"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Friday, August 17, 2018

Once as farce

It was 45 years ago this year:

Trump is guilty. Why there’s such resistance to this reality is an interesting question. My own best guess is that it is too disquieting a reality to grapple with. Someone who has deliberately betrayed his country and who is compromised by and under the thumb of a foreign despot clearly should not be President. But his supporters don’t accept that. And as long as they don’t there’s no path to removing him from power prior to 2020 and maybe even beyond. That means that for the present we are locked in a situation in which we must operate in a system in which the person with the most power is working for a foreign adversary, whether out of avarice or fear. That is a profoundly uncomfortable reality. Remaining agnostic on the big question is more comfortable.

That’s my theory. But my theory, the why, doesn’t really matter. The fact that the reality is real and that it’s too hard for many to accept is what matters.
That Garry Trudeau said what Josh Marshall said today.  The difference, of course, is that Marshall is a blogger (sort of), and WaPo is still a major newspaper which probably still wouldn't run this comic strip if the President were Trump instead of Nixon, and Mitchell were replaced with Manafort.*  And I remember quite well why there was "such resistance to this reality."  It's for the very reasons Marshall cites about the evidence against Trump:  it doesn't amount to proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Well, it doesn't if you don't want it to.  We are not a national jury, except in the sense that we the nation decide criminal culpability by majority agreement, not unanimous vote.  Hell, we can't even get the press to say Trump is a racist, for which there is very clear evidence; then again, there will never be enough evidence.  Because even if there is enough evidence, there will always be some on the jury (metaphorically) who will deny the evidence says what the majority agrees it says.

As I've said before, I know people who went to their graves (God rest them) convinced Nixon was railroaded.  That narrative has hardened into place over time; it was not universally acknowledged in 1974, and certainly not before Nixon resigned (the year the cartoon was submitted for publication).

We had a situation where the person with the most power was using it to operate a system to punish his enemies.  Nixon tried to use the FBI and the IRS to do that, but he did it clandestinely.  Perhaps Trump is doing that, too, but it seems unlikely, given his assaults on the government at all levels.  He is acting openly, trying to punish those who disagree with him by pulling their security clearances; but while this may be an illegal act if he does it to James Comey, it is largely seen as irrelevant to the lives of those of us who don't parlay our government service into a career as a talking head.  It's reprehensible and petty, yes, but we are all more affected by tariffs than by who has a security clearance.  We had a leader who had used his power to punish his political enemies (it turned out he didn't need the advantage; Nixon won in the greatest landslide in American presidential history; the only state McGovern carried was Massachusetts.  Nothing that could have been gained in the Watergate break-in added to that victory.).  But we are locked into this because of the Constitutional system that allows us to be led up this kind of blind alley.  And because we can't expect any system to protect us from our own stupidity.

Nixon was finally forced out of office because of the tapes.  It took a while; the controversy over even releasing them ran for months, if not a year or so.  I still remember Nixon fighting mightily to keep them secret, then going on TV with stacks of them around him, proclaiming how he wanted them released and had told his staff to "get them out".  He was a consummate liar, and Trump often reads like a student of Nixon's machinations; at least to me.  It doesn't seem clear anything will force Trump from office in the same way.  It would be better for the nation if he were, but then we get Mike Pence, so the improvement is minor.  A Democratic House now seems likely, and that can constrain and pester Trump for the last two years.  A Democratic Senate may not happen, but GOP control is razor thin there anyway, and either way Congress won't give Trump much to run on in 2020.

Will Congress at least try to constrain Trump?  That is really up to us.  Do we elect a Congress to impeach the sitting President?  Or even just to rein him in?  Or do we just elect those politicians who are as ideological as comic-book villains, and as effective?  It is not the issue of this state of affairs being reality, and "we" can't face it.  The collective "we" is, as I said, is like a jury, but without the legal directions of a judge and a set of limited facts presented for our examination for a limited time, and aimed at a defined conclusion (guilty/not guilty).  The collective "we" will never even agree on what "reality" is.  Fighting that fight only ends in frustration.  The most we can get is some effort to state what we agree and disagree with:  this is really what elections are about.  Not what we can agree and disagree on; elections are never about national consensus.  We can only act on what we think is true and correct, and call that a conclusion at least until the morning after the election.

Although I agree with Marshall and Mark Slackmeyer:  the President is guilty, guilty, guilty!

Now what?

*it's worth noting here that John Mitchell was Nixon's campaign manager in '68, and was convicted of obstruction of justice, perjury, and conspiracy.  But the objection of WaPo to the cartoon was that Mitchell had not yet been convicted, and it was unseemly to abrogate the judicial system in such a serious matter, even as a matter of opinion.  Thus do we keep our fingers clean.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Cover Up Continues?

I have to say, I had to Google this.  Most articles about it paraphrase the statement, rather than reprint it in full (is that so hard to do?  It's not like it's 900, or is it 1400, pages?  Did we ever get a verified count on that?).  USA Today took up the narrative again, noting this statement came out after "two days of deafening silence."  Because...what?  

I'm just playing media critic here, not Defender of the Faith.  Every article has its favored phrase from the statement.  "Morally reprehensible," says USA Today.  "Shame and sorrow" showed up for Reuters.  The Daily Mail quoted:

Catholic magazine editor Matthew Schmitz said on Twitter: 'Francis has at times been unfairly attacked for his handling of sex abuse but his record is still disappointing.

'He needs to act now by authorizing a full investigation of the American hierarchy.'

A papal legate should conduct formal interviews and make recommendations to the Pope about 'appropriate penalties', he said.  
Which is pretty much all that can happen now, as the statute of limitations has run on most of these crimes.  Much blame is put on the Catholic church in covering up these crimes, and that's deserved.  But the legal system of Pennsylvania apparently had the legal power to investigate these matters before the statute of limitations expired, and failed to do so.  That doesn't exonerate the Church, but it does indicate the pointing of fingers is a tricky practice.  No one wanted to listen, until it was too late.

Sadly, all that can be done now is for the Church to investigate and take actions against those it finds responsible.  The failures here are really rather general.  None are innocent except the victims; and their innocence was taken from them long ago. 

"Do You See?"

Adam's prize was open eyes,
His sentence was to see.
Day by day, he's worn away
Against reality.

--Tom Rush

In his book The Essential Jesus John Dominic Crossan reduces the "authentic" sayings of Jesus to what he thinks were arguably their pithy originals (on the simple premise that time "improves" those quotations we remember, usually adding words and elaborations that weren't original, but are "better").  One of them that he attributes to the historical Jesus of Nazareth is:  "You have heads, use them!"

There are some places in the gospels where Jesus upbraids his audience:  "He who has ears had better listen!", is usually what he says.  Interestingly, Jesus never asks for insight.  He never asks "Do you see?"  Of course he never apparently asked "Were you listening to what I said?"  He's a bit more elliptical than that:  "He who has ears had better listen!"

"You have heads, use them!"

