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Showing posts from March, 2017

American Epistemology

For a while, with all the talk of 'post-truth', I had been wondering if we hadn't stumbled into a dumbed-down post-modernism. Pidgeon Post Modernity, if you will. But that didn't feel right. Something simpler, and thus harder to grasp, was driving all the denialism and dissembling of American conservatives and so-called populists. Here it is, crystalline in clarity: "This is as clear a distillation of Trump’s epistemology as you could hope for. Simply put: Might makes right."

Notes on the Senate Democrats' response to Neil Gorsuch

Nationally, there is no motivation for Dems to work with Republicans here. One might claim to be saving one's ammunition for another, hypothetical fight, but the threat of removing filibusters on SCOTUS nominees will remain. Republicans will use it again and again, with impunity, unless and until they actually invoke the rule change or lose their majority. Acquiescing to their bullying now will simply confirm their tactic. But, as I have said before, politics are local. Senator Joe Manchin of conservative West Virginia, for example, may not have a lot of room to stand with his fellow Democrats in filibustering a well qualified (though creepily dispassionate, and thus not at all compassionate) conservative judge. Local politics, with tough reelection battles looming, is what will keep Democrats from having a strongly united front here. But Democrats can lose 7 votes on cloture and still continue a filibuster unless and until Republicans in the Senate change the rules. All they nee…

Our actions and their effects weigh more than our feelings and desires in the moment.

Perhaps driven by character and feeling, I have always considered effect to be at least as important as intent--and almost always more so.

When it matters, intent tends to augment, mitigate, or determine the degree of fault or laudability, rather than rendering an act moral or immoral. If no one is actually harmed (or is at some point likely to be) by an act, we don't generally worry too much about it. If you accidentally push somebody in a crowd, or push them to get past while being chased by murderous mobsters, that's not so bad as pushing the same person simply because you can, and it may be excused, but you probably still owe them an apology. If they stumble and fall after you shove them, you are responsible for whatever injury may occur. If you push them into traffic, and they are run over, your possible sentence and likely charge may be less than if your actions had been malicious, but there's a good chance you'll need legal representation.

Broadly, if no one ga…

If you want to see Democratic officials push liberal policies, argue for the policies themselves.

I often see people argue Bernie Sanders is the most popular politician in America (which is roughly true), so Democrats should just adopt his policies and they will become popular like him (which is not at all obvious, and probably wrong).

Trevor Timm wrote a piece for the Guardian entitled, "Everyone loves Bernie Sanders. Except, it seems, the Democratic party". This headline is unfair, misleading, and untrue. When you intentionally mislead people, you are lying to them. Lying to people is not journalism. It is unethical, and a poor basis for discussion.

Looking at polling from late last October until earlier this week, Bernie is consistently popular. His worst poll placed him at 52% favorable and 39% unfavorable, while his best (and most recent) numbers were a sterling 61% positive to 32% negative. Despite the author's claims, this was actually an outlier, and significantly better than most other polls conducted in the last six months (and roughly 5 points higher than hi…

Parallels

I hear from people to my left, 'We just need to be stronger in our values, and push harder (perhaps violently) for economic justice and progressive values. You are ignoring us, and that is why we are not Democrats. You were too friendly with businesses and the establishment. You make too many compromises. You didn't fight for the working class. That is why you lost in 2016. You will continue to lose until you listen."But I vote for people who want to regulate Wall Street, curb polution, and raise standards of living. I want to do this without running into the problems they have today in France or Venezuela. We can strengthen our safety nets without sawing away at the tightropes we walk upon.I hear from people to my right, "We just need to be stronger in our values, and push harder (perhaps violently) for economic justice and traditionalist values. You are ignoring us, and that is why we are not Democrats. You were too friendly with people who aren't white, straig…

Racists Anonymous

Proud American bigots will not own their bigotry. Even most KKK groups deny they are racist (though they clearly are). 'Racism' is a fighting word in the US. Try telling some Trumpeteers their approach to Latinos is racist, and see what happens.The US is full of active and systemic discrimination,  including very strong racism, but we don't want to acknowledge it. We don't want to talk about it. We don't want to change it, unless and until it is seen as directly harming rich, white people. Then, maybe we'll consider halting the war on drugs, or at least pot.Many of us don't want to admit historical tidbits like slavery, Japanese internment, the terrorist civil war that lasted 30 years after the Civil War (which the south won), race riots, Indian wars, or imperialism. Calling racist policies and acts what they so clearly are is perceived as an insult to those who craft them and carry them out.We definitely do not want to think about how redlining was started…

Guilty Pleasure: Can bad entertainment make us bad people?

