Adventus

"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

Monday, September 30, 2013

"And here...we...go!"

Waiting for the Big One

I have immersed myself (more than is good for me!) in the stories of imminent gov't shutdown and not quite as imminent destruction of the world economy by defaulting on our national debt, and I have reached one conclusion I am quite sure is sound:

John Boehner is not good at his job.

Rachel Maddow is right:  Boehner is not good at his job.  There is nothing keeping Boehner from bringing a "clean" CR to the floor of the House right now and getting enough votes to pass it on to the Senate.  Boehner doesn't have to get the votes of every Republican, or honor the incredibly stupid "Hastert Rule" (which isn't, like say Rule 22 of the Senate which kept Ted Cruz from truly offering a filibuster, a "rule" of the House).   He could also tell the crazies to take a flying leap and pass a debt ceiling raise, again with the help of House Democrats.  He could do it because it is the right thing to do.  He could do it because not doing so is sheer insanity.  He could do it because he doesn't really have to worry about losing his speakership.

Estimates are, based on what I just heard on NPR, that some 30-60 House Republicans are die hard Tea Party fanatics listening now to Ted Cruz, proclaiming "Let's roll!" a la 9/11 (although that analogy is completely backwards!  But then, so is John Culberson.  In the late Ms. Ivins' most pithy phrase, if that man were any dumber we'd have to water him and turn him toward the light twice a day), and ready to bring on Ragnarok if that's what it takes to get their way.  That's about 1/7th of the House, at best.  That isn't enough votes in the House to depose Boehner.  If the Dems wanted to give him a hand, say, in exchange for making the trains run on time and the House actually function, they could back Boehner in a challenge vote and let him keep his job.  The GOP might not like it, but what are they gonna do?  Run somebody against Boehner in 2014?

At best.  In the meantime, the economy doesn't get the props knocked out from under it, government employees don't miss a paycheck most of them sorely need, and the rump of the GOP is sent back into the wilderness to howl and gnash their teeth ineffectively.

There is no reason for this not to happen; except that John Boehner is really bad at his job.

Let us pause for a moment, and consider the question:  how crazy is this minority?  This crazy:

Many believe that the government shutdown of 1995 either didn't hurt Republicans politically or only hurt Republicans because they gave in rather than standing firm. Some also believe that the supposedly catastrophic consequences of hitting the debt ceiling are overblown, like Representative John Fleming of Louisiana, who recently told Politico, "Technically, it’s not possible to default," and if the debt ceiling is reached, "nothing happens." (Confronted with economists' predictions of large-scale catastrophe, Fleming told the New York Times, "Economists, what have they been doing? They make all sorts of predictions. Many times they're wrong.")
 But wait!  It gets worse!
To their opponents, they appear unreasonable, but what they really are is very, very sincere: They truly believe that, by committing to do anything to block a law they see as disastrous, they're standing up for what's right. That's not going to change because the Republican Party's poll numbers, already in the toilet, slip a little more, or because their constituents complain about closures of national parks. The Republicans who care about those things are already willing to pass government funding and debt-ceiling bills. But there aren't 218 of them.

But there's the problem:  there don't have to be 218 of "them."  There are Democrats in the House, and together with the non-insane Republicans, they could run the House, reach compromises, and get something done that doesn't come straight out of a paranoid delusion.  Sincerity be damned, the insane minority is still a minority.
 
The Speaker of the House is the Speaker of the HOUSE.  Not the majority party in the House, not the 30-60 GOP members of the house who hear Ted Cruz in their fillings; the entire House of Representatives.  It is a position once considered so central to constitutional governance it was placed (and still is) 3rd in line to the Presidency in matters of immediate succession.  John Boehner doesn't fill the office as if he were the third most important person in the government.  He shrinks in it, as if his very life depended on the goodwill of Marsha Blackburn and Louie Gohmert.  His job is not to placate the Tea Party, it is to govern one-half of one-third of the U.S. government.  That is why the Speaker's position is third in line to the Presidency.

And that is why John Boehner is really, really bad at his job.  He's not doing it at all.

Remembering David Miranda....

 You gotta get past me.

I want to be appalled by stories like this; I really do.  But when I consider how many people are put in jail because they are poor, or black, or Mexican, or in the wrong place at the wrong time, or get a lousy lawyer, or get sent back to jail because they were in a car with a gun in the package tray in the back (my one experience as a court-appointed lawyer in Federal court):  my sympathy flags for stories of travelers having trouble at border crossings.

I have a hard time having really profound and shocked sympathies for middle-class people who can afford to travel abroad (even if it's to Canada).  That doesn't excuse the stories told here.   Mind you, all the stories here portray border guards as dicks, and I'm not sure that's excusable.  They also come off as profoundly stupid (how many times do you search the same person in your custody for several hours before you decide he's not carrying a weapon?) But I know of much worse being done to people; and it's very common.

It just doesn't happen to middle class people; it usually just happens in their name.   "But, of course, all of this is OK because we all knew it was going on anyway, right?"  Well, no; but if you don't know what's going on in your name, it's usually because it's more convenient for you not to ask.

But the story told is about CBP, which so far as I can tell has nothing to do with NSA (oh, it may, but I'd like a clear link, not a "they all work for the same government" link).  So I'm not sure why these two stories decide this has something to do with the NSA or Glenn Greenwald.

Who is a dick, as far as I'm concerned; not that that has anything to do with anything.

This is not America?  Sure it is.

That's the problem.  It is America whenever the governments do this, whomever they do it to.

As ever, it's still a matter of whose ox is involved.

This is how far down the rabbit hole we're going to go

 I think we're all jokers in this deck.

“Without voter fraud, Obamacare would not exist,” [Texas Attorney General Greg] Abbott said.
No, not voter fraud in Texas; in Minnesota:

Abbott, speaking at the Texas Tribune festival, said Minnesota Senator Al Franken won his seat, which was decided by a 312-vote margin, because of voter fraud and that his subsequent vote on the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, wouldn’t have been cast.
This, apparently, is a "thing," thought not that much of one.  There are always tedious conspiracy theories in American politics, most backed by no evidence but a strong assertion of "facts" (such as Sen. Ted Cruz's claims that a) the American people support the radical GOP position on Obamacare, and b) Obamacare is costing Americans jobs.  Cruz has no evidence either is true, but that doesn't stop him from claiming it every chance he gets.).  So it isn't the silly conspiracy theory that interests me; it's the appeal to stopping Obamacare coupled with defending the state's indefensible voter ID law that interests me, and the far flung claim that Al Franken won his office by fraud 5 years ago.  Something tells me that horse has done left the barn, and isn't of much interest to rural Texas voters (the GOP's base in Texas) anyway.

Abbott is running for Governor of Texas.  Wendy Davis hasn't formally announced that she's running, but the smart money always says the Democrats in Texas need a good candidate to have a chance of winning.  And while Greg Abbott is railing about Obamacare and vote fraud in Minnesota (the hell?), Davis may actually make inroads:

 “Those aren’t the things Texans want to hear us talking about,” Davis said of “divisive” issues. “What they care about is public education. Can their child go to college? Is there a path for their child’s future? … A path to having a good job, are they going to have adequate health care, these are things that really matter to people.” 
Davis's trick will be voter turnout.  Texas is trending blue (which yes, scares Republicans), but it won't get there without voter turnout, especially in the cities.   If Wendy Davis can counter Greg Abbott's mad rants about Obamacare and voter fraud  in Minnesota (huh? and lorrie nose what else), things may get interesting in November of next year.

