"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, October 19, 2018

Can't We All Just Get Along?

Alright, the funniest part about this:

is that these evangelicals sound more like "liberal" Christians than "conservative" Christians.  But there's nothing inherently un-Christian in this:

According to the summary, “A majority of evangelicals said (1) that most people are basically good, (2) that God accepts the worship of all religions, and (3) that Jesus was the first and greatest being created by God the Father. However, all these beliefs are contrary to the historic Christian faith.”
Sounds okay to me, but The State of Theology (is that like ISIS?  Or more Heidegerrean, and so a state of being?) says:

As State of Theology explains, the Bible specifically teaches that people are not universally good by pointing out, “This idea flatly contradicts the Bible, which teaches the radical corruption of every human being and declares that no one does good by nature (Rom. 3:10–12). This is why we need the gospel in the first place—because none of us is good.”

Actually, that's an interpretation from a very conservative branch of Christianity.  It is not the "truth" of Christianity as recognized by all Christians.  Indeed, all Christians agree there are only three things common to them all:  That baptism is in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and is a sacrament; that Jesus Christ is Lord; and that God is Creator.  None of those have to do with damnation or salvation.  As for reading Romans, I'd refer you to the work of Krister Stendhal, the Bishop of Stockholm; one can hardly call him a non-Christian because he would argue felicitously against this reading of Paul's writings.

Raw Story apparently got this from Friendly Atheist; it's a link my browser won't allow me to follow, so I'll leave the issue here:  "The State of Theology" has a theological agenda to promote, a very conservative one.  Nothing wrong with that, but that website and its writers don't get to determine whether or not I'm a "correct" enough Christian to claim to be one, or to be declared ignorant of central tenets of Christianity.

Friendly Atheist, in other words, appears to have stepped into a family fight and, not recognizing any of the players or really understanding the terms of the discussion, has chosen a side.  They got played.

The Times, They Are A-changin'....again

So now it's a quasi-proper noun, like "God"?

Oh, and if O'Rourke is really doomed to lose, why is Trump worried?

Can we turn Texas into California?  'Cause that'd be cool.  And the more they say Medicare-for-all is "socialized medicine," the more we get to say Medicare is the most socialized medicine program on the planet.  I know Cruz keeps saying that; but it doesn't seem to have hurt O'Rourke a bit (the polls I've seen are all with such tiny counts of respondents I consider them farcical right now.  In ordinary times Cruz's attacks would leave his opponent in the dust.  A less than two-digit lead is still astonishing to me.).

Early voting starts Monday in Texas.  In my 60 years living here, I've never seen as many yard signs as I've seen this year; nor since the state flipped from one-party Democrat to one-party Republican, have I seen so many signs for Democratic candidates. 

If money voted — heck, if yard signs voted — Beto O’Rourke would be well on his way to the United States Senate.

 It all comes down to turnout, and yard signs are just one reason to expect it to be high:

If the astonishing fundraising in this election — by Republican incumbents, on one hand, and Democratic challengers, especially in federal races, on the other — is a portent of voter enthusiasm, then turnout should be higher than normal. If your neighborhood has been swept up in the flocks of yard signs, especially the black-and-white ones for what’s his name, then you might be looking for higher-than-normal local turnout, too.
Voter turnout in Georgia is already high, despite the state's best efforts to suppress votes.  People who put up yard signs aren't waiting for election day so they can miss voting; I expect many of them, like me (and more signs have sprung up in my neighborhood just in the last week), are ready to vote on Monday, if they can.

It’s far too early to read the tea leaves from the early voting returns. Different states and localities have different early voting practices, and there are still 18 days to go before Nov. 6, the first national election day since Donald Trump stunned the country by winning the presidency.

But given the polls of voter enthusiasm, the astronomical fundraising numbers, and the remarkable number of ballots cast in this year’s special elections and primaries, there’s plenty of reason to believe this is going to be a uniquely high turnout midterm election.

University of Florida professor Michael McDonald, who runs the United States Election Project blog, expects that some 45-50 percent of eligible U.S. voters will participate in the midterms—a figure not seen in a midterm election since 1970. In the 2014 midterms, slightly over a third of eligible voters, or 37 percent, cast ballots.

McDonald is basing that prediction in part on the high rates of early voting in states like Georgia, where turnout is three times higher than it was at this time in 2014.

“The initial early voting data we’re seeing is very unusual,” McDonald told TPM. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

In Georgia, a state that maintains individual-level voting data, black voters are turning out in huge numbers compared to the previous midterm cycle.

Nate Silver, as TPM points out, says not to count on stories of early vote turnout for anything.  And it may be the same voters are showing up early rather than late, meaning there won't be a surge of voters in this midterm.  However, commenters and political scientists still act like the only day that counts is Election Day, and that voters won't decide until they walk in the booth that day, so we really don't have the models for this yet:

It may become easier to read into early voting numbers as more states adapt mechanisms for it, and more voters become accustomed to casting ballots this way. A 2016 Pew Research Center survey documented the steadily growing share of the electorate that relies on “nontraditional voting.”

Funny sidebar:  a guest on "1A" this morning mentioned that Texas had "straight party" voting, meaning you could check one box and vote straight Democrat or Republican.  The host seemed astounded by this, and had to have a full explanation of how it was done.  I've voted in Texas for 45 years, and always considered this normal.  Maybe it's a hold-over from being a one-party state for so long, and maybe eliminating it in 2020 (when it goes away) will be a good thing.  But for old time's sake, I'm probably gonna use it this last time.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Wag The Dog

The racist xenophobia is lagniappe.

(Adding:  yes, we've been here before.  No, Trump can't use U.S. military troops to enforce immigration laws on the Mexican border.  Back in April he didn't even try to use the National Guard to enforce the immigration laws; they just worked to "support" the Border Guard.  Yes, he is a paranoid xenophobic racist idiot.  He is also the President of the United States.  No, this is not a Hallowe'en movie.  Unfortunately.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

"It's money that matters... the U.S.A."/It's money that matters!/Hear what I say!"

“You’ve got one journalist — who knows? Was it an interrogation? Was he assassinated? Were there rogue elements? Who did it?...You’ve got $100 billion worth of arms sales...we cannot alienate our biggest player in the Middle East.”

Donald Trump?  No; Pat Robertson.

Can't let a little thing like ethics get in the way of the $$$$.

"Where your treasure is, there will your heart be, also."--Jesus of Nazareth

The Paradox of Ethics

Real life so seldom makes the point a great thinker was making in the abstract:

“He said that he was a good Catholic male and that he couldn’t in good conscience give me this medication because it’s used for abortions, and he could not prescribe that,” she explained to the Detroit Free Press. “When I divulged to him that the fetus was no longer viable, and that … I needed to progress the situation further, he said, ‘Well, that’s your word and I don’t believe you,’ and he refused to fill it.”

