Thursday, July 31, 2014

Meditation in lieu of commentary

I know things about you, therefore, that no other person knows.  You committed many more sins than people imagine; you preformed many more miracles than people believe.  In order to mount to heaven, you see the floor of the Inferno to give you your momentum.  "The further down you gain your momentum," you often used to tell me, "the higher you shall be able to reach.  The militant Christian's greatest worth is not his virtue, but his struggle to transform into virtue the impudence, dishonor, unfaithfulness, and malice within him.  One day Lucifer will be the most glorious archangel standing next to God; not Michael, Gabriel, or Raphael--but Lucifer, after he has finally transubstantiated his terrible darkness into light."

--Nikos Kazantzakis, St. Francis

And I wondered greatly at this revelation, and considered our faith, wondering as follows:  our faith is grounded in God's word, and it is part of our faith that we should believe that God's word will be kept in all things; and one point of our faith is that many shall be damned--like the angels who fell out of heaven from pride, who are now fiends, and men on earth who die outside the faith of Holy Church, that is, those who are heathens, and also any man who has received Christianity and lives an unChristian life and so dies excluded from the love of God.  Holy Church teaches me to believe that all these shall be condemned everlastingly to hell.  And given all that, I thought it impossible that all manner of things should be well, as our Lord revealed at this time.  And I received no other answer in showing from our Lord than this:  'What is impossible to you is not impossible to me.  I shall keep my word in all things and I shall make all things well.'

Thus I was taught by the grace of God that I should steadfastly remain in the faith, as I had previously understood, and at the same time that I should firmly believe that all things should be well as our Lord God revealed on the same occasion.  For this is the great deed that our Lord shall do, the deed by which he will keep his word in all things and shall make all well that is not well.  And how the deed shall be done there is no creature under Christ that knows or shall know until it is done, so far as I understood our Lord's meaning at this time.

--Julian of Norwich

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Fools rush in....

Nothing else came to mind, and I liked this.  Otherwise, it has nothing to do with the post.

I had a rather elaborate post worked out about this; and then I realized Richard Dawkins was just being stupid:

On Tuesday, the English author got into it on Twitter when he tried to explain his position that “X is bad. Y is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of X, go away and don’t come back until you’ve learned how to think logically.” And the way he did was by declaring authoritatively that “Mild pedophilia is bad. Violent pedophilia is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of mild pedophilia, go away and learn how to think,” and, “Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.”

The stupidity is quite simple and entirely on the surface (and yes, you'd think he'd know to stay away from the subject of pedophilia).  What Mr. Dawkins implies here is that rape by a stranger is worse than rape by an acquaintance ("date rape").  The knife is the red herring, because an acquaintance wouldn't "need" a knife, and if he pulled one, he'd become a stranger, n'est pas?

So, you see, what Dawkins is really arguing is the definition of rape.  That is:  when is rape "legitimate rape"?

Now, this conclusion may not seem clear until you understand R (rape) is not the same crime as  R+V(Violence).  At that point, the knife being added to threaten the victim, you have two crimes:  rape plus assault with a deadly weapon.  Two crimes are objectively worse than one; that's why we have a felony murder rule.  If you commit a felony, say robbery, and in the course of the robbery kill someone, you've now committed felony murder, and your intent in the murder (maybe the death as inadvertent) is of less interest than it might be if you were merely negligent in the use of a firearm.  The commission of one crime makes the second crime worse.   So R+V is worse than R, but not because the R in one case is significantly different from the R in the other case; it's because you've added something else to the criminal acts.

But Mr. Dawkins' analysis implies there is a difference in the rape between R and R+V, and that difference is that the presence of the knife distinguishes acquaintance from stranger, and if you have to be raped, isn't it "better" coming from a friend?

I mean, it's bad; but is worse if it's a stranger, right?  The knife just distinguishes the stranger from the friend, if you discount the fact it makes two crimes instead of one.  Because unless you discount the additional crime there is no comparison; and if you do discount it, then date rape is a lesser sexual assault than rape by a stranger, which can only mean some rapes are more "legitimate" than others.

Which is utter bollocks; and makes me think the entry level requirements for Oxford dons aren't what they used to be.  Because knowing how to think no longer means what it used to mean.

One is a genius, the other's insane

What do groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda and even Hamas want? They want to impose their religious views on the rest of humanity. They want stifle every freedom that decent, educated, secular people care about. This is not a trivial difference. And yet judging from the level of condemnation that Israel now receives, you would think the difference ran the other way.

This kind of confusion puts all of us in danger. This is the great story of our time. For the rest of our lives, and the lives of our children, we are going to be confronted by people who don’t want to live peacefully in a secular, pluralistic world, because they are desperate to get to Paradise, and they are willing to destroy the very possibility of human happiness along the way. The truth is, we are all living in Israel. It’s just that some of us haven’t realized it yet.
What does the villain want to do in every comic book I ever read?

Try to take over the world.

What does the villain want to do in almost every James Bond movie since "Dr. No."?

Try to take over the world.

"Whaddya want to do tonight, Brain?"

"Same thing we do every night, Pinky.  TRY TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD!"

Sam Harris simply took his childhood too seriously.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Time Marches On

Wandering through the local thrift store (donations turned into sales for various charitable purposes), I found the above, sans colorful dust jacket.  The picture of the woman just to the left of Skin and Bones was embossed on the spine, and it was rather obvious she was meant to be undressed from the waist up, except for the hat and baseball glove.  This I thought odd in a book clearly not meant to pornographic.