On the other hand, Ann Richards won largely because Clayton Williams refused to shake her hand at a debate (you could look it up).  Wendy Davis could win if she could mobilize enough minority (who are actually the majority in Texas, or nearly so) and young voters to turn out (which is why Abbott is vociferously defending Texas's voter ID law).

Because I really don't think this position wins, especially if Democrats (as Davis will have to do in Texas, to have a prayer) run hard against it:

It went mostly unremarked on at the time, but think about this: Cruz was demanding that a law be defunded because of an Internet petition. The 2012 election results, and their 64 million votes for Barack Obama, were moot, thanks to the fractional number of conservatives who'd gone online after seeing a Cruz/SCF TV ad.

There's a lot of this going around. "The reason this debt limit fight is different is, we don't have an election around the corner where we feel we are going to win and fix it ourselves," said Paul Ryan in a Wall Street Journal interview. "We are stuck with this government another three years." In an interview with Josh Green, Jim DeMint argued that the 2012 election denied Republicans a real Obamacare referendum because Mitt Romney was compromised on the issue. The goalposts are being nudged—Republicans want to argue that the president, re-elected 10 months ago, lacks the consent of the governed because of new, nonelectoral factors. It would sound weird in any context; it sounds weird now.
Read that again:  "....we don't have an election around the corner where we feel we are going to win and fix it ourselves."  Having lost the last election, the right wing must have power anyway because their cause is just.  Can't let a little thing like the democratic process stand in the way.  Nor can they let it create situations, like Obamacare, that they don't like.

Power is slipping away from the hard-right in this country, and they WILL NOT HAVE IT!  This isn't just fear of a brown planet (although voter ID is certainly that, especially in Texas), it's fear of a non-Tea Party country.

But if Davis takes a leaf from Obama 2008, and runs on not being divisive, not by declaring herself "a uniter, not a divider" (or a ruler, not a protractor), but by talking about issues that matter to ordinary people, she might actually get them to turn out and vote.

I don't think anybody besides rabid Texas GOPers really cares whether or not Al Franken gave us Obamacare.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

"Obamacare will murder your hope!"

As long as it's not a low number, I guess it'd be okay....

I can't decide if Ted Cruz is a lunatic, or a demagogue:

"I very much hope that when the House bill comes back all 46 Republicans stand together, stand united against Obamacare," Cruz said at a press availability while he was flanked by Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Marco Rubio (R-FL). "And I hope at the same time that some of the Democrats who decided today not to listen to their constituents hear the voices of the millions of Americans who are hurting and do the right thing and stand up and stop this train wreck, this nightmare of a law that is Obamacare."
 I've heard the ad a thousand times now (and I barely watch TeeVee).  I know the lies about Obamacare "killing jobs" and "raising premiums" and how nobody in America wants it to continue to be the law except Barack Obama.  What I don't understand is:  does he believe that?  Or is he just insane?

Maybe he thinks he's winning political power.  He's become a player in the House GOP, so maybe the will to power is the answer.  But I don't get it because of this:

The thing that staggers me about the Republican hatred of this law is its abstract quality. They never address the real problem of our massively inefficient private healthcare market, which is a huge burden on the economy. They never address how to help the millions of uninsured adults get the care all human beings need. They appear to regard a Heritage Foundation, free-market-designed, private healthcare exchange system as some kind of communist plot. They do not seem to believe there is any pressing problem at all. And they have nothing constructive to offer.
He's not railing against a thing, he's screaming against an idea.   Of course, "de-funding" Obamacare wouldn't do anything at all.  It wouldn't repeal it, or stop it, or make it ineffective.  So is Cruz, a Harvard-trained lawyer, too stupid to realize that?  Or too much of a demagogue to care?

Already the explanation for the current situation is that Romney lost because he didn't want to win, not because his message was rejected.  But what is the strategy?  Is Obamacare Cruz's "Springtime for Hitler?"  It has to fail so he can win?  And win what?  Political power?  Back to Andrew Sullivan, in an only slightly different context:

America’s constitutional system only works if the divided branches of government are willing to work together to make consensual agreements about running the government. Republicans are showing themselves to be too irresponsible to make the American constitutional system work.
As Harry Reid pointed out recently, the Affordable Care Act has been the law for 4 years now.  Why are the Republicans still so angry?  Is it because a black man got it passed?  (That is getting easier and easier to believe, and harder and harder to deny.)  Is it because they so fear socialism for the people, but not for corporations?  I don't remember the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act generating this kind of animosity in 1968 and 1969.  Here we have a rabid minority determined to have their way or, failing that, to burn it all down.  Are we at the point that, in order to save constitutional democracy we must destroy it? 

The Republicans in the House seem to think so.

The Next Great Awakening

Burn, baby, burn!

The nice thing about Greek tragedy is that there is the Clarifying Moment*; the moment when the tragic hero realizes his error, and his responsibility:

CREON
strophe 4

Ah me, this guilt can never be fixed on any other of mortal kind, for my acquittal! I, even I, was thy slayer, wretched that I am-I own the truth. Lead me away, O my servants, lead me hence with all speed, whose life is but as death!

CHORUS
Thy counsels are good, if there can be good with ills; briefest is best, when trouble is in our path.
CREON
antistrophe 3

Oh, let it come, let it appear, that fairest of fates for me, that brings my last day,-aye, best fate of all! Oh, let it come, that I may never look upon to-morrow's light.

CHORUS
These things are in the future; present tasks claim our care: the ordering of the future rests where it should rest.

CREON
All my desires, at least, were summed in that prayer.

CHORUS
Pray thou no more; for mortals have no escape from destined woe.
 Some of the D.C. punditry is expecting that moment of clarification will come to the GOP before Hallowe'en; that at some point they will realize that Obama won't blink, that the country is not behind them, that government shutdowns and government defaults will not win them glory or save the Republic from the scourge of Obamacare or usher in the thousand years of peace.

And if life were a Greek tragedy, well...it could happen.

But the problem with Greek tragedy is that it isn't Shakespearean tragedy.  Justice is not done to the wicked even as the good die young (or old, in Lear's case).  In Greek tragedy justice is not at issue; responsibility is.  And the problems of the tragedy aren't resolved by death because "mortals have no escape from destined woe."

Which means it just gets worse, whatever happens next.

The GOP won't see the error of its ways; why should it?  Representatives are elected by districts, and so long as they aren't at electoral risk there, now they will risk the entire world.  But even there, they think their election is by everyone in the country.  Ted Cruz claims to represent 26 million Texans, but he won election with the votes of only 4.5 million of them.  That gives him a Senate seat, but it doesn't make him the spokesperson of every resident of Texas.  Once politicians were a bit more humble about their representation of the people.  Now they are megalomaniacs, and they and the people are one. This is hubris, yes; but not the kind that will be punished with a moment of clarity to end the play.

Their electoral victories make their desires the people's thoughts.  They are not tragic heroes, because they are not adults.  Adults accept responsibility for their errors, and know the entire world is not them; these politicians think everyone who doesn't think like them is wrong, and that they speak for everyone.  In that way they are children.  They are children playing with shotguns.  They are the thief in Alfred's story in "The Dark Knight," who just want to see the world burn.