We privilege sight above all other senses.  Taste is irrelevant, except to infants, who put everything in their mouth to taste as well as smell, see, touch, and hear (does it rattle?  Bang?  Echo hollowly?).  But taste is for food, and we have few words for it, fewer metaphors (any meat that isn't beef "tastes like chicken."  Right?).  Sight takes pride of place.  "Do you see?," is usually a metaphorical inquiry, not a literal one.  Seeing is equated with understanding.  "Seeing is believing!"  Well, no, believing is believing; seeing is subject to deception (ask Penn & Teller).  "Pics or it didn't happen!"  What, I can take a picture of the moment I fell in love?  I can photograph my desires, affections, hopes, fears, dreams?

We never mean it that literally, of course, but our favorite metaphors for accepting or understanding relate to seeing.  So why doesn't Jesus ever say:  "Do you see?"

In the synoptic gospels the things that would most make people "see" that Jesus is something more than human are called dunamis.  This means "power," or more clearly "acts of power."  It is, per the synoptic writers, the power of God at work in the healings, the feeding of the 5000, etc.  John's gospel is different, and takes the metaphor of sight head on.  Now, is that because sight has become the metaphor it is today, probably through the Greek culture prevalent in that region of the Roman Empire?  Is it peculiar to the situation of John's community?  Hard to say, but in any case John calls the miraculous acts of Jesus semeia, or "signs."   Semioitics has taught us to pay attention to signs and signifiers, and I'm not sure if that's a great leap forward or simply looping backward to yet another strand of human history and culture, taking it up again as if it were new.  We are more and more inclined to reinvent the wheel and rediscover fire and think we've done something significant (a sign!).  In any case, John called the changing of the water to wine at the wedding in Cana a "sign," the first Jesus presented.

Do you see?

But John is ambivalent about the signs.  Jesus makes no claim for himself at the wedding; the groom is credited with saving the best wine for last.  Nobody acclaims Jesus and follows him that day.  When Jesus does signify (semiotics also teaches us to pay close attention to how we talk about signs and sign-ificance) in John's gospel, it's almost a challenge to the audience.  As Jesus says to Thomas after the Resurrection, it's better to hear and believe than to see and believe. The signs are treated as almost a distraction.  At the last supper in John, Jesus talks for three chapters, but he never institutes the Eucharist, the ultimate Christian sign. We still don't agree whether the sign is literal, symbolic, or both and a little bit of neither. In John's gospel, Jesus doesn't say "This is my body, this is my blood." John doesn't want Jesus pointing to anything as a sign.

This comes up in the question asked of Terry Eagleton, and his response.  The occasion is a lecture, which runs for about 42 minutes, and the first question, which appears on the video at about 43 minutes.  Thanks to TC there is a transcript of the question:

43:41  Stuart Ritchie, Psychology Department.  I hate to ask such a sublunary question, um, but do you actually  have any evidence for the existence of God because it seems to me that you can talk about how nice you think the emperor's clothes are and how fancy they are and all that but it doesn't really matter if the emperor isn't actually wearing any clothes at all.  Um, and in fact, you don't seem to be, I don't know who your talk is aimed at, 'cause you're not going to convince any atheist because you haven't provided any evidence for the existence of God and you're not going to convince any religious people because you've basically told them what they believe is not actually what, say, Christianity is.  So I'm not entirely sure where your lecture is aimed. 

The link to our discussion is Eagleton's response, because he calls this kind of question the "Yeti" question.  That is, proof of visual evidence of the Yeti would prove the Yeti's existence; and so, apparently, visual proof of God would prove God's existence.  This is not, contrary to what people like Stuart Ritchie think, a new problem:

Isaiah 64:1-9
64:1 O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence--

64:2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil-- to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!

64:3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.

64:4 From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.

64:5 You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.

64:6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

64:7 There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.

64:8 Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.

64:9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O LORD, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.

I've used that before, but there you are.  Second Isaiah, crying out for God to make an appearance, to prove God's existence, if you will, as he did in the time of Elijah:

So Ahab sent to all the people of Israel and gathered the prophets together at Mount Carmel. 21And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word. 22Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the LORD, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men. 23Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it. 24And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the LORD, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.” 25Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many, and call upon the name of your god, but put no fire to it.” 26And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. 27And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” 28And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. 29And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.

30Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” And all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD that had been thrown down. 31Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD came, saying, “Israel shall be your name,” 32and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD. And he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two seahsa of seed. 33And he put the wood in order and cut the bull in pieces and laid it on the wood. And he said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” 34And he said, “Do it a second time.” And they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it a third time.” And they did it a third time. 35And the water ran around the altar and filled the trench also with water.

36And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. 37Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” 38Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God.”

1 Kings 18:20-39

Ah, yes; dem was de days!

But, you see (!), Stuart Ritchie doesn't see (he is the wise child in the Andersen fairy tale about the unclothed emperor), and therefor it is not.  Except, as Eagleton goes on to reply, you don't "see" love, either; does that mean it is false?  And so we are back to John's way of handling the subject:

Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Signs, you see, signify.  But what they signify is not always apparent, and not always so clear.  And we seldom look beyond the sign to the signification.  Take a STOP sign.  We read it, we follow it's direction, even in a private parking lot where (under Texas law, at least), it has no significance.  We follow it because it signifies the power of the state through law to enforce the command written on the sign.  But we seldom look beyond the sign itself; we just reflexively obey.  John doesn't want us to do anything by reflex.  If we saw the fire from heaven burn the wet wood and consume the water in the trough, would  believe?  In what?  If we saw the water turn to wine at Cana, would we believe? In what?  And why?  Because it is true, and the truth will set us free?  Or because it appeared to tell us something, and then we decide what that is?  And which is truth?

"You have heads, use them!"

I think about these things when I get bored with the news of the day, the reading of which is something of an addiction I need to break.  Now you'll excuse me, there are some shocking historical photos on the internet I need to see.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Jesus Take The Wheel

Back in 2008 Bill Maher released a film, "Religulous," that led him to do an interview with his director, Larry Charles, on "Fresh Air."  Hilarity ensued:

Larry Charles made a telling statement in the Terry Gross interview: he said they tried to contact the Pope and the head of the Mormon church and other religious leaders (all Christian, interestingly, or Western. No mention of Orthodox leaders, Buddhist monks, Hindu priests, Taoists, etc.), but there were "layers" (his word) of people designed to keep such persons from contact with the public, or at least Messrs. Charles and Maher. I wondered how many people I'd have to go through to get in touch with Mr. Charles, or the head of the studio distributing his film, or the heads of the TV companies who have broadcast his work; or the President of the United States, or any head of government or any major corporation. It was, in other words, a pretty mindless and petty complaint, and revealed more about Mr. Charles than about the religious leaders he sought out.

I thought of that blinkered ignorance when I read this:

But the pope didn’t mention the latest horrific news revealed about his church: that a Pennsylvania grand jury had just handed down a damning 1,356 page account of rampant abuse that involved 1,000 kids, 300 priests and 70 years of silence. "We, the members of this grand jury, need you to hear this," the report began. But there was no sign Wednesday that Pope Francis was listening. He offered no prayer for the victims of his own churchmen who have been suffocated under a veil of complicity and shame for decades.