I'd never heard of Thorne Smith, but popping it open I found Topper in the table of contents.  I know Topper from the Leo G. McCarroll TV show first (and Leo G. McCarroll from his stint on "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.", from my childhood.  "Topper" I knew from re-runs, later), and while the TV show isn't a patch on the original movie with Cary Grant (the first one, I mean), I still remember it fondly.  So, I found, this was the guy who wrote Topper.  That almost made the volume appealing.

Oddly, Topper was the one book in this omnibus with no illustrations.  Maybe because that story doesn't involve rich men with mistresses, the way the other two books apparently did.  (I got the impression Thorne Smith was the American version of P.G. Wodehouse, but with rich old men chasing nubile young women, rather than wooly-headed British aristocrats avoiding domineering women.)  The other two entries were lavishly illustrated, every one including at least one fully naked woman, if not merely topless, usually in a roomful of fully dressed men.  The copyright was 1934, and it was a Doubleday publication.  It took me a while to square the circle and figure out this is what passed for "adult entertainment" in print in the days before Playboy and Esquire (which never had the foldouts, but did have the semi-nude photographs of women, although not on quite as regular a basis.  Down right prim, actually, compared to Hefner's publication.  Don't bother asking how I know this....)

What struck me as really funny is that this was the time when Hemingway was being blasted for his "disgusting" works, including (probably; I'm no Hemingway scholar, but I've just polished off a volume of his complete short stories) one strongly inferring a young wife is a lesbian, and a few where Nick Adams makes the beast with two backs in the woods with young women, in prose so obtuse and embarrassed to be violet, much less purple, I was embarrassed for it.)  James Joyce, of course, was even worse, for reasons I still don't quite understand.  I'm assuming Thorne Smith never described the "act of love" nor dwelt much on the nudity of his females in prose.

But cartoons drawings of undressed women?  Sure, why not?

Of course today only strictly "Christian" bookstores (or Muslim, for that matter) might eschew 50 Shades of Grey on their bookshelves; but the trailer for the movie was apparently too racy for broadcast TV.

The past really is another country, and yet curiously the same as ours.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Mission Accomplished

Glasses received.* 

They look almost like this, but cooler.  No pictures will be forthcoming.  I look more like the son of an accountant than ever.

Yesterday I couldn't spell hipster, now I are one.

In solidarity I'll be off today. This post was published automatically, which means it doesn't count.

*no accompanying crew cut this time.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

This is the end, my beautiful friend, the end....

In his last battle with Voldemort, despite the fact witches and wizards we have come to know and love (all of them adults) are hurling death blasts at the enemy, Harry Potter faces Voldermort and defeats him with a purely defensive spell.  Voldemort pronounces his infamous "Let's have a corpse" (a loose translation, to be sure) and Harry counters with a spell to disarm.  Harry doesn't kill, Voldemort does, and the success of Harry's spell means the death spell strikes the one who conjured it.

Thus is Harry's world made morally safe for executions.

We have this strange relationship with state sponsored death; perhaps because we praise so much our democracy and "government of, by, and for the people."  But it is that form of government, Josh Marshall argues, that has kept the death penalty alive in America even as it has ended in Europe.   He points out that "37% of executions in the United States since the resumption of capital punishment in 1976 have taken place in Texas, and support for the death penalty is very high here. He also notes this, which has a bearing on my consideration of the topic, quoting Federal Judge Alex Kozinski:

 "Executions", he writes, "are, in fact, brutal, savage events, and nothing the state tries to do can mask that reality. Nor should we. If we as a society want to carry out executions, we should be willing to face the fact that the state is committing a horrendous brutality on our behalf." I'm not sure Kozinski has any problem with that. And many people are quite comfortable with it or claim that they are.

But the reality is that most are not.

Most of us never really have been.  When the executioner wielded an axe, he also wore a hood; anonymity of a sort provided absolution, of a sort.  The story is the guillotine was invented to make executions more humane (and, of course, more efficient).  We've never been wholly comfortable with the brutality of death; its why so many of us come back changed from war.

This isn't peculiar to America, but our response is peculiarly American.  After World War II it stopped being the War Department, and became the Defense Department, complete with a permanent headquarters originally designed as an archive (and that's the reason the Pentagon survived 9/11 with relatively little damage.  The floors were built to hold tons of paper.)  "Defense" sounds so much cleaner and more reasonable; "war" carries so many connotations of carnage and disaster.

Our Navy, now, far from being an military force capable of projecting fearsome power from the waves to any point on the globe, is a "global force for good."  And Israel has learned from us to defend even our destruction rained down on civilians and military foes indiscriminately; we make "surgical strikes" and "collateral damage" is the fault of the enemy using "human shields."  Because we don't want to kill anybody but "bad guys," which we all know from generations (now) of action movies, are the only people you can kill without compunction or even the mess of dead bodies (they just fall down, and an hour later the place is clean again.  Nobody even notices the slaughter, because it isn't slaughter; bad guys ain't human!).

All of this is in play now as we try, once again, to find a "humane" way to kill people.  It was supposed to be the electric chair; but that didn't work out.  Then it was lethal injection, and what could go wrong?  We anesthetize people for surgery, surely we can painlessly put them out of our misery.

Except, of course, doctors won't get involved in such matters; something about "First, do no harm," apparently.  So we kill the prisoners because we must, but we insist the killing be "humane" because, after all, we aren't savages.  The more cleanly and painlessly we can kill someone, the less of a burden it is on our collective conscience.

So the latest death didn't take two hours and involve torment tantamount to torture.  No, the prisoner was snoring!  After all, we aren't vicious killers; they are!

