Saturday, May 24, 2014

War Tax Resistance Today

Originally published on on August 10, 2011.

This is the second post in a series (possible a two part series, but we'll see) on war tax resistance.  People refuse to pay taxes for a variety of reasons.  I'm pretty sure that the most common one is that they would rather keep the money for themselves.  Some self-styled "patriots" believe that if you study the law really hard you will realize that there is no legal obligation to pay.  This series is not about them.  Rather it is about people engaging in principled civil disobedience.  This is also the first guest post that I have had since I started on Forbes.  The author is Ed Agro.  We "met" when he commented on my piece about activist Tom Cahill.

WTR 101: What I've Learned about War Tax Refusal

I guess mine was one of the comments that prompted Peter to start this series on war tax resistance, as he's offered me this chance to speak up for it. "WTR" is generally taken to mean resistance, refusal, and redirection taken all together, with different resisters feeling at different times more comfortable with one or another of the three.

Resistance implies to me courage and daring, traits in short supply in the present timid state of our civic life. My current tax delinquency has nothing of courage or daring about it, nor am I contributing my refused taxes to one of our alternative funds, so these days I leave the more heroic and work-intensive meanings of that R aside, and simply call what I do war tax refusal.

I don't know how well my own experience and understanding of WTR reflects the general opinion in the community of resisters, a very diverse lot.

Though I began refusing to pay war taxes some 44 years ago, I've not been the most consistent or public refuser. But it's remained part of my civic life since then. And I've been following the WTR efforts in Eastern Massachusetts lo these too-many years, and so maybe if our discussion develops I can say something of how things have worked out in what we once did with reason call our "resistance community."

My conception of WTR falls somewhere between that of the anarcho-pacifist and anarcho-libertarian wings of the community of refusers, much to the disgust of both. On one hand I think that some wars need to be supported (though what "supported" means would require another essay); on the other hand my own individuality, anarchic as it is, isn't particularly offended by the notion that a nation of 300,000,000 people requires some rules and regulations in order to get anything done, or that I have to chip in via my taxes to help pay for the work. So my war tax refusal has been one of ifs, buts, and the character of the particular war of the moment. This existential uncertainty is important to my sense of how the world is structured, but it's also been of some tactical use; it's led to some illuminating conversations with various officials who on occasion have tried to disabuse me of my contradictory attitudes, meanwhile forgetting that they had approached me in the first place to disabuse me of the refusal. If such an uncertain person as myself can struggle against war and militarism by way of war tax refusal, then anyone can.

The actual practice of war tax refusal depends critically on an individual's circumstances and temperament; over the long haul it also depends on the arc of that person's life. There's no one recipe, no one outcome. Thus makes making a "movement" of WTR difficult. I'd intended here to present a particular and overall happy case, my own. I successfully "kept money from the war machine" at a time when it was easier to do than in the present computerized milieu. Yet at that time the risk of jail was I think greater than it is now. It's so much easier now for the IRS to seize arrears that they don't have to bother locking anyone away for merely refusing to pay up. (I suppose the case is different for those who advocate WTR, or cajole people into it under false pretenses, or launder their refusals, etc. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.)

I'm also reluctant to present myself as an exemplar since my refusal these days is as miniscule as my life is frugal; my story could rightly be dismissed by those still in the work force. Still, it's important to me to keep on and to share what I've learned along the way.

In thinking over all this, it occurs to me that the first order of business is to pin down exactly what WTR is and is not. So I start with that.

I have to agree with Peter that the usual conscientious grounds for war tax refusal brought before tax courts have no technical merit - no sort of "conscientious exemption" will follow from our attempts to change the tax code. We need not get bent out of shape by the courts' use of "frivolous" - it's a technical term, folks; it doesn't necessarily mean that the people in the court necessarily consider us to be loopy butterflies. Indeed, I've found that some of them don't and we may as well not waste our time on the terminology. In  the 1970s and '80s the members of our Boston group (New England War Tax Resistance, a name that our confreres in the Pioneer Valley rightly thought overweening - but when we formed we didn't know of them) brought two such cases, well attended - and one where we forgot to show up - and the court came to the same conclusion. Despite this legal outcome, which has been repeated many times over the years in cases brought elsewhere in the country by war tax refusers as well as by those whose conscience impels them in other directions, I still applaud those war resisters who have the stomach for such an exercise. I hope the reason for supporting such apparently fruitless effort will be clear from what follows.

So the question is, If war tax refusal isn't leading to a change in the law, why persist in it? Much of the answer lies in a by-now hoary analogy.

Slavery was once part of American law; people - in Massachusetts no less - whom we now consider to have been self-deluded, of little imagination, or craven returned escapees to slavery, all in the name of the law. Meanwhile, the abolitionists running the underground railroad were excoriated for their unlawful behavior. I suppose the Civil War ended slavery - there might've been a better way, I don't know - but it didn't end what we might call the "preferential option" of a  part of the population for keeping others in as close to slavery as possible, and a larger part from going along with it. Yet nowadays no one in America apart from the usual lunatics would prefer to reinstitute slavery; that option has become unthinkable.