This is a fine example of the "ethical paradox of group loyalty."  The pharmacist is maintaining his identity in his group by denying the person outside of his group access to drugs he alone has the power to dispense.  To quote my previous approach to this topic:

At the individual level [Emerson and Smith note], selfishness is usually considered negative, but at the group level, it is considered moral and just. Indeed, at the group level, it is not called selfishness, but morality, service, sacrifice, or loyalty. Although we are selfish if we always look out for our own individual needs first it is considered wrong and immoral if we do not consider the needs of our family first, ahead of other families. We house our families first, and only if we can spare extra do we help house other families. To do otherwise is considered immoral or, at a minimum, a sad case of misplaced priorities.

The story of Elijah and the widow notwithstanding.

The pharmacist doesn't see himself as selfish, but rather as protecting the needs of his group.  And the story of Elijah and the widow is instructive here.  Asked to make some food for the prophet by the prophet, the widow protests that she only has enough meal and oil for one more meal for she and her son.  But serving the prophet first, she feeds him, herself, and her son for the duration of the drought which has made food so scarce.  Had she not done so, the story clearly implies, she and her son would have starved.  The pharmacist, unlike the widow, thinks of his own interests (his identity in his idea of what is right) first.  Which, frankly, is not even marginally Christian, in the final analysis (the first of all will be last and servant of all; hard to do that when you insist it's your way or the highway).  Ironically, what the pharmacist imagines is an ethical relation between himself and the customer he denies medication to, is actually political:

For this reason, relations between groups are always mainly political rather than ethical or moral. As Niebuhr says, "They will always be determined by the proportion of power which each group possesses at least as much as by any rational and moral appraisal of the comparative needs and claims of each group."

The pharmacist has power over the woman, and he wields it to his satisfaction and, he thinks, to his ethical credit.  The paradox is, in behaving ethically as he understands it, he actually behaves selfishly, which is to say:  unethically.

This is the paradox of Reinhold Niebuhr's Moral Man and Immoral Society in a nutshell.  And the problem with allowing pharmacists to decide who to dispense drugs to, and for what reasons.

She Blinded Me With Science!

"Examined at headquarters after a trip of intense strain and weariness, the prisoners all proved to be of a very low, mixed-blooded, and mentally aberrant type."

--H.P. Lovecraft, "The Call of Cthulhu" (1926)

So "faith" is believing what "ain't so." And it is bad because it creates blind adherence to ideas which damage people and then society.

"The American Experience" reviewed, in two hours, the history of eugenics in America, a history that starts with Darwin and creates the word "eugenics" (coined by an American from Greek, the word means "well-bred." Listening to the scholars on the show talk about the desire to secure utopia that eugenics was supposed to deliver, one wishes they would remember Thomas More coined that word from Greek, too. It means "nowhere."), an idea that all too quickly exploded into law and national policy in the 20's and 30's. It rose as church affiliation fell to its lowest point in the century. Trust in God replaced by trust in science. God will not improve the world, but science will. William Jennings Bryant, the man mocked in the movie about the Scopes trial, actually opposed the abuse of people in the name of science. He was a very religious man, not the man of science Darrow was, and yet we still only remember Bryant as a caricature. Although science eventually rejected the idea of eugenics, it didn't reject the reasoning behind it.  And it wasn't science that turned the public against it.

Do you know the story of Carrie Buck? She was in the state foster care system of Virginia, raped by an adult, and made a test case by a prosecutor and a court appointed lawyer who wanted her case to set the law of the land by the Supreme Court. The idea they were promoting was forced sterilization.  Like Mr. Snopes (who was never in any danger of imprisonment), Carrie Buck was simply a pawn in a game of would-be kings. They got her case to the Supreme Court where Oliver Wendell Holmes, the Antonin Scalia of his day, thundered that "Three generations of imbeciles is enough." The opinion opened the floodgates of forced sterilization across the land.  In the 6 years before it, 6,000 Americans were sterilized.  In the six years after, that number was doubled.  Before the practice was finally repudiated decades later, as many as 60,000 had been forcibly sterilized.  The commonest denominator was their social class. They were poor.

The documentary mentions a Hollywood movie from the '30's, in which our heroine, young and photogenic, is forced to undergo sterilization because her family is nothing but criminals, prostitutes, and the impoverished.  She is spared the indignity at the last moment when it turns out, not that that law or science is wrong, but that she's adopted!  No inherited taint!  Thus did society start to reject the laws of eugenics; they shouldn't apply to innocent young beautiful white women.  We held on to the reasoning, we just thought ourselves more careful about applying it.  We didn't crucify mankind on a cross of gold. We sterilized them in the name of science.  Eugenics laws remained on the books long after we rejected their premises. We forgot why we did, but we kept doing it. And we keep the notion alive to this day:

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) weighed in on what a DNA test could potentially reveal about his ancestry on Tuesday’s “Fox & Friends,” awkwardly quipping: “I’ll probably be Iranian. That would be like terrible.” 

Blood determines who you are; and wouldn't it be awkward to have even "one drop" of the wrong blood?

And when did our public fascination with eugenics end? It began to crack in the Great Depression, when the "best" people were poor, too.  Of what good were "good genes" and "pure blood" if you wound up in the bread lines? It became a pseudo-science when the Nazis took this very American science (we did invent it) and our eugenics laws, and turned it into the Holocaust. We repudiated it as quickly as we had embraced it.  Science didn't stop it or correct it in America; horror and humanity did.  Even Gene Roddenberry recognized the power of it, as he posited a "Eugenics War" in his "Star Trek" universe.  It gave rise to one of the Kirk's most famous adversaries ("KHAN!!!!!!"), but it's largely disappeared from the ST canon.  What we don't remember we are doomed to repeat?  Probably Roddenberry thought so.

Interestingly, after WWII American church attendance exploded to levels not seen since the Puritan colonies had made it mandatory. Correlation does not equal causation, but what an interesting set of coincidences it is.

Seems we can put our faith in science to our detriment, too.  Because the basis for the rejection of eugenics is obvious:

Here was a way to use science and some apparent common sense to make the world safer, more rational, and more efficient. This objective measurement scheme would force inefficient judicial institutions to abandon ineffective approaches and help law enforcement and lay citizens alike to know who to hold in suspicion. It would, in short, make the world a better place. The problem was that this approach, in trying to map the coordinates of human nature onto an “objective” matrix, merely reinscribed colonial and imperial racial and sexual logics, as well as an endemic bourgeois hatred of the working classes. Lombroso, of course, didn’t think of it that way. Substituting his best intentions for serious inquiry, he imputed a value system designed to stratify people through biology.
Trust us!  We're scientists!  Besides, we left that all behind in the 30's, right?

