"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

It's a wonder tall trees ain't layin' down....

Sorry, no picture.posting from my ☎(!), just trying to get this out of the nest.

I have to pick this up because it's a defense of the humanities, albeit a transactional one, since the purpose of studying the humanities is not merely to be able to distinguish the bullshit of Donald Trump or Roy Moore from truth:

Realistically, many if not most visitors to the museum won’t have a strong background in biblical history, theology, or related fields, making it difficult to discern where history ends and ideology begins. If they don’t already know, for example, that there is little historical evidence for the Egyptian exile, they may be convinced by the museum’s convenient placement of accurate historical information about ancient Egypt alongside the biblical account of Moses. They might come away thinking that the museum proves that Moses’s exodus happened just like it’s written in the Bible.

If they do so, it is because they have been failed — not just by the Museum of the Bible — but by educational institutions that have not equipped them with the tools with which to assess it. In the public imagination, the humanities have been so routinely undervalued. We have a vague cultural respect for “hard” science, for “STEM subjects,” but not for the humanities, which teach us to ask crucial questions like, Who is making this assertion? Who made this item? Why? or even, Why did someone decide to group all the objects in this museum exhibition together? These questions all fundamentally boil down to one bigger question: How can I tell when something someone is telling me is bullshit?

Without these questions, you end up with a population without the tools to process information about the intersection of faith, religion, history, identity, culture, and practice. You end up with people throughout the political and faith spectrums who, when it comes to anything to do with even the cultural or historical aspects religion, cannot tell valid questions and facts and historical truths from, well, bullshit.

I don't disagree that the humanities are valuable; all of my studies have been in the field known as "humanities."  But the simplest response to the Exodus story is to point out there is no "Red Sea" in Egypt today, and no evidence there ever was one.  There was an argument once, that what was meant was a "Reed Sea," but that entire argument turns too much on the Hebrew (or Greek, in the Septuagint) providing words as similar in those tongues as "Reed" and "Red" are in English.  And Exodus wasn't translated into English until the 16th century, so that doesn't make any sense at all.  Back to beginnings, then:  there is no "Red Sea" in the desert landscape of Egypt and there never was, else Egyptians would have built by it rather than along the Nile.  It doesn't take the careful study of the humanities and learning how to tell valid questions and fact from bullshit, to understand that.

But we have been failed by educational institutions that haven't equipped us with the tools with which to assess the Bible, or anything else.  Except who runs those institutions?  The people; the citizenry.  Few and far between are the secular universities that are truly private; the majority in this country, and some of the wealthiest (UT-Austin, hem-hem) are public.  Schools are largely public, too; the curricula set by professionals overseen and answerable to public officials elected by the public to do just that.  You want people to have the tools for assessment of things not measured by scales and meters?  Make the schools focus on something that isn't STEM, or think they have by adding an "A" to that acronym (what still predominates, is still in the majority?).  And by the way:  good luck with that.

Thinking is hard.  I'm more convinced by that every day.  I read the work of scientists who wander from their STEM fields into the humanities, and think because they are good at science they are good at anything (I still remember the lawyer who took a year off to be the general contractor on his home improvement project.  His fellow lawyers laughed behind his back, recognizing the hubris of someone who, expert in one field, thought he was expert in all.  I used to think that was a hubris peculiar to lawyers, whose work puts them in touch with so many fields of modern society.  Now I know it's just the hubris of education, usually a non-humanitarian education.  Outside of eleemosynary institutions, nothing teaches humility like the rigorous studies of art, philosophy, literature, and history.  You want to know how much you don't know, spend your time in those fields.).  Those wandering scientists think their knowledge is complete, is leading them to a grand unified theory that is only a few puzzle pieces away from being complete.  They know nothing of Godel or Wittgenstein, who look upon their efforts and chuckle and probably would echo Wonder Woman's words after the battle in "Justice League:"  "Children.  I work with children."  She means it kindly and bemusedly; I mean it seriously.  And it isn't hubris that leads me to observe it.

Thinking is hard, and it is not widely supported as a general activity.  Universities became cradles of humanistic thought because they were originally supported by churches, were in fact outgrowths of church efforts at what became known as scholarship.  But rigorous critical thinking is a challenge to the status quo; as long as the church sanctioned it, such practices were the church's problem.  Just to jump to the present day, who are critics of academia talking about when they complain that colleges are hotbeds of "politically correct" thought and dangerous and radical ideas?  The Chemistry Department?  Engineering?  Anything remotely related to STEM?  If you can't figure it out, maybe you need a background in humanities more than you thought you did; except then you'd be exposing yourself to all those "dangerous ideas," and we can't have that, can we?

ADDING:  the discussion turned into a discourse on the Museum of the Bible which is the topic of the article I took the quote from.  William Saletan has been there, and where before I might never have been interested to visit it, now I am.  It sounds like it might be worth the time spent in it.