And I like to believe, if one of the aforementioned lunatics were discovered to be keeping slaves, most of my neighbors would leap up in opposition without worrying overmuch about their reputation or the wealth or power of the slaver. This change in what we expect our civic life to look like and what we consider our duties as citizens to be has come about through the eccentric, sometimes quixotic refusal to obey laws that offended reason as well as conscience. As regards slavery it didn't come about in a moment, it took many years, well into the 20th century in fact.

A similar preferential option against militarism as the jobs program of our government and mindless, ill-considered wars as our national purpose, has already been as long in coming and will take longer yet to finally settle in our civic consciousness. To my mind the struggle absolutely requires that everyone whose opinion is that we're living in an overmilitarized & overaggressive nation quit jawing about it and attack the problem where it touches them, even where the received wisdom is that that touch is insignificant, or symbolic, or just too much bother. I know that money is fungible and that for all we know the taxes we personally refuse to hand over may well have gone to good ends rather than bad; I know that WTR can be, and in my case has been, a source of endless contradiction. I guess that in regard to how our taxes are used and whether we should allow them to be used for what we consider in all conscience to be bad ends we could do worse than go back to cranky old Thoreau, quit worrying about our neighbors' or our judges' opinions, and instead put our citizenship to good use by acting out of our best impulses. This is the main point, the main impulse to WTR. If it's kept in mind all the other more immediate issues, even the hard ones, become a lot simpler to handle.

As I've tried to make clear, the above is an idiosyncratic take on the WTR community and movement. Those wishing to know what the organized community is like can best start at, the website of the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee. By roaming through the site you'll find their useful  newsletter, and there are lots of other resources. Some of the various approaches to WTR can be gotten by going to the biographies in the Resources > Speakers Bureau section.

 If you go to the NWTRCC site, you may have to scroll down to see the content you are looking for.  I don't know if its my browser or the site, but I had trouble seeing anything when I first went there.

About The Author By Himself

When I left home in 1956 with the idea of becoming a physicist, I found MIT and Boston to be alive in all directions, and I bopped around from academic department to department, trying to reconcile my love of science with a growing appreciation of other modes of knowledge; I think I spent as much time hanging out in MIT's Architecture Department studios and the Museum School as in the Physics labs. As I was sorting myself out came the 1960s, and not only the American invasion of Vietnam but also a perception that big science was being sold out to the powerful and that instead of learning I was being trained drew most of my energies away from science and into everything else. While I eventually got my bachelor's, took a few grad courses, and worked in experimental physics for while, most of my time was spent in antiwar organizing and - as soon as I got paying work - in WTR.

Even later when family obligations led me to my longest job, as a science editor at the MIT Press, my main enthusiasm, done after hours and gratis, was in using my skills to help out projects having a chance of bringing about social change. I don't think there was a humanitarian impulse at work here as much as a perception that subtle questions were crying to be addressed. I retired from MIT early with the idea of changing course, but that didn't quite work out, and I now spend my time thinking about why & how some social change seems to work and some doesn't.

This sounds awfully dour and busybodyish. It's really not, and the busybody part is saved by laziness. All in all, I'm satisfied.

 Thanks for your contribution Ed.

419 Reasons to Like Nigeria and Nigerians - Finale - Chika Uwazie

This was originally published on on September 5, 2011 

The Tax Connection

There is a lot of wisdom in the body of original source tax material.  I dredged up a case from 1952, when I was just born and dinosaurs roamed the earth, to show that so-called Nigerian 419 scams were ancient even then, being a variation on a scam known as the "Spanish Prisoner".  That led to several pieces.  The whole thing as it relates to this blog is summarized here.  For the final piece I have invited Chika Uwazie, who did a  video response to Fraud Has No Nationality.  I came up with 150,000 reasons to like Nigeria without even counting Chika, but she should be on my list too.   I think Dr. Muncie, who was the victim of what would have been called the Mexican 386 Fraud, if the internet service in Mexico had been better in 1947 and the scammers hadn't had to use snail-mail, has done enough.  I'm supposed to be blogging about taxes for Forbes so I am moving further discussion of the good name of Nigeria to my bizzarro blog.

Enough about me.  Here is what Ms. Uwazie has to say:

I am Nigerian

When someone mentions Nigeria, what words automatically pop into mind? As a Nigerian, it is frustrating that when I Google search “Nigeria and money” Google instant graciously completes my search terms with “laundering” before i can type the letter “m”. Apparently, it is not uncommon to see the word “Nigerian” associated with the words “corruption”, “scandal”, or “scam”. These associations between these practices and Nigerians are at best and completely unrepresentative of the true nature of Nigerians. Today, I want these words to become but fleeting thoughts as I reveal the unadulterated truth about the Nigerian people. 

We are represented in all facets of life. How can we forget people like Fela, who used art and music to tastefully fight for Nigerian rights? Then there is  Chimamanda Adichie a young talented writer that paints the true beauty of Nigeria through her pen. We have savvy business men such as the likes of Adebayo Ogunlesi who bought one of the busiest airpots, the London Gatwick airport. Our ingenuity has  turned simple home videos into the thriving industry known as Nollywood. Nollywood has captured the hearts of viewers all over the world and is now worth an estimated 250 million dollars. It  has joined the ranks of Hollywood and its films have become some of the most distributed in the world. These instances are only snippets of the creativity and innovation produced in my country, Nigeria. 