Physiognomy was eventually debunked, but its legacy of what Cedric Robinson calls racial thinking has lived on in Silicon Valley’s cultural imaginaries. Lombroso’s theory was, like a great deal currently coming out of the world of tech, an engineering “solution” in search of a problem. It’s no surprise that all types of Victorian theorizing, often translated into more contemporary languages (think “genetics” instead of “racial atavism,” or “evolutionary psychology” and Jordan Petersen’s lobster tales instead of the “feminine sphere” or the “weaker sex”) so animate research and product development that, to quote Virginia Eubanks, the tech industry is “automating inequality.” Physiognomy and related bunk sciences like phrenology have never truly left, and the heavily capitalized project of turning the world into a datafied engineering project means that it is more central than ever before.
The progenitor of eugenics was physiognomy; when that was debunked, eugenics took over.  Eugenics was eventually rejected, but the driving forces behind both attempts at science are still with us, indeed, still present in our science and our faith (trust) in science.  And the real problem is, science never really rejects the premises of "bad" science; it just declares the extremes "pseudo-science," but it keeps the basic reasoning and applies it in new and improved ways:

“Science” here functions as a corrective for those technologists who seek to push possibilities too far. “Better” science and “better” ethics do not ask too much of their technologies. This posits digital physiognomy as overreaching, redeeming the more sober mundanities of biometrics in general.

To talk about phrenology “reappearing” in contemporary technologies misses the fact that its underlying logic never left. To the extent that “science” debunked the most egregious elements of physiognomy, it did so by driving the same premises of deducing character from physical characteristics deeper into the body. Rather than look for a person’s essential nature in their face, research looked for it in DNA, in hormone levels, in imperceptible but nonetheless determinate physical materials. This process, often against the aims of the researchers, has had the predictable effect of re-encoding racial taxonomies in genomic studies, rigidifying sexuality as “genetic,” and legitimating class exploitation as a product of physiological inheritance. The widely derided criminality and the sexuality studies both rely (spuriously) on this type of “legitimate” research to justify their claims.

Just to carry that argument forward to its conclusion:

Most refutations of the criminality study included as part of their argument an explanation that “criminality” is likely driven by a combination of biological and environmental conditions. In particular, testosterone levels have been shown to contribute to the type of “risky” behavior that leads to criminality. This correlation between testosterone and behavior seems to hold across a number of animal species, but animals do not commit crimes. Testosterone levels might be correlated with certain types of behavior, but the biological tells us literally nothing about “crime,” a category of human social organization.

If we’re looking for a real “root cause” of “criminality,” we should look not to biological factors but to politics, which organizes how a society decides what is and is not a crime and how punishment is to be administered. The sort of risk taking and violence associated with testosterone is, after all, just as often lauded or ignored as it is considered dangerous. Politicized attitudes about race, class, and sex tend to determine whether biological factors are seen in one way or another.

Arguing that physiognomy and phrenology were dominant until “of course, science happened” is a misrepresentation. It wasn’t “science” that happened; it was the civil rights movement. The root problem with the recent phrenology and physiognomy studies is their political implications: that they could give a scientific-seeming alibi for monitoring, impoverishing, or incarcerating people, much like earlier social Darwinism helped legitimate racial regimes. If that is the main problem with the “pseudosciences” of phrenology and physiognomy, we need to consider how biometrics in general — routinized facial recognition, gait recognition, and “behavioral” biometrics to list just a few — performs these same core functions.
Or how much of the same core functions of eugenics are still with us as science, even as eugenics is considered a "pseudo-science"?*  What do we trust, and why?

If you watch the PBS documentary, you'll see how much the proponents of eugenics and immigration control, sound exactly like Donald Trump.  You'll see how much hasn't really changed.  A famous actress in the 1920's told the nation that without immigration control, (the control of immigration from central and southern Europe, Catholics rather than the Protestants of northern Europe and Britain.  Now it's Muslims and people from South America.), the nation as they knew it would cease to exist. Everything old is new again.  The past isn't over; it isn't even past.

Link to "Controlled Measures" courtesy of Thought Criminal.

*This issue is actually underscored in the documentary itself.  It begins with Dr. Charles Davenport, who coined the term "eugenics," traveling to England to meet with Francis Galton, cousin to Charles Darwin.  Davenport and Dalton agreed that "survival of the fittest" meant some humans were more fit than others.  This is presented, almost immediately, as a distortion of Darwin's work, rather than the logical extension of it which Galton championed and Darwin approved of.  The connection to evolution and eugenics is maintained, but evolution itself is cleansed of any "genetic" taint.  It turns out eugenics was an orphan, not a descendant!  How convenient, and how trusting.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

This whole "human" thing, it's so hard to do. (Cruz is supposed to be a "world class debater" and a man to be reckoned with in any forum. Heh.) More tweets; what can I do but post them?

This Just In: Water is Wet!


Whataburger started in the '50's in Texas.  In 2001, the Legislature declared it a State Treasure.  When I moved back to Texas after 5 years in the Midwest (Illinois, mostly), I told my then 6 year old daughter that the first thing we were gonna do was get a Whataburger.  In my Texas accent (such as it is), she thought I was saying "Waterburger," a confusion we still laugh about.  She's coming home for a visit soon, and has already demanded we stop at Whataburger on the way home from the airport.  Fortunately, Whataburger is open 24 hours around here.

All by way of trying to explain the mythic status Whataburger has in Texas to those of you who read this and are non-Texans..  It's not the best burger anywhere, but it has captured Texas' heart.  James Avery, the Texas jewelry equivalent of Whataburger, marketed a charm with the Whataburger logo, and sold out of it the first three times it offered it.  You understand, it's something we love.  And who can hold it against Beto that he is seen eating there on lots of videos on the internet?

Ted Cruz has got to be the most tone-deaf politician I've ever seen.

(And Richard Linklater is another Texas treasure; or he should be considered such.  He's having way too much fun with this.)

Mud Wrestling

No, Sen. Warren didn't have to respond to President Trump's "Pocahontas" taunts.  For one reason, now we have this:

“I’m going to take a DNA test,” [Sen. Lindsay] Graham insisted to the Fox News hosts. “I’ve been told that my grandmother is part Cherokee. It may all be just talk, but you’re going to find out in a couple weeks because I’m going to take the this test.”

“You are going to take it!” Fox News host Brian Kilmeade exclaimed.

“I’m taking it and the results are going to be revealed here,” Graham continued. “This is my Trump moment. This is reality TV.”

“I didn’t really think much about it but [Warren is] less than one-tenth of 1 percent, I think I can beat her,” he added.