But for them, the burning will be righteous.  And that's the problem.

*Not a recognized element of Greek tragedy per se, but the necessary instant of "recognition" where the tragic hero begins to accept responsibility

Friday, September 27, 2013

I should be writing on the subway walls....

Shhhhhh!!!!!

Bill Maher is what happens when a comedian who is not Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert tries to talk about politics.

Okay, with that out of the way, let me address this:

There are no admitted atheists serving in Congress, and in a recent interview, comedian Bill Maher said that while he wouldn't be the one to break that trend, the tide was shifting in the favor of nonbelievers.

“[Atheists are] out there, they’re thinking it, they’re just afraid to say it,” Maher said during an interview with TheWrap. “But that’s changing. It’ll be the new gay marriage.”

Maher's remark came in response to a question about whether he would ever consider seeking office. He called himself the "the last person who could ever win," citing his lack of faith as just one reason. Maher is a vocal atheist, and in 2008 he starred in "Religulous," a film that poked fun at a variety of organized religions and their beliefs.
Anybody remember that Richard Nixon was a Quaker?  That caused no little amount of sardonic comment in the late '60's and early '70's as his "secret plan to end the war" seemed to involve secretly bombing the bejeezus indiscriminately out of Southeast Asia.

Anybody remember LBJ going to church?  Maybe at Christmas or Easter, I guess.  Funny thing, I remember Reagan going to church; and GWBush; even Clinton and Obama.  Don't remember JFK going to Mass, though tout le monde was concerned he'd follow secret directives from the Holy See; but that was just the anti-RC fervor of a country steeped in Puritanical Protestantism.

Did Ike go to church?  Maybe, but I don't remember hearing about it.

The point is, lots of Presidents didn't make church a regular place of attendance.  I don't think the sainted Abe Lincoln was much of a public Christian.  Ronald Reagan was, though; or his handlers made sure he was perceived as one.  I think the whole "POTUS must gotta be a Christian!" started about that time.  Nobody much cared about Nixon's religious beliefs, and I doubt any of Falwell's crowd (they were around before Falwell, he wasn't sui generis) much considered Quakers equal to Christians.  Not real Christians, anyway.

I know, Maher focused on "religious belief," but we all know since the days of Ronnie and Falwell that "religious" = "Christian."  Muhammed Ali was excoriated for his non-Christian adoption of Islam (listen to the opening moments of that story and relive a past you won't believe is only 50 years gone; it sounds like something from before the invention of radio).  When politicians profess religious belief, they mean "Christian," or they don't mean "religion" at all.

At least since the '80's; and since anybody starting caring about whether or not politicians were good Christians.

Yes, we've been through this before;  informal religious tests in which politicians had to profess allegiance to the dominant strain of Christianity (usually Protestant) extant among the voters.  Then again, nobody seemed to much care about Jefferson's thoughts on religion (there was a brouhaha when he ran for office that would peel the skin of today's modern guardians of the public discourse) after he became POTUS.  I want to say Lincoln wasn't all that devoted to the frontier revivalist Christianity of mid 19th century America, but it did him no harm.

I'm pretty much spit-balling here, but while it's never been the norm to declare yourself an atheist in a run for public office, it's also never been the norm to declare yourself a minister without pulpit as a qualification for public office (the rare occasion of the elected Catholic priest being the exception that proves the rule, mind).  We have wobbled a bit between the two extremes, and while I'm spit-balling rather than playing professional historian, I think it's only since Reagan and Falwell that we've assumed all politicians must be "born again" and able to quote scripture in order to prove the rightness of cutting off government money to the poors (and I don't know when all political speeches had to begin to end with "God Bless America!", but can it stop now?  It's like that bit in "Miss Congeniality" where Sandra Bullock can't end her personal statement in the beauty pageant competition until she adds "And world peace!")

And now the cure is to let atheists be atheists?

Nothing against atheists, but Mr. Maher proves my earlier point:  atheists are people who want to sneer at theists.  They aren't "non-theists," which is probably the default position of more and more people (I meet them every day; I teach a lot of high school kids who've never been inside any kind of religious building or attended a worship service of any nature), they are "a-theists," which means, to the general public, they think you theists suck!

Here's the thing about being gay:  once people realized it didn't mean they had to be gay, too, they were cool with it.  Gays don't oppose heterosexuality; they just want their own sexuality.  Atheists, though, seem to want their view of theism to prevail: and that is to squash theism.  Maher's "Religulous" was a silly piece of tripe aimed at mocking and embarassing theists, primarily Christians.  He wasn't being "pro-atheist," he was being anti-theist.  Which, come to think of it, is one and the same thing.

How 'bout we just let things go back to the way they were in, oh, Jefferson's time?  (Well, he was badly excoriated.)  Okay, how about Lincoln's time?  Let's let public displays of worship fade away (as they should, as most Christians would (I think) agree).  Let's ignore public declarations of faith and look more to public actions (what difference did Kennedy's Catholicism make?  Arguably it had more impact on his brother.  Nixon's Quakerism was clearly a null set.  Reagan's piety didn't stem the flow of blood in Central America, which he either ignored or tacitly encouraged.).

I don't really care what the religious belief of an office holder is.  In fact, the ones that want to tell me are immediately suspect  (were Ted Cruz to announce his devotion to the Church of the Return to the Godliness of John Wayne and devotion to the One True Bible of King James, it wouldn't surprise me; and it would only slightly disgust me).  So I don't care that Bill Maher is an atheist, and I only ask one thing:

If you're gonna be like Bill Maher and yet run for office, good luck to you.  'Cause the only dicks I see winning public office are Republicans, and they still can't do it while denouncing religious belief.  If you want to take the baby step of just not talking about your non-beliefs, that would be a giant step in the right direction.

And There's No Way Like It!

Insert your motto here.


Every blog needs a motto.  Matt Taibbi has pushed me to recognize that:

Thanks to a deadly combination of unscrupulous states illegally borrowing from their pensioners, and unscrupulous banks whose mass sales of fraudulent toxic subprime products crashed the market, these funds were out some $930 billion. Yet the public was being told that the problem was state workers' benefits were simply too expensive.

Thanks to circumstances beyond our control, the motto of this blog has been determined:  People Are Too Damned Expensive!

It's the American way.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Original Socialists

Brother, can you spare a paradigm?

I would stay out of this, but...well, you know I won't:

Dr. Ben Carson's books (e.g., Gifted Hands and Think Big) demonstrate what even the sorely disadvantaged can accomplish with vision, study and hard work.
Because I remember distinctly in the Gospels Jesus telling the poor he met (poor just like him, by the way) "Go, thou, and do vision, study and hard work, like I did.  Instead of asking God for help.  I mean, really!"

And I won't stay out of this because it's the "Family Research Council" and they address "Dear Praying Friends" and they preface the whole thing with a scripture verse (of course!).