Which silence, of course, means there's a coverup:

The cover-up of this sort of rampant sexual cruelty involving children is by now sadly familiar, as is the strategy by Rome refusing to acknowledge such accusations until far too late. The response to this report, like so many others before it, is also sadly familiar. A spokesperson for the Vatican reached on Wednesday morning said that the Vatican “has no comment at the moment” before tersely hanging up.

So, here's the problem:  the Pope is not an elected official who needs to curry favor among voters at all times and in all places.  Further, I don't imagine for a second the Pope was on a direct line to the meeting room of the grand jury in Philadelphia, or had a representative at the press conference on the line relaying their statements to the Vatican as they were being released, so the Vatican could prepare a response ASAP.  Perhaps it is good PR for the institution to have a Rapid Response Team, but again:  the Church is not a corporation answerable to shareholders and worried about what its CEO might tweet next about boys rescued from a cave in Thailand.  This is not to excuse the Church for what happened in Pennsylvania for 7 decades, nor is it to defend the Church in any way.

But for pity's sake:  the report is 900 pages long, (or is it almost 1400 pages?  Who do I believe here, the Daily Best or the NYT?) covers 7 decades of records, and was released on August 14th.  Only a few hours later (time zones, how do they work again?) the Pope is offering a public prayer and is supposed to work into that prayer a response that can be parsed and analyzed and dissected and STILL be a clear statement of the Church?  And a failure to mention it in a prayer the next morning is tantamount to a coverup?  What world do these people live in?

You know, there are times I understand better the nature of newspapers, with editors and just the passage of time between writing and printing the words on paper for distribution.  Even today, with words available immediately (how long after I write this will you read it?), the editorial process of the NYT or WaPo or the LATimes is admirable, just because it keeps dribble like this from appearing anywhere except, maybe, on their journalists work-related blogs.  If this is the advance achieved by instant and direct access to news and opinion, I don't need anymore of it.  The Russians are damaging because they spread vile opinions on purpose, with the aim of destabilizing and sowing dragon's teeth.  This kind of thing is damaging because it ostensibly presents reasoned thought, and not just childish tantrums.

When the Pope responds, his response will deserve careful attention and even criticism.  But this kind of thing is just crap.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Never Say Never

Dog whistle!

Reading headlines, mostly:

The argument here takes the usual defeatist line that you can't change the mind of Trump supporters, and unless you do that, he wins in 2020.  Ignore that, though, and focus on the reasoning past the innumeracy (Trump is consistently tracking at 52-52% disapproval, 10 points above (below?) his consistent approval rating at 41-42%.  He doesn't have enough supporters to win with those numbers):

But even if Manigault Newman and her tapes say exactly what the president’s opponents want to hear—that he’s a racist, that he’s a bumbling idiot, that he has no control over his own White House—her “insider’s account” will never be as satisfying as the anti-Trump resistance might hope. The first problem is the source. Manigault Newman, like the president, is an opportunist built for and by reality television. Her willingness to do anything for notoriety, including but not limited to playing the villain on a corny game show and signing up for a role in a racist presidential administration, makes her an unreliable narrator.

The second problem is content. An N-word recording could serve as shorthand for Trump’s racism for those unwilling or unable to see the racism in his policies. And it would probably spur some Republican leaders to cut ties with Trump, at least temporarily, as they did when the Access Hollywood tape came out in October 2016. But there is reason to believe that an N-word tape wouldn’t torpedo Trump’s presidency, or even keep him from winning a second term. By this point, we shouldn’t need to hear Trump saying the N-word to become convinced that he considers black people second-class citizens. At the same time, no one who has supported him through his Obama birther fabrication, his insistence that the Central Park Five are guilty, and his defense of white supremacists as “very fine people” will turn against him because he used a racial slur.
I agree Trump is clearly a racist.  But the "n-word" is a talisman.  None of us dare speak it or write it. To find a tape with Trump using it?  Well, it won't increase his chances of re-election; nor will it spur the "red wave" he thinks is coming in November.  If anything, it would add a few more votes in the Democratic party columns.  Indeed, the word is so toxic, and there's so much of a chance it's out there (the tape), even his Press Secretary won't deny it:

“Can you stand at the podium and guarantee the American people they will never hear Donald Trump utter the n-word on a recording in any context?” MSNBC’s Kristin Welker asked.

“I can’t guarantee anything, but I can tell you that the President addressed this question directly,” Sanders said. “I can tell you that I’ve never heard it.”

Yeah, that's not the resounding tribute she thinks it is.  If there's a tape of me using that word, it's about 50 years old now.  Probably by age 13 I'd abandoned it altogether (I cannot guarantee I never used it, I can only plead the stupidity of youth).  Trump was allegedly using it in his 60's.  I can guarantee there's no tape of me using that word in my '60's.  And then there was Trump's other assault on black women:

The president’s use of the word “dog” to describe the only senior African-American staffer to serve in his administration struck many as out of line, including Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer, who asked Conway about the tweet on Tuesday. “That dog,” he said, repeating the president’s words. “I know he’s not happy about this, but is that language necessary?”

Unable to defend Trump’s commentary, Conway would only say that she’s “disappointed” in Manigault-Newman and thinks her “best play would have to take credit for a lot of the great things Donald Trump has done for this country, including for African Americans.”

When Hemmer asked again specifically about Trump’s use of the word “dog” and suggested Trump doesn’t want to “sell more book for her along the way,” Conway simply smiled tightly and stayed silent.
This is working out real good for him.  No doubt his approval ratings will go up any day now.  And if they don't, it could be because even his own staff doesn't trust him:

“It’s called C.Y.A.,” said Sam Nunberg, a former Trump Organization employee who has himself been publicly critical of Trump, and who has come under attack from the president on Twitter as a result. Nunberg says he was asked about recordings different people in the Trump Organization and campaign made when he was called to testify in front of special counsel Robert Mueller’s grand jury in the spring. “Cover Your Ass. That’s why people are recording.” It’s an acronym that rings especially true when it comes to the famously mercurial boss. “People are taping him first, because he always talked about taping people himself,” one person in his orbit told me on Monday. “And second, it’s because of his erratic behavior and his inability to tell the truth. He changes his mind after the fact. He commits to doing something, only to have him question you after you do it,” this person said. 
That's gotta be a real special place to work, the West Wing; just like on the TeeVee!

Oh, and Omarosa's not through, either:

1. Trump Knew About Clinton’s Emails Before Wikileaks Released Them

2. Trump Has Derogatory Nicknames for Everyone

3. Trump Only Kept Hope Hicks on Staff for Her Looks

Omarosa writes in her book that Trump “would rather have a pretty woman with no experience around than a qualified, less attractive woman.”

“You’re talking about Hope Hicks there?” Tur asked.

“Yes, I’m talking about Hope Hicks,” Omarosa responded.

“It is interesting that people haven’t really examined the fact that he would rather have someone who has absolutely no political experience and no knowledge of politics at all, because she is pretty,” Omarosa continued. “And I am someone who served in two tours of duty, this is my second time in the White House, and he calls me a dog.

4. John Kelly Is Responsible for Horrific Puerto Rico Response

I left in the text under no. 3 because honestly, Omarosa is as clueless as Trump.  What were her qualifications again....?