This is the old days of mulattos and quadroons and octaroons, turned on its head.  The "one-drop" rule made you black because of your ancestors; now it makes you Native American?  The Cherokee Nation is right:

“It doesn’t drill down to whether a person has Cherokee ancestry, for example, or ancestry of any particular tribe. It’s useful to connect yourself with some lineage, determine paternity, but it doesn’t narrow down the scope of who your ancestors were to any identifiable tribe,” Hoskin Jr. said to CNN’s Jake Tapper.

“We need to be clear about what it means to be a Native American and Indian in this country. And it comes down to a legal status that we frankly have fought long and hard for and are very proud of,” he added.

“We have a lot of issues, and we would rather the President of the United States and Senator Warren focus in on things that affect us, housing, health care, clean water, clean air,” he continued. “We don’t think it’s particularly useful to have them in a back and forth about a DNA test, name calling and that sort of thing.”

And we're still debating the application of the "one-drop rule":

“The elephant in the room here is whether DNA testing tells us anything about heritage or ethnicity,” Simon Gravel, an assistant professor of human genetics at McGill University for whom Bustamante served as a postdoctoral adviser.

“My personal opinion is that DNA testing should not be the way in which we determine ethnicity.”

Which explains Trump's response:  first, "who cares?", and then, he'll only believe it if he does the test:

White supremacists do not especially care what their genetic ancestry tests show, if they reveal anything that doesn’t conform with their claimed white heritage. At the same time, these genetic tests may actually be exciting to white supremacists because it gives them a scientific argument for the diversity of the European “race,” which helps them appropriate the language of diversity and multiculturalism for hateful purposes.

This is not a fight the Senator wins:  period.  This is wrestling with the pig:  you get muddy, and the pig likes it.

Adding:  I was looking for this earlier, and only belatedly found it again:

The Cherokee Nation just this week had decided to challenge a recent decision by a federal judge in Texas who declared a law called the Indian Child Welfare Act unconstitutional. The law, which was passed in the 1970s to prevent the forced removal of Native American children from their tribes, gives tribes the right to intervene in adoptions in which non-native parents adopt native children. The federal judge decided earlier in the month that the law was unconstitutional, based on the Fifth Amendment’s equal protection clause—in essence, arguing that Native American families were being given preferential treatment based on race.

This decision hinges on the notion of native identity as racial, Nagle argued, and if upheld, it could set the precedent for other sovereign rights to be stripped. That conceptualization of identity is wrong, she said, because to be a member of a sovereign nation is a cultural and political matter. After all, Nagle notes, DNA tests could never tell anyone which particular tribe their ancestor belonged to, so someone claiming native identity from a test wouldn’t know which tribe to register with.
Consider using genetics to determine whether or not you are "American," or, more directly, "Texan."  It was a bit of a controversy around this state 40 years ago, with a huge increase in migration to the Lone Star State.  "Native Texans" became a designation for the first time in my memory.  It never became so silly or important as membership in a Native American tribe, but there was a certain pride in being a "native Texan," especially if you're family had connections going back to the days of the Republic, as my daughter does through my wife.  If we start deciding who has privileges based on genetics (which is the claim of those who would seek connection to Native American tribes based on DNA), it has real consequences:

Krystal Tsosie, an indigenous geneticist-ethicist at Vanderbilt, said that on a practical level, tribal enrollment matters when it comes to arrangements with the United States government about the tribes’ rights and resources established in treaties. “Access to water, air quality, health care is tied with an individual’s ability to establish ascendancy to an individual Nation,” she said. “External factors that question biologically how we as indigenous individuals call ourselves would be dangerous.”
The other consequence is how it plays into the arguments of white supremacists.  Tie those two together, so that genetics determines certain material benefits, and you have the worst of American racism and racial attitudes run amok.  In one sense, yes, it's a long step from Sen. Warren's claims to racist chaos; on the other hand, why are we even taking sides in this matter?  It doesn't end well no matter what you think of the President, and it rests on some very ugly arguments.

Monday, October 15, 2018

"Who Cares?"

The title is what Trump said on the way to Georgia when asked about Sen. Warren's DNA test proving she had some Native American heritage.  He also said he didn't say what he said.

By the time he got to Georgia, he decided to amend his challenge, because, you know, scientists have political agendas.  Well, that's what he told Leslie Stahl about climate change, in the same interview where he said that Jim Mattis was a crypto-Democrat (which would be grounds for deportation, if Trump could swing it).

This is what he's up against:

The analysis of Warren’s DNA was done by Carlos D. Bustamante, a Stanford University professor and expert in the field who won a 2010 MacArthur fellowship, also known as a genius grant, for his work on tracking population migration via DNA analysis.

You can see why Trump would want to do it himself.  Aside from the fact he doesn't have $1 million to spare.  And always, literally, let's his mouth write checks his ass can't cash.

This really is about as dumb as it gets.  "The President of the United States, Ladies and Gentlemen!"

Some days it's not worth getting out of bed.  

The World Is A Ghetto

And we're all just bit players in a bad action movie.

Bored enough to care

I almost feel sorry for Valerie Tarico.  She was obviously very damaged by her childhood religious experiences. That said, she needs therapy, not internet access.

1. Religion promotes tribalism.

Infidel, heathen, heretic. Religion divides insiders from outsiders. Rather than assuming good intentions, adherents often are taught to treat outsiders with suspicion. “Be ye not unequally yoked with unbelievers,” says the Christian Bible. “They wish that you disbelieve as they disbelieve, and then you would be equal; therefore take not to yourselves friends of them,” says the Koran (Sura 4:91).

At best, teachings like these discourage or even forbid the kinds of friendship and intermarriage that help clans and tribes become part of a larger whole. At worst, outsiders are seen as enemies of God and goodness, potential agents of Satan, lacking in morality and not to be trusted. Believers might huddle together, anticipating martyrdom. When simmering tensions erupt, societies fracture along sectarian fault lines. does nationalism, patriotism, politics, regionalism, classism, sports teams. I could go on. It's a fundamental of sociology that people identify with groups, for good and ill. I've seen tribalism with religion, and I've seen phenomenal inclusion and charity because of religion. The popular use of "tribalism" usually means "people not in my tribe are the problem." It's certainly what it means in this quote.
2. Religion anchors believers to the Iron Age.
Concubines, magical incantations, chosen people, stonings….The Iron Age was a time of rampant superstition, ignorance, inequality, racism, misogyny, and violence. Slavery had God’s sanction. Women and children were literally possessions of men. Warlords practiced scorched-earth warfare. Desperate people sacrificed living animals, agricultural products and enemy soldiers as burnt offerings intended to appease dangerous gods.