I do, however, have to counter this quote from the good Dr. Carson with a scriptural lesson; but the lesson is more than a few words:

Not only did Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams, and several of the other founding fathers speak out against government redistribution of property, but in 1795 the Supreme Court of the United States declared, "No man would become a member of a community in which he could not enjoy the fruits of his honest labor and industry. The preservation of property, then, is a primary object of the social compact.... The legislature, therefore, has no authority to make an act divesting one citizen of his freehold, and vesting it in another, without a just compensation. It is inconsistent with the principles of reason, justice and moral rectitude; it is incompatible with the comfort, peace and happiness of mankind; it is contrary to the principles of social alliance and every free government; and lastly, it is contrary to the letter and spirit of the Constitution." ...
Let's go to Luke!

The crowds would ask him, "So what should we do?"

And he would answer them, "Whoever has two shirts should share with someone who has none; whoever has food should do the same."   (Luke 3:10-11, SV)
Short, sweet, and to the point.  Damned redistributor of property!

And in keeping with our theme du jour, even if all you've done today is keep up with these posts:


Congratulations you poor fools who elected Ted Cruz....

Since I have to pick up the slack, let me do it with humor:

Doncha feel better now?


Especially since Ted Cruz can't resist WWII metaphors.  He was implicitly Churchill against the Neville Chamberlain appeasers because Obamacare is like...."Hitler health-care exchanges?"  Like Jon Stewart, I lost the thread of that metaphor.

And I don't even want to know what this one is about:

Cruz ended his failibuster by thanking the Senate staff for having “endured this Bataan death march,”
 I guess it's okay since most of the survivors of the Bataan death march are now safely dead, and so don't mind their horror being used to make light of 20 hours of pointless blather in an air conditioned room where people had to be because it is their job, which is kinda sorta somehow like being a prisoner of war.

Anyway, realize that if you never used such a gawdawful metaphor in your life, you've accomplished more than Ted Cruz.  Good job!

Stephen Hawking essays a joke

Computers that didn't get the upgrade

Lapham's latest Quarterly opens with the words of Dmitry Iskov*, offering a solution to the theme for the quarter:  death.

One way for civilization to move to the next level of development is for humanity to develop and pass a new evolutionary strategy as soon as possible.  The foundation of this strategy is constant and intensive development, reaching a higher level for controlling reality, toward new ideas, meanings, and values and the creation of a fundamentally new model for the existence of society:  spiritual, humanistic, ethical, and high tech.

As our own potential is developed and revealed, our individual consciousness will become complex, flourishing, flexible, and playful.  Multivaried and paradoxical, it will inevitably begin to come into conflict with its limited moral, protein-based carrier--the biological body.  Overcoming this conflict will be the main stimulus for a scientific and technical breakthrough.  The development of NBICS technologies (nono-bio-info-cogno-synthetic) opens up possibilities for creating self-organizing systems capable of reproducing the functions of life and the mind in nonbiological substrates.  Over the coming decades human beings will gain a new, practically immortal carrier of the personality.  This is the path of replacing biological evolution with cybernetic evolution.  In these transformations lies the essence of a new strategy for the development of society--the strategy of spiritual and bodily evolution, or evolutionary transhumanism.
The note at the end of this excerpt (of which I've only given two paragraphs) notes drily that the question was posed to Iskov, "a multimillionare and former online-media mogul," by the New York Times:  "Are you insane?"

Well, if he is, so is Stephen Hawking:


"I think the brain is like a program in the mind, which is like a computer," Hawking said last week during an appearance at the Cambridge Film Festival, The Telegraph reported. "So it's theoretically possible to copy the brain on to a computer and so provide a form of life after death."

He acknowledged that such a feat lies "beyond our present capabilities," adding that "the conventional afterlife is a fairy tale for people afraid of the dark."
One could say that Hawking, like Dawkins, has now abandoned the hard work of science for that sweet, sweet publicity of saying whatever the hell you want and sounding "science-y" about it.

I was going to leave these two statements as a study in contrast where we still look to authority to tell us what to think:  where Iskov is simply a businessman who gets attention because he's rich, is anybody going to take these remarks from Hawking and ask him the same question the NYT put to Iskov?  Why not?  Because Hawking is a scientist?

Let's start with "the brain is like a program in the mind"?  What the hell does that mean?  Isn't the brain the "meat," and "mind" the program?  And don't we all understand the mind/brain=a computer is just a metaphor, like saying the human body is a magnificent machine?  But more to the point, how the hell is it "theoretically possible" to "copy the brain on to a computer and so provide a form of life after death"?  Because dualism is true, and there is a mind/body split?  Funny, but that idea originated in the notion of an afterlife (somebody get Mr. Hawking a copy of the Phaedo, will ya?).

The very notion of the brain being a computer and mind the program is kinda silly, really.  It doesn't explain neuroses or psychoses, or simply the range of emotions that make human thought possible (is curiosity an emotion?  Or a product of rational thought?  Without it there is no knowledge, but really, what's rational about curiosity?)

I dunno; the whole concept is just daft.  If I speak of the brain as a computer, it isn't because it's true, but because I have a new referent available for the metaphor of thought and cogitation and perception and emotion and memory and all the myriad things that go on in that 3 pounds of meat between your ears.  I was listening to a radio program today about strokes and aphasia, and victims of aphasia reported knowing the word they wanted to use, knowing they wanted to use it, but being unable to do so.  Is that a "hardware" problem, in our computer analogy?  If it is, doesn't that make the "software" the self, which is aware of this condition about which it can do nothing, but which it is aware of?  As Marilynne Robinson puts it:

 By "self-awareness"  I do not mean merely consciousness of one's identity, or of the complex flow of thought, perception, memory and desire, important as these are.  I mean primarily the self that stands apart from itself, that questions, reconsiders, appraises.  I have read that micoroorganisms can equip themselves with genes useful to their survival  - that is, genes conferring resistance to antibiotics - by choosing them out of the ambient flux of organic material.  This is not a pretty metaphor, but it makes a point.  If a supposedly simple entity can by any means negotiate its own enhancement, then an extremely complex entity, largely composed of these lesser entities - that is, a human being - should be assumed to have analogous capabilities.  For the purposes of the mind, these might be called conscience or aspiration.  We receive their specific forms culturally and historically, as the microorganism, our contemporary, does also when it absorbs the consequences of other germ's encounters with the human pharmacopoeia.  Let us say that social pathologies can be associated with traumatic injuries to certain areas of the brain, and that the unimpaired brain has a degree of detachment necessary to report to us when our behavior might be, as they say in the corrections community, inappropriate.  Then what grounds can there be for doubting that a sufficient biological account of the brain would yield the complex phenomenon we know and experience as the mind?  It is only the pertinacity of the mind/body dichotomy that sustains the notion that a sufficient biological account of the brain would be reductionist in the negative sense.  Such thinking is starkly at odds with our awareness of the utter brilliance of the physical body.
The very idea that mind should go on without body is rooted in the notion of duality, the idea that mind is (or should be) permanent, while body is corrupt and impermanent, and how unfair is that!?  If the idea that one is separated from the other in death is silly, what's rational about the idea that one can be separated from the other by technology?

So there I go again, running on longer than I meant to.  But seriously:  the mindless reductionism of Hawking on this issue is of a piece with his concluding statement, which is supposed to mark him as a "serious thinker" on this topic, not some benighted fool.  And yet, having recently re-read Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," the seminal American work on damnation that still echoes in American pulpits and TV screens (subdued at times, but never discarded, never forgotten), I can't for the life of me imagine why that would be regarded as "a fairy tale for people afraid of the dark."  Most of the people I know who consider an afterlife (or even reincarnation) as a valid concept, are more afraid of the afterlife than the dark.