The staff is not rallying around the boss like they need him to.  Huckabee Sanders should have said there can't be a tape because Trump doesn't talk like that.  Best she could do was say she'd never heard him talk like that.  Conway just goes silent, because whaddayagonnado, your boss just called a black woman a bitch.  And everybody's taping everybody because they know what we know:  Trump cannot be trusted.  And Trump's campaign is just throwing gasoline on the fire by suing Omarosa for not keeping her mouth shut.

Yeah, Trump's got 2020 in the bag......

Nice Life You Got There, Be A Shame....

Josh Marshal notes:

Trump and the Trump campaign are using the NDA arbitration path that worked so well with Stormy Daniels with Omarosa.

Omarosa says she signed an NDA with the campaign, but refused to sign one when she was in the White House.  Reports are White House Counsel Don McGahn drafted them to appease Trump, not because he thought they were worth the paper they were printed on.  Apparently she's right, she didn't sign one with the White House, since Trump is only indirectly enforcing the NDA against her.  And yes, JMM is right, it won't do much to stop Omarosa giving interviews or selling her book; indeed, it's probably unenforceable.

That's not the point.

The point is to remind all the people who signed NDA's but don't have the swagger of Omarosa, or indeed the high-profile (how hard was it for her to get a book deal?), that they, too, will be hiring lawyers and defending against million dollar lawsuits.  Does it matter if they can't win against you in court?  These are people who pay $15,000 a month to get people to sign new NDA's (as Omarosa has alleged was offered to her when she was fired, and as allegedly happened with Trump's dismissed bodyguard/driver).  They are showing they have the money and the will, and asking any employee of the White House (especially if they worked for the campaign):  do you?

This is a real problem.  Omertà was supposedly enforced by Mafia bosses with a bullet; Trump is doing the same thing with the legal system.  That is the real damage he is doing to the Presidency.  Impeachment won't erase it.  Losing re-election won't erase it.  Only legislation can erase it.

But will it?

Kneeling as an act of conquest, not protest

Returning once again to those thrilling days of yesteryear, or 1908, to be exact:

"What good purpose," [Wiley Nash] asked in 1908, "is subserved, promoted and supported by the erection of these Confederate memorials all over the South?"

Nash had studied both literature and law at the University of Mississippi, so his answer came fully attired in his best rhetorical finery:

"Like the watch fires kindled along the coast of Greece that leaped in ruddy joy to tell that Troy had fallen, so these Confederate monuments, these sacred memorials, tell in silent but potent language, that the white people of the South shall rule and govern the Southern states forever.
Old times there are not forgotten; nor will they be, because we have set them in stone.

And who, you ask, is this Wiley Nash?

The 62-year-old Nash was eminently qualified for his leading role in the events of the day. He was a Mississippian by birth, raised in Oktibbeha County. In 1908, he was widely regarded as “a representative man of Mississippi,” a prominent Starkville attorney who had served several terms in the state Legislature and one term as the state's attorney general.

More to the point, he had fought in the war, enlisting at the age of 16. He was seriously wounded in Georgia — “shot through the right thigh” — but recovered and later rode with Harvey’s Scouts, a famously effective small troop from Mississippi.

Equally important, after the war he joined the cause of Redemption, the campaign to restore white rule in Mississippi, which culminated in stealing the elections of 1875 by violence or the threat of it, keeping most blacks from voting.

“Victory for the vanquished” is how Nash described it in Lexington.

“Mr. Nash has done yeoman service in the many efforts of the white people of Mississippi to wrest the state from radical rule and negro domination,” historian Dunbar Rowland wrote in 1907, praising Nash’s efforts “in the great and memorable struggle of 1875, the year, as the negroes say ‘when de white folks riz.’”
The monuments were to "remember history," but remember history in very specific ways:

We may be ever grateful to Nash as well, for among his fulsome remarks in Lexington, which run to roughly 7,000 words, he included a clear, concise, nine-point, itemized list on what the monuments actually mean.

Monuments honor “the Southern cause” and its “brave defenders, the living and the dead” (item one), and also "keep honored and honorable" the "present and future dominant and ruling Southern Anglo-Saxon element" (item two).

They "keep the white people of the South united — a thing so necessary — to keep, protect, preserve and transmit our true Southern social system, our cherished Southern civilization” (item six).

The ruddy leaping joy of perpetual white power is item seven: “The white people of the South shall rule and govern the Southern states forever.”

The final item, number nine: Monuments “will teach the South through all the ages to love the Southern Cause.”
Indeed, that's what monuments are for; to teach lessons.  'Twas ever thus:

Imagine what Paul would have seen had he visited Aphrodisias.  Imagine you are walking in the middle of that city on a busy street and turn in under one of the arches of a beautiful two-story marble monumental gate.  You slow down for a moment in its shade, but soon rejoin the sun's glare on a glistening east-west plaza, 46 feet wide, 40 feet high on both sides, and 300 feet long.  It is like entering a roofless funnel as long as a football field.  To your left and right are parallel three-story-high galleria line with bulky Doric Columns on the bottom level, sleek iconic columns on the middle level, and ornate Corinthian columns on the third and upper level.  Your eyes are drawn up along those columns toward the terra-cotta roof....[b]ut they are drawn more forcibly along the length of the plaza's funnel to the temple at its far end....Walking toward the look up at those high galleries on either side and see something that is unique in all the Greco-Roman world.  Between the columns on the upper two levels of both sides are 180 5-by-5 foot panels sculpted in high relief.

....On the middle level, history is absorbed into that mythical framework above it by a series of conquered peoples, personified as elegantly dressed female standing on inscribed bases, extending across the entire sweep of the Roman Empire and emphasizing military victories under Augustus.  To your right, in the south gallery's two upper levels, is the same celebration of war and conquest, the same absorption of history into myth, the same creation of Roman imperial theology.


A first panel is iconographically simple and still somewhat historical.  It depicts an idealized world-conquering Julio-Claudia emperor, not armored but naked except for a black cloak, standing in the center.  To his right is a battle trophy above a kneeling and weeping barbarian prisoner who hands are tied behind her back.  To his left is a female figure, either the Roman people or the Senate, crowning him with an oak wreath.  A second panel is iconographically more complex and much more cosmic.
That second panel depicts a nude Claudius (indicating, from Greek iconography, divine status) receiving a cornucopia from a female figure, indicating peace and prosperity (no war, plenty of food) and another female figure giving Claudius an oar, to indicate power over the sea (no more pirates).  "It displays divine control of both Land and Sea."

"Victory and conquest are felt to be an important justification of imperial is always victory over barbarians of various kinds...."*

Like, say, blacks in America, who should remain subjugated by whites. Monuments are placed by people in power to remind everyone who is in power, and why.  There's a reason the largest Confederate War monument on the Texas Capitol Grounds is placed directly in front of the Capitol building, and close to the entrance to the Capitol grounds on Congress Avenue (which leads directly away from the front door of the Capitol, ruler-straight down to the Colorado River).  It is a statement of who is in power; that is the "history" some do not want to "erase."

And yeah, you can connect it directly to Donald Trump:

“During the Holocaust Nazis referred to Jews as rats,” Scarborough said. “In Rwanda genocide was often justified, calling them cockroaches, slave owners considered slaves subhuman animals.”