Sacred texts including the Bible, Torah and Koran all preserve and protect fragments of Iron Age culture, putting a god’s name and endorsement on some of the very worst human impulses. Any believer looking to excuse his own temper, sense of superiority, warmongering, bigotry, or planetary destruction can find validation in writings that claim to be authored by God.

Today, humanity’s moral consciousness is evolving, grounded in an ever deeper and broader understanding of the Golden Rule. But many conservative believers can’t move forward. They are anchored to the Iron Age. This pits them against change in a never-ending battle that consumes public energy and slows creative problem solving.
I left the whole thing in because of the ending, which reverts to the "Golden Rule," something promulgated by a Jewish rabbi (before they were really rabbis, but ignore the anachronism) in: THE IRON AGE!

Wait a minute.....(and let's just ignore the woo of "humanity's moral consciousness evolving").

3. Religion makes a virtue out of faith.

Trust and obey for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus.So sing children in Sunday schools across America. The Lord works in mysterious ways,pastors tell believers who have been shaken by horrors like brain cancer or a tsunami. Faith is a virtue.

As science eats away at territory once held by religion, traditional religious beliefs require greater and greater mental defenses against threatening information. To stay strong, religion trains believers to practice self-deception, shut out contradictory evidence, and trust authorities rather than their own capacity to think. This approach seeps into other parts of life. Government, in particular, becomes a fight between competing ideologies rather than a quest to figure out practical, evidence-based solutions that promote wellbeing.

As Shakespeare displayed in "Othello," a society that can't function on trust (which is what "faith" means, not "believing what you know ain't so," as Ms. Taricot clearly believes and as William James disposed of.  Honestly, lady, read a book.) is a society that can't function.  Science is as based on faith as religion.  Do you conduct every experiment already relied on? Or do you trust the validity of what you were taught? Faith is fundamental to society, even to human knowledge.  Nor do you want to be the one who questions the fundamental arguments of science.  These are to be taken on faith (especially if you are devotee of Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris) and never questioned (the whole "science proceeds by questioning itself" is honored more in the breach than in the keeping, at least in popular science circles).

And there really isn't anything in science that contradicts the basic weltanschaung of scripture.

4.Religion diverts generous impulses and good intentions.

Feeling sad about Haiti? Give to our mega-church. Crass financial appeals during times of crisis thankfully are not the norm, but religion does routinely redirect generosity in order to perpetuate religion itself. Generous people are encouraged to give till it hurts to promote the church itself rather than the general welfare. Each year, thousands of missionaries throw themselves into the hard work of saving souls rather than saving lives or saving our planetary life support system. Their work, tax free, gobbles up financial and human capital.

Besides exploiting positive moral energy like kindness or generosity, religion often redirects moral disgust and indignation, attaching these emotions to arbitrary religious rules rather than questions of real harm. Orthodox Jews spend money on wigs for women and double dishwashers. Evangelical parents, forced to choose between righteousness and love, kick queer teens out onto the street. Catholic bishops impose righteous rules on operating rooms.

Yeah, that explains Mother Teresa and all that effort put forward by people from the UCC in New Orleans after Katrina (saw 'em with my own eyes).  Hint:  mega-churches are not the only expression of "religion."  There are plenty of non-religious cons out there, plenty of ads on TV for starving children in Africa or India who never see the money people give to the charity advertising itself.  Due to the scandals of the Red Cross, I may feel bad about Haiti, but I don't send R.C. any money.  That's probably religion's fault, huh?

Oh, and secular hospitals dump non-paying patients on the street as soon as they can. Everybody has stupid limits. That's peculiar to systems people create, not just to religion.

5. Religion teaches helplessness.

Que sera, sera—what will be will be. Let go and let God.We’ve all heard these phrases, but sometimes we don’t recognize the deep relationship between religiosity and resignation. In the most conservative sects of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, women are seen as more virtuous if they let God manage their family planning. Droughts, poverty and cancer get attributed to the will of God rather than bad decisions or bad systems; believers wait for God to solve problems they could solve themselves.

This attitude harms society at large as well as individuals. When today’s largest religions came into existence, ordinary people had little power to change social structures either through technological innovation or advocacy. Living well and doing good were largely personal matters. When this mentality persists, religion inspires personal piety without social responsibility. Structural problems can be ignored as long as the believer is kind to friends and family and generous to the tribal community of believers.

Which explains the social justice movement of the UCC, or the Catholics (they actually have an active group, nationwide, involved in social justice outreach to, surprise!, non-Catholics and even non-Christians!  Amazing, but true!) Oh, and that first phrase is from an Alfred Hitchcock film; not from any world religion I'm familiar with.  And Nietzsche said it better; this is just 19th century triumphalism warmed over.  Not even warmed, in fact. If you think this is what religion teaches you, you're doing it wrong.

6. Religions seek power.

Think corporate personhood. Religions are man-made institutions, just like for-profit corporations are. And like any corporation, to survive and grow a religion must find a way to build power and wealth and compete for market share. Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity—any large enduring religious institution is as expert at this as Coca-Cola or Chevron. And just like for-profit behemoths, they are willing to wield their power and wealth in the service of self-perpetuation, even it harms society at large.

In fact, unbeknown to religious practitioners, harming society may actually be part of religion’s survival strategy. In the words of sociologist Phil Zuckerman and researcher Gregory Paul, “Not a single advanced democracy that enjoys benign, progressive socio-economic conditions retains a high level of popular religiosity.” When people feel prosperous and secure, the hold of religion weakens.

Which explains why church attendance in America exploded after WWII, a "boom" we're still recovering from as church attendance returns to normal.  Honestly, ignorance dressed up as opinion is still ignorance.

Consider the prime example of Donald Trump.

And religions seek power? They're non-human entities? No, people seek power, and use religion to do it.  Every major religion I know of eschews the pursuit of power; people use religion to do it anyway. Go figure.

What Color Is The Sky...

on his planet?

Stahl pressed Trump about the zero tolerance police that led to thousands of children being separated from their families.

“Can you answer yes or no,” Stahl asked for the third time about reinstituting the executive order.

“There have to be consequences for coming into a country illegally,” Trump said.

After he closed all the legal points of entry to asylum seekers, that is.

“I’m not going to ask it again,” she said, giving up.

“You don’t have to,” Trump said. “But it’s the same as Obama.”

Obama didn't close ports of entry to asylum seekers, or separate families and put children in cages, or separate them (we now learn) permanently from their parents.  Trump is bent on creating a generation of orphaned children; but they aren't U.S. citizens, so who cares?

When asked about what he’s learned from his presidency, Trump called Manhattan real estate people “babies” compared to political people.

