to be Muslim advocate the killings in Paris so also not all Catholics sanctioned the mass slaughter at Béziers in 1209.  But what does the events of Beziers in 1209 have in common with the events of Paris in 2015?  What they have in common is that the persons involved took the position that there were ideas about which there was no personal choice; there was only obedience or be subject to attack.  In the thirteen century the murderers at Beziers and other perpetrators of the crimes of the Inquisition appeared to hold the position that it was better to kill than allow persons to choose their own theological positions.  And today there are still persons who will kill rather than allow others to choose how to live or which religion to follow.

But it goes beyond religion. If we consider the last half of the twentieth century we have a clear example in the Cultural Revolution of Mao Zedong which lead to millions suffering death, imprisonment, beatings and other assaults.  For example a scholar could not choose to continue studies nor a small shop keeper continue their selling but rather they were forced to the country to labor or into re-education camps; they were no longer free to engage in the basic choices of living.

The commonality between ISIS, Maoism and similar movements is that followers of these movements will kill people rather that allow persons to be free to choose.

Now I will address what I consider a flaw in the above.  The flaw is in considering the events in Paris as primarily a religious matter.  Based on early reports the attacks were prompted in large part by anger over the French involvement in the anti-ISIS military campaign.  If one looks at attacks in the USA and Europe many have been against countries that have been involved militarily in predominately Muslim countries; UK, Spain, USA, France.  If it was only a religious matter why do we not see these attacks in Brazil which has the largest Catholic population in the world?  If it is only a matter of Islamic fundamentalists lashing out against what is commonly referred to as  Enlightenment then why are the large scale attacks primarily in UK, Spain, USA, France and not other countries which have at least in large part embraced most of the Enlightenment?  Of course this is not an absolutely perfect categorization; for example consider the 2004 murder of Theo van Gogh in Netherlands. [Update this example to include the Charlie Hebdo attacks which did occur in Paris].  But as a general trend the large scale attacks tend to be in countries with military involvement in the Middle East.  If those who are carrying out the attacks are combining a feeling of self-defense with a fundamentalist religious ideology then an analysis which focuses on just on religion is going to be incomplete.  I do not have a full insight into all of this but I very concerned that some people are focusing on just one aspect of the situation and ignoring the larger picture.