Despite an uncertain economy, corrupt political leaders, and high prevalence of poverty, Nigeria is the home of a generally content population. According to a gallup poll among 53 countries, Nigeria rated 70 points for optimism. The hope that instilled in us for a better tomorrow pushes us to get through today. We work hard to get more out of life. No matter where you are from or where you may rank in the societal ladder, we all share the same mindset. We envision ourselves at the top, and the work we do for to improve ourselves every day in our developing nation inches each of us that most closer to the peak of our individual potentials. Recently, as I was driving through the crowded streets of Victoria Island, I encountered a young man selling magazines. As I declined his offer, I observed his tattered disposition in the heat of the Lagos sun as he moved to the next patron. Many would look at his poverty with sadness, but I was uplifted by his entrepreneurial spirit in a land where there is a dearth of opportunities. I was practically in the midst of an entrepreneurial convention. On the streets of Lagos, there are people selling everything from food, to magazines, even watches. In the markets at Yaba you will witness hundreds of women with barely with a sewing machine ready to cater to your tailoring needs. In Ikeja, we even have our own Silicon Valley called Computer village, where people are selling the latest software, computer gadgets or IT needs. Did you know that 67% of Nigerians have thought of starting a business and 45% of them have said to have started one? In a country of 154.7 million people, that is a lot of opportunities created for individual progress. 

 There is a certain type of energy that runs through the blood of a Nigerian that gives them ambition to persevere. Nigeria has it challenges, but what country doesn’t? We are some of the hardiest of individuals, and as our country continues to change by force or otherwise, we will adapt to it. When it comes to Nigeria, let us look past the few negatively biased stories and focus on the truth. We are a nation of people collectively moving forward, and I am proud to be one of them.

Friday, May 23, 2014

419 Reasons to Like Nigeria and Nigerians - Part 3- Cherish Your Diaspora

You'll have to go back into the previous posts if you want the connection that this has to taxes fully explained.  It is a tax court decision from 1952 that sent me down this path. This is the final post in this series, unless I decide to do more.  Earlier in the series I proposed that people start making lists of 419 reasons to like Nigeria and Nigerians.  

Why 419 ? Well if you don't know you're not going to find out in this post.  As I noted in my last post, I don't know that I have anything worthwhile to offer beyond the original idea, assuming for the sake of argument that the original idea was worthwhile.   Regardless, I observed that there are, probably among other reasons, two reasons that Americans form an affection for other lands and their peoples - neighbors and American history.  I discussed neighbors in the last post and this one is dedicated to American history.  

I should mention here that I have two intellectual passions.  Title 26 of the United States Code and the history of the United States from 1830 - 1870.  Since I am a professional in the first and an amateur in the latter, I don't hold myself to exacting standards of scholarly citation.  Besides this is blogging not peer reviewed publication.  Go check out the William and Mary Quarterly or something like that if that's what you want.

Nation of Immigrants - Not Exactly

The large influx of immigrants into the United States commenced around 1830 and continued at an increasing pace until the early 20th century.  It's a complicated story.  Here are some numbers if you want that.  There are plenty more resources if you poke around.  The immigrants of course changed American culture in many ways, but I don't think it is fair to say that they transformed it.  If you read Democracy in America you see that many of the elements of American culture and governance were fully formed by then.  The Declaration of Independence was almost as old then, as I am now.  We still number our presidents in the same sequence.   Although if we were going to drop one number 7 who is on the 20 dollar bill wouldn't be a bad choice.

Three Major Groups in the Formation

The nation that the immigrants started coming to in droves in the mid-nineteenth century had been formed by the encounter between three major groups.  The indigenous peoples of North America, the descendentsof European settlers, predominantly English speaking Protestants, many of whom could trace their ancestors in America back over a century and descendants of Africans taken in captivity to America, most of whom were held in bondage.  The immigrants, not being idiots, figured out which group they wanted to be part of right off but the culture they were joining up with had been shaped by all three groups such that even the descendants of the Europeans were not European anymore.  That's another complicated story too big for blogging

What in the World Does That Have to do with Nigeria ?

For that I have to divert a little.  Several years ago I visited Antietam with my daughter.  Antietam is the site of the deadliest day in American history September 17, 1862.  It is a very important day because Abraham Lincoln had decided that he would only issue the Emancipation Proclamation after a victory.  The proclamation, by itself, did not free anybody, but after it went in effect on January 1, 1863 it meant that the men in blue suits brought freedom wherever they went.  One of the monuments at Antietam which I just had to see with my daughter was dedicated to the Irish Brigade.  The Irish Brigade is another long story.  Suffice it to say they were probably mostly famine refugees commanded by Thomas Francis Meagher, who barely missed being executed for his participation in an abortive uprising in Ireland.  One of the things that I noted was an acknowledgement of their courage by the Republic Ireland.  The men were soldiers in the  service of the United States of America on the bloodiest day in the country's history.  At the dedication ceremony one of the speakers said:

 "They showed by their record that they brought with them a true endowment of riches. They added a glorious new chapter to the history of the Irish soldier."