"While justice was carried out today, I directed the Department of Corrections to conduct a full review of the process,” she said. “One thing is certain, however: Inmate Wood died in a lawful manner, and by eyewitness and medical accounts he did not suffer. This is in stark comparison to the gruesome, vicious suffering that he inflicted on his two victims—and the lifetime of suffering he has caused their family.”

As Dahlia Lithwick points out, this statement by Gov. Jan Brewer simultaneously says something went wrong and a full review must be demanded, but nothing went wrong because we aren't monsters like the guy we just took two hours to kill with drugs we can't tell anybody anything about because if we did we might not get anymore, and then we'd have to back to an even more inhumane method of execution, and as a state and nation, we aren't really ready to admit what the cost of killing someone really is.

Because we the people are not monsters.  We don't go to war, we "defend" the "global good."  And we don't kill people; we execute them in a humane and decent manner; even when we don't; even when we can't.  And if we can't, what then?

Miserable creatures that we are, who will free us from this prison?

Friday, July 25, 2014

Things I wonder about.....

There are three military bases within the city limits of San Antonio, Texas.  You can find the map showing their relative locations here.  One of those bases is identified as the headquarters of the 5th Army.

Camp Mabry, a former military depot and now headquarters for the Texas National Guard, is inside Austin, Texas.

If a foreign power had reason to attack any of these facilities, could they declare we had put them in civilian areas in order to create "human shields," and so any deaths of civilians were not the foreign power's fault?

Could they defend their attack as a "right" to exist and a "right" to defend themselves?

And who would listen?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

"Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends...."

I started this days ago, then froze it.  Events have decided me to publish it after all, with an addendum.

This rally really isn't as surprising as ThinkProgress imagines it is.

Texas is a big state, both geographically and demographically.  As I've said before, you can draw a line from Houston almost straight across to El Paso (800 miles away; I told you it was big); and everything south of that line is culturally Mexico.

When you get down to cities like McAllen, it IS Mexico.  And that's a good thing.

The counties of South Texas, especially along the Rio Grande, went for Obama in both 2012 and 2008.  The river, which is the U.S. Border in Texas, is simply a water feature between Texas and northern Mexico.  People are casually bi-lingual all along the border, and move back and forth across the river as easily as New Yorkers cross to Manhattan Island and back.  Most people have family on both sides of the border.  Any example you can cite of a xenophobic Texas politician (and I can cite many), is always a resident north of the line I just imagined.  Always.

You'll notice some of the signs ThinkProgress highlighted at that rally are in Spanish.  That isn't an accident, nor is it some measure of pandering.  The border is resolutely bi-lingual.  And sentiments like this are typical of life along the border:

Linda Yanez, a former state judge, told ThinkProgress that these children should be given the right to plead their cases in front of an immigration judge, and that any proposed legislation would actually harm their ability to do so. “I’m not against the Border Patrol, they’re just doing their jobs,” Yanez said. “It’s about our policy lawmakers and about what they tell our Border Patrol to do. I’m here to support due process.”

“The fact that gangs and drug lords have the biggest influence is something we can’t ignore,” Yanez added. “It’s a life and death situation… It’s Sophie’s choice. If these are my choices, I’m going to take the one that gives my child some chance at survival.”
That's what this situation on the border is about; a situation that, as TP notes, has been going on since 2009, and only gotten worse as conditions in some countries in Central America have gotten worse.
Which just means Ted Cruz, who doesn't get any votes from the Border, is even more of an ass.


The dichotomy of Texas is captured perfectly by this town hall meeting in Longview, a town much closer to Texarkana than it is to McAllen:

The tea party conservative representing Longview in Austin was criticized from the right Wednesday as he advocated compassion for immigrants and outlined legal steps that can be taken at the state level.

Republican state Rep. David Simpson also told an audience of about 160 people about flights from abuse and sexual slavery that state and federal officials described as a big part of what’s driven thousands of Central Americans to the Texas border.

“I believe your constituents should come first when you talk about people who are impacted,” Terri Hill of Longview said during a town hall session that followed a slide show of Simpson’s recent tour of the southern border. “You are to represent us, and we have children. These (immigrants) are people that are coming in with leprosy, tuberculosis, polio.”
Simpson’s combined approach of compassion for children beset by predators tempered with more stern action along the border wasn’t always what the crowd wanted to hear.

A letter sent Monday from the state Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee chairman to Simpson and fellow House members reported three cases each of tuberculosis and H1N1 flu and “minimal” cases of chickenpox and some scabies, lice and rashes among the so-called unaccompanied immigrant children.

“(Texas Department of State Health Services) continuously performs surveillance to detect disease outbreaks,” the letter from Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, said.

“I’ve got four kids and a fifth one on the way,” Ben Denson of Gilmer told Simpson from a forum microphone. “These (Central American) kids have scabies and influenza, viral pneumonia, leprosy. These kids are going to be part of the school system. ... They are bleeding Texas (Democrat) blue.”

Simpson maintained a defense of the children he saw during his trip the first week of July.

“These children are fodder in this,” he said. “They are being assaulted. ... I don’t believe in amnesty. I don’t believe in treating people who’ve crossed the border as a murderer. ... I do think there should be a path, a legal path, for naturalization or citizenship. We’re a nation of immigrants.”

Simpson also was skeptical of the notion voiced by some that a special session of the Texas Legislature would accomplish much in addressing the border dilemma.