Monday, November 20, 2017

This is where I came in

It really is all about the eye of the beholder

NPR this morning interviewed Sherrod Brown about the GOP tax plan because Orrin Hatch pitched a hissy fit (I don't know how else to characterize it) about the Democrat being so mean about the soak-the-middle-class-spare-the-rich tax "reform" being considered.  And then Steve Inskeep had to ask about the allegations against Al Franken.  Which is kind of interesting because apparently that lie is still circling the globe while the truth is getting its boots on:

Was there any tongue in that kiss?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Did this leave Ms. Tweeden traumatized and shaken?
And is Steve Inskeep going to report on this?
The problem with accepting every story that comes out as "true" is the problem of Russian trolls on the internet.  When John Podesta's e-mails were stolen and then released, it was reported that a common KGB tactic was to include manufactured information with the true, the better to sway opinions (and do I think only the KGB knows that trick?  No, I do not.).  But the idea that some of those Podesta e-mails, and which ones?, were false was ignored in the outrage (which runs the internet to this day) they produced.  So while we are busy "believing the women" because to not do so is rude, crude, and socially unacceptable, as well as "victimizes them again," we're feeding the trolls.

I have no doubt sexual assault is a traumatizing experience, and sexual harassment can have long term consequences.  But that doesn't mean every man is a predator and every woman is as fragile as rice paper; or that human beings never tells lies, unless it's to deny an accusation against them.  As I write, the breaking news is another woman accusing Sen. Franken of inappropriate contact, when he grabbed her butt while her husband took a picture of them at the Minnesota State Fair.  It "felt gross," she reports; but it didn't leave her traumatized, apparently.*  I suppose we're going to hear a lot of these stories, although so far this is only two for Sen. Franken, and neither amounts to being banned from the mall in Alabama, or bragging about grabbing women because they can't stop you, you're a celebrity (and those are not the worst accusations made against Moore and Trump).  Let me put it this way:  what Al Franken allegedly did in grabbing that woman's ass while her husband took a picture is not a violation of Minnesota criminal statutes.  What Roy Moore did by making a 14 year old touch his penis in his underwear, IS a violation of Alabama criminal statutes.  This isn't a question of prosecution, but one of measure.  Do we, as Symone Sanders insists, treat Al Franken like Roy Moore?  That strikes me as a rather blunt kind of justice, even if it is only the political question of who belongs in the Senate.  If Roy Moore is elected and is kicked out of the Senate by vote of the Senate, then the same fate should await Al Franken; and how many other Senators?  Now we're into punitive justice, where an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth leaves everyone blind and toothless.  Maybe that's not the desired goal, but where else do we end up if we insist all who are deemed guilty  must be equally punished?

I mean, we're spinning out of control, here.  As I've said before, hysteria is not so dramatic nor so rare as we think it is.  Howard Fineman and Jonathan Alter have both defended Franken on Twitter:

“I've watched ‪@ alfranken unfairly bracketed w/ accused serial sexual predators,” Fineman tweetd. “He & I've been family friends for decades. As a comic, he could be crude. He went too far (& apologized). BUT: he's NOT predatory, adores his wife & family & is a lifelong champion of women's rights.”

“I completely agree,” Alter posted, “and would add that all of us make dumb mistakes. But they shouldn’t be conflated with those of child molesters, perverts and rapists.”
Are we to see no difference between grabbing someone's butt (yes, "gross") and sexual predation?

At some point there's a certain witch-hunt hysteria here, and a desire to make any story into something as serious as any other story.  The problem is, that doesn't always work.  If people are gonna vote for Roy Moore, they're gonna vote for Roy Moore.  If the GOP pays a political price in the future, then that's the way the price is extracted.  If Al Franken fails to be re-elected, that's the way the price is extracted against him.  If we're going to start decapitating everyone based on some new standard of purity which cannot be violated, we're going to end up with no one in office.

Except, as I've also said before, Mike Pence.  Is that really the best outcome?

*"Felt gross" is probably close enough for a civil tort claim of assault, which is defined as 'offensive contact' (if I remember my 2nd Restatement of Torts, and I'm not sure I do.  Funny I ever let go of that; then again, probably not.).  But the damages are, as the law also says, de minimus, or not worth anything.  And one is entitled to wonder if it happened, and if it did, well, yeah....

Because it doesn't deserve a new post:  AND NOW CHARLIE ROSE admits, yeah, he did the gross things he's accused of (wandering around naked in front of women, shoving his hands down a woman's pants, etc.) and he's sorry sorry sorry and he's learned from it and...

You know what?  I'm out.  Al Franken is accused of being an ass-grabber by one woman, makes a childish photo with another (without, apparently, touching her) and he's as bad as these guys?  Al Franken was a jerk, once or twice:  maybe.  Louis C.K. and Roy Moore and Charlie Rose, et al. are sick people.  Two of those three have at least admitted it (as has Franken, at least in apologizing); one refuses to.  Differences of kind, not just of degree.

What's in a word?

I'm actually sympathetic to this argument.  I'll go further:  I agree with this priest.

“I am simply asking that space be preserved for believers for whom Christmas has nothing to do with Santa and reindeer," he said. “My religious experience of true Christmas, like so many others, is very deep and real – like the air I breathe. But non-believers deserve and need their celebration too, it’s an essential human dynamic and we all need that in the toughness of life.”