“It opens the door for cruelty and genocide,” he continued. “Nobody is saying that Donald Trump is a Nazi, nobody is saying that he’s Adolf Hitler in 1938, 1939, 1940, but you can see time and time again … this is how dictators and tyrants open the door, and they do it by dehumanizing their political opponents.”

Trump’s dehumanizing language had been translated into cruel actions, such as his administration’s family separation policy.

“Guess what led up to his, what I think many would think is savage, behavior on the border?” Scarborough said. “When he launched his campaign he talked about Mexicans being ra[p]ists.”

“Just this past year, what did he call Hispanics?” he added. “He called Hispanics breeders, like they were animals, like they were dogs, like they were mules. We’ve seen it time and time again. So he uses that language, and what does it move to? It moves to a policy where infants are ripped from their mother’s breasts at the border, separated and possibly orphaned for life. There actually is precedent here.”

Lots and lots and lots of precedent; for all of it.  And all of it is very ugly.  Just keep in mind the weeping barbarians kneeling before Julius.

*John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed, In Search of Paul, HarperSanFrancisco 2004, pp. 17-19, 22.

Monday, August 13, 2018

On the plus side....

Says the "expert" who thinks Nepal and Bhutan are regions of India, and are pronounced "nipple" and "button." And who doesn't understand the idea of an international date line or even time zones.  Well, it's no worse than "Uzbeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan."  Oh, wait a minute, that guy got laughed off the national stage.


Well, it's on Twitter, which means no one in government will pay any attention to it.

Now you hear me, now you don't

Rudy Giuliani keeps talking about a "perjury trap."  So let's start with the federal statute defining "perjury":


(1) having taken an oath before a competent tribunal, officer, or person, in any case in which a law of the United States authorizes an oath to be administered, that he will testify, declare, depose, or certify truly, or that any written testimony, declaration, deposition, or certificate by him subscribed, is true, willfully and contrary to such oath states or subscribes any material matter which he does not believe to be true; or

(2) in any declaration, certificate, verification, or statement under penalty of perjury as permitted under section 1746 of title 28, United States Code, willfully subscribes as true any material matter which he does not believe to be true;

is guilty of perjury and shall, except as otherwise expressly provided by law, be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both. This section is applicable whether the statement or subscription is made within or without the United States.
Now the purpose of testimony under oath is to enforce a punishment for not telling the truth.  Usually this is done by impeaching the witness:  a witness who is proven to lie under oath is a pretty useless witness, and their testimony can be so tainted the jury can turn against them, or ignore whatever they say.  Let's say, for example, Paris Dennard was under oath when he said this today.  The subject under discussion is Trump's statement after Charlottesville that there were "very fine people on both sides:"

“Well, I think we should be accurate,” Dennard said. “He was not at Trump Tower. He did not — that wasn’t the full statement. I think we should read the full statement. As I interpreted what he said, he was talking about the violence on both — on many sides.”

“That’s not what he said,” Setmayer replied. “We’re still debating this? There’s still a question that there are ‘fine people on both sides?'”

“The president was referring to the fact that there was violence on both sides,” Dennard claimed.

“He said ‘very fine people on both sides,'” she shot back.

“Let’s be accurate. Go back and read exactly what he said,” Dennard instructed.

Now, as your memory and the video show (at the link), Trump says what everyone remembers him saying, except Paris Dennard.  If, as I said, Mr. Dennnard was under oath when he said this, would that be a "perjury trap"?  Well, how would you prove he knew it to be false but said it anyway?  You could impeach him, prove he is an unreliable witness and his statements are not to be trusted; you might even bring a civil action against him for misrepresentation.  But perjury?  I don't know a prosecutor who would bother.

So what is a "perjury trap"?  Oddly enough, it would probably look very much like this:

GIULIANI: Comey’s testimony is hardly worth anything. And nor did he ever — James Comey never found any evidence of collusion. And [he] rules out obstruction by saying the President had a right to fire me. So all the rest of it is just politics. I mean, the reality is Comey, in some ways, ends up being a good witness for us, unless you assume they’re trying to get him into a perjury trap by, he tells his version, somebody else has a different version.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How is he a good witness for the President if he’s saying that the President was asking him — directing him, in his words — to let the Michael Flynn investigation go?

GIULIANI: He didn’t direct him to do that. What he said to him was “Can you give him a break?”

STEPHANOPOULOS: Comey says he took it as direction.

GIULIANI: Well that’s OK. I mean, taking it that way — I mean by that time, he had been fired. And he said a lot of other things, some of which have turned out to be untrue. The reality is, as a prosecutor, I was told that many times. Can you give the man a break, either by his lawyers, by his relatives, by friends. You take that into consideration but, you know, that doesn’t determine not going forward with it.

That was Giuliani last month.  This was Giuliani yesterday:

“There was no conversation about Michael Flynn,” Giuliani said at the start of the interview Sunday. He added, referring to Comey’s claim that Trump had confronted him about Flynn: “We maintain the President didn’t say that.”

When Tapper specifically brought up Giuliani’s comments to ABC News, Giuliani protested: “I never told ABC that. That’s crazy. I’ve never said that. What I said was, ‘That is what Comey is saying Trump said.’”

This is practically a master class in what a perjury trap is, according to Giuliani. He's given his statement, only to find out the interrogator has a statement contradictory to Giuliani's. Except, of course, both statements are by Giuliani. How could he have avoided this "trap"? How, indeed.

Confronted with the clip of the earlier interview, Giuliani asked a reasonable question:  who are ya gonna believe: me, or me?

“I said it, but I also said before that I’m talking about their version of it,” Giuliani said after seeing the video. “Look, lawyers argue in the alternative. I know it’s complicated, but my goodness, we’ve been over it long enough that — I mean, why would I say something that isn’t true.”

“The President didn’t say to him, ‘Go easy on Flynn,’ or anything about Flynn.”
Which is enough to make everyone old enough to have heard it the first time proclaim: "Bill Clinton, all is forgiven for what the meaning of 'is' is."

Yeah, Giuliani is now that bad.

In Math We Trust

The word of mathematics is true and it can be trusted.

That's what the statistician said, and so it must be right.

A statistical study of the works of John Lennon and Paul McCartney has settled an issue that has burned for decades now (who knew?):  John Lennon wrote "In My Life," not Paul McCartney.  The study took 10 years, and its based on math, so it has to be true!  Math doesn't lie!  Trust us, we're statisticians!

Well, they are.....

How is this proven, you might reasonably ask?  We can't ask John Lennon, more's the pity (I never wish ill of the dead); and whatever Paul McCartney might say is not trustworthy.  I mean, after all, it was the 60's, right?

Cutting to the chase, it turns out Lennon wrote the whole thing. When you do the math by counting the little bits that are unique to the people, the probability that McCartney wrote it was .018 — that's essentially zero. In other words, this is pretty well definitive. Lennon wrote the music. And in situations like this, you'd better believe the math because it's much more reliable than people's recollections, especially given they collaborated writing it in the '60s with an incredibly altered mental state due to all the stuff they were ingesting.
Hey, it's science!  Trust us!  Math is truth, and it must be trusted!  Especially if you lived through the '60's, amirite?