“It’s the most deceptive, vicious world. It’s vicious. It’s full of lies, deceit and deception,” he said. “You make a deal you might as well be making a deal with that table.”

“Give me an example,” she asked.

“Well, I don’t want to give you an example — remember nobody’s been able to do what I do,” Trump said. “When you look at taxes, when you look at regulation when you look at making deals with other countries — nobody’s been able to do something like this. Actually, most people didn’t even try because they didn’t have the ability to do it. But it’s a very deceptive world. The other thing I’ve really learned is I never knew how dishonest the media was. I really mean it. I’m not saying that to soundbite, I never know how –“

“I’m going to change the subject again,” Stahl moved on.

“No, but even the way you ask me a question like about family separation, I say Obama did it you don’t want to talk about it,” Trump said. Obama never took children from their families at the border and put them in cages.

“I’m going to run your answer, but you did it four times,” Stahl said about Trump avoiding answering her question.

“I’m just telling you that you treated much differently on the subject,” Trump said.

“I disagree, but I don’t want to have that fight with you,” she said. “I’d rather have another fight with you.”

“Hey, that’s OK. That’s OK. I’m president and you’re not,” he said.

He's not Chevy Chase, either.

And it's good to be king, where words mean what you want them to mean (the subject is Dr. Christine Blasey Ford):

“Why did you have to make fun of her?” Stahl asked.

“I didn’t really make fun of her,” Trump said.

Stahl said that when speaking at the hearing, one thing Dr. Ford remembered the worst moment was that the two men were laughing at her.

“OK,” Trump said, shrugging his shoulders.

“And then I watched you mimic her and thousands of people were laughing at her,” Stahl explained.

“They can do what they — I will tell you this,” Trump said. “The way now Justice Kavanaugh was treated has become a big factor in the midterms.”

“But did you have to–” Stahl cut in.

“I think she was treated with great respect,” Trump said about the Senate hearing. “There are those who think she shouldn’t have been.”

“But do you think you treated her with great respect?” Stahl asked.

“Oh, yes, I do,” he answered.

And, taking a note from Matt Yglesias:

Perhaps the most telling moments in the whole interview were two separate remarks about Secretary of Defense James Mattis. At one point, Trump, when asked about reports that Mattis had tried to explain the value of NATO to him, snapped, “I think I know more about it than he does.”

Later, he explained that Mattis is “sort of a Democrat, if you want to know the truth.”

Mattis is, of course, not a Democrat. He is a career military officer and defense hawk who was fired by Barack Obama’s administration for his unwillingness to get on board with their diplomatic opening to Iran. That, in turn, is how he ended up working for Trump.

But Trump refuses to listen to anyone about anything, even subject-matter experts who clearly know more than he does. Instead, he concocts a bizarre mirror universe in which Mattis holding a very normal Republican Party view about NATO becomes evidence that he’s a crypto-Democrat. Which in turn is a reminder that while Republicans in Congress support Trump because he largely advocates an orthodox Republican agenda, it’s far from a perfectly orthodox one.

While we're on the subject of Trump, a flashback to July 5 of this year:

“I will give you a million dollars to your favorite charity, paid for by Trump, if you take the test and it shows you’re an Indian,” Trump said July 5 at a rally in Great Falls, Montana. “Let’s see what she does. I have a feeling she will say no, but we’ll hold that for the debates.”

So Sen. Warren did:

Sen. Warren should not hold her breath:
Trump saw his counselor, and raised her:

“Who cares?” Trump told reporters on Monday. “I didn’t say that. Nope, you better read it again.”

The man is not fit to hand out towels in the men's room of the White House.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Old news

Trump has issued 22 tweets since that one, all of them about him and what he had done (the latest about his "60 Minutes" interview).  None of them about Florida, Mexico Beach, or the hurricane. And today:

Apparently he figures people care more about Kanye and his "60 Minutes" interview. Or he's just bored with hurricanes.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

I am not a doctor

...nor do I play one on TeeVee.  I simply feel very, very sorry for Kanye West.  He is suffering in public, and we interpret it as some sort of contact Trumpism.  It isn't, apparently:

Psychosis: Sometimes, a person with severe episodes of mania or depression also has psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations or delusions. The psychotic symptoms tend to match the person’s extreme mood. For example:

Someone having psychotic symptoms during a manic episode may believe she is famous, has a lot of money, or has special powers.

Someone having psychotic symptoms during a depressive episode may believe he is ruined and penniless, or that he has committed a crime.
That's from the NIMH site for "bipolar disorder" (f/k/a manic depression, for the elder of us with long memories).  One could also identify these symptoms:

Both a manic and a hypomanic episode include three or more of these symptoms:

Abnormally upbeat, jumpy or wired
Increased activity, energy or agitation
Exaggerated sense of well-being and self-confidence (euphoria)
Decreased need for sleep
Unusual talkativeness
Racing thoughts
Poor decision-making — for example, going on buying sprees, taking sexual risks or making foolish investments

I'm not trying to diagnose Mr. West; he's the one who said he's been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  I'm trying to understand his actions something other than an overload of "dragon energy" or egoism.  Ali Velshi said Mr. West was "weird, just weird."  No argument here, but he was weird for a reason; and the reason is, he needs treatment, treatment we can't force on him, however.

The difference between Mr. West and the homeless guy muttering on the sidewalk is that Mr. West is rich and can command public attention because he is rich and famous.  But he's not "eccentric"; he's ill. He's suffering from a disease process.  We don't need to mutter about how strange he is, or take note of what he said, except to realize he needs our sympathies for his illness, not our laughter or our anger.

This is not the behavior of a well person:
After all, we don't want to treat him the way Trump did.

Stick a fork in 'im....

This is the tweet tout le internet is talking about.  The funnier thing is the new question raised by Trump's PA rally:  what if they gave a Trump rally and FoxNews didn't broadcast it?

During three Trump rallies last week, Fox News showed clips and highlights from his speeches but stuck largely with its normal weekday prime-time programming. On Saturday, when “Fox Report Weekend” and “Justice with Judge Jeanine” would ordinarily air, the network showed Trump’s speech from Topeka, Kan., in full. But on Tuesday, a rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa, was particularly hard to find — it was not aired live on any major network, and even C-SPAN cut away for other news. And on Wednesday night, as Trump took the stage in Erie, Pa., at 7 p.m., Fox News stuck with its coverage of Hurricane Michael.

That last line is the best part.  Trump went to Erie, PA so he wouldn't disappoint 6,700 people (the capacity of the arena).  But he's already disappointing several million FoxNews viewers:

But from Fox’s perspective, Trump is no longer a sure bet to beat Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity or Laura Ingraham. For instance, on Aug. 30, Fox News’ 8 p.m. hour was mostly consumed by Trump’s rally in Evansville, Ind., earning 2.536 million viewers, according to Nielsen, compared to the 2.8 million viewers Carlson averaged at that time during 2018’s third quarter.