“I’m just trying to rescue the reality of Christmas for believers by giving up ‘Christmas’ and replacing it with another word,” he added, noting that if Christians don't take action,  “secularization and modern life will continue to launder the church."
It's an interesting inverse from some 400 years ago, when Puritans who came to this country denounced "Christmas" in no small part because the word derived from "Christ mass," referring to the Catholic observance of the birth of Christ with a special mass.  It was the reference to the mass the Puritans objected to, as they objected to anything having to do with the Church of Rome.  They didn't win that round (obviously) and now we have a President who speaks of "Two Corinthians" as a book in the Bible and asks church pastors if they are Christians, because he knows he's supposed to be one, and he doesn't want to be talking about the wrong religion with the wrong people.  And he insists we will all say "Merry Christmas!," as if his word was a royal edict we ignore upon pain of death.  Yeah, that's fixing the"problem"!

That he doesn't understand that "pastor" is a Christian term is the smallest part of the problem.  But if the Church cedes "Christmas" to the secular world, what word will replace it?  And will the Churches that close on Christmas Sunday (when Dec. 25 falls on a Sunday, as it does about every seven years or so) re-open because that day is no longer "Christmas"?

The priest is right:  we (we Christians) have lost both the words "Christmas" and "Easter," although the origins of Easter are unknown and it's a word we could easily give up for Pasch, which I've always liked better. We've lost the words, I mean, and we might as well let them go and quit fighting over "Merry Christmas" and keeping "Christ" in "Christmas" (it was Christians who invented "Xmas," knowing their Greek better than we do today).  We aren't going to launder the world; the world is only and ever going to launder us.  Same as it ever was, and one of the reasons for Luther's theses 500 years ago.

Now, what do we do without them?  It could be liberating.  Sometimes giving something up is not a loss, it's releasing a burden.  If we don't have to fight about how people use the word "Christmas," if we no longer care what they do with it because it has nothing to do with our religious observances, wouldn't that be a good thing?

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Well South of Pathetic

It started here:

Followed by:

And then this:
American citizenship only matters if you make proper obeisance to the King.

Alongside that, Trump withdrew an idea that never should have been put forward:
And now he's basking in the glow of the congratulations for not doing what he never should have done, making sure he retweets flattery to his ego:

Friday, November 17, 2017

So how do you stop a good guy with a gun?

Guns shoot bullets:

Elder members of First United Methodist Church in Tellico Plains were meeting Thursday afternoon to eat a Thanksgiving dinner when the mass shooting came up, and one of them asked if anyone brought their gun to church, reported WATE-TV.

Police said a man in his 80s pulled out a .380 caliber Ruger handgun and boasted, “I carry my handgun everywhere.

The man removed the magazine, cleared the chamber and showed the weapon to some other men, then put the magazine back in, evidently loaded a round into the chamber and returned the gun to his holster, police said.

Someone else walked up and asked to see the gun, police said, and the man took out the weapon again.

He pulled it back out and said, ‘With this loaded indicator, I can tell that it’s not loaded,'” according to Police Chief Russ Parks.

He then pulled the trigger, apparently forgetting he had put a round in the chamber.

The gun was lying on its side on a table, and the bullet sliced the man’s palm and entered the left side of his wife’s abdomen and exited the right.

Both of them were hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.

It's what they do.

This won't go down as a "mass shooting," since only two people were shot. It should go down as a "shooting in a church," but it probably won't reach that list, either.  I don't know the law in Tennessee, but as a church member I wouldn't be all that comfortable with other members "packing heat" so cavalierly.   Whether the church can block that is a matter of law and church decision.  No doubt this guy thought he was a conscientious and careful gun owner, but this is why the NRA used to be against carrying guns in places where you didn't intent to shoot something (hunting, IOW) and always carried the gun unloaded until you intended to shoot something.  One other rule:  always treat a gun as loaded.  Always.  Because guns shoot bullets, and bullets can hit people.  The NRA used to be all about gun safety, and the proper enjoyment of firearms (i.e., again, in hunting).

Guns shoot bullets.  Guns and bullets follow the laws of physics, not the will of the wielder.  This man never intended to shoot himself or his wife; but he did.  All in the name of self-defense.  The only good outcome here, is that no one else was shot.  But that's not much good, because two people were; two people who shouldn't have been.  And who would he have shot in an assault like the one in Sutherland Springs?  Probably not the "bad guy."  In the excitement, he might even forget to chamber a round.  Wouldn't that be ironic?

In our minds, we are the heroes of our own action movie; in reality, not so much.  Movie heroes, after all, never shoot their wives by accident.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Blame it on ergot poisoning?

Hysteria is less dramatic and more common than we think it is.

I understand a world where allegations of sexual harassment and assault (defined here as "offensive contact," that being the legal standard) are not dismissed out of hand.  I don't understand this:

Franken has issued a second statement responding to Tweeden’s allegations. His follow-up is significantly more remorseful, though it still seems to dispute Tweeden’s memory of the unwanted kiss. Franken also now recognizes that there’s “no excuse” for the groping photo and admits that his hypocrisy makes him “feel ashamed.” He has called for a Senate ethics investigation into his own behavior—which indicates that he has no intention of resigning quickly. Instead, he appears to be attempting to rehabilitate his reputation by expressing penance and desire to grow.