That was the Irish Ambassador to the United States, Sean O'Huiginn. This is not an isolated incident.  Here is what Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland has to say:

At my inauguration I spoke of the seventy million people worldwide who can claim Irish descent. I also committed my Presidency to cherishing them - even though at the time I was thinking of doing so in a purely symbolic way. Nevertheless the simple emblem of a light in the window, for me, and I hope for them, signifies the inextinguishable nature of our love and remembrance on this island those who leave it behind.

Over 100 years since the last of my immigrant ancestors came to America and the president of Ireland has the light on for me.  To put the seventy million in context, the current population of Ireland is just over six million roughly 75% in the Republic and the balance in Northern Ireland, part of the U.K.   Ireland had a population of about eight million in 1840.  From1845 to 1852, Ireland lost two million people, half to starvation and disease and half to emigration.  High rates of emigration afterwards prevented Ireland from ever recovering to its pre-Famine population.

My Favorite Civil War Monument

My favorite Civil War monument is not the one to the Irish Brigade at Antietam or the even more impressive one at Gettysburg.  It is in Boston.  It is called the Shaw monument in honor of Robert Gould Shaw colonel of the 54th Massachusetts.  As the inscription shows the monument is really in honor of the whole regiment. I first saw it when I was eighteen and coming at it from behind so I read the inscription before I saw the Augustus Saint-Gaudens sculpture:


The math isn't all that hard to do.  About 30% of the persons taken in captivity from Africa were from Nigeria.  That means 70% weren't.   The African people in America were pretty intermingled so you could infer that after a generation about 51% would be partially of Nigerian descent (1- (.7 x .7)).  Run that out 8 generations and you are well into the nineties.  So let's be conservative and say that 150,000 of the Americans of African descent who wore blue suits in the mid eighteen sixties were partially of Nigerian descent.   Now since the Americans of African descent were one of the three primary groups that created the United States, I could start naming names of other heroes, but I only promised you 419 and I'm already at 150,000 and I'm just a tax blogger and have other things I need to be writing about.

Some things I have read in other places lead me to believe I may have stepped into another controversy in which I don't really belong, so I should clarify that this is something of a personal idiosyncratic viewpoint t.   The men of the 54th Mass and the less well known but earlier formed First South Carolina Volunteers, who as mostly Gullah speakers from isolated areas were more distinctively African than their cousins recruited in the North, are American heroes.  They did not think of themselves as Nigerian and their descendants probably don't either.  And maybe Nigerians don't think of them as Nigerian.  But they are American heroes, which makes them my heroes.  And they are of Nigerian descent, so they make me like Nigeria.  As I said in a previous post, I am very ignorant about Nigeria.  Maybe Goodluck Jonathan keeps a light on for them in his house, but if he doesn't it might not be such a bad idea.  He could give Mary Robinson a call.

For more on the topic of the participation Americans of African descent in the Civil War check out the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

419 Reasons to Like Nigeria and Nigerians - Part 2 - Snooki is Not the Way

What the heck does this have to do with taxes ?

I find that original source tax material has relevance beyond taxation.  One of the things I look for in reading it is "matter for reflection".  In my last post  on this topic,I discussed the case that sent me down this path.  It is one of those situations where the wisdom of a tax court judge over 50 years ago sheds light on a current day problem.  The problems is that Nigeria, a nation of 150 million people, is being maligned for the actions of a relatively small number of people.  Now I know some dumb and gullible people, but I really don't think there are enough of them, with resources, to support an entire country by falling for stories of millions of dollars in a secret account somewhere that some stranger has picked you to be his partner in recovering.  

Furthermore, although I have no doubt there there must be people of great creativity in Nigeria, they were not required to create the scam.  It has been run by fraudsters for centuries and was once know as the "Spanish Prisoner" fraud.  That was the comment of the Tax Court judge on the case of a New York physician who had been taken to the cleaners by some Mexicans, who had to rely on snail-mail to run the scheme.  The decision which came down in 1952 is almost as old as I am.  I'm not knocking Mexicans here either.  

I actually have a certain guilty admiration for scammers particularly if they are creative.  It happens that probably the best one of all time was Portuguese.  Alves dos Reis convinced a British bank note company that he represented the Bank of Portugal and the company, which had the contract to print Portuguese escudos, printed money for him. Reis used the money to buy stock in the Bank of Portugal, which was the only authority that could prosecute a counterfeiter.  He got caught, but it is a great story.  Read the book, The Man Who Stole Portugal sometime.

The Project

Of the various response to my post Fraud Has No Nationality, the best was probably the video response by Chika Uwazie.  Ms. Uwazie suggested that what Nigeria needs is positive branding.  I couldn't agree more.  You will not break a negative stereotype by pointing out that it is the actions of a minority that is being projected on the whole group and that your group is not even the worst offender.  This may be true and accurate information, but repeating it can reinforce the stereotype since it maintains the association even though it is in the form of a denial. So my idea is for people to put lists on the internet of 419 reasons to like Nigeria and Nigerians and not even mention internet fraud.  That way when someone puts "Nigeria 419" in a search engine they will be swamped by positive images.