The call for a special session (the Texas Lege meets for only 140 consecutive days ever two years) is a new one on me.  What the Texas Legislature could do is beyond me, since border control is a solely Federal enterprise.  But the panic spouted in this town hall is peculiar to that part of the state that is not Mexico.  Kudos to David Simpson for being a human being about this problem, and not a caricature.  Sometimes a representative government is not what you want.

But since this meeting was held at a Baptist church (and knowing Longview, most of the people there were probably Baptists), a little of that old "wrath of God" they love to call down:
Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed;

To turn aside the needy from judgment, and to take away the right from the poor of my people, that widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless!

And what will ye do in the day of visitation, and in the desolation which shall come from far? to
whom will ye flee for help? and where will ye leave your glory?

Without me they shall bow down under the prisoners, and they shall fall under the slain. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.

Or just Matthew:

25:41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;

25:42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,

25:43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.'

25:44 Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?'

25:45 Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'

25:46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
Not really interested in the condemnation language there, but c'mon people; get some perspective! Or maybe this is just another object lesson in the dangers of hospitality.

"Go and sin no more"

I just wrote this in comments at Slate, and I'm so pleased with it (although in an hour the glow may well have faded; and yes, pride is a sin) that I decided to post it here.  It begins with a quote from the article:

“The Bible is very clear and consistent in its teaching that sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage are not pleasing to God,” Renfroe says. “The only way we could accept sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage would be to believe the Bible is not God’s word.” He adds, “And we’re not prepared to do that.”

It does if you are determined to find those teachings. It's actually quite a bit clearer about food restrictions and other matters most Christians set aside now, thanks to Peter's vision of the "unclean" food in the book of Acts (the fight between Peter and Paul on whether to evangelize Gentiles or only Jews turned on that vision, at least in Luke's version of history).

But for some reason, we can't set aside the law (such as it is) on sex. We can eat cheeseburgers, we can't allow gays to rub their genitalia together.

It's a very persuasive argument, in other words, if you think God is terribly concerned with whose genitalia is touching whose, and under what legal (marriage is a legal contract, thanks to Protestantism) arrangement.

But if you note how much of the Scriptures are concerned with social justice, with care for the widow and the orphan and the alien among you, to use the felicitous phrasing of the KJV and most English translations, and note how often Jesus refuses to condemn anyone for their behavior (his favorite phrase seems to be "Go, and sin no more," which in context means "sin" is a burden put on you by society, not God, and you don't need to live your life condemned by your category; you are meant for more than that). then the whole concern with who rubbing genitals with whom, fades into silly irrelevancy.

Or you can get mad at God for not being concerned with what concerns you the most; but that's the other major tenet of the sayings of Jesus: God is not you and your concerns. God is among the poor, not among the sexually active; and God is concerned with how you treat the poor, not with how well you control the sexually active.

Indeed, how you can ignore the former and obsess over the latter turns the whole concept of respecting the Bible as "God's word" on its head.

To which I would add, because I have the space here, the example of the prostitute in Luke 7:36-50.  Jesus not only refused to condemn her, he refused to even call her a sinner.  His "Go and sin no more" was precisely what I had in mind above; he wanted to liberate her from the shackles of prostitution she had been forced into by society, a society quick to condemn her sexual behavior (which may have been little worse than entering a roomful of men and washing their feet for payment; "prostitution" isn't limited to sexual intercourse for pay, especially in 1st century Palestine) and so condemn her to a life of prostitution.

And the "rubbing genitalia" together is not an accidental phrasing.  From the article:
According to the Judicial Council (the Supreme Court for the UMC), proving that one is a “practicing” homosexual means confirming that a person has had genital contact with a member of the same sex.
You can't make this stuff up. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Everybody knows this is nowhere....

If there is a problem with how religion is perceived in America, it is this one:

“The ‘religion’ being rejected turns out to be quite unlike the religion being practiced and described by those affiliated with religious institutions. Likewise, the ‘spirituality’ being endorsed as an alternative is at least as widely practiced by those same religious people as it is by the people drawing a moral boundary against them.”

The idea, popular on many internet sites, that America is rapidly become a non-religious country is a false one (especially considering how much of a religion "atheism" tends to be, in America).  It is false for two reasons, one of which is alluded to in that quote (which is all I can find of the entire essay on-line, unfortunately):  the religion being rejected is probably some version of "God doesn't drive parked cars," when most people don't consider God and parked cars having any relationship, real or metaphorical, at all.

Despite truly radical changes in most mainline denominations, Christianity is still widely perceived in this country as being "against."  It is against gay marriages; or abortion; or birth control; or immigration; or taxes, big government, welfare, social justice; you name it.  That mainline denominations are by and large not against any of those things, and that they don't preach hellfire and brimstone and "sinners in the hands of an angry God" anymore, is not even noticed.  And, when it is, those churches are condemned (in some very small circles, to be sure) as not preaching the "true" Christian doctrine, even as the critics reject that Christian doctrine as hurtful and cruel.

Well, that's one side of it; the other is that the fire and brimstone/hellfire and damnation crowd still captures the American imagination; perhaps because it is so American.  "Paint Your Wagon" includes a frontier evangelical preacher calling down the wrath of God on No Name City because we're all quite sure such pastors frowned on the California Gold Rush.  "Inherit the Wind" is taken as an historical text because it fits our prejudices about Christian fundamentalists.  Weepers and wailers like Jimmy Swaggart and Jim and Tammye Bakker catch our attention far better than Robert Schuller or even Rick Warren, although none of those named are associated with the kind of Biblical justice we heard the Rev. Jeremiah Wright call down, albeit in snippets we tut-tutted over because here was a "radical" black preacher who had stopped preachin' and proceeded to meddlin'.  He was concerned with the conditions of our cities and people, not with the state of our souls; at least the other four I named had the courtesy to leave our lives alone, and only be concerned with how much better God wanted to know us and bless us.

