Nov 23, 2013
Let's start with the obvious: back when the Democrats were obstructing Republican nominees, the Republicans loudly derided their obstruction and threatened to change the Senate rules. The Democrats--the same who just followed through on those Republican threats themselves--objected to them in the strongest possible terms at the time. Much as I usually hold the "both parties do it" folks in contempt, here, at long last, is something that both parties actually do. The minority obstructs the majority, the majority rumblingly threatens to curtail its power to do so, the minority whinges about tyranny or time-honored Senate traditions with a tone of voice somewhere between grave disappointment and constipation, and it's all Very Serious.
I've now spent the last couple days watching conservative friends post democratic contradictions and liberal blogs post republican contradictions, as if the mere fact that the Republicans and Democrats routinely reverse opinions on the question actually constituted an argument for or against either position. The basic argument, as I see it, is that the present obstruction is sufficiently greater in degree that it amounts to a difference in kind. The old rules no longer allow for a functional government in our present circumstances, so change them. For the record, I buy it. The US system has too many potential chokepoints--contrast a parliamentary system, in which one side actually runs the damn government and then is judged at the polls on its performance. There's a continuum here, but we're rather too "choked" at present. Will I still think so when next--FSM forbid--a Republican is elected? Consistency demands it.
There is, of course, a more cynical way to view the calculation. Republicans, on the whole, block far more nominees--and keep them blocked far longer--than Democrats. Stifling the ability to do so would therefore be a net gain for the Democrats. One party's interest will--on balance, mind you--be advanced, and the other's set back, by the proposed rule change. The parties and their supporters have lined up appropriately, and marshaled arguments in support of their positions, but the real position comes from the interests and not the arguments.
Well, cynical mode off, now. What I would really like to see happen is to keep the filibuster, but make it an actual filibuster. In other words, no longer can any Senator simply place a hold on any bill or nomination. No--if they object to something and wish to delay it, then they can stand up and start talking. Then the vote happens when everyone is done talking. I'm not sure how this would work in a practical sense, however: victory would come when the majority party simply gets so tired of it that they cave rather than letting you go on. But that would happen whenever you expressed a willingness to go on that went beyond the majority's ability to tolerate/get things done. This in turn incentivizes grander threats and earlier caving, leading quickly back to the situation that we are in now, unless the majority leader had the stones to force the issue every time. So it's very pretty to think that something like this might be workable, but in practice the willingness to use whatever weapons are at hand to obstruct means that's unlikely.
Which is why, on balance, I'm in favor of the present forced disarmament, which everyone melodramatically insists on calling the 'nuclear option'.
Oct 24, 2013
The thing is--and those who have read the Bible can back me up on this--there are certain minor incongruities between the Biblical account and reality as it is observed to be, and between Biblical teaching and what have since been found to be dietary, moral, and legal principles conducive to human wellbeing. The core difference between liberals and conservatives is that liberals admit this--and can therefore occasionally be argued into a less harmful interpretation--whereas conservatives do not.
These differing approaches naturally come to bear on our aforementioned incongruities. Conservatives either deny that they are falsehoods (young earth creationism), or else deny that they're in there (firmament cosmology). This denial can reach hilarious levels, such as Al Mohler claiming that the cosmos looks old because God made it look old (this is more broadly known as the Omphalos Hypothesis, or Last Thursdayism). So determined is Al that the Bible be right about creation that he actually proposes a God that deceives us by planting evidence contrary to revealed truth. The firmament keeping out the water above the stars, or the foundations of the earth, on the other hand ... nada*.
Liberals admit that the Bible says what it says, and (usually) admit when what it says is wrong, but they deny that it means what it says. For instance: the first chapters of Genesis are a poem of creation or a parable or a record of people's ideas about God and not really a history. See? they say, that's a metaphor** just like those passages about storehouses of hail! Except not, because firmament cosmology really was the going world picture in the time and place of the Bible's writing, and the Biblical authors really do reference it extensively, and not just as metaphor: they praise God for making it and include stories (the Tower of Babel) which make precisely zero sense without it.