Which has always pretty much been Richard Dawkins' point.  Maybe he and Hawking need to get together and settle this issue by sharing their ignorance about it.  They'll find 0+0 still = 0, but I'm not sure they'll understand they're starting with 0.

*not, unfortunately, available on-line

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

1st Century Optometry Lesson

Do you see what I see?

Jesus of Nazareth:

"Why do you notice the sliver in your friend's eye, but overlook the timber in your own?  How can you say to your friend, "Let me get the sliver out of your eye," when there is that timber in your own?  You phony, first take the timber out of your own eye and then you'll see well enough to remove the sliver from your own."  (Matthew 7:3-5, SV)

In modern parlance:  takes one to know one.
In an interview Wednesday shortly after his 21-hour talkathon to defund Obamacare had come to an end, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) lamented to shock jock Rush Limbaugh that too many lawmakers think their constituents are naive.

"They think their voters are gullible rubes," Cruz said in the radio interview.

Except he doesn't have the (memory) charms....

Am I the only one who sees the resemblance?

Once again Charlie Pierce wants to man the battlements of Bad Historical Analogy, only where Ted Cruz prefers World War II, Mr. Pierce favors the struggle for Irish independence:

Maybe it's because I was over there last week, but Cruz's effort reminds me of nothing more than the political aftermath of the Easter Rising in Ireland in 1916 which, as a military action, looked as doomed and useless as Cruz's extended speech will look as soon as the Senate votes through whatever Harry Reid comes up with in the next couple of days. In Ireland, after all the drumhead courts-martial and the summary executions, which succeeded only in turning Irish political opinion almost 180 degrees and permanently in favor of the Rising, in the elections of 1918, Sinn Fein, the political entity that arose from the Rising, won 73 of Ireland's 105 seats in the British Parliament. Those elected then refused to go to London, and they formed themselves into Dail Eireann, the Irish parliament, and declared themselves the elected representatives of the Irish Republic declared from the steps of the General Post Office two years earlier. In doing so, they declared themselves loyal to no institutions but their own, no government but their own. In Neil Jordan's movie Michael Collins, Jordan has the imprisoned Eamon de Valera explain this in a letter to Collins as a strategy of "defeating the British Empire by ignoring it."

Yeah, and all the people who don't want to defund Obamacare are Nazi Appeasers, while Cruz is Winston Churchill.  Maybe Churchill is the more apt analogy, because events finally proved Churchill right about Germany, but as soon as that war was over, so was Churchill's career. And Ted Cruz is not warning us about another Nazi Germany, much as he'd like to think he is.

There is a reason the Vietnamese won the Vietnam War, and it's the same reason the Irish formed the Dail Eireann; it's even the same reason the colonists won the War for Independence:  people who live in the country can always repel people who don't live in the country, sooner or later.  The Irish didn't win independence in 1918 (the Irish Free State was not declared until 1921), but they were, like the Vietnamese, like the colonists, fighting for their homeland, and for home rule.

 I suppose we can make bad analogies to various homegrown secession movements, but since none of those are going to succeed, it's not helpful to Mr. Pierce's argument. Which is kinda the point, really. Yes, Goldwater was a looney who got swept aside in the heady days of 1964 when we'd won the war and the peace and prosperity was on every corner and we felt we could afford to be generous to the poor and even afford some measure of justice to the African Americans; and by 1972 that had all fallen apart.  Inflation was destroying incomes, jobs were beginning to falter, women were entering the workforce less because Ms. Magazine convinced them to, and more because the family needed the money.  And while the nation prospered still, in one sense; in another, that's when we started to feel poorer; and pretty soon two incomes became the norm and necessary, and while some things got cheaper, we became more aware of the cost of everything, and by the time Jimmy Carter told us the "energy crisis" was the "moral equivalent of war" (or "M.E.O.W."), the stage was set for morning in America and Ronald Reagan, if only because the newest generation of voters was sick of the "liberalism" of the '60's generation (we became "Boomers" a decade later), and they liked the avuncular old guy who did terrible things but since when were JFK and LBJ Boy Scouts?

Are we heading back to that?  Did we ever leave it?  But Reagan was not the blustering and terrifying Goldwater, while Cruz has embraced his inner racist and seems to long for the good ol' days of the 1950's, when real Americans learned to hate Castro and Communism and still loved John Wayne.  The guy is stuck in a time warp:  his first references  just in time for the evening news yesterday were World War II.  Yeah, it works for the Tea Baggers, but they're a majority of Texas voters only because the Hispanics don't vote and the youth won't vote unless they can do it on Facebook.  They aren't, by a long shot, the majority of the voters in America.

Nor, to carry on with the bad analogies, do the majority of Americans see the government as an invading force bent on destroying our liberties.  That's been the selling point of conservatism since the beginning of the Republic.  Maybe when all these guys who say government is the problem finally decide to leave D.C. and form a new government that isn't the problem (makes as much sense as Cruz's reasons for his "filibuster"), I'll start to worry.  But I don't see Ted Cruz leading that revolution, or any change in government, because so far he's shown the political acumen of a dead rat.

And don't tell me his rise to the Senate is "amazing."  This is Texas.  We elected Louie Gohmert.  We elected Rick Perry to statewide office three times, and before that it was George W. Bush, twice.  Have you looked at the people we usually send to the Senate?  Hell, before Cruz we kept sending Phil Gramm there.  Face it, since LBJ our Senate selections have all been downhill.

Cruz's "political acumen" consists of believing the power of his personality will cause Americans to rise up and drown the Congress in indignant phone calls that will cleanse the Aegean stables of the Capitol. Yeah:  that didn't happen either.

Pierce loves this Manichean vision of politics:  if the bad guys are still standing, if they still have a base, no matter how small, then the good guys have no hope and it's all over but the cryin'.  Look, the Cruz "filibuster" is so inside baseball it's under the stitches.  Even in Texas almost no news outlet noticed.  Claire McCaskill's remarks were on one of the least watched shows on cable TeeVee.  Lawrence O'Donnell, ditto (his audience is probably smaller than Morning Joe's).

Ted Cruz will not lose an election based on this long talk. But he's got no broader a base of support nationally than Rick Perry does.  Cruz might make it through the primaries because he won't speak kindly of immigrants, as Perry did (irony alert!)  But run that stuff about how great Jesse Helms was in a national election, and he's over.  He might survive in Texas, but I'm not sure he would.  Even down here such blatant embrace of racists is toxic.

As for his continued presence in the Senate:  well, you can't get anything done if even your GOP colleagues won't stand with you.  Cruz has the support of Rubio, Paul, and Lee.  Not exactly a majority, by any calculus.  And it's likely he just hasn't yet had a chance to piss them off.
Cruz has had his 15 minutes.  He's not eloquent; he's not smart; he's not Voldemort.

He's not even Snape.  He's Gilderoy Lockhart.

Historical Footnote:  Phil Gramm, who, if memory serves, was the first Republican Senator from Texas since John Tower, was also a popular conservative figure back in the day.  Then he ran for POTUS, and hit the townships of New Hampshire, where campaigning requires the personal visit.  Turns out Mr. Gramm was so personally obnoxious his handlers practically had to drag him away from fervent supporters who were already deciding this was not the man for them.