It's a matter of faith, you see.  We can't ask Lennon; we can ask McCartney; but we can't trust McCartney, who after all is only human.  So we must trust math!

And if you just substitute "God" for "math" in this argument, you get an argument made by fundamentalists and others whom we don't admire for their reasoning, but the difference between the two in this case is almost imperceptible.

Okay, okay, statistical analysis is based on a recognized and examinable set of propositions that some religious reasoning may not likewise present.  But the usual slam on religious thinking is that it cannot be proven, only asserted.  So how do we prove the results of this 10 years of mathematical pursuit is correct?  How do we prove McCartney had nothing to do with "In My Life," that it was all Lennon?  We can't ask Lennon; we've rejected McCartney's testimony out of hand (the math proves him wrong!).  How do we prove this conclusion, except to accept it on faith, to trust, in other words (which is all "faith" really means) the math?

Would math lie to you?

I'm old enough to remember probably apocryphal stories about how bumblebees couldn't fly because they violated the laws of aerodynamics (whatever those are, right?) and how trains were mathematically proven, in the 19th century, to never be able to travel at 60 mph because the air would be sucked out of the carriages.  I have no doubt Snopes or something could disabuse me of the validity of both these hoary chestnuts.  Then again, as the adage has it, there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.

But really, the question here is:  how do we know?  This is a thesis that cannot be disproven, especially if you insist the math is true and human memory is false.  The conclusion is true because the math is trusted, and the math cannot be false because the math reveals the truth!  Except, of course, it doesn't; it reveals what we say it reveals.  We take on faith that it is correct (do you have the chops to review this analysis and refute its construction?).  But more importantly, the statistician insists the math is true and it can be trusted.

"Believe me," he says.


Saturday, August 11, 2018

All Talk All the Time

Tweeting about it is not doing anything about it.

Which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Old Times There Are Best Forgotten....

I've written about this plaque before.  And I have to admit, there's been so much change to the Capitol building that the last time I was there, I couldn't find this plaque.  It used to be downstairs from the main lobby, but when I was there the basement now connects to the new offices, built underground behind the Capitol.  There was an historical display in the basement of the old building, and I couldn't find the column with this plaque on it, though I've seen it before.

Speaker Straus makes an eloquent and reasoned argument for removing it posthaste.  But this small plaque in the basement of the Capitol is not the most offensive piece of Civil War remembrance on the Capitol grounds.  That distinction goes to the largest statue (or one of them, anyway) on the grounds, placed in front of the building on the long esplanade leading from the border of the grounds to the building.

The statue, with Jefferson Davis in the center, and four soldiers representing the Confederacy around him, was erected in 1903, and there is no question why it was put there:

Texas lawmakers in 1895 approved a monument “to the Confederate dead” to be placed on the grounds of the Capitol. Eight years later, more than 5,000 people gathered to see the Confederate Soldiers Monument unveiled — a particularly large crowd considering Austin’s population at the turn of the last century was just 22,000.

At the unveiling, John H. Reagan, the former Confederate postmaster general, told the crowd outside the Capitol that the North was to blame for the Civil War. “The people of the New England states, even as far back as 1803, when the Louisiana Purchase was consummated, opposed it, as they declared it would increase the power of the agriculture states and diminish the power of the manufacturing states,” he said, according to an account of the ceremony in the Austin Statesman.

Reagan said slavery had “existed in every civilized country in the world, including the Eastern states.”
That argument, that the "East" was as guilty as the South, will come up again.

To the left of this statue, as you face the Capitol, is a large, two-sided statue that is a tribute to African-Americans in Texas.

There is another statue, to the right, honoring Tejanos:

The last time I was at the Capitol those two statues were drawing small crowds of interest and attention; the large statue to the Confederacy stood alone in the sun, with no one much interested in it.  But it is an obscenity, as surely as that plaque is, and it should be removed.  If its history wasn't enough, the statue itself declares its purpose:

There is an effort to remove all the Confederate statues on the Capitol grounds (there are at least 20). Republican leadership, not surprisingly, doesn't want to "erase history":

The monuments are being defended by Gov. Greg Abbott and other Republican leaders as representing a chapter of American history that shouldn’t be forgotten. But, based on a review of the legislative record authorizing the memorials and contemporary accounts of their dedications, the monuments were erected as part of an effort to recast the war as a battle over “state rights.” Slavery and African-Americans are not mentioned on the memorials.
Some history deserves to be erased, apparently, but some doesn't.

What these memorials represent is what the contested plaque represents:  a refusal to take responsibility for a heinous chapter in American history, to acknowledge what Wendell Berry called our "hidden wound" of racism, present from the moment Columbus touched the shores of the New World, continued by us to this day.

Shortly before the unveiling of the Hood’s Texas Brigade Monument in 1910, William R. Hamby, president of the Hood’s Texas Brigade Association, said the Civil War was not a “lost cause” for the South. Hamby fought for the Confederacy and later became managing editor of Austin Daily Statesman, and then a state lawmaker.

“Those who still call us traitors and rebels think treason is the child of the South and that it was conceived in the sin of slavery and was born in the iniquity of secession,” Hamby said, as quoted in the Austin Statesman. “They overlook the fact that treason, slavery and secession are all children of New England. The first of all the colonies to legalize traffic in human slavery and to pass laws for the regulation and control of trade in African slaves was Massachusetts.”

Then-Gov. Thomas Mitchell Campbell said during the unveiling of the Hood’s Brigade monument that the war was “great because of the great principles for which they fought and died.”

“The men of the South did not surrender because they were whipped, for they never were,” Campbell claimed, “but they surrendered because they were tired of victory.” 

And if it isn't clear those attitudes were not buried by the Civil Rights Movement and giving Dr. King a holiday:

Marshall Davis, spokesman for the Texas Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said the Civil War was not fought over the South’s continued interest in enslaving African-Americans.

“Seems to me if slavery was the issue, there would have been a constitutional amendment in 1861,” he told the Statesman. “You cannot morally judge history by today’s standards.”

The Confederacy did not create slavery, Davis added.

“It was ‘you’re not telling me what to do,’” Davis said. “It is a very complicated issue. Slavery was a factor.”
In other words slavery wasn't the cause of the war, petulance and spite were.

Sounds about right; certainly seems to be the reason racism is rearing its ugly head again, lead by our Petulant Spiter in Chief.

Take 'em all down.  We're not remembering heroes or veterans with those monuments.  We're trying to paper over our own complicity in evil.  That is the history that should not be erased, and we should be ashamed of ourselves for even trying to.

Cowardly Bully Says What?

I'm getting more comfortable with Trump tweeting nonsense. What he tweets about he doesn't really do anything about. He loves to make threats. He hates to carry them out.

He didn't preview the family separation policy in a tweet, but he did say transgendered people could not serve in the military on Twitter.

One policy was enacted, one wasn't.

"Oh, Lord, he's gonna preach again!"