Conveniently, both sides have done excellent work demolishing the other. Follow, as Bishop Ussher did, the Bible's chronology: so-and-so begat so-and-so when he was however-many-years old. That goes from Adam (made on the sixth morning-and-evening day) to Solomon, and a slightly more approximate chronology goes from there to historical events whose date is independently corroborated. The Earth, according to the Bible, is young. The Bible really does say that, and conservatives really do believe it, and they should like to know on what authority liberals reject it. Of course, liberals reject it on account of it being retarded, which leaves them in the tight spot of either admitting that large chunks of the Bible are wrong, or else pretending that it doesn't actually mean what it very plainly says.
Liberals are right: if the Bible really means that the earth is 6000 years old, then it necessarily falls. Conservatives are also right: start explaining away the bits you find ridiculous, and there's just nowhere to stop. You have a book which is either a) wrong or b) metaphor on point after point of morality, cosmology, and history, and you want people to just take its word on the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, and Heaven? Both sides think not--and both are right.
*Google only turns up three links (one bad and none promising) for "Al Mohler firmament". If I'm wrong on this, correct me, because that would be amazing.
**"It must be a metaphor because what it actually says is stupid" is a terrible argument--you can't just nebulize a text into respectability, though FSM knows that was more or less what I was up to most of my years as liberal Christian.
Sep 1, 2013
I'm speaking, of course, of Miley Cyrus' skanked-up performance at the VMAs.
At first, I refrained from commenting. Pop divas are rather like a monster under our collective bed--if you retards would just stop thinking about them, and talking about them, and clicking on them, and would immediately change the channel whenever the shit-fest that passes for news in this country started 'covering' them, then they would go away. But apparently that is beyond the mental ken of most of my countrymen, and as the gab-fest and manufactured outrage and concern trolling and 'what-about-the-children' continued, I noted, with increasing dismay, that hardly anyone cut through the fog of vacuous crap to say what needed to be said.
One man tried, I'll give him that, but after landing a single magnificent hammer-blow right on the pigtailed clusterfuck that was the nail's head, he then wandered off to go yell at some kids to get off his lawn. So apparently I have to do it. Thanks for nothing, internet.
My dear retarded fellow Americans, my purveyors of moral outrage at skankitude and minstrelsy, my fashionistas and "news" "reporters", my gossip columnists and half-interested googlers, ye drooling mouthbreathers that stopped flipping at the sight of tits, my representatives of the "music" industry and concerned mothers everywhere, all of those 'saddened' that sweet little Hannah Montana reverse dry-humped some cunt in a prison tux: HEAR ME!, for you have missed the fucking point.
Always has been, always will be: irredeemable, worthless, soul-destroying, aesthetic detritus utterly devoid of artistic merit; a betrayal of the human spirit and a slanderous misrepresentation of the human experience; a cliche wrapped in a canned beat, sung by a no-talent, auto-tuned hack, injected with hormones and antibiotics, force fed the decaying parts of previous 'artists', and finally topped off with some cellophane and a price tag--you know, shit. Shit before tits, shit after tits; shit as a lily-white Disney prostitot, shit in her 'daring' attempts to co-opt 2010 black culture--just plain ol' shitty shit.
Aug 25, 2013
Related: John Piper recently talked about same-sex marriage, saying:
Let me say in passing that there are two types of people who make the 'deserve a mommy and a daddy' argument: adoptive parents, and unreconstructed shit-heads.
But let's think about this. John Piper believes that a being made the universe, the light from whose most distant galaxies reaches us after 13 billion years, fainter than a firefly on the moon. The universe, whose observable portion contains almost 200 billion galaxies by the Hubble Extreme Deep Field estimation, an estimation that is probably low (the article linked estimates by as much as a factor of five) as it excludes infrared observations. These galaxies each contain hundreds of billions of stars, thermonuclear furnaces, around many of which orbit planets, worlds heretofore only guessed at and just starting to be directly observed. One of them, Terra, spun happily along in its orbit, suffering catastrophes (such as the massive impact out of whose debris its moon coalesced, or the strike which killed the dinosaurs) and long periods of slow evolution in between, before the most recent such period produced sapient life a few hundred thousand years ago. These creatures lived in much they state in which they had evolved for most of those few hundred thousand years, discovering agriculture less than ten thousand years ago, discovering the microorganisms which cause disease only a few hundred years ago, discovering the Big Bang less than a hundred years ago, and still trying to work out genetics, cognition, physics and a thousand other branches of knowledge critical to their survival, wellbeing, and understanding of the universe.