Any similarities to Ted Cruz are purely historical.

Super-Toys Last All Summer Long



I was gonna leave this alone, even after Lawrence O'Donnell stated the obvious last night:

“Many people think that because Ted Cruz was a good law student or a good lawyer he is therefore smart, smart at everything he does. They are wrong,” he said. “Being a good law student does not mean that you are a smart parent, for example. Or a smart driver, or a smart eater. Or a smart senator. Law school performance is a predictor of nothing–including your potential ability as a lawyer. And there are many high functioning lawyers who are absolutely terrible at everything else they do.”

But then Ted Cruz went and provoked me.

TC caught it first.  Then Wonkette noticed.  But Claire McCaskill put it best:

 "I thought it was interesting that Ted Cruz used 'Green Eggs and Ham,'" McCaskill said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." "I went to the University of Missouri, I did not go to Harvard, but my daughter texted me this morning and said 'Mom, does he not know the point of the story?' It's that you can't knock things until you try it."
Everybody grab a fork....

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Well-honed debating skills....

Which explains why he's so intimidating

The Silver Tongued Devil Speaks:

Cruz argued that Americans were historically never ones to accept defeat, whether it be standing up the Great Britain during the Revolutionary War, Nazi Germany in World War II, or the Soviet Union during the Space Race of the 20th century.

"So we get to Obamacare," Cruz said. "What do all those voices say? Can't be stopped, you can't win. Cannot defund it. Mr. President, by any measure, Obamacare is a far less intimidating foe than those that I have discussed, with the possible exception of the moon. The moon might be as intimidating as Obamacare."

 Later that same day:

 If you go to the 1940s, Nazi Germany," Cruz said. "Look, we saw in Britain, Neville Chamberlain, who told the British people, 'Accept the Nazis. Yes, they'll dominate the continent of Europe but that's not our problem. Let's appease them. Why? Because it can't be done. We can't possibly stand against them.'"

"And in America there were voices that listened to that," he continued. "I suspect those same pundits who say it can't be done, if it had been in the 1940s we would have been listening to them. Then they would have made television. They would have gotten beyond carrier pigeons and beyond letters and they would have been on tv and they would have been saying, 'You cannot defeat the Germans.'"

Cruz has vowed to talk as long as he can stand.  Which may be literally true, but it won't be a Jimmy Stewart style dramatic moment.  He can only talk until the Senate votes for cloture, and under the rules that only has to be a simple majority vote, not a 60 vote supermajority. *

One has to wonder:  what if the rules also required Cruz to speak without references to Nazis, World War II, or John Wayne, that war's greatest cinematic hero?  What if the rules required him to stay within the last 50 years of American history for his analogies, something more within the living memory of the majority of the country?  Would he have to be silent?

Just keep telling yourself:  this is Ted Cruz displaying his political acumen to the country.  And he's the smartest man in the room; just ask him.

And pass the popcorn, will ya?

*It really, really, really isn't a filibuster:


“There will be no filibuster today,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “Filibusters stop people from voting, and we are going to vote tomorrow. Under the rules no one can stop that.”

“We’re going to vote tomorrow regardless of what anyone says or does today, unless it’s a consent agreement to collapse the time,” Reid said.
 Reid means they could vote today; but the Senate will vote tomorrow.

Cruz may win among the electorate in Texas; but otherwise, stick a fork in 'im, he's done.  I mean, really.

Where's that fork?

Tolerance is intolerable because Islam is not a religion. Or something....

Can't we all just get along?

Charlie Pierce piques my interest in this with his opening comments:

One of the subtler -- or sneakier -- arguments by the theocrats among us who wish to teach their particular splinter of Christianity in the public schools is that we should teach the Bible "as literature," or that we should offer courses in comparative religions. With which latter even some liberals, like me, have no real problem. In theory.
Because I've actually taught the Bible "as literature" at a public school; although not the kind of "public school" he means, admittedly.  And because, as usual, if you read the article, you get your answers.

It is a tricky thing to teach the Bible as literature.  It will almost get you in as much trouble as teaching that Islam is a religion.

Here's what happened:  an Honors course at Hendersonville High School in Sumner County, Tennessee has, for 10 years now, spent 3 weeks on the topic of world religions and studied the 5 major religions:  Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism.  They've also taken field trips, but never to places of worship of all five religions.  Why not, you reasonably ask?  The article reasonably answers:

[Sumner County Board of Education member Vanessa Silkwood] said there’s not enough instructional time or funds to tour five sites representative of all five religions.
Part of the complaint from one parent is that all five places of worship weren't visited, and the fact an Islamic mosque was visited is evidence the teacher was promoting Islam to her students.  Alright, that gets us to the controversy here.  But when Mr. Pierce says:

For the record, I don't know why there weren't field trips to other houses of worship, either. Hell, I don't know why the kids weren't allowed to attend Wiccan rites out in the woods. But I suspect this is not about that.
 Well, we do know why they didn't go out into the woods to observe Wiccan rites (and the first answer is that Wiccan is not generally regarded as one of the five major religions of the world, not that it would freak out every parent in America outside maybe Berkeley), and we also know why they didn't go on more field trips.  Three weeks in high school is barely enough time to introduce the idea that there are other religions besides Xianity, that they are actually legitimate (and not sources of terror and sharia death laws or eternal damnation), and then visit each one of them.  Besides, buses don't fuel themselves,  and do you want to organize a caravan of parents with cars 5 times in a row?  Get real.

So back to the controversy.  Seems the complaining parent is a victim here:

Conner said his stepdaughter opted out of the field trip and instead was asked to write an alternative assignment comparing and contrasting the religious teachings of Jesus, Gandhi and Muhammad. The materials she was given contained a page of Bible verses, two-thirds of a page about Gandhi and five pages about Muhammad.

When his stepdaughter decided she could not compare and contrast the three because she was given unequal information, she was initially told that she would receive a zero and would not be given another assignment, Conner said. That’s when he really became upset. However, school officials later agreed to give a second alternative assignment.

That assignment was to choose three of the five religions and compare and contrast them. Conner wonders why his stepdaughter wasn’t given that option in the first place.

Conner said other students who attended the Sept. 4 field trip told him copies of the Quran were given to students, who also participated in meditation in the Hindu temple. The school system’s spokesman said materials were handed out at the mosque but he wasn’t sure if they included Qurans, and a tour guide demonstrated how Hindu meditation is achieved but students were not required to participate.
Read that carefully, take his assertions at face value (five pages of Islam in the assignment, v. one page of Bible verses), and it's pretty clear the problem here is Islam.  But oh no, it isn't:

Conner said he’s OK with students studying five religions, but he found it problematic that only two houses of worship were visited.

“If you can’t share equal time to all five, you shouldn’t do any of them,” he said.
Now I want to agree with that sentiment, but as I say, there's a question of time and resources here.  It's safe to assume most of Hendersonville High's students have seen the inside of a Christian church (no, not always true, but safe to assume), not not a Jewish synagogue, an Islamic mosque, or a Buddhist temple.  I can understand going to as many of those as you can, first, and not getting to all of them in 3 weeks.  You need some class time in there.

But of course read on, and you get to the real real problem:

Conner believes that between the trips and the assignment, the school was promoting the Islamic faith.