The Foolishness of Me Continuing

I am a very parochial person.  I only speak one language and live about 200 miles from where I grew up.  I have only taken one trip in my life that required a passport.  I have difficulty believing that there can be a part of the world with more natural beauty than New England or a city better than New York.  If I were a hobbit, there is no doubt that I would stay in the Shire.  My knowledge of Nigeria in particular and Africa in general is abysmal. 

 If you read the rest of this post and the next one and are upset that I haven't said anything useful, you have been warned.  Regardless, I have two ideas for positive branding as it relates to Americans, who are something of a parochial bunch.  The very name indicates it.  There are two continents.  North America and South America.  Part of one of them is the United States of America (I know there's more to it than that), but when we say Americans we mean the people of the United States of America, not Mexicans or Canadians, etc. It would be like Nigerians calling themselves Africans as if nobody else was.  It's the common usage, though, and I will continue it.

For What it is Worth

There are two main ways that I can think of (I'm sure that there are others) whereby Americans develop a fondness for other lands - not necessarily a desire to actually go there or anything, just a generalized good feeling about the land and its people.  The two that I have in mind are neighbors and history - American history.  History is what I will address in the next post, which will be the finale where I give my 419 reasons.  Neighbors is farily simple.  According to the infallible  source about 1,000,000 Nigerians have immigrated to the United States.  Americans will get to know Nigerians this way and some of them will develop the same fondness for Nigeria and Nigerians that a kid growing up in Fariview. NJ, regardless of his ancestry, would develop for Italy and Italians.  Three years of Saturdays helping Tony Genaro deliver Italian bread reinforced it, but just being in Fairview was enough.

I'm not sure what it is about, but it strikes me that people are less neighborly now than when I was a kid.  Sometimes, thoughts like that will send me down research paths that can distract me for days or longer.  Other times I paraphrase Leonard McCoy and say to myself "Dammit I'm a tax blogger, not a sociologist" and just move on. Also the neighbor thing can take a long time.  The one thing I will offer in this regard - and this is a joke by the way - is that if you meet an American and right away he brings up 419 send him to me and I will slap him for you.   I'll then ask him if he thinks all Italians are part of the Mafia.  If he says yes I will slap him again.  I will then ask him if thinks all Irish people are alcoholics.  If he says yes I will refer him to San Patricios Against Hunger.  On the spot he will write a check to a hunger fighting charity or - I don't have to tell you what I will do if he refuses.  I use the masculine pronoun deliberately as I would not slap a woman.

A Dangerous Way to Fight a Stereotype

I will address using history in my next post, but I thought I should mention one other way some people fight stereotypes, which I don't entirely approve.  As I mentioned I am very ignorant about Nigeria, so I don't know how knowledgeable you are apt to be about the USA.  Americans love our various ethnicities.  One of the tropes of World War II movies is the ethnic, though not racial, diversity of a random collection of American soldiers.  There is a comic book Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos which executes the trope very well going to the extra length of including an American of African descent.  On the other hand we are plagued by ethnic stereotypes.  The one that is closest to Nigerians and 419 is Italians and the Mafia.  There are ways in which the Mafia one is worse.  Most of us don't live in fear of being defrauded by someone who tells us there is trunk of gold in a locker in a bus terminal in Kansas City that he has the key to and he has picked us of all the people in the world to retrieve it and take a share of the proceeds.  We do fear other types of crime
At any rate what some people do is embrace the stereotype and defuse it with self-deprecating humor.  I don't recommend that course.  Probably the worst instance is the way Americans of Irish descent celebrate St. Patrick's Day by drinking to excess and encouraging all others to join them.  Some people of Italian descent will joke about the Mafia thing and imply that they are "connected".  The Mafia stereotype has faded a little bit and been replaced by another one that is expressed in a "reality" TV show called Jersey Shore.  This is an awful phenomenon as far as I can tell.  One of the cast named Snooki was paid $32,000 to speak at Rutgers University (The public university of the state of New Jersey).  Her advice to students was to "Study hard, but party harder"

Enough on what not to do.  The next post will discuss using history.

Inaugural Guest Post - Robert Baty On Presuppositionalism

Robert Baty is a retired IRS appeals officer.  On, I have dubbed him my most constant commenter. He and I share an interest in the clergy housing allowance (Code Section 107), also known as parsonage.  The section allows the mega pastors of the mega churches to receive mega tax free housing allowances for their mega mansions.  Bob has a particular interest in , well frankly something of an obsession with,  a peculiar twist of Code Section 107 embodied in Revenue Ruling 70-549 (You can read about that here.) I have also dubbed him "bane of the basketball ministers".

He tried to get me interested in Young Earth Creationism, a challenge to "establishment science" (or what most of us would call "science") that seeks evidence supporting a highly literal reading of Genesis. I resisted until Jo Delia Hovind found her way into Tax Court.  The tax travails that her husband, Kent Hovind, created out of his Dinosaur Adventureland (One of the implications of YEC is that people and dinosaurs must have been running around at the same time) have been a staple of my blog ever since.

The one thing that Bob could not get me to cover was Presuppositionalism, which I will not even attempt to explain, since it is the subject of the inaugural guest post of this blog, which hereby commences.