In Piper's story, this same Being that made the universe 13 billion some-odd years ago took a special interest in those creatures about 3 thousand some-odd years ago, and started writing a book. Like many a procrastinating novelist, this Being then took another thousand years to finish. In said book he revealed fuck-all of the wonder, intricacy, and danger of his creation that human beings were later to work out on their own (often over the strenuous objection of the fans of his book!) in favor of extensive pronouncements about where to stick it, and how badly he was going to fuck up anyone who ignored these pronouncements. Piper claims to believe that god thought these rules were more important than germ theory, more important than relativity, orbital mechanics, green energy, quantum electrodynamics, genetics, plate tectonics, chemistry, democracy, computers, mathematics, antibiotics, evolution, optics, anesthesia, and a hundred others.
On this basis, Piper claims a certain helplessness before the plain meaning of the text. It's not that I'm a bigot, he seems to say, the Baby Jesus thought it was super duper important that we do this.
The gaping hole in this "logic" is that the book he invokes contains lots and lots of lots of admonitions, and Piper does not follow them. The mind reels at the thought, but there it is: does Piper accept slavery? No? God's word is clear: Leviticus 25:44 "Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves." Piper believes that a perfect and eternal god found this advice more pertinent than germ theory. Is Piper a snake-handler, tongue-speaker, or faith-healer? Mark 16:17-18 says he's not a real believer: "And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover." Mr. Piper: The Supreme Being, He Who Fashioned the Laws of Physics, considered that pronouncement more pressing, more useful, and more worthy of inclusion in his great message to humanity than relativity, or even the time and location of every fatal natural disaster. How dare you ignore it?
But ignore it he does, wheresoever it suits him. Unfortunately, it suits him to ignore it when it comes to his own safety (despite divine assurances that he will come through unharmed!) and not when it comes to the happiness and legal rights of millions of his fellow human beings. Seriously, John: put your money where your mouth is and try drinking some poison rather than just spewing it out.
Either that, or stop fobbing off responsibility for your bigotry onto the "terrifying clarity" of a book you ignore whenever convenient.
May 13, 2013
It's that last clause that is the most problematic: when we come to the end of reason, logic, morality, and evidence, we are not faced with a chasm, which we must then take a leap of faith across. That would be bad enough--if you wanted to put me off the idea of something forever, you would have merely to describe it to me in much those same terms. But those terms are incorrect, and the real difficulty is infinitely worse: at reason's end, there is not a chasm, which must be leaped, but a multitude of chasms, which any would-be leaper must choose between.Kierkegaard’s greatest illustration of this is his retelling of the story of Abraham and Isaac in Fear and Trembling (1843). Abraham is often held up as a paradigm of faith because he trusted God so much he was prepared to sacrifice his only son on his command. Kierkegaard makes us realise that Abraham acted on faith not because he obeyed a difficult order but because lifting the knife over his son defied all morality and reason. No reasonable man would have done what Abraham did. If this was a test, then surely the way to pass was to show God that you would not commit murder on command, even if that risked inviting divine wrath. If you heard God’s voice commanding you to kill, surely it would be more rational to conclude you were insane or tricked by demons than it would to follow the order. So when Abraham took his leap of faith, he took leave of reason and morality.How insipid the modern version of faith appears in comparison. Religious apologists today might mumble about the power of faith and the limits of reason, yet they are the first to protest when it is suggested that faith and reason might be in tension. Far from seeing religious faith as a special, bold kind of trust, religious apologists are now more likely to see atheism as requiring as much faith as religion. Kierkegaard saw clearly that that faith is not a kind of epistemic Polyfilla that closes the small cracks left by reason, but a mad leap across a chasm devoid of all reason.