Because, says Mark Joseph Stern, Sen. Al Franken must resign.  Immediately.


And apparently he really shouldn't disagree with the allegations made against him, but just withdraw from public life and live in shame and repentance to the end of his days.  Or something.

This is where I was afraid this was going to to.  Not the Franken incident, but the entire trajectory of revelation and punishment.  Because it always becomes about the punishment; which, in the end, defeats the purpose of the revelation.  Why change, when you can just purge?

Besides, this doesn't matter, right?

The woman who accused Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) of sexual misconduct said Thursday she accepts his apology.

"The apology, sure I accept it, yes. People make mistakes and of course he knew he made a mistake," Leeann Tweeden said. "So yes I do accept that apology. There's no reason why I shouldn't accept his apology."

She said it's up to Congress to decide if it wants to have an ethics investigation into Franken's behavior, adding that she isn’t calling for Franken to step down, unless more women come forward.

“People make mistakes. I’m not calling for him to step down. That’s not my place to say that,” Tweeden said. 

Punishment is the only way to be sure.  That, or dust off and nuke the whole thing from space.  Two conditions that, in these circumstances, often appear alike.

ADDING:  Because it's an argument worth reading, that this is where everything is headed, I'm afraid:

Writing with almost creepy prescience at this week, Brian Beutler warned against the coming Breitbart-style weaponization of the “Believe Women” movement. “Unfolding against the backdrop of the post-Weinstein revolution, the Moore scandal exposes the conservative propaganda machine in the ugliest and most discrediting possible fashion,” Beutler writes. “But these cultural changes are all but destined to collide with one another in the opposite direction, in a way that exploits both the beneficence of the ‘believe women’ campaign, and the even-handedness of the mainstream media. It is a collision we as a political culture are not equipped to handle, the consequences of which are almost too awful to contemplate.”

That’s why Weinstein fallout could go up in smoke in a second. Because enough people believe that women are all liars, that one liar will fuck it up for all of us.

This Roy Moore Old Testament-Original Sin-Women Are Liars mindset is the worldview that needs to change in order for women to truly have access to the same opportunities that men have. But its opposite—the notion that women must be believed without any evidence whatsoever—will lead the worst among us to exploit the proof loophole and wreak as much damage as they can before their lies are discovered and skewered. At that point, the loophole irreversibly closes. And if that happens, we’re stuck in Roy Moore’s world, where men are the arbiters of morality and if women aren’t lying, they must have been asking for it.

I remember the '60's:  the anti-war movement, the civil rights movement, the feminist movement.  Two of those three have not only lost momentum, but been severely reversed.  I remember a science fiction story about the future military, where sergeants sought to motivate soldiers with kindness, and everyone was smoking pot because it was perfectly acceptable.  That was the future imagined at the end of the '60's into the early '70's.  It's completely unimaginable now.  And civil rights?  Would we need Black Lives Matter if that hadn't stalled and gone into reverse.  All the possibilities snapped back into impossibilities the minute we stopped pushing.  Looking back I sometimes think it was a waking collective dream, an illusion, that nothing really happened and nothing was really offered.  This resurgence of feminism, of at least taking women seriously, could snap back, too.  Read the argument at the link; it contains a cautionary tale of another allegation made against Sen. Franken.  And Trump is already tweeting about his situation; the ploughshares are being beaten into swords as we speak.

Be careful what you ask for.

Texas Independence

The news will still tell you (I just looked at Google) that the driver of this truck is wanted by the Sheriff of Fort Bend County.  Well, Fort Bend County adjoins Harris County, so this story is in the news around here, and I can tell you (without links, so trust me) that the driver of the truck has been identified, and "he" is a "she."  She says she's been stopped numerous times by law enforcement for her sign, but there's nothing illegal about it, and they have to let her go on her way.  Personally, I'm surprised her truck hasn't been vandalized.

A Con Law professor on a local NPR show at noon today noted this kind of thing is protected speech, and has been since at least the '70's.

And besides, the Sheriff who posted this on Facebook has since removed it.  Seems he got more feedback than he wanted, and got a few lessons in Constitutional law, to boot.

Just waiting now for Trump to tweet about it.....

For the Non-Lawyers among you

Check the kerning!

Going to the opposite end of the spectrum from Sen. Franken's insistence that the women alleging harassment and assault need to be listened to, we turn again to Roy Moore and his Not Ready for Prime Time Lawyers who continue to insist Beverly Nelson is a liar and a forger and not to be trusted, especially when it comes to her high school yearbook.

The claim is that Ms. Nelson copied Judge Moore's signature from a court order where she had "contact" with Judge Moore.  Once upon a time I practiced law in Travis County, Texas.  Travis County had then what's called an "open docket."  The District Court judges weren't assigned cases, they conducted hearings and trials as they were available.  This meant your case might get a hearing before several different judges before being tried by a judge who had never heard a word of argument about the case.