“The teacher was pushing Islamic tolerance,” Conner said. “We did not want to make this about religion – they forced us to.”
Of course, a three week course about religion which sparks a controversy because of the houses of worship the class visits can't possibly be controversial because of religion!  What, do you think that Conner is a bigot or close-minded or something!  (As Wonkette says:  "Well done, Mike Conner! Victim card, played for maximum effect!")  Besides, teaching Islamic tolerance really is intolerable.  Why, think of what could happen to the children!

Kelly Fussman, a 2012 graduate of Hendersonville High School, took the world studies course in 2008, visiting a mosque and a Hindu temple. She said she was disappointed to hear about the decision to halt the field trips.

“The world studies class was really the one and only class that allowed for such an open dialogue of faith and religion,” she said. “To be able to experience what we were talking about firsthand – you can’t get that through class discussion and a textbook.”

The teacher of the course, Amanda Elmore, was among the first who made Fussman think critically about the world. “Without her pushing the limits, I wouldn’t be so open to new cultures and traveling the world,” Fussman said.

Kelly Fussman is probably Islam tolerant, too.

Monday, September 23, 2013

If this is the smartest guy in the room, I'd like a different room.


Does this look at all familiar?


I must, by now, have a different definition of "smart."


In fact, I'm sure I do.

The context is this trip down memory lane by Josh Marshall, where everybody who knew Ted Cruz in school agrees on two things, in this order:  1)  World class asshole; 2) really smart.

I don't see it.  Well, the first part I certainly do; but not the last part.

Cruz models himself on his father; that much to me is clear.  His father is an evangelist of the type I grew up with, around, and know inside out.  The variation is that Cruz the elder couples his evangelical fervor with a fierce anti-Castro anti-communism that passed its sell-date decades ago.  Evangelist preachers are not universally a stupid person's idea of a smart person, as Newt Gingrich has been described.  They are generally glib, quick-talking (for Southerners, anyway), and thoroughly convinced of their own righteousness.  Think Burt Lancaster's Elmer Gantry without the self-awareness.  It is clear to me, having watched Cruz off and on this summer as he makes sure he stays in the limelight (no wonder John McCain can't stand him) that Cruz just wants to be a chip off the old block.

But is he smart?

I've met a lot of "smart" people in my time.  I know a lot of "smart" people.  Less and less am I impressed with someone who can get through academia and appear "smart" while doing it, usually because they seem to do it with such ease.  "Smart" in movies usually means somebody with a head stuffed with trivial information that they spout like an encyclopedia (by the way, nobody who really is smart thinks a comparison to an encyclopedia is a compliment.  An encyclopedia can be a good source of information (depends on who's writing and compiling it), but it is information only of the most general sort.).  I've been in and through academia long enough to know that most people who go there or even wind up there aren't necessarily "smart."

My example from the extremes is a student I met in graduate school.  I remember him as a human tape recorder.  We associate eidetic memory with visual information, like reading.  He had the equivalent, but he took in information aurally.  Just as an eidetic memory can disguise knowledge for a reader, who can recall pages of words without really knowing what they meant, he could repeat, almost verbatim, anything said in class (and in graduate seminars, a LOT is said).  What he couldn't do was understand it.

Probably to non-grad students, or those outside our school, he sounded "smart."  But he wasn't; not at all.  Neither, of course, could he be failed, since he wasn't saying anything wrong.  He just wasn't showing any deep understanding.

More and more I connect the approval of "smart" with depth of understanding; I don't connect it with eloquence, glibness, or a head stuffed with trivia and information.  If I want information I can get it from books or the computer I'm typing on; what do to with that information, is what matters.

Ted Cruz has not shown me that he knows what to do with information.

For one thing, as Marshall reports, Cruz was a committed ideologue when he entered Princeton, and he's never let any information dissuade him from his views.  Maybe I'm leaning too close to wisdom here, but to me a "smart" person considers alternative views, and rejects them only after giving them due and thorough consideration, after understanding them.  The risk of that kind of inquiry is you might not reject those views; you might accept them in place of your own.  I'm not sure Ted Cruz has ever done that.

I'd almost bet money he hasn't, as a matter of fact.

But Cruz was on the Princeton debate team, and he made it through Harvard Law!  So?  I knew a lawyer who was also "smart;" and an asshole.  Everybody in town knew he was an asshole, and the only lawyer I know he ever respected, was the one I'd worked for before law school.  That man was smart; and kind.  He was the opposite of an asshole (a personality type many a trial lawyer specializes in).  This man was "smart" because he understood people, he understood the law, and he understood the place of data in argument:  use it when you need it, but if you can reason, you don't really need to carry much data around with you.  Oh, and if you're really smart, you really don't need to be an asshole.

That's simplifying greatly, and turning "smart" into a personality trait; but I don't mean that.  I mean "smart" is too quickly assessed for people who have good memories and glib tongues, traits that are handy in what Marshall calls the "somewhat ridiculous world of college debate."  Debate itself is a world apart, where comments like Stephen Fry's can seem "bone-crushing," until you take away the verbal talents of the speaker and review just what was being said by going outside the debate hall.  I mean, it may be effective in the forum, but take it out into the agora and it evaporates in the sunlight, as evanescent as a soap bubble.  So is Cruz smart because he's glib?

My example of a "smart" person would be Barack Obama,  You can listen to Obama speak, or answer questions to a journalist, or make wisecracks to an audience, and know the man is very intelligent.  He's thoughtful.  He considers matters.  Too deeply, some have complained; not deeply enough, others have cried.  No matter; the man is clearly one of the smartest people to occupy the White House since Thomas Jefferson.  Does Ted Cruz strike you as nearly so thoughtful, nearly so insightful?

I didn't think so.

Nor do I have any reason to think that is a pose.  Is Ted Cruz intelligent?  Undoubtedly.  But is he "smart"?  No, I don't think so.  I reserve that term for people of better character and greater humility; for people closer to "wisdom" than just to "intelligence."  "Smart" means something other than knowledgeable or quick-witted or glib in your speech; it certainly means more than what education you have.  "Smart" has as much to do with how you use your mental abilities as it does with what abilities you have or develop.

Ted Cruz may not be a fool; not in the sense that he has the capacity to understand; but he fails repeatedly to understand anything not deemed of immediate importance to Ted Cruz.  Just now, for example, he seems set on filibustering a bill that does what he wants it to do, just because that bill won't pass the Senate.  His filibuster won't make it pass, but he's vowed to fight for passage by keeping any bill from passing, anyway.  So here's where he stands right now:

Ted Cruz's plan doesn't make much sense on its face. He says he wants to filibuster the House-passed government spending bill that defunds Obamacare. Why would he want to block a bill that accomplishes his dream?

The apparent contradiction underlines the politically difficult position that Cruz has put his caucus in. How do you explain to your constituents that you voted to block a bill that would have defunded the health care law that they so deeply revile? Explaining the arcane rules of the Senate isn't the easiest political message, though Cruz has earned the backing of big conservative groups to fortify his position.