A leap of faith, you say, beyond reason and evidence? Very well, I shall die heroic in battle and be escorted across the rainbow bridge by a beautiful blonde war-maiden, there to feast in the company of Wotan and his heroes until the clarion call of the Gjallarhorn summons us forth to perish in fire and glory at Ragnarok.
Oh ... you meant a leap of faith beyond reason and evidence towards your god as opposed to all the others that ever were. Ah. Well then. But why, exactly, should I leap across this chasm as opposed to that? Be sure not to use reason, logic, or evidence in your answer, because once you've allowed those into the equation, the only possible conclusion is not to leap.
This is a very grave problem, and one with very real consequences: suppose Abraham was right to defy all morality and reason and ready a knife to plunge into Isaac, to be stopped only by an angel's timely intervention. On what grounds, then, were the 9/11 hijackers wrong to defy all morality and reason and ready a plane to plunge into a building? If there ever was a mad leap over a chasm devoid of all reason, then surely that was it! And yet we rightly abhor them--as we should abhor Abraham as well. The willingness to ignore morality and reason and kill for the voices in your head--that you distinguish from all other such voices, and furthermore trust, on unspecified grounds--is the mark of the psychopath, not the saint.
In the end, the leap of faith isn't so much an argument for faith as it is the admission that there aren't any good arguments for faith, and that we should do it anyway. But, having dispensed with arguments, we find that without them we are powerless to determine what exactly the 'it' should be.
Mar 2, 2013
Here's the deal: if God planned the paths of the bullets through the brain of the one who lived, then he also planned the paths of the bullets through the bodies of the twelve who died--and where does that leave him? "Good things happen, therefore God is good," as Christians are wont to say--and it annoyed me even when I was one. If the universe is run by a supreme being whose character can be deduced by human reactions to events within it, then complete the following sentence: "Bad things happen, therefore God is ____"
The truth is that the universe shows every sign of being indifferent to us. Sometimes that works out in our favor, as with those who made it out of the theater without a scratch. Sometimes that means we get screwed, as with those who died. And sometimes that means we have a close shave, and one improbability--being in the theater in the first place--meets another--having the life-saving birth defect--and things don't work out nearly as bad as they normally might have. If we want to know a player's batting average, we have to count the misses and not just the hits. If we want to know whether or not a proposition is true, we have to examine the evidence against, rather than contenting ourselves that a misapplication of probability counts as irrefutable evidence for.
Oct 29, 2012
|Because this worked so well in 2000.|
And well you might ask! But since the question is on the table, let me go ahead and answer it: those who refuse to vote for the lesser of two evils get the greater. Not only that, they tend inflict it on the rest of us.
Let me tell you a little story. This little story happened in the sleepy little state of Florida, way back in 2000. It was Presidential election season, and lots of progressives--just like you!--weren't happy with their choices. They didn't like how Al Gore wasn't left-wing enough, or charismatic enough, or cool enough. "There's no difference between him and George Bush!" they cried.
And so when they went to the polls on election day, all these little Progressives--a hundred thousand of them!--didn't want to vote for Gore! And they certainly didn't want to vote for Bush! So they voted for Ralph Nader--all hundred thousand of them!
And then Bush won the election by 500 votes, and went on to become the single worst President in living memory, doubling the debt, trashing and deregulating the economy, raping civil liberties, instituting torture, and invading two countries--in the latter of which extremely conservative estimates put the death toll at 110,000.
Like so many stories, this one has a moral, and you'd think that my fellow progressives would have learned it, but in case any haven't, let me spell it out for you: a vote against Barack Obama is a vote for George Bush III and the Douchebag Dudebro. My family is going to get health insurance through Obamacare; Romney's party has already voted against it multiple times. If my family loses healthcare because you folks are sore about not getting the public option, I'm going to be upset. You don't like Obama's militant stance on Iran? If he loses office because of your pique, then we're having Gulf War III. You think Obama hasn't done enough to rein in the banks and Wall Street? By all means, turn up your nose at him--I'm sure Uncle Moneybags will do a much better job. Obama is not sufficiently pro-women? Disdain to help him defeat the party of Akin.