Why?  Trump has gone to the well once too often, and he keeps using the same bucket:

The biggest change is the sheer number of rallies. With so many, “they don’t want to give up so much prime-time real estate,” said one person familiar with Fox News’ decision making.

Trump’s campaign speeches tend to follow a similar pattern, and this person said network officials’ fear was that too much repetition would lead to lower ratings. That could particularly be a problem during a busy news period like the first week of October, when Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination was still up in the air.
And, of course, it's all about ratings, because ratings are all about money:

“They’re going with the route they think will give the best ratings performance,” the person said.

Compounding the issue, Fox News can’t take commercial breaks while Trump is speaking — he often goes on for more than an hour — costing the network some of its best advertising slots. With so many rallies and little promise of a ratings boost, there’s not much incentive for the network to clear air time.
Not to worry, though:

One senior White House official was unsure why the network would decide to cut away from presidential rallies, saying officials planned “to look into that” and wouldn’t be surprised if White House communications director Bill Shine, a former Fox News executive, was in touch with former colleagues about the trend.

Yeah, that'll work. Who gets to break the news to Trump?

Fact Checking the Fact Checkers

As long as we're all being distracted by the latest shiny thing (Trump's tax problems are no longer interesting, let's talk about Trump's op-ed, no, let's talk about Trump's rally during a hurricane (or the fact FoxNews no longer wants to carry them; low ratings, sad!), no, let's talk about how bullied Melanie Trump thinks she is**....), let's check the quality of "fact-checking" on Trump's USA Today op-ed.  One point, only, but it's worth it.

Here's what Politifact said about the cost of Medicare for All:

Trump: Medicare for All "would establish a government-run, single-payer health care system that eliminates all private and employer-based health care plans and would cost an astonishing $32.6 trillion during its first 10 years."

Trump is citing a study by the Mercatus Center of George Mason University of a health care plan proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. The study predicted a $32.6 trillion rise in federal spending over a 10-year period ending in 2031. The same study also forecast, however, that total health care spending would fall by about $2 trillion.

What does that mean? Americans would in the aggregate pay a lot more to the government to fund their health care, but they’d also pay less overall than they’re paying now. How you’ll fare, experts say, depends on your individual situation. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation analysis said some people will pay more while others would pay less.

Here's (in the order I found them), PBS NewsHour on the same point:

Trump put the cost of “Medicare for All” at $32.6 trillion over 10 years, calling it an “astonishing” figure. He actually underestimated the expected cost. He cited the added cost to the federal government of taking over private insurance, as estimated by Blahous. The total cost of the new system would be even higher.

And then NPR:

2. Cost of the plan: Trump claims that expanding the federal government's Medicare program would cost $32.6 trillion over a decade. But as Business Insider reports, that would actually be a discount compared with the nation's current health care bill.

Trump's figure was calculated by the libertarian Mercatus Center, but he fails to note that total health care spending under Medicare for All would be about $2 trillion less over the decade than currently projected. The federal government would pay more, but Americans on the whole would pay less.

Remember that the U.S. already spends far more per person on health care than does any other country. And when you count the tax break for employer-provided insurance, the federal government already pays about two-thirds of this bill. But because of the fragmented private insurance system, the government gets none of the efficiency or buying power that a single-payer system would provide.

Two reports that the cost of Sanders' proposal will actually lower health care spending, while increasing government spending to cover healthcare for all (and, as Barbrara Ehrenreich pointed out to the taxi driver, we can pay for it by taxing the rich).  The policy argument (should we spend public money this way?) is one issue; the costs another.  So what happened at PBS?  They ran out of hour in the NewsHour to cover this more thoroughly?  They ran out of space on their website to add another paragraph about the costs?  They ran out of journalists, so they had to rely on AP?

It pays to get your news from several sources, doesn't it?

By the way, interesting point of confusion here.  There is a cite in the original op-ed to the Mercatus Center study, which is why Politifact says "Trump is citing."  And yes, it really is Trump (or his staff) doing it:

Trump: "The Democrats' plan that would eviscerate Medicare."

Trump’s link goes to a New York Times article that says the opposite.

"Coverage for these people would become more generous because the Sanders bill would expand to cover dental, vision and hearing aids, which are not covered under current law," the article said. "The bill would also get rid of nearly all cost-sharing requirements in the program. Beneficiaries could go to the doctor or hospital without having to pay any money out of their pocket. The program would require co-payments for certain prescription drugs."

It's an under appreciated point in all the noise, but when you consider the man's staff can't even write an op-ed that doesn't contain contradictions.  I mean, I'd fail a research paper in Freshman English that cited a source so blatantly contrary to what was asserted in the paper.

The problem of the problem of theodicy

This is as good an excuse as any to bring this up (that and my computer, for reasons known only to the latest OS I downloaded recently, now won't recognize my login to post comments, though I still login automatically to post on this blog.  It's the same account.  Go figure.  The upshot is I can only comment on my phone, and that's a pain in the....).  I mention it here because I can't mention it there, and besides, it would be too long as a comment:

I mentioned in a comment the other day a discussion I'd had with an atheist who brought up the great and all consuming "Question of Evil" why bad things happen to the innocent, why there is suffering, why the evil prosper, etc. if there is a God who is good.  I've got no more of an answer for that than the one that is given in the Book of Job, no one does.  But the answer to an atheist raising it is more basic, how does an atheist find a basis for defining something, including the suffering of innocents, why the depraved and cruel prosper as being evil out of the basis of their materialism and atheism and there isn't even as much of an answer to that as the person who wrote Job down had for the Question of Evil.  Atheism as a means of even defining something as being wrong and why people should not do evil if it benefits them or even if they feel like doing something evil shouldn't do it if they figure they can get away with it.
The biggest problem with the "problem of evil" and the "problem of suffering' is that, first and foremost, the Creation/Cosmos/whatever-you-call-it, is not about you.  Yes, your suffering may be terrible, or it may not be; that's your take on it.  Whether it is a sign of God's fecklessness or non-existence (or something in between) is up to you, too.

I know, I know, babies aren't supposed to suffer and it's terrible when they do.  But it's terrible when people suffer, and I've seen that.  I've seen people die of cancers, I've seen people literally turn grey as I watched; not from cancer, but from the cancer treatment.  Yes, suffering is terrible; but there are worse things.  In fact, if you've reduced the problems of the world to the irreducible and "suffering" is what you come up with, congratulations!  You must live in the first world, and be pretty comfortable, at that!