There's A Great Day Coming!

By Robert Baty

Mark your calendars!

Date: Saturday May 31, 2014
Time: 7:00 to 9:00 PM
Place: Memphis, TN

For more information, see:

It's Matt Dillahunty v. Sye Ten Bruggencate!

The parties and their constituents have been posturing for months to try and make this happen.
Maybe it will.
Maybe it won't.

Matt is an up and coming atheist celebrity.
Sye is an up and coming Presuppositional celebrity.
They are both a little nuts, which should make for an interesting encounter.

It appears neither side was very good at negotiating for what they came up with to chat about is the question:

- "Is it reasonable to believe God exists?"

Despite that question set forth for discussion, it is expected to be a battle of wits over Sye Ten Bruggencate's Presuppositional "proof God exists" claim or something directly related to it.

Sye's famous "proof God exists" claim can be found at the following website if you answer his questions correctly.  I'll save you the trouble of trying to second guess Sye.  Here's his "proof God exists":

- The proof God exists is that
- without Him you could not
- have peanut brittle.
-- Affirmed: Sye Ten Bruggencate

I have slightly edited what's found on that website for clarity and this article.  I used peanut brittle for simplicity, but you can use just about anything.  Sye and his people like to use such things as "knowledge", "proof", "logic", "uniformity of nature", and such because they can more effectively confound their unsuspecting opposition by thrashing about in deep philosophical waters where just about anything goes.

Being simple-minded, I prefer to stay with such things as "peanut brittle", and "speed limit signs" and such.

What Sye is doing is building a career as a Presuppositional preacher and he's been doing a pretty good job of it.  The Internet is full of accounts of his antics which involve street preaching to get some experience and many an encounter with some relative heavy hitters from the atheist side of things.

(Sye has been running from an engagement with me, a theist, for a long, long time.)

Presuppositionalism is basically a Calvinistic conversational gimmick wherein the proponent presupposes he is right and everyone else is wrong and, therefore, he is only interested in criticizing the opposition viewpoint.  The Presuppositionalist will, when pressed, typically admit that he is not out to establish the truth of his presuppositions.  

One common refrain heard from the Presuppositionalist when dealing with his opposition, such as I am, is that the opposition does not understand Presuppositionalism.  Of course, for the uninitiated it is quite easy to misunderstand Presuppositionalism and the criticism often times will be found to be reasonable.

However, I propose that when it comes to my analysis of Presuppositionalism, as simple as it is and is intended to be for us tyros, the problem is not a misunderstanding but the Presuppositionalist simply does not like to admit to and deal with my understanding of their gimmickry.

Of course, there are different sects of Presuppositionalists and Sye Ten Bruggencate is the current, leading celebrity as to a particular brand of the methodology.  

So, you ask, what is with that "proof God exists" that Sye claims to have?

That's a good question and that alleged proof is commonly seen to form the "bait" used to engage the unsuspecting in conversation.

The Sye-kind of Presuppositionalist presupposes that there is really no aspect of this present world that could be possible except God exists (this should not be confused with the similar sounding claim that if God did not exist there would be nothing), so his proof works out logically something like this:

Major Premise:

- If God did not exist,
- then you could not:
- prove anything,
- know anything,
- reason,
- expect the sun to rise,
- have peanut brittle,
- ad nauseum.

Minor Premise:

- You can:
- prove something,
- know something,
- reason,
- expect the sun to rise,
- have peanut brittle,
- ad nauseum.


- Ta da, God exists.

Since the argument is constructed in such a way that if its premises are true the conclusion will follow as true therefrom, we need only to establish the truth of the premises to "prove God exists".

That's where it gets easy.

Just about everyone already accepts the minor premise as true, so we only have to consider the truth of the major premise.

Well, maybe that is not so easy.

It seems the Presuppositionalist presupposes the major premise and has no intention to actually establish the truth of the major premise.  You are told that is just the way it is and if you press a Presuppostionalist of the Sye-kind on that he is apt to tell you that you don't need the proof anyway since everyone already knows that God exists.

Did you get that?

One of the foundations of Presuppositionalism is an interpretation of the Bible that claims everyone knows that God exists and some just "suppress that truth in unrighteousness".

The Presuppositionalist is also seen to be fond of challenging opponents by claiming they cannot falsify the major premise; which may be correct but quite beside the point.

It's not about being able to falsify the major premise.  After all, any more most atheists simply claim they don't believe any God exists.  They typically are willing to entertain the possibility and ask for evidence which the Presuppositionalist refuses to provide.

Did you get that?

The Presuppositionalist of the Sye-kind typically considers "evidential apologetics" as heresy, so they have come up with Presuppositionalism which is simply a conversational gimmick that they think allows them to successfully go out into the marketplace of ideas and complain about what they call other folks' "worldview".

And so they do, and they do have a tendency to put on a good show; at least until you've seen it a couple of times.

My own extended history with Presuppositionalists may be found archived on the following FaceBook pages:


It caught my attention and there does seem to be a certain fascination, at least to me, regarding some of the popular personalities and the trouble atheists have exhibited when trying to deal with it.