Would I like a real, hardcore progressive in office? You bet I would. It would be a frabjuous day indeed if the two parties were the Democrats and the Progressives. But in the real world, real, hardcore progressives can't even win the Democratic primary, let alone the general. And in the real world, the two parties are the Democrats and the Republicans. Either Mitt Romney or Barack Obama will be our President for the next four years. You don't like it? Reality has a marvelous way of not giving a shit.
So get your ass to the voting booth and vote for the lesser of those two evils, because denying that reality will doom us to the greater.
Oct 21, 2012
The substance of the criticism seemed to be that Obama didn't take a firm-enough stand. Believing and saying the right things, with a sufficiently puffed-up chest, has become a substitute for actually doing the right things--a sad legacy of the GOP's unholy union with conservative religion. Stand-taking is a substitute reality--thus Paul Ryan, to show his concern for the poor, waltzed into a soup kitchen, held a clean pot under the sink for the cameras, and waltzed back out. But hey, stand taken, right? And never mind that the soup kitchen is now losing donors over the incident--or that the House GOP, in its headlong rush to politicize the deaths of American service personnel, has recklessly and despicably endangered the lives of America's friends in Libya.
Still, it's refreshing to see the conspiracy-theory, information-bubble denialism have real time, real world consequences. And that's one of the reasons that I'm absolutely against any liberal equivalent of Fox News, as some have suggested. While I normally love a guy whose Twitter profile pic is an elephant blowing itself, he's dead wrong here. The willingness to spew prolefeed inevitably becomes the willingness to swallow it. This happened to the communists and it happened to the GOP, and don't for a moment think that it won't happen to liberals. Ignoring reality in favor of what we wish to be true, or what is expedient to electoral victory, is merely the first step down the road to that horrid, crazy place where the raving lunatics of the Tea Party mewl in the dark about baby-killing communazis and shariah-law implementing, atheist homofascists. You just can't take the One Ring and hope to do good with it--all that your sterling intentions will amount to is resisting just a wee bit longer than they did.
Speaking of mewling in the dark, Billy Graham, one of the last evangelical leaders who was not a Republican shill, recently repented of that failing via a full-page ad in the WSJ. Worried about the future of the country, which he referred to using a phrase that was added to the pledge of allegiance when he was 35, the elder Graham firmly cemented his legacy as a
And in unrelated news, the nones just hit 20%. One wonders why.
Oct 12, 2012
Obama's debate performance was crap. Not 3-d chess, not some cunning plot, not the altitude (wtf, Al?), crap. He got beat, and that right proper. He under prepared, and Mitt showed up not as GOP primary Mitt, but as Massachusetts moderate Mitt, and was positively wounded, sir, that you could say such things about him. He then lied his ass off. What, are you some kind of grandfatherly budget cobbler and the little congress gnomes will come out at night and patch the $5 trillion dollar hole in your plan? Fuck me--and fuck you: those with pre-existing conditions are not covered under your plan. My family can't find a first insurance company, let alone shop for a different one as you suggest.
In the wake of that disaster, Obama finally woke the fuck up: the balls dropped, and he started sounding like he wanted it. Biden came out swinging in the Vice Presidential debate, and walked away with the victory. Obfuscation can only carry one so far, it seems, and the Very Serious Ryan ... isn't. Nor ever was: that famed concern for the debt only ever amounted to a constipated expression as he helped Bush double it. Just another Randian hack with dreamy eyes and a hard-on for powerpoint and tax cuts.
So calm down, Andrew Sullivan. Yeah, it was bad, but I really just can't see Team Evil winning it even so.
That's where things stand, more or less. Romney/Ryan are desperately shaking their Etch-a-Sketches and refusing to give details, while O and the Dems race to stop the bleeding from the Pres' horrible, awful, no-good debate night.
Further bulletins as events warrant.