Most of American Christianity seems to come down to that, based on the famous "separation of church and state."  The pastor and God can worry about the state of our soul, we'll take care of the state of our balance sheet and the condition of our neighborhood and city.  Which is part of why the preacher in "Paint Your Wagon" is a comic figure; he's trying to interfere with commerce, and we don't allow any religion to do that.  Why, the very idea is laughable!

Yes, there are reports of Christians doing good things in the world.  Those reports mostly come from Christians themselves.   We've heard from the Pope on this crisis on America's Mexican border; but besides a Catholic Bishop regularly getting on CNN or CBS or even FoxNews (and that because he's in New York City), have you ever heard anything from any other representative of any Protestant denomination?  Is the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church a regular guest on network television?  (Did you even know they had a Presiding Bishop?).  Heard lately from anyone with the United Church of Christ (even though they put out press releases like the one I just linked to)?  See anything about what the Methodist church thinks or is doing, the PCUSA, the Evangelical Lutherans?  Do any of these people ever get on cable news, or a Sunday morning show?  Do you read about their positions in the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today?  Anywhere, aside from their own websites?  Church actions sometimes make local news, but that's about it.  We have a great respect for power in American media, which is why you can always get a quote from one of the "Princes of the Church," but to listen to Protestants who don't have TV shows or run universities or publish best sellers?

Why bother?

One thinks sardonically of Stalin's alleged statement about how many divisions the Pope has.  If you don't command money, what power do you command?

And yet "religious" people are out there; just like the poor and the homeless, honored more in the breech than in the keeping, regarded almost wholly as a faceless group with a small set of characteristics which make them either "religious" or "poor," and usually deserving of their benighted state.  After all, if you don't command money, what power do you command?

When I say "interfere with commerce," I don't mean religion must stand opposed to economics; but I do mean we have yet to learn to value people more than we value things, and the future is not looking any brighter because of that.  (Yes, I'm dropping in a lengthly article on a difficult subject related to what I'm talking about; that's what hyperlinks are for.)  Indeed, it may be that the greatest hope is that:

“The ‘religion’ being rejected turns out to be quite unlike the religion being practiced and described by those affiliated with religious institutions. Likewise, the ‘spirituality’ being endorsed as an alternative is at least as widely practiced by those same religious people as it is by the people drawing a moral boundary against them.”

Funny, that.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"...had a great fall...."

Sarah Palin speaks and, frankly, if this did make sense to me, it would worry me:

"With his pen and his phone, he's abrogating his presidential authority. Making himself a ruler not a President.”

Doesn't abrogating mean he's not using his Presidential authority?

“This president’s forgotten man is we the people, and we the people know that our best days are still ahead because we know that God shed his grace. He’s given us our freedom to do what’s right. God doesn’t drive parked cars. I think he expects us to get up and take action in order to defend these freedoms that are God given. I think it’s an affront to God to let this go on because he gave us these freedoms. We’re not going to let someone, a person, a party take them from us. We’re not going to dethrone God and substitute him with someone who wants to play God.”

I'm still puzzling over how anybody drives parked cars.....

(via NTodd)

Sunday, July 20, 2014

I can see clearly now....

I've just ordered a new pair of glasses, in a style that match almost exactly the glasses I wore in the first grade.  Of course, to people my daughter's age, this is the "new style" and all the rage.  I hate to tell them it isn't new at all, that while I like them, I'm glad all my elementary school pictures are safely locked away from public view.  All I need now is the crew cut I sported then.....

I mention that because I don't disagree with this Amanda Marcotte post as much as I thought I did, now that I've read it.  But I don't think it's all that insightful, either.

For one thing, church attendance has been falling for 50 years, if not longer. It peaked at an abnormal height in the post-war era, at least among Protestants, and it's been going down since.  To notice it now and claim you've discovered something new under the sun, is simply false.  Which doesn't mean fundamentalists aren't reacting to a decline in their stature; except that stature only really stretches back as far as Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority.

You want to really see the fundamentalist/evangelical crowd lose its political punch, look to the candidacy of Pat Robertson, if you're old enough to remember it.  We don't even call Robertson a "former Presidential candidate" anymore, though he was for one brief, silly season.  And he got about as far as John Connolly (if you remember his bid) or Rudy Giuliani.  It seems his popularity and notoriety made him about as electable as Bill O'Reilly would be; or as Rick Perry proved to be.

Falwell actually persuaded fundamentalists and evangelicals that they should engage the world, rather than stand apart from it (you could look it up; and frankly, Marcotte should have).  Maybe the roots of that rage are in the anti-school prayer decisions, or in the grassroots turn against abortion (many on-line articles have noted lately that being against abortion was a Roman Catholic concern long before Protestants evangelicals and fundamentalists decided it was part of what we know call the "culture wars."  Again, you could look it up.)  But the rage didn't provoke any response until Ronald Reagan was replaced by George W. Bush (even though Reagan hardly darkened the door of a church, unlike Sunday School teacher Jimmy Carter), and then Bill Clinton was elected and tout le monde of the American right wing went mad.