I'm looking forward to seeing if the Dillahunty v. Bruggencate engagement in Memphis later this month turns out to be worth the effort or just another public relations coup for Bruggencate and his video crew (Sye's already got his script and the raw video for his "movie" will be captured in Memphis by Crown Rights, subject to funding which is under way).

Hasten the day! :o)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Nigerians I Need a Little Help Here

This was originally published on  on August 29, 2011.
This is an interlude in my series on 419 Reasons to Like Nigeria and Nigerians.  As part of my efforts, I've been looking for sites that made the same error I made, which started me off on defending the good name of Nigeria.  I hate to give this guy traffic, so I'll just give you the title - It's Time To Crack The Whip On These Nigerian Crooks!  .  Google it if you want to read it.  You are not getting the link from me. 
Anyway, I e-mailed the author.  If you study my posts, you will know that I am a lousy typist and try as I might errors creep in and resist my best efforts at proof-reading.  As you might expect I am even worse with e-mails, but I am going to give you the exchange as it was typed, warts and all:

From me:

I doubt that your post It's Time To Crack The Whip On These Nigerian Crooks! Is the best way to make a better a world.

Not very good at all, but I think it made the point, particularly if he followed the link.

From kofi Akyeampong:


First of all, learn how to write standard English before attempting to contend with a exceptionally intelligent individual like me!

Your e-mail :"I doubt that your post It's Time To Crack The Whip On These Nigerian Crooks! Is the best way to make a better a world."  makes absolutely no sense at all.

Apart from the obvious fact that it falls short of quality grammar, it is completely meaningless! 
Thanks, anyway.

Fair enough.  I find myself frequently having to clarify my confused thoughts.

From me:

Thanks for the grammar assistance.  I am sometimes too hasty when I type e-mails and your advice will help me do better.  I see that “Is” should be “is”.  My point was that I think you are maligning Nigerians based on the actions of a minority.  You might want to comment on the Forbes post I linked to which probably has other deficiencies. 

Can I quote you in any follow up I do on my blog on ?

From Prince Kofi Akyeampong:

Mr Reilly,

Thanks for your e-mail.  Let me assure you that my purpose for writing that article was not motivated by malicious intentions.  My article was based on reality.  Obviously, it may not have gone down well with some people, especially Nigerians; but again, for those of you who are not conversant with the crime situation in Nigeria, my article should serve as an eye-opener.

Nigeria is arguably the most corrupt nation in Africa; and that explains why a nation blessed with so much oil deposits is still in financial doldrums - a result of persistent corruption and misappropriation of state funds by successive leaders.  In addition to this, it's widely known in the sub-region (and worldwide), that the average Nigerian's propensity to commit violent crimes or engage in fraudulent acts is high.

There have been so many instances where Nigerians fraudsters have tried to use forged Ghanaian passports.  For your information, Nigerians are adepts when it comes to internet fraud; the US state department would confirm this.  The popular term for fraud in Nigeria is - 419.

Like I stated in my article, armed robbery is now on the increase in Ghana, thanks to the influx of Nigerian immigrants.

I'm not saying that all Nigerians are crooks; but one definitely has to be careful when dealing with a Nigerian.  They are not to be trusted.

Yes, you can quote me on your blog.


Prince Kofi Akyeampong

Wow.  The popular term in Nigeria is 419.  Who knew ? I don't know what his highness is the prince of.  According to wikipedia Ghana is a republic, but my knowledge of Africa is abysmal.   Anyway, I could use your help in contending with such an exceptionally intelligent individual.  One thing I'm asking you, though.  No, let's say I'm begging you.  Don't start knocking Ghana.  I took accounting classes with a guy from Ghana over thirty year ago and he tried to help me get my first job in the business. 

From The Halls Of Montezuma To The Jail Of Concord

Originally published on August 7, 2011.

I recently mentioned the case of William Ruhaak. Mr. Ruhaak refused to pay his income tax for 2007. He was willing to pay the amount involved either to an organization that worked for peace or to the federal government as long as it was earmarked for non-military purposes. I used the case to spring board a discussion of my friend Tom Cahill, a long time peace activist and one of the founders of Just Detention International. Bait and switch. So sue me. Actually please don't, I'd probably have to give up either blogging or my day job if you did. Some of the responses I received, though, have inspired me to do a fuller discussion of tax resistance as a form of war protest. This post is the foundation of the series. I guess that means I'm promising to write at least one more after this one to make it a series. This one is about the most famous act of American war tax resistance.

The Mexican War 1846-1848 was a triumph of American arms. The Marine Corps in its hymn gives Mexico pride of place among the country's battles that it has fought.

Mexico was provoked by the United States admitting the Republic of Texas to the union. Mexico considered Texas a rebellious province that it would take back someday. Mexico probably should have quit while it was just a little behind. The war added to the United States the territory that would become California, Nevada, Utah and New Mexico. Also most of Arizona and Colorado and pieces of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Wyoming. Disputes over territory being a zero sum game, Mexico got a lot smaller. Round numbers Mexico was less than half the size it had been before it started messing with the fundamental rights of its Texan citizens - like the right to own slaves. Regardless, if you view history as something of a board game, the Mexican War was a big win for the United States. This may account for why the tremendous unpopularity of the war in some quarters is not well remembered.