It sounds like they had much the same docket in Etowah County, Alabama.  Three court orders were entered in Ms. Nelson's divorce proceedings in 1999; two signed by W.D Russell, and one signed by Roy Moore.  It is possible this case was Judge Russell's, and Judge Moore signed the final order simply because Judge Russell was not available.  Or there was an open docket, and any judge available signed off on the order (which may have followed a brief hearing among lawyers and Judge Moore, but more likely was an agreed order submitted to the clerk for signature, no court time needed).  Either way, there's nothing here to indicate the parties had "contact" with either judge.

It isn't unusual at all for clients not to have 'contact' with a judge before trial.  Orders for continuances and other pre-trial matters (or setting the case for trial) are routinely signed by judges in chambers.  Indeed, I never saw a judge sign an order in open court.  If you needed a judge's signature you submitted the order to the clerk, who returned it to you later, "you" here being the lawyer.  Clients seldom attend hearings where they don't need to give evidence.  The three orders presented in the Think Progress article are classic orders that lawyers see, and clients never do.  None of those three orders would require the presence of a client (well, a continuance might, under some circumstances; but not usually).  And signing an order of dismissal means simply submitting the order to the clerk, and the clerk's office then gets one of the judges to sign it, since on an open docket one judge's signature is as good as another's. 

Roy Moore's lawyers have tried to play on everyone's ignorance of these simple facts, claiming that Beverly Nelson copied Judge Moore's signature from the one order in her first divorce action to copy it into her yearbook, a rather elaborate scheme that either means she wrote the whole note when she was 16, because she includes the name of the restaurant where she worked at the time, and then decades later went back to the court records to get a copy of Moore's signature from her divorce case;  or she remembered back to that age, imagined she'd met Moore there, and gave that story credence with her elaborate "fake" note, and this one court order she probably didn't have a copy of (I never gave my clients copies of court filings).  Could she have remembered, 18 years later, that Moore signed a document that suspended her first divorce action?  Maybe, but the odds that she ever knew it are slim and none.  I barely remember the judges I appeared before; I know my clients have no idea who signed what order, and wouldn't be able to research their file at the clerk's office to find a signature.

Considering the elaboration it takes to establish that this note in a yearbook is forged, it offends good sense to accept it as even possible, much less probable.  And I wonder about this excuse that Moore's assistant stamped his orders and put her initials there.  That's not a practice I've ever seen or been aware of, and it's notable Judge Russell didn't indicate any similar practice on the two orders he signed.

In the end none of this really means anything except these people are not ready for primetime.  Moore's lawyers seem much more concerned about this story than any of the other allegations.  That intensity is much more interesting than any of their feeble attempts to turn it back.  And in light of Sen. Franken's statement that the women coming forward "deserve to be heard and believed", it highlights the moral paucity of a man seeking public office who would allow such a defense of his actions to be made.

This Is How You Do It

Yeah, that's the picture.

So Al Franken releases a statement:

Not even close to it. Jesus, Senator, there’s a picture!
But, really, that statement is wholly useless.
The problem is not with the statement per se, it's with the internet age, where outrage and our ability to respond immediately sometimes means the news has to catch up with what we just said:

“The first thing I want to do is apologize: to Leeann, to everyone else who was part of that tour, to everyone who has worked for me, to everyone I represent, and to everyone who counts on me to be an ally and supporter and champion of women,” Franken said.

The Minnesota Democrat said he was “ashamed” that his actions could give anyone a reason to doubt his respect for women, but he said the recent wave of harassment claims against public figures has given men a new perspective on their behavior.

“I don’t know what was in my head when I took that picture, and it doesn’t matter. There’s no excuse,” he said. “I look at it now and I feel disgusted with myself. It isn’t funny. It’s completely inappropriate. It’s obvious how Leeann would feel violated by that picture. And, what’s more, I can see how millions of other women would feel violated by it — women who have had similar experiences in their own lives, women who fear having those experiences, women who look up to me, women who have counted on me.”

"The intentions behind my actions aren’t the point at all,” he said. “It’s the impact these jokes had on others that matters. And I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to come to terms with that.”

Franken said he doesn’t recall the incidents described by Tweeden in the same way she does, and he called for a Senate ethics investigation and promised to “gladly cooperate.”

“What people think of me in light of this is far less important than what people think of women who continue to come forward to tell their stories,” Franken said. “They deserve to be heard, and believed. And they deserve to know that I am their ally and supporter. I have let them down and am committed to making it up to them.” 
Not meaning to get up in Mr. Pierce's face, because his response was justified; but the instant ability to broadcast that opinion isn't always the best thing about this brave new world.

And as apologies go, that's the way you do it.  Lessons could be taught from what the Senator from Minnesota said, especially if he is true to his word.


I have to extend my remarks a bit further because, as TPM reports, there are already calls for an investigation into Sen. Franken's conduct.  Compare and contrast with the stories swirling around Roy Moore, and consider another adage of mine:  "There is no power without resistance."  Sen. Franken is not resisting calls for an investigation, nor resisting claims that his actions are indefensible.  I don't mean that Sen. Franken has rendered his accusers powerless, but he has refused to empower himself by resisting the claims.  Sen. Franken's is an example of service, no matter how the Senate investigation comes out.  Roy Moore's example is all about his power to resist; the stronger the force against him, the more he resists and seeks to accrue power to himself.  He wants to store it, like a battery, and release that power against his enemies, against those who accuse him or block his efforts to impose his views on the country and its laws.  "There is no power without resistance" recognizes that power is not a good, not even when employed for ostensibly good ends.  Sen. Franken is emptying himself of power in order to be a public servant; Roy Moore is trying to accrue as much power as he can, in order to serve Roy Moore.