Jeff Sessions got crosswise with the United Methodist Church (the name comes from the merger of the Methodists and the United Brethren.  As my father, raised a Methodist before the merger, used to say, he didn't know where that "United" came from, because Methodists were anything but.), which decided that because he was acting as a government official, he couldn't be held personally responsible for the family separation policy he so gleefully implemented, and indeed got in trouble with the court over just this week.  But that is now and this was then.  Whether the UMC should have dropped the case or not (and had it not, it would have found itself as toothless as a tiger with dentures; I'm sure that played into the decision), Tara Burton sums up the issue rather precisely:

The case against Sessions nevertheless raises wider questions for politicians across the religious spectrum. To what extent should religious organizations hold their politician members accountable for legislative positions they take on issues that defy their church’s perspective? To what extent should political stances — be they on immigration, income inequality, abortion, or capital punishment — be held by religious institutions to the same, or higher, standards than personal or private behavior?

Except my question is:  who are you to judge?  Yes, there is the directive in Matthew for the community:  take your complaint to your brother or sister (in Christ); then to a group of believers, if necessary; then finally to the whole community, if you must.  But this wasn't a personal matter between Mr. Sessions and a church member, so that doesn't really apply.  This was a question of association:  is Jeff Sessions fit to be among us, the membership of the United Methodist Church (in my case it would be "among them," as I claim no closer association with the UMC than the commonality of Christianity).  But seriously:  how should churches handle these matters?

Back when the Church practically was the state (and was superior to it, hence the Pope crowned Kings and Emperors; which is why Napoleon upset the apple cart, but that's another story), excommunication meant expulsion from society, not just from the congregation.  Today, who checks your ID at the door to be sure you "belong" there?  And knowing some of the truly nasty people I encountered in church as a pastor, who are they to say I don't belong there (except they had the institutional power I didn't, but that, too, is another story)?

The charges against Sessions, even in general terms, are interesting and a little shocking:

The complaint against Sessions included charges of child abuse, immorality, racial discrimination, and the dissemination of false doctrine — the latter charge a reference to his use of the Bible verse Romans 13 to advocate for submission to government authority. Sessions faced the possibility of an ecclesiastical trial and, ultimately, expulsion from the church.
So racists and convicted criminals ( a felony is , or used to be, a "crime of moral turpitude"), or who don't use the accepted exegesis are not fit to be Methodists? Gonna be mighty sparse congregations.  And I'm still back to this question of judgment:  what would expulsion mean?  We don't like you any more?  We don't care for the way you behaved?  And who among the members of the UMC is so without sin they can cast the first stone?

Tara Burton connects the use of Romans 13 to the issue of the church in the world.

Sessions’s use of Romans 13 further blurred the lines between the private, religious sphere and the political arena. For now, the United Methodist Church has, by arguing that public and private life should be judged differently, seemingly chosen to keep the two distinct.

But as (Christian) religion and politics become increasingly intertwined in the current political climate, it remains to be seen to what extent religious institutions will attempt to use that influence to challenge the Trump administration. 

First:  that line, between church and world, is always going to be blurry, and always going to be blurred.  Either the church ignores the world (huh?), or the church interacts with the world and, by doing so and by definition, interferes with the world.  It simply can't be helped.  I don't think the argument that Sessions "blurred" that line by his interpretation of Romans 13 is all that helpful an analysis.  Simply saying "Love your neighbor" and "Do good to those who persecute you" is blurring the line.  Quoting even the most famous parables, like the Prodigal Son or the Good Samaritan, is blurring the line.

As for the use of Romans 13 and what any institution can do about it, she may be assuming a Roman Catholic view of exegesis, where the Church can at least argue it has the "right" interpretation (and the right to impose it on church members). That was more true 500 years ago than today, but Protestantism established a very different relationship between believers and scripture. The UMC can't really tell Jeff Sessions how to interpret Romans 13.  But a press release offering an alternative exegesis wouldn't get near the attention a church trial would. In the end, the former would be wiser than the latter, because the trial would not involve the church in opposing the Trump Administration.  A trial would only prove the church had no real power, and was vindictive to boot. I don't like Jeff Sessions at all, but the best thing Christian churches can do is provide an alternative to his racism and xenophobia. Trying to punish him because they don't like his actions doesn't make Sessions look immoral. It makes the institution of the Church look like it wants to be a power, but really doesn't have any.

What influence, ultimately, to religious institutions have?  Pope Francis doesn't seem to stand too stalwartly on the side of the U.S. Bishops (who have gone rather quiet lately).  The UCC regularly issues press releases on issues of the day; does anyone have any better idea what "UCC" is (beyond the very secular Uniform Commercial Code)?  If the UMC hadn't first made public the charges against Jeff Sessions, would anyone notice if they'd issued a statement condemning the family separation policy?  I don't know of a mainstream Christian denomination that has supported that policy, but can anyone state the specific objections of any church?  I'd have to Google them myself, and I haven't.

We are back, again, to questions of judgment.  Whatever authority the Church had, historically, to pass judgment on individuals or even nations, it always played fast and loose with that issue of "Don't judge, and you won't be judged."  "Kill them all, God will know His own" is not exactly a high moral point in Church history, and the Church has never really stood firmly on Augustine's "just war" theory, or been able to prevent war or reverse government policy.  What good would be accomplished, then, by declaring a prominent person beyond the reach of the hospitality of a denomination, of the fellowship supposedly open to all?  Does "he who is without sin" not apply when the stones are being cast in the name of the church?

The policies of the Trump Administration are reprehensible and immoral and unjust and probably illegal (the courts have reversed them).  Do we change them by telling Jeff Sessions he's not welcome as a church member?  Has his position on government policy really changed all that much since he became AG?  It's my understanding they haven't.  Is the church really called to do more than bear witness to God's word and God's truth?  The more we blur that line, the more we become like the powers that be.

And the prophets of the Exile didn't exactly applaud the government of Israel for contributing to that disaster for Israel.  Read that in connection with Romans 13, and you get a very different interpretation of the latter.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

The End of the World As We Know It

First, he'd have to wipe out half the movies, to achieve balance....

From some documentary I saw on TeeVee many, many years ago, I still recall this anecdote about the early Academy Awards presentations.  This would have been before TV became the best friend the Academy ever had, and much closer to the time the Academy was a shameless attempt by the studio heads to garner some credibility for the trash they regularly churned out (i.e., before tout le monde discovered that Howard Hawks and John Ford* became auteurs and 40's films were dubbed "Film Noir" by the French, whom we still despise unless they bestow fancy labels on what we consume and make locally).  Jimmy Stewart, I think the phrase was attributed to, said he and his fellow actors were  laughing at the pretension of an "Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences" because, in their experience, there was damned little art involved, and even less science.

I think of that now, every time someone takes the Oscars seriously, at all.  Like now, for instance:

Yes, "Achievement in Popular Film."  Because "Annie Hall" wasn't popular, nor was "Schindler's List," or "Saving Private Ryan," or any other film that won "Best Picture" (a dubious category on it's own) in the past.  Now finally the blockbusters will get their due, which will:  increase the market value of "Black Panther" or "Avengers:  Infinity War" or "Deadpool 2"?