Not that they hadn't gone made before, but the last time, it was personal.  As Karen Armstrong has noted, the Scopes monkey trial so embarrassed and humiliated fundamentalists (thanks, Mencken!), although the trial wasn't really about them, that they reacted by turning on the world they had been happy to leave alone up to that time.  When the movie version of the play threw kerosene on the fire (completely falsely),  it only got worse.  JFK, a Catholic, winning the presidency, was about as popular in some sections of the country as Barack Obama is today, and for similar reasons.  But again, Reagan's marriage of sunny optimism with a 1950's throwback attitude ("Morning in America" was all about starting the day over in Ozzie and Harriet land) prompted TV evangelicals who were enjoying a hey-day (soon to end) on TV, to decide they should remake the country in their own image.

And so began the "Moral Majority," a reference to Nixon's "Silent Majority," and in both cases, a matter of false advertising and mislabeling.

And now, unsurprisingly, some of the reaction to changes in culture (a black family in the White House; gay marriages, the declining attendance at churches across the spectrum, although a small Catholic church near me seems to be growing enough to double the size of its worship space) are prompting rabid reactions from pockets of the country (the districts that elect Louie Gohmert, Michelle Bachmann, Marsha Blackburn) fearful of change because they are either white, or old (both being groups who see themselves as diminishing in political/social power), or both.  This, too, was entirely predictable, and the people pointing out the coming demographic changes (which are no longer coming, but are here) predicted this situation a few decades ago.

I'm guessing, but my guess is Ms. Marcotte was too young to be aware of that at the time.

I don't agree with Marcotte's dichotomy: that some grow more fundamentalist as others grow more secular.  For one thing, pastors have spoken for decades of pews filled with "baptized heathens," people are claim affiliation to a church, but agree with almost nothing the church actually preaches.  And I don't think many people actually agree with Gretchen Carlson that secularism is destroying our religious practices.  Most of what Carlson cites in her complaint are secular matters anyway:  Christmas trees are not Christian, any more than Santa Claus is.   A creche may be Christian, but there are more than a few Christians who consider such items idolatrous, rather than a special exception to Protestant rejection of plaster images of religious figures.  I agree with Marcotte that such items have no real place in the public square, and would point out they weren't really common until the '50's, which means they are hardly rooted in 1st Amendment jurisprudence back to the early 19th century.

To take one more example, Marcotte says:

Take, for instance, the way that weddings have quietly changed in this country. It used to be that you had a wedding in a church, and only people who were eloping got married by someone other than a minister. Now, outside of very religious circles, it’s more common to see weddings on beaches or at country clubs, and very often officiated by friends of the couple rather than clergy.
Except my parents, both church goers who raised me in a church, got married in the '40's in my aunt's living room.  That was quite common, especially since Protestants about 500 years ago decided the state should marry people (license the marriage), and the church need say nothing about it.  The purpose was largely to reject the Catholic notion of marriage as a sacrament, but it became so ingrained in America that church weddings again only became common in the '50's, and nowadays I've been to several "church weddings" (and conducted more than a few when I was in parish ministry) where the church was used for the photos and the ambience, not for the religious significance (if any) of it.

Everything old is new again.

But I reject the idea of a dichotomy because this isn't an either/or of fundamentalist bible-thumpers v. radical bible burners, with "liberal" Christians somewhere in the middle futilely wringing their hands.   Marcotte says:  And caught in between are a group of liberal Christians that are culturally aligned with secularists and are increasingly and dismayingly seeing the concept of “faith” aligned with a narrow and conservative political worldview."  I wonder if she's ever heard of the UCC, or knows their office for press relations, or even remembers them from the infamous "ejector seat" ads of a few years back.  Every mainline denomination has a press office which releases information on what the denomination is doing; and every news outlet, down to Alternet, ignores those releases and focusses on who has a radio program or a TV show.  Jim Wallis gets more attention than the entire UCC because he works the media better; that doesn't mean Jim Wallis speaks for anyone other than Jim Wallis.  And he may or may not be concerned about the concept of faith being aligned with a particular political view, but I don't know too many Christians in the pews who give a wet snap what Bryan Fischer said last week.

This isn't really a split over religion v. secularism; it's a power struggle.  That's why most Christians in most church pews don't pay attention to the fight, and really just don't care.  They aren't interested in the power struggle, either as citizens, or as Christians.   Christianity, as I've said over and over, is about powerlessness, not about power.

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. I Corinthians 1:20-25

I don't like dropping scriptures in like some kind of quote bomb, but I use Paul's words here to support my thesis on the power of powerlessness, and for no other reason.  While there are certainly groups who use religion to assert a right to power, I reject the legitimacy of such claims in general, and in the name of Christ, specifically.  Power is not the end of a Christian life; love is.  And the latter is much harder to attain than the former.

Which is as it should be.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Everything Old is New Again

What's interesting about this:

One day, LessWrong user Roko postulated a thought experiment: What if, in the future, a somewhat malevolent AI were to come about and punish those who did not do its bidding? What if there were a way (and I will explain how) for this AI to punish people today who are not helping it come into existence later? In that case, weren’t the readers of LessWrong right then being given the choice of either helping that evil AI come into existence or being condemned to suffer?

You may be a bit confused, but the founder of LessWrong, Eliezer Yudkowsky, was not. He reacted with horror:

Listen to me very closely, you idiot.

You have to be really clever to come up with a genuinely dangerous thought. I am disheartened that people can be clever enough to do that and not clever enough to do the obvious thing and KEEP THEIR IDIOT MOUTHS SHUT about it, because it is much more important to sound intelligent when talking to your friends.

This post was STUPID.

Is that in 800 comments ( as I write), I doubt anyone brought up the obvious:  that this sounds a lot like "sympathetic magic," a concept I got from Fraser's The Golden Bough.

And it is, of course, a superstition which reasonable people are not supposed to be subject to.