On a practical note, Sen. McConnell has called for the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate Sen. Franken's actions.  It will be interesting to see if the same calls are made for Sen. Moore, if it comes to that.

It's an interesting contrast.  Between Franken and Moore who, in the end, is truly "powerful"?

Can We Talk?

Bill Clinton should have died for your sins.

For me, it started yesterday morning with Matt Yglesias:

In her 2014 Vanity Fair article looking back on the scandal, Lewinsky wrote, “I will always remain firm on this point: it was a consensual relationship. Any ‘abuse’ came in the aftermath, when I was made a scapegoat in order to protect his powerful position.”
Bill Clinton, according to Yglesias, should have resigned.  And while Lewinsky said herself, at the time (unlike Yglesias I was an adult at the time, and father of a new born daughter to boot), that she pursued Clinton because he was Clinton (and probably because he was the President), Clinton is responsible for her "abuse."  She was 22 at the time, and the "abuse" (she puts it in quotes) came from dallying with a President.  Lots of people have faced "abuse" for being friends or even family of Presidents.  The leader must be protected for the sake of the nation, even if the protection is only of his/her ability to show leadership.  Intern or family member (anybody remember Jimmy Carter's brother?  I don't think Yglesias is old enough to.), you can find yourself on the wrong end of that need.  It comes with the office.  I don't quite see how that is grounds for resignation.

Should Clinton not have had an affair with Lewinsky?  No doubt.  Should Kennedy have resigned, then? Johnson (yes, LBJ)?  How far back do we go to "correct" history? (I'm old enough to remember Kennedy, though an "affair" at that time would have meant nothing at all to me.  You'd have had to explain "sex" first.  It was a more innocent era.).

And now, we have to acknowledge Bill Clinton was a "cad" (a delightfully archaic term.  I mean, when was the last time anybody said that outside a '40's movie?):

I’m not saying Bill Clinton explains the world. There are multiple cultural trends at work here. Bad people have been doing bad things since time immemorial, so we can’t lay everything that happens at the feet of Bill Clinton (or the men and women who enabled his behavior). What is more, Hollywood (I’m thinking of shows like Mad Men, Californication, and Entourage and movies like Woody Allen’s Manhattan—but I’m sure there are tons of others) has also contributed to mainstreaming norms that are suddenly no longer condoned as… normal.

Ah, where to begin with analysis like that?  "Mad Men" is not praise of Madison Avenue in the '60's: it's rather as if James Bond was much more introspective about his "loves 'em and leaves 'em" attitude.  If anything, I ended that series feeling sorry for the wreck that was Don Draper.  I mean, what's the point of looking like a cartoon pilot (hat tip to Tina Fey) if you're as empty as one of Eliot's "Hollow Men"?  "Californication" I'll give you; but it was a Showtime show meant to be soft-core porn and provide an excuse for women to take off their clothes and mimic sexual activity for people paying premium dollars for fresh access to that stuff (I watched it on Netflix).  "Entourage" I skipped, but I'm reminded frequently of P.G. Wodehouse's quaint (and subtle) criticisms of Hollywood churning out stories that depended on sex to sell tickets (Wodehouse was writing about movies in the '30's, sexually as quaint as "I Wanna Hold Your Hand".  The fundamental, however, hasn't changed, only how blatant, or "graphic," the sex (and the violence) is.  Those "cultural trends," in other words, have been at work for a long, long time before Bill Clinton came along.)

"Manhattan"?  Oh, please; can't we let that tired malarkey go?  There were no sex scenes in the movie, I don't even remember a kiss (there must have been one), and Muriel Hemingway played a young woman mature beyond her years.  It was an honorable and remarkable performance, and yet the only way we can speak of it is as the first indication Allen was a sleaze (still not quite sure why, since there are no stories of Allen exposing himself to women, or masturbating in front of them, or actually dating young girls.  The worst I know is, according to Hemingway, he came to ask her parents' permission to take her to Paris for a weekend.  She declined the offer, and he politely and quietly went away.  Not exactly Roy Moore territory, any of that.  The question of his wife is a separate matter.  They started dating after Allen had ended his relationship with Mia Farrow; and when they married, both were adults.)  This whole discussion of "cultural trends" inevitably leads to some kind of Puritanism we both want and don't want, and it also puts responsibility on someone else, not on me.  In this case, we're pushing responsibility all the way back to Bill Clinton.  Why?  Because these writers don't remember JFK?  Clinton did.

Irony is a harsh mistress.  In a proof she is not dead, you can find links to all the major on-line outlets concerned with this topic, at the New York Times.  How the universe does not eat its own tail at this point is quite beyond me.