Holy Shitballs!  Holy shit!**

**Deadpool 2 joke.  Don't think about it too hard.  Except as what it does to the sanctity of the Oscars to award a film that has a choir, very English, very formal, singing those words over the end credits.  I mean, it's funny, and the film was extremely popular ("Deadpool" was, frankly, better overall) but is it:  Oscarbait?

Dunno, don't care, just noticing the humor in it.  I mean, I loved "Annie Hall" at the time, but I'm not sure it wears as well as "A Night at the Opera" or even "Duck Soup."  And none of them lay a glove on "You Can't Take It With You."  I can't remember what else has won "Best Picture," but it's not usually a movie I cared about that much, and the award certainly never drove me back to the theater to see what I missed.  In fact, most of the awards are pretty dumb. Is the winner of "Best Actor" really better than the other nominees?  And isn't the "Best Actress" award kind of sexist by now?

The best part about this announcement is all the thumb-sucker pieces that will be produced with arguments turning archly on how one defines a "popular film."  

Here’s an arbitrary metric the Academy could use: “Popular” movies are the top 30 grossers at the domestic box office for the year. (There are problems with this metric, which I’ll get to, but go with me for the moment.)

This will be the typical (even stereotypical) sentence, and it will immediately be shot down because some "bad" movie like "The Greatest Showman" (which, honestly, looked like crap.  Then again, not my genre, and what do I know.  If it's made by Marvel Studios, I respond like Pavlov's dog.)  And the conclusion will be something like this:

So “popular” will likely end up being defined as “vaguely genre-y,” except the Academy can’t say, “This award is for sci-fi, horror, fantasy, action, superhero, and comedy films,” for fear of further segregating those films from consideration in other categories, when they already struggle to get noticed, to say nothing of the fear of defining movies in those genres as “not good enough to be the Best Picture.”

And no one will bother to offer a definition of what "Best Picture" is; apparently the Academy just knows it when it sees it.  And in fact, "Popular" movie gives the Academy an excuse to eat its cake and have its cake, too; because it can still award "Best Picture" to the one that most burnishes its reputation as an academy of arts (sciences are relegated to all those awards for sound editing and cinematography that take place in another place at another time, without the glitterati or the cameras).


*Who apparently was quite a bit of a dick, at least in the ways he treated Maureen O'Sullivan, on-screen and off, and shouldn't we be exhuming his corpse soon and berating him and his career for that, hmmmm?

I'm not really certain....

Pundits and poo-bahs propound profoundly about party identification.  Just the other day I heard a pollster analyzing his own organization's poll and announcing that Beto O'Rourke is still largely an unknown in Texas (he is; he's from El Paso, which is so far into New Mexico it's practically in Arizona.  If you leave East Texas on a journey to California, you'll be halfway there when you reach El Paso, and you still haven't left Texas.) and popular only because of the "D" beside his name.   Which is curious since "D" has been the death-mark in Texas politics for at least 30 years, but now it isn't, and yet that isn't a profound shift, per the pollster's analysis.  And it really isn't so bad; the idea of a "yellow-dog Democrat" (and I wish I still had the political pin with the picture of the yellow dog on it and the legend "I'm a yellow-dog Democrat."  Because I am.) was that the voter would vote for a yellow dog if it ran on the Democratic ballot.  I think that's all he meant by it, too, but it's supposedly a lesser thing to be so partisan, even though that's the story of American politics since the Whigs and the Federalists.

I mention this because I've been getting material from the NRA, and I finally decided why.  One was a loaded survey, full of what Walt Kelly described as "the buckshot use of the curved question."  I answered them all contrarily and sent it back, just to charge them the postage and the personnel to open the envelope.  Yesterday they sent me a membership offer.  I am the furthest thing from a prospective NRA member (well, there are probably a few people in Berkeley), and I couldn't figure out why they had me on a mailing list.  Then the penny dropped.

In the May primaries I voted in the GOP, in a foolhardy attempt to block the nomination of the Lt. Gov.  Foolhardy because it was the desperate attempt of a GOP candidate to win that nomination by urging school employees across the state to oppose the incumbent's idiotic ideas about schools, especially about how schools treat transgendered students (of which there are probably, what, 5 in Texas?  Honestly, how is that a big problem, and how is treating them with respect an issue for government to oppose?).  Didn't work, but I got lots of phone calls about GOP primary runoffs.  The runoffs came and went and now the Democrats are back to courting me, which is much nicer.

But I realized the NRA must have used those voting rolls for fundraising and mailings.  It's the only explanation, because in 60+ years I've never gotten on their radar.  This can't be a coincidence.  And the conclusion is obvious:  people who vote for people with "R" by their name are obviously more sympathetic to the NRA.  QED.

I'm sure there's something profoundly wrong with that.  Except that we call it marketing, and use it as the basis for all polling (the pollster being interviewed went on to explain that Cruz would probably win in November because there are simply more R's and D's in Texas, and the former are the greater number of likely voters.  Well, yeah, except the NRA is wasting a lot of postage on me, so these classifications aren't always as sound as made out to be, especially if D's decide to actually vote this time around.  Nothing is so certain as uncertainty.)

In the meantime I'm seeing several "BETO" yard signs in my neighborhood, where I've never seen any before, or if so the occasional GOP candidate.  Other Democrats signs, too.  This may mean more in November than anyone sees yet.  As a life long yellow-dog, it warms my old Democratic heart.

Keep Pluckin' that Chicken!

Hmmm...yeah, about that:

The race is extremely close in Ohio's 12th Congressional District, where Democrat Danny O'Connor is facing off against Republican state Senator Troy Balderson. The winner will take over the term of Pat Tiberi, who resigned to work for a business group earlier this year.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Balderson has 50.1 percent of the vote, to O'Connor's 49.3 percent. The vote may come down to counting provisional and absentee ballots -- but that could take days. County boards of elections reported that 3,435 provisional ballots were cast and there were 5,048 outstanding absentee ballots. State law dictates election officials cannot begin counting these ballots until the 11th day after the election, which would be Aug. 18.

Balderson appeared to claim victory, saying in a statement, "THANK YOU #OH12! I am honored for the opportunity to represent Ohio's 12th Congressional District. I will work relentlessly for everyone in this district. Congratulations to Danny O'Connor on running a hard-fought race."

If the vote margin is ultimately within half a point, an automatic recount would be triggered.

So not yet 8 out of 9; and besides, it was a "special election."  The number of votes cast was just over 200,000, and both candidates face another vote in November, when turnout will be larger.  Does that matter?  Probably:

While the loss will doubtlessly disappoint Democrats, it was still just a 1 percentage-point Republican win in a district with an R+14 partisan lean. That’s a Democratic overperformance of 13 points — not too far off the average Democratic overperformance (16 points) in federal special elections going into this week.

Besides, sometimes a miss is as good as a win:

And Five Thirty-Eight shows a Democratic swing (from 3 points to 31 points) in every special election since April 4, 2017, which is a fine augury for a blue wave in November, when people expect to turn out and vote.  And down in Texas, Cruz is so worried about Beto (who is now within 1 point of Cruz in polling), he's asking Trump to come campaign for him.  Maybe it'll help; Trump is the only person in D.C. more obnoxious than Cruz.  The contrast might do Cruz some good.