Guilt is usefulonly if we act on it. Otherwise, it is either misguided or a poor excuse for the unethical to feign morality.Broadly, if something you do makes you feel guilty, you should either stop it, or get over your sense of shame. You generally shouldn't feel guilty pleasure, unless that itself is the basis for your enjoyment.Especially when it comes to entertainment, you probably shouldn't feel guilty about most things you like. You can enjoy Britney Spears' music, 'Grease', or 'Plan 9 From Outer Space' all you want. If you're not wasting your life away on these things, what does it matter? Even if you think they're aesthetically bad, that's alright. Campy, schmaltzy ridiculous, or just dumb material can still be fun. Don't feel guilty for liking harmless garbage. It's harmless. --Please note this is not an excuse for subjecting others to your bad taste. That is unquestionably wrong.--If your entertainment involves people actually …

Maybe the GOP's healthcare bill itself has no safety net.

To replace the ACA, Republicans in Congress have proposed a bad plan with little of the preparation usually devoted to legislation. A going theory is, perhaps they did this on purpose, so they can lose the battle without having to actually fix anything or take on new problems, blame Democrats in the Senate, and move on briskly to 'tax reform' and other issues.
Ezra Klein writes, "So do I think the GOP plan is built to fail? I don’t. Washington is always more Veep than House of Cards. But I do think Republicans went into this process believing that failure was likely.... They decided that if they were going to fail at this, they were going to fail fast, over the course of a month or two, not waste a year on the project."
Which is sensible, if you think government is essentially doomed to failure, anyway. The free market, small government crowd hasn't had a vision of a functioning, workable system since Newt Gingrich's Contract with America. If oversight, regu…

Reductive Storytelling

There is only one story: 'The Hero's Journey'. Or there are seven stories. Or three. Or twenty. Or thirtysix. Or this is stupid, reductive nonsense produced for (and reproduced by) people who have trouble telling stories. I am tired of hearing about these theories and bored of seeing them implemented by people who fancy themselves 'creatives'.

As Roger Ebert used to say, "It's not what you're about. It's how you're about it."

Republican Heritage

I have come to the conclusion that Republican pols today are not, by and large, descended from the public faces of the Bush family or Reagan, but from the backroom dealings in the school of Karl Rove, Lee Atwater, Richard Nixon, and Dick Cheney. They want to win. That's it. It doesn't really matter how.For all their Christian trappings, if asked, "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" they might readily respond with the words of Vince Lombardi:Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing.

Don't Feed the Trolls.

Racists want a war. They have always wanted one. As soon as the Civil War ended, Klansmen were engaged in domestic terrorism and uprisings, and calling for more battles. Now, in America, they have their guy in office, and a compliant Congress, with 28 states run almost entirely by reactionary Republicans. They would very much like an excuse to crack down on opposition.Notice the bills in various state legislatures to outlaw protest or make it ok to run down protesters in the streets. Chaos and violence will only hasten their calls for 'law and order'.Peaceful protest, letter writing campaigns, and direct action hand them no such excuses. They hate that stuff. But they revel in every punch and brick thrown.Most recent protests have been nonviolent. Even those featuring clashes have been 'mostly peaceful'. Nor is all violence surrounding these events the fault of anti-fascist, anti-Trump, or anti-hate protesters. There were apparently clashes not just between police and …

In which I Am Indirectly Wistful for the Days of Asimov and Vonnegut

"Like so many other prominent atheists (Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, etc.), Maher never tied his atheism to any meaningful cause beyond rejection".When I was younger, as an atheist, I used to be annoyed at being often associated with humanism. Now, I miss having people with a sense of compassion as the standard bearers of religious skepticism.I don't hate religious people. I don't despise religion. Because humans are involved in religious culture, beautiful things have arisen from it, just as negative aspects have. That's going to happen no matter what, religion or no. One need only look to Bill Maher or Christopher Hitchens to see you can be an oppressive and complete asshole without religious belief.Religious organizations facilitate useful social functions not readily met by other groups. Spiritual belief and experience fulfill needs many folks are hardwired with. Insisting society abandon these aspects of itself is cruel and irrational.You don't…

A Day Without the Don

Dear journalists, pundits, and especially cable TV news producers, if you want to teach the POTUS a lesson for taking you on or excluding some of you from a briefing, try something new and innovative. Take a day off from Donald. Don't show him, mention him, tweet at him, or report on his statements. Don't use his name, nicknames, title, or pronouns. No 'POTUS', '45', 'Cheeto Jesus', or 'Agent Orange'. Don't play clips of Spicer mentioning the prez. Just drop him out of the picture for a cycle. You can still talk about what the government is doing, current events, the acts of various cabinet members or generals, and what governors, Congress, and mayors are up to. You can even mention the White House and 'the administration', but leave the big guy with the smallish hands alone. You'll be able to gracefully do your jobs, serve the public, and generate buzz without doing anything unprofessional or unseemly.Imagine yourselves being li…