I understand the desire to "take the women seriously."  But considering the utter nonsense that was "Whitewater" (or, now Hillary's e-mails and "Uranium One") James Carville's dismissive comment about Paula Jones (“If you drag a hundred-dollar bill through a trailer park, you never know what you’ll find.”) has a context of its own.  Should we reconsider the stories of Ms. Jones and Anita Broaddrick?  Probably; but does that prove Clinton was a rapist?  No; anymore than Beverly Young Nelson's accusations prove Roy Moore is guilty of criminal assault.  It certainly does raise the question of his fitness for office, which has been the argument in response to the defense that there is no proof Moore committed any crimes.  The criminal standard of evidence, however, is not the political standard for voters.

And last I looked, Bill Clinton wasn't running for office anymore.  Should we take him down a peg or two, regardless?  Well, I have no problem with acknowledging the humanity and fallibility of Thomas Jefferson or Alexander Hamilton or even Abraham Lincoln.  Hagiography is always a problem.  And I've never considered Bill Clinton one of the unspoiled exemplars of American exceptionalism.  On the other hand, purging our history by re-writing it, or wishing we could, seems kind of pointless to me.  Retroactively damning Bill Clinton for his affair with Monica Lewinsky sounds like a lame attempt to clean up your own attitudes and bring your history in line with your preferred present, or imagined future.  Maybe you need to do that for yourself, but the adult thing to do is to take responsibility for what you did, and move on.  Bill Clinton did that; why don't we, as well?

Besides, looking to punish people so you feel better, is a mug's game.  What Bill Clinton did to his victims is one thing; what he did to you, me, or Matt Yglesias, is another.  We don't square that circle by wishing now we could punish him, or anyone, then.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Oh, THAT'S where it came from!

Louie Gohmert actually presented this chart at a Congressional hearing, and while it is a hot mess it is  not sui generis, but has an ancestry, of sorts.  Or at least a precursor.


We look it up so you don't have to.  Will we find that all roads lead to Sean Hannity?  Oh, let's hope not....

Checking In

Still nothing on his Twitter feed about northern California, but he has time for this:
Because what's the point of being President and helping out American citizens abroad if you can't garner public thanks for it?  (and the fact the players were black?  Purely coincidental to Trump's question, donchaknow.)

Oh, and he thinks he negotiated a trade agreement, single-handedly and without signing a thing:

Third time's the charm:

“So my relationship with Shinzo got off to quite a rocky start because I never ran for office, and here I am,” Trump remarked. “But I never ran, so I wasn’t very experienced. And after I had won, everybody was calling me from all over the world. I never knew we had so many countries.”
I'm pretty sure the New York Times did.  The NYT also knows the difference between central Texas and northern California.  Four more tweets and still no word.  Maybe it's too soon to talk about it.

Adding:  The UCLA players were more gracious than the President (quelle surprise!):

"I am embarrassed and ashamed for disappointing my family, teammates, coaches and the entire UCLA community," Riley told reporters. "To President Trump and the United States government, thank you for taking the time to intervene on our behalf. We really appreciate you helping us out."

Texas? Or Alabama?

Or maybe "Texabama"?

“What’s it going to take before you realize that your family values, my-sin-is-better-than-your-sin, conservative voting approach has produced a state government filled with lying, cheating, sexually assaulting, money-grubbing criminals who have embarrassed us countless times, and on top of everything, mismanaged the hell out of this place?” 
New styles of architecture?  A change of heart?

All I can say is, Texas is now the second most populous state in the country, which means a lot of people have moved here in my lifetime.  And the political culture of the state has not changed one jot; if anything, it's moved backwards since the days of John Nance Garner and Sam Rayburn and even the Killer Bees.  I can't explain it because it's not like everyone living here now was born and raised on post-Reconstruction Southern politics, but they sure act like they were.

Nowt so queer as folk.

Sean Hannity, Tower of Jell-0

This is how you do it.

First they came for the advertisers, and we said we'd smash our coffee makers.  Then we realized:  advertisers=$$$$$.

And we threw the corrupt and immoral politician under the bus:

″For me, the judge has 24 hours,” Hannity said Tuesday night. “He must immediately and fully come up with a satisfactory explanation for your inconsistencies that I just showed. You must remove any doubt. If he can’t do that, then Judge Moore needs to get out of this race.”

Now if 500 Hannity fans smashed their Keurigs and won the lottery to get a replacement free of charge from their erstwhile hero, all will be well.  And if they didn't....

ADDING:  To take this all a bit more seriously:

So when Hannity told his viewers that Moore may not have assaulted a 14-year-old girl — that it's possible the mainstream media and liberal strategists made this up to take down a political opponent — many believed him. He made it feel true that this was made-up.

A few days later, pollsters asked people in Alabama whether the news about Moore made them more or less likely to support him.

About 33 percent said it made no difference. About 29 percent said they were more likely to vote for him (which as Vox’s Ezra Klein explained likely signals they don’t believe the allegations).
So, will Hannity influence the vote the other way?  Or is this the problem with theorizing about the importance of conspiracy theories?

Another Day, Another Mass Shooting

They pretty much blur together at this point.  (For the historical record, the shooting that probably prompted this tweet was in Northern California, a week after the mass shooting in Texas.  Can't tell the players without a scorecard; or a map.)