But the fact that he's in this position at all probably isn't a good sign. "Rule No. 1 in communications is if you are explaining, you are losing," a senior Senate GOP aide told TPM.
Thanks to Senate Rule 22, it's not clear he can ever mount a filibuster anyway.  Unless all GOP Senators vote against cloture (which would mean voting to block a bill you support; this would be before Reid strips out the anti-Obamacare language), all votes on the CR will require a simply majority for passage.  So what is Cruz's plan? Blame the Democrats for not closing down the government?  Blame them for allowing Obamacare to continue to take effect?

Let me make the confusion a little clearer:  John Cornyn says he supports the House CR and will vote against a bill that funds Obamacare.  However:

If you dig into that sentence, you see the difficulty of the Senate GOP's position.

Cornyn says he supports the House bill, which Cruz says he will block. So Cornyn could actually vote for cloture -- against the wishes of Cruz, Heritage, etc. -- because he supports the House bill and wants it to come to the floor. That would be in line with the tweet above.

But then when Reid strips the defund language from the bill, he could vote against its final passage. With both votes, Cornyn is voting for defunding Obamacare, yet defying Cruz. FreedomWorks might score for him; Heritage would score against him.

Confused yet? That's the position that the Senate GOP finds itself in.
Yes:  unless Reid suspends Rule 22, Ted Cruz will have no choice but to demand the entire Senate GOP join him in holding their breath until their faces turn blue; or just filibustering the bill they actually support, because that's the only way to keep Reid from bringing any CR to the Senate floor for a vote.  Does this make sense to you?

Ted Cruz is the smart guy in the room?  And wasn't that how they described the guys who ran Enron? Into the ground?

N.B.  Word comes that Cruz has already lost, as Reid objected to unanimous consent to pass the House CR, and to Cruz's demand that all votes on the CR meet the 60 vote threshold.   Now we'll see if his arrogance has won him any friends in the Senate.

Is this a great country or what?

Which way to the bad guys?


Wonkette reminds me:

Incidentally, the average person can’t walk into an effects shop and buy the explosive squibs used to simulate gunshots on teevee…you need an explosives license. Thanks to the NRA, there’s no such restriction for an AR-15 with real child-shredding bullets.
Or on just leaving guns around where kids can get 'em.  Oh, wait, that is restricted.  Good thing it's working:

 Authorities said they were concerned a Texas couple attempted to hide a firearm after their 3-year-old son accidentally shot himself, leading to the removal of one of the boy's lungs, the River Cities Daily Tribune reported Friday.
Which one is the good guy who should have had a gun in this scenario?  Or is this an example of gun laws not being enforced?  It's so hard to keep up with the excuses.  Maybe the kids should have been armed against the parents.

At least those kids didn't have access to explosive squibs.  They might really have hurt someone with those things.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

2nd Amendment Remedies


This is absolute madness.

"The whole country ... knows the problem is there wasn't enough good guys with guns..When the good guys with guns got there, it stopped." 

"Good guys" and "bad guys" has no meaning outside of a movie.  In real life the good guys don't have magic guns that only shoot the bad guys, and the bad guys don't have magic guns that only shoot a helpless victim when the good guys haven't arrived yet.   In real life good guys with guns don't protect us from bad guys with guns: laws do.

This "argument" is madness.  This is insanity.  Yet even when he is allowed on TeeVee, nobody tells Wayne LaPierre to his face:  "You are insane.  Your words do not describe reality.  You make sounds that make no sense.  You speak gibberish and do evil."

To argue with this man is to countenance the Devil.   You don't "push back" against this man.  You simply call him evil.  You call him a fool, a madman, a jackass, a violence peddler, a monster, a killer, a merchant of death.  You get him on your forum so you can strip him naked and run him through the town square tarred and feathered.  You do not thank him for his time, you treat him like the pariah he should be.  You treat him like the gibbering idiot he is.  You denounce him.   You expose him.  You deride him.  You excoriate him.

If we can't do anything about guns in this country, we can at least do something about the madmen who make sure we can't do anything about guns in this country.

UPDATE:

Let's just go with the entirety of what Mr. LaPierre said to Mr. Gregory:

WAYNE LAPIERRE: No, the whole country, David, knows the problem is there weren't enough good guys with guns. When the good guys with guns got there, it stopped. I mean, what really happened here, the mental health situation in the country is in complete breakdown...David, you know, all the outrage this week the first two days, of the elite media and the politicians trying to stir this toward firearms; the outrage ought to be placed on an unprotected naval base; on a criminal justice system, in Chicago, that doesn't even enforce the federal gun laws (and we could dramatically cut violence); on a mental health system that is completely broken; on a check system that is a complete joke in terms of stopping the bad guys. And a criminal justice system in this country-- just this past week, because of budget collapse, they're releasing 23,000 people back to the streets in Los Angeles, a lot of them violent and a lot of them sex offenders. That's where the outrage of the American public is...Private sales between hunters, hunter to a hunter in another state, a farmer to a farmer shotgun, no, I don't believe you ought to be under the thumb of the federal government. But that's what's wrong with this town, David. Here we have a military base completely unprotected, we have a mental system that's completely broken down, they're trafficking in 13-year-old girls down the street, there's all kinds of drugs, all kinds of guns, and the priority of this town is, "Hey, do you think a hunter that sells a gun to a hunter in Kansas ought to have to be under the thumb of the federal government?" No...I'll tell you what the N.R.A.'s for: Interdict, incarcerate violent criminals. Get them off the street. Indict people that are having mental problems; get them into treatment. Enforce the federal gun laws. If there's a drug dealer with a gun in Chicago, 100% of the time federal law, Eric Holder, prosecute them. Fix the mental health system and let's get our fiscal house into order so that we can stop releasing the bad guys back to the street.
That, as they say, is some authentic frontier gibberish.  There isn't a lick of sense in it, or a rational order to it.

It should be treated as the ravings of a lunatic, and the man spouting it should be treated as unfit to possess anything sharper than a rubber ball.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Please move immediately to a place of safety.

This is not a drill




Why I don't like to quote scripture

I bet we can weaponize this thing!


in an argument, or in any non-liturgical or non-scholarly context.


After House GOP leaders capitulated to conservative demands, Cramer on Thursday joined 216 other House Republicans in narrowly passing legislation to cut food stamp spending by nearly $40 billion over 10 years. A constituent, Kevin R Tengesdal, took to Cramer's Facebook page to express his apparent displeasure by quoting some Biblical passages:



Cramer subsequently responded by citing a different passage from the Bible, one more favorable to his position on federally funded nutrition assistance.

"2 Thessalonians 3:10 English Standard Version (ESV) 10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat," he wrote.
Because that's not what it's for.

The first quote is accurate so far as it goes, but it doesn't necessarily apply to governments (whether it should or not is another question.)   To put the second quote in context:

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.
It doesn't have any application here, either.  Paul is writing to his followers, to people in the church in Thessalonika who may well, like the Galatians and the Corinthians, think its all about free time and party like it's 1999, 'cause Jesus is comin'!  What he says doesn't apply to society, either; nor to government.  It's not even a text on social justice, which the parable from Matthew certainly is.

It is right for government to care for its people.  It should certainly do that at least as much as it cares for contractors, both military and otherwise.  But this is why I don't use scriptures in an argument, or to prove a point unrelated to scriptural studies or doctrinal issues:  it isn't what scripture is for.  Shouting scripture at each other does nothing for either side, and it persuades third parties only that scripture is about shaming and rule making and power plays.

And we really don't need any more of that than we have already.