In fact, my favorite is the "why do babies suffer?" question, because it's always about babies with diseases, and that's always babies in first world countries.  And the question so seldom is:  why don't we do something about it?

Babies starving in "third world" countries are invisible to us.  Babies suffering disease and the effects of malnutrition are invisible to us, across the oceans or within our national boundaries.  Babies we could help go ignored while we wring our hands about how cruel God is.  It's not only intellectually incoherent, it's disgusting.  If we were trapped in a kind of hell where suffering was pervasive and inescapable and the means to relieve it were unknown and unknowable, where the materials to alleviate suffering were unobtainable and unimaginable, it might be true that any concept of "God" was simply more cruelty and illusion.  But we have the means; we just don't exercise them.  We don't try.  And then, if we think about it a second, we blame "God" for letting it happen, because we didn't! Except we did; we harm every person we could help, but whom we don't help.  The problem of evil is not the problem of God; it's the problem of us.

Which is a harsh condemnation if we end it there. But the end of the discussion is to realize that the "problem of evil" is a straw man construction based on the idea that God made everything good for me and mine, and when it isn't, God screwed things up.  I remember (vaguely, now) a Peanuts strip where Lucy learns something about the world is not going to provide the outcome that suits her (because Santa Claus?  Something like that....) and she ends shouting:  "Somebody sure screwed up in production this time!"  It's a funny line, but it's also about the basic selfishness of Lucy (and most of us):  the world is supposed to produce the outcome we expect.  When it doesn't, when we suffer, the world is messed up.  I've stood at the coffin of an infant as the mother asked me, decked out in my preacherly regalia, to explain why her infant died.  No answer is possible because that's not the occasion for answers, but I'm very personally aware of this particular instance of the "problem of evil."  But why does anybody die?  Infants are different because we cherish them, now; well, we cherish ours.  We don't cherish infants in other countries, as I said before.  We can chase this tail of ours round and round the circle, and get nowhere.  The question is really:  why are we asking the question?

Job asks the question, but he doesn't ask why he's suffered.  When his wife, early in the book, tells him to "Curse God and die!," he rebukes her, asking if we accept good from God, can we not accept ill, too?  The Book of Job really isn't about evil or even suffering; it's about justice.  Job insists he is innocent (he is); his friends insist he can't be, since God can't act unjustly.  Basically they are right, but neither is God bound by their ideas of justice ("Were you there when I laid the foundations of the earth?"  It's a thunderous rebuke of presumed privilege, not a reasoned argument leading to a logically validated conclusion.).  In fact, "logically validated conclusion" is the issue, here.  Formal logic establishes the validity of statements within a given system; what it does not do, is prove those statements true.  And, per Godel, any formal system can generate questions which it cannot provide the answer to.  To raise the "problem of evil" is to assume it is unanswerable because a logically validated conclusion is presumably unavailable.  But it is the question itself that is the problem, not the answer; and not because it is an impertinent question, but because it proves the incompleteness of the logical system which creates the question.  Just as God thundered at Job's friends that God was much more than their experience could comprehend, their minds understand, even their sense of justice encompass (God is still just, but not in the ways humans are limited to knowing; and so is God just?  That's the issue at the heart of "Job".), so the "answer" to the problem of evil is not to say God is, or isn't, enough to reach it (the Marcionist heresy), but to say the question is only answerable in another system.  Is God unjust in the book of Job; or is our idea of justice itself unjust when we accuse God (there are a number of times God presents for a trial on the question of God's justice, effectively putting Israel as the prosecutor)?  Is there a "problem of evil," or is the problem our understanding of "evil"?

Humanity, the book of Job tells us, is born to suffer as surely as sparks shoot upwards.  Is suffering then a design flaw ("somebody sure screwed up in production!")?  Is it a failure of the Designer to oversee the function of the machine?  Is it a failure of our expectations?  Or even a failure of our understanding?  We all agree slavery is evil now; well, most of us do.  But when slavery was more common, was that God's fault; or ours?  We agree hunger is bad, but if we sat and waited for God to provide the crops and the mills and even the rains, we'd starve to death rather quickly.  Is labor evil?  We agree illness is bad; should we simply pray disease away?  No, we generally agree we should do what we can to alleviate suffering.  But the suffering we can't alleviate:  is that God's fault?  Why?  Upon what presumption, what reading of the Scriptures, do we find that the world was perfect, and then it became corrupt and imperfect?  Milton's version of paradise lost?

The innocence of Adam and Eve in Genesis is metaphorical, not descriptive.  It's a parable, not a history lesson. Maybe we would be better off without the knowledge of good and evil, but we wouldn't be human without it.  Being human, we can do evil, or we can do good.  We are responsible, and formulating a "problem of evil" that leaves us irresponsible, is a denial of our humanity.  We can help each other bear suffering when it comes, or we can leave each other alone in our suffering, and make it worse.  When we even consider "suffering" in the context of the "problem of evil," we mean very specific forms of suffering we haven't alleviated yet.  Diseases we can cure, headaches we can alleviate, pain we can dampen, we remove from the list of charges.  Those things we can't do, we blame on God.  Narrow it down to the irreducible, and what do you have?  The deaths of infants?  Maybe Donne was right, and soonest our best with Death do go, rest of their bones and soul's delivery.  I don't know, but it certainly leaves suffering in its wake.  How do you deal with it?  By cursing God, or by trying to be grateful for whatever brief life the child had?  It's not a dichotomy, but discussing the problems of theodicy at graveside is not much of an answer, either.

Does the problem of evil eliminate God?  It may eliminate certain concepts of God, but it doesn't erase God.   I love my daughter, but I know she needs to face negative as well as positive consequences of her actions; or even just face negative as well as positive experiences in her life.  How she copes with her suffering is more important to me than the fact that she suffers.  Life is not a garden party, but neither does it have to be a torment.  If I focus on the problem of evil, all life could seem evil to me.  If I focus on the goodness of God and humanity, it doesn't make me a Pollyanna.  Like most theology, the problem of theodicy, of evil, doesn't tell me as much about the nature of God, as it does about the nature of me.  Jesus' disciples asked him to teach them to pray; Jesus' response was what we call the Lord's Prayer; the Our Father; the Pater Noster.  If you read it carefully, pray it carefully, it is not a prayer about God and changing God's nature or concerns so they align with yours; it's about changing your concerns, even your nature, so they align with God's.  What God wants for humanity is what is best for humanity; it's a vision more of justice between all people, than of pie-in-the-sky-bye-and-bye.  The "problem of evil" is really a problem of perspective, of our concerns, rather than the concerns of others.  Consider:  do you help someone by telling them how badly they are suffering?  Or do you help them by your concern, by sharing as much of their humanity with them as you can?