But, you see, "you might already be in the computer's simulation."  No, I'm not kidding; "and what you do will impact what happens in reality (or other realities)."  Except it won't, of course, because "you" won't do anything, being at this point in the analysis merely a simulacrum of you inside a simulation created by a supercomputer working within the confines of Newcomb's Paradox.  So that "you" don't affect reality at all, until in reality you actually make a decision.  What affects reality first is the outcome of a set of algorithms used to program the fictional supercomputer; which isn't real at all, so why we are discussing how fiction reaches out into reality to change reality without an intervening agent like, say, a human being, is really a question for literary critical theory, which handles this kind of thing far better than game theorists do.  Surprisingly.

But apparently this keeps game theorists up at night, so let's not disturb their insomnia.....

But Newcomb's Paradox (which isn't nearly as interesting as anything Zeno came up with)* ties into the problem of Roko's Basilisk:

You may be wondering why this is such a big deal for the LessWrong people, given the apparently far-fetched nature of the thought experiment. It’s not that Roko’s Basilisk will necessarily materialize, or is even likely to. It’s more that if you’ve committed yourself to timeless decision theory, then thinking about this sort of trade literally makes it more likely to happen. After all, if Roko’s Basilisk were to see that this sort of blackmail gets you to help it come into existence, then it would, as a rational actor, blackmail you. The problem isn’t with the Basilisk itself, but with you. Yudkowsky doesn’t censor every mention of Roko’s Basilisk because he believes it exists or will exist, but because he believes that the idea of the Basilisk (and the ideas behind it) is dangerous.
First, you should congratulate me for avoiding any references to LessRight people.  It was hard, believe me.

Second, there's where the problem exists:  the timeless decision theory, which has something (oh, read the article!) to do with Newcomb's Paradox.

But I still say it has far more to do with sympathetic magic; or just magical thinking, in general; because the very concept of magic is that will can create; that just as creation itself was spoken into being by the divine speech-act "let there be....", magic calls into existence whatever the speaker wills; and so Roko's Basilisk becomes that worst of all possibilities:  a dangerous idea.  Not because it will motivate men to war, like nationalism does; but because it may prompt the creation of an AI which would act on the idea behind the idea of the Basilisk.

Which, as I say, is known in some quarters of the internet as "Bronze Age Mythology."

Besides, Harlan Ellison already wrote this story.  Maybe we can blame him when the machines take over....

*Two premises of the paradox are a super-intelligent alien (because, why not?) and a supercomputer.  The latter makes some kind of sense, if only because the supercomputer could run the calculations that could accurately (screw probability, we got AI!) predict the future.  No mere computer can do that!  It can also, of course, have AI, an undefined term that means whatever we want it to mean and, in this case, means:  "MAGIC!"  But then again, we've thrown out probability and replaced it with certainty (which is not how probability works, but hey, it's a paradox, not a science lesson!), so why not include as much magic as necessary to make the paradox, er...paradoxical?

Why the alien has to be super-intelligent, or even an alien, and how it possesses $1,000,000.00 and wants to give it away, is a separate set of questions.  Maybe because aliens don't know the value of money, or don't care, and a super-intelligent alien is obviously better than a mere alien as smart as us?  I don't know, but there it is...

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Kids these days....

Yes, complaining about comments on the internet is like complaining about bathroom graffiti; but when the actions stop being on-line only, and enter the real world, perhaps we should take more notice.  I mean, this is just grotesque:

And he was totally on-point, except for one minor detail: The bus was from the YMCA, was full of YMCA campers, and was not in any way related to undocumented immigrants or migrant children.
Before an Arizona television reporter was able to inform Kwasman of his considerable error, however, the candidate seized the opportunity to wax indignantly and self-righteously in front of the camera about how he “was actually able to see some of the children in the buses” and how he could see “fear on their faces.”
“This is not compassion,” he solemnly intoned.
So we're all clear, the complaint here seems to be that when people approach the U.S. Border through Mexico, the U.S. government is not following the rule of law by shooting them before they can cross an invisible line between one country and the next.  Maybe if we built a Berlin Wall from Brownsville to the California coast and manned it with gun turrets every 100 yards, that would stop children from trying to enter this country and we wouldn't have to be afraid of busses going to the YMCA.  Because apparently doing any less than that is destroying the foundations of the republic and denying all Americans their freedom.

Allowing children due process of law as guaranteed by the 14th Amendment is not compassion.  Of course, since the 14th Amendment is unconstitutional (as "some people say"), maybe that's the problem right there.

I'm sure if we just shot these kids and piled them up on the Mexico side of the border with a sign reading "Mother Here's Your Boy"*, it would nip this problem in the bud.

Or we can just get sheriffs in Arizona to scare us about buses carrying children to the "Y".

Thought Criminal gave us some of the reasons to defend the alien in our midst, sentiments especially applicable to those who consider themselves Christians and in positions of responsibility (sheriffs, U.S. Representatives).  For now, let's just leave it at that.

Or you can go with what Jon Stewart said:

*literary reference, very posh!

"People are scared of the poor."* Still.

You have to be taught to hate.  Paul Krugman explains:

“[Rick Santelli] hates the poors,” Krugman snarks, “he hates people who want to help the poors, he was trashing Janet Yellen for suggesting that she actually cares about the plight of the unemployed. And the traders feel the same way. So they like Santelli even though he’s been wrong about everything.”

And because I am a full-service blog, I've tried twice to post the video Krugman is referring to; but it refuses to "stick."  Oh, well, it's at the link, and having watched it,  I see no reason to think Dr. Krugman is being snarky.