Margaret Fuller, America's first female foreign correspondent wrote from Europe:

Then there is this horrible cancer of slavery and the wicked war that has grown out of it. I listen to the same arguments against the emancipation of Italy that are used against the emancipation of our blacks; the same arguments for the spoilation of Poland, as for the conquest of Mexico. I find the cause of tyranny and wrong everywhere the same and lo! my country! the darkest offender because with the least excuse.

Some of the fighting men were also disenchanted with the cause. Reflecting on his thoughts on the war, as a junior officer, Ulysses Grant, the first American solider to wear four stars, wrote in his memoirs:

Generally the officers of the army were indifferent whether the annexation [of Texas] was consummated or not; but not so all of them. For myself, I was bitterly opposed to the measure, and to this day regard the war, which resulted, as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation. It was an instance of a republic following the bad example of European monarchies, in not considering justice in their desire to acquire additional territory.

That's another view of the Mexican War. It was kind of a warm up war for those junior officers who, as generals, would command stupendous forces in West Point's big intramural war less than twenty years later.
In the enlisted ranks a variety of grievances including the anti-Catholic bigotry, that pervaded American culture, influenced a significant number of US soldiers, mostly Irish immigrants, to switch sides. Under the command of John Riley, they formed the Batallón de San Patricio. Their exploits were the subject of a Tom Berenger movie called One Man's Hero, which despite having the same plot as Avatar and Dances With Wolves is still worth watching.

The Mexican War provoked one simple act of tax resistance, that would have far reaching effects. Henry David Thoreau refused to pay his poll tax. He spent the night in jail. His aunt paid the tax on his behalf, an act of kindness that he did not approve, leaving him free the next day to lead a huckleberry expedition. He got something else out of the experience. He wrote a really good book. On the Duty of Civil Disobedience has a great virtue among books of its sort. The sort I mean is books that are tremendously influential such that they will be frequently discussed. The great virtue is that it is short. So unlike Democracy In America or Clauswitz's On War, you can just go read it again anytime you care to discuss it. Here are some high points:

The government itself, which is only the mode which the people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it. Witness the present Mexican war, the work of comparatively a few individuals using the standing government as their tool; for in the outset, the people would not have consented to this measure.

Can there not be a government in which the majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience?--in which majorities decide only those questions to which the rule of expediency is applicable? Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.

How does it become a man to behave toward the American government today? I answer, that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it. I cannot for an instant recognize that political organization as my government which is the slave's government also.

If a thousand [citizens] were not to pay their tax-bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood. This is, in fact, the definition of a peaceable revolution, if any such is possible
Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison... the only house in a slave State in which a free man can abide with honor.

The message of the book is complex. Sometimes the focus is on the moral accountability of the individual regardless of the effect and other times on the possibility that passive resistance might effect practical change. Thoreau's refusal to pay tax did not spark a movement immediately and clearly had no appreciable effect on the war then in progress. That is not the end of the story though.

The Marine Corps Hymn would be more edifying if the "Peak of Surabachi" replaced "Halls of Montezuma". It would also coordinate with the most iconic image of the Corps, add an additional rhyme and give a better appreciation for how global their service has been . That's probably not going to happen any time soon. Marines don't get to choose their country's battles, they just get to fight them. Margaret Fuller is remembered today, but not nearly as well as she should be. There were some great events for her 200th birthday in 2010, but I recently met a young woman who had never heard of her. This would not have been that disturbing if the young woman had not been a college senior majoring in woman's studies. Ulysses Grant suffered in reputation due to poor choice in advisors while president and the virtual deification of the man who surrendered to him at Appomattox. The San Patricios are remembered as heroes - in Mexico and Ireland - in the United States, not so much. That little book of Thoreau's did some travelling though.

It went to South Africa, where Mohandas Gandhi would use its principles before bringing them to India:

Thoreau was a great writer, philosopher, poet, and withal a most practical man, that is, he taught nothing he was not prepared to practice in himself. He was one of the greatest and most moral men America has produced. At the time of the abolition of slavery movement, he wrote his famous essay "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience". He went to gaol for the sake of his principles and suffering humanity. His essay has, therefore, been sanctified by suffering. Moreover, it is written for all time. Its incisive logic is unanswerable.

And then it found its way back to the United States, where Martin Luther King wrote:

During my student days I read Henry David Thoreau's essay On Civil Disobedience for the first time. Here, in this courageous New Englander's refusal to pay his taxes and his choice of jail rather than support a war that would spread slavery's territory into Mexico, I made my first contact with the theory of nonviolent resistance. Fascinated by the idea of refusing to cooperate with an evil system, I was so deeply moved that I reread the work several times

Mr. Ruhaak's argument has no technical merit. The seventh circuit has told him he needed to show cause as to why he should not be sanctioned for putting forth a frivolous argument. I have to say that as a tax professional, I'm 100% with the court on that one. Despite that and even though I believe our military is now mainly concerned with convincing people it is an extremely bad idea to organize passenger jets crashing into our office buildings, I'm not going to knock Mr. Ruhaak. And now I'm committed to talking a bit about what his fellow war tax resisters are up to. Stay tuned.