Oh, and the difference between screamers on the internets, especially the ones I encounter on the topic of religion (mention it and they go full "Santelli") and Santelli, especially in his performance here?  Well, I can't find one.

Same as it ever was.

*Ret. Lt. Gen. Russell Honore

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Words I never wish to see again

I was in a part of town I seldom frequent, stopping at a bakery/cafe for breakfast with The Lovely Wife, who is on vacay.  You'll see why I use that term in a moment.

The bakery/cafe is next to a waxing salon, which is written in paint on its windows the services it offers, including "Full Body Wax" (The Lovely Wife wondered if the client was dipped in a pot of wax), a "Brazilian Wax," and the word I never want to see again:


I can only guess at what that is, and I don't want to.  Nearly 60 years old, married for more of those than not, familiar even with the hairless bodies of nude models now favored in porn and Playboy, I still don't want to think about what that means.

I don't even want to inflict it on you, Tender Readers.  But it's the only way to get rid of it.

Tag.  You're it.

Welcome to the long, strange trip it's been....

So, this morning, I read this, got this far:

One reason is that the Bible actually gives two different sets of Ten Commandments, and they don’t match. In Exodus 20, Moses comes down from Mount Sinai with a set of stone tablets. (This is the most popular version.) Then he gets mad and smashes them and has to go back up and get another set. And God says, “Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first: and I will write upon these tables the words that were in the first tables, which thou brakest.” (Exodus 34:1). But then, apparently, God can’t resist tweaking them a little. Ok, a lot.

and thought:  "Hey, wait a minute,"  and pulled a Bible off my shelf. Quicker than Google, I was browsing Exodus.  My suspicions confirmed (and against my better judgment) I left a comment:

Um, if you're gonna write about it, you might want to read Exodus, rather than watch the Charlton Heston movie.
The so-called Decalogue is delivered in Exodus 20: 1-17.  The catalogue of laws is interrupted by the terror of the people at the theophany (basically a huge thunderstorm) taking place atop Sinai.  The people speak to Moses (which is weird, isn't he on the mountain?), and then God goes back to delivering laws, of which the Decalogue is only the first ten.  The laws go on until Exodus 23:19, and then there's a longer passage about a ritual (I won't even bother with what it's for).  It's in Exodus 32:19 that Moses destroys the tablets with ALL the law (not just the first 10; again, that's DeMille, not Exodus), and so gets a new set starting in Exodus 34.
And I suspect a bit of historical scholarship would expose the importance of the Decalogue to Christians as of recent, Protestant vintage, not something going back to the 1st century, as I don't recall any mention of it in the book of Acts or the letters of Paul.
Which would kind of shift the whole "Christians get it all wrong" thesis of this article to "some Christians of more recent vintage," and then maybe we could say which ones, and why.  Or is a gross generalization that doesn't really account for anything except your preferred conclusion, based largely on ignorance, not insight, for only one acceptable outcome?

@Adventus ...or we can conclude the bible is a veritable Rorschach test, with each reader coming to his or her own conclusions.

Frankly, your analysis of the bible seems as misguided as those of the writer of this piece.  

@Adventus Whatever. The entire thing is irrelevant fiction. Parsing irrelevant fictions is a waste of time and energy that could be better spent learning how to be a decent human being.

@Aunt Messy @Adventus Thank you, Aunt Messy!  I have never understood why the heck people "religiously" attend "Bible Study" classses - for what?  It is a lengthy (some might say tedious), frequently violent, misogynist,  series of parables and stories about some vengeful deity who advocates all sorts of mayhem for misbehavior and "forgetting him".  Whatever happened to "live and let live"?  How about the famous Rodney King jeremiad: "Can't we all just get along?"  

@Aunt Messy @Adventus

Fiction sure - irrelevant - um - not to the hundreds of millions of practicing religionists.

@Tom A @Aunt Messy @Adventus So? It's not like we're talking about rationality here. A whole lot of people refuse to grovel in front of a Roman torture device, too. 

It's ONLY relevant to believers. Those of us that are rational don't need to waste our time figuring out WHAT they believe, we only need to make them irrelevant to the world at large.

So far, they're managing to self-destruct all on their own, anyway.

@Aunt Messy @Adventus And parsing comments is a better way to spend your time?

It's a simple matter:  it's called reading comprehension.  Nothing to do with the content, merely to do with accuracy in reporting on the content.
More trouble than it's worth to divide that up or change the formatting, but that's what got left while I was away. My belated response is the penultimate comment, there; but you get the drift.  Something there is about topics religious which deranges the mind; or at least makes commenters see all kinds of monsters drooling under the bed.

I really don't get it. My only comment was on the accuracy of the reporting of what Exodus said; not on the accuracy of Exodus as history of events, nor the analysis in the article (which is pretty piss poor, and as I mentioned in passing, assumes a lot about the history of Christianity which I'm not sure is valid.).

The reigning assumption is that all Christians are fundamentalists, and have been since Paul died (I as often see Paul blamed for messing up Christianity as I see the "Old Testament" labelled a book full of a vengeful and wrathful God, and nothing like Jesus; which is so illiterate it's downright sad).  Point out that "the Fundamentals" were written in the early 20th century, and the monkeys hoot and fling poo at you.  (I know, I know, it's a tiresome metaphor by now, but read those comments again and tell me if you don't think "Welcome to the Monkey House" is a phrase that springs to mind).

I know better than to bother; and I report on it to clear it out of my mind.  Something even odder happened to me today, which merits its own post.  Just consider these diary entries on what a long, strange trip it's been.