UPDATE:  You're not seeing the tweet anymore because it has been removed.  All we have left is the text itself.  Somebody on the staff, despite John Kelly's statements, must be paying attention.  Trump has posted, since that tweet, tweets about Sean Hannity, CNN, news reports flattering to him, tweets flattering to him, how Fox&Friends will be flattering to him this morning:  but nothing else about the shooting in California.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

"I do trust! Help my lack of trust!"*

*Mark 9:24, SV.  Curiously, this pericope doesn't appear in the Revised Common Lectionary.
  Well, something has to be left out, but make of that what you will.

So I came across this comment at Religion Dispatches, a comment I don't mean to critique or evaluate (that would be unfair, in this forum.  I've given a brief version of my thoughts there, and this post is for my thinking alone), so I'm taking it out of context and only in the pieces I want to use.  But reading it, and thinking about it later, I had something of a revelation about the difference between evangelicals and fundamentalists (whom I grew up among, if not with; my mother's family are all Primitive Baptists) and my own understanding of my religious faith.  First, excerpts from the comment:

One phrase from your article really stands out for me.

"Christian subculture whose influence far exceeds its numbers"

To me that leads back to the question of exactly what is Christianity? I think it is hard to pin down, and I suspect that is intentional. I see Christianity as divided into two major divisions, conservative and progressive. Conservatives believe everything from traditional Christianity, heaven and hell, Bible is God's word, Trinity, everything that you hear in church. Progressive Christians can see the problem with that, so they have made every belief optional. There might be no actual literal heaven and hell. The Trinity is more of a mysterious theological concept and is open to interpretation. The Bible can be questioned because of all the studies that show it should be. My question is exactly what does it mean to be a progressive Christian? The strategy seems to be never answer that because any answer could lead to problems.

I think it all leads back to that influence that you alluded to. Christianity is a continuous spectrum of belief or non-belief, and it supports itself in that when any part of the spectrum is under question the answer is always to shift to another part of the spectrum. All parts can question other parts, but as long as they don't destroy other parts the spectrum kind of holds itself together. They don't really have any need to destroy other parts of the religion because they have so many other non-believer parts of society that they can lash out against instead.

I would first say that Christianity, or rather living as a Christian, is itself a continuous spectrum of belief or non-belief, although I'd put it in the terms of the Scholars Version translation of Mark 9:24, and use the word "trust" instead of "belief."  The presumption of this argument in the quoted material is one sponsored by evangelical and fundamentalist theologians:  that belief or faith is a possession, a good one can own and keep or give away; or it is an attribute available to some and not to others.  Skills in word working or cooking or music are examples of attributes one might have; few of us are born a Mozart or a Schumann, so we recognize both the talent and it's rarity when it occurs.   More of us are saints, but few still; and sainthood tends to be a matter of living out a conviction, not acting on an ability.

If I can identify God as a set of specific characteristics; if I can, say, insist that God created the world and all that dwells on it, and the sun and the stars, in seven solar days and anthropomorphically walked on earth in the Garden of Eden and had to seek Adam and Eve there, if I can declare the Bible, a set of books written over centuries, "God's word" implicitly written by God as one text, if I can identify "traditional Christianity" with one set of assertions and claims irrefutable and inalterable (even Roman Catholicism is not so doctrinaire), then I have a set of ideas and beliefs I can possess.  I have things.  I have control over ideas.

Which raises two important questions:  1) (in keeping with this blog's informal motto)  Where are the people?, and 2)  is God a reducible thing I can so easily define, so easily describe, so casually possess?  I have known my wife for 45 years, my daughter for 25, my closest friends for over 50 years:  can I say with absolute certainty how they will and must behave in any given set of circumstances?  Or do they continue to surprise me, while never acting exactly contrary to the persons I know them to be?  But "traditional Christianity" teaches me God can act in only one way, without surprises, as predictably as the sunset and as reassuringly as the next day's sunrise.  I do not have that assurance even of my wife, and yet I know God better?  Any answer I could give about who my wife is would lead to problems, and a wise husband would never claim to be so sure he knows her so well.  Yet to have the same relationship to the living God is problematic and an indication of...what?  Insincerity?  A lack of faith?  Something other than belief?

If I can be wise enough to know my wife is a cherished individual deserving of the deepest respect for her individuality, for not being merely an extension somehow of me, why is that a failing when I come to describe my relationship to God?  And yet isn't that the basis of the criticism?  If I cannot claim to posses God, to be absolute about God, to limit God, then I cannot "believe" in God.  And is what that belief is?  Knowledge that God is as I say God is?  And when God is not, doesn't that shatter my belief?

But if that isn't my belief, why can't I be said to believe?  Maybe because my belief is neither my possession nor an attribute peculiar to me, like my love for my wife, which no one else on the planet is expected to share.  And yet we all understand what I mean when I declare that I love my wife.  Is my love for her a matter of belief, of everything you hear in modern culture?  Is my love for her an attribute, like musical talent?  In that case was I meant to love only her?  That's a bit simplistic, isn't it?  I mean, how convenient that of all the people in the world I should go to the same high school she did.  If it isn't an attribute, is it inevitably a part of who I am?  What, then, of the mutual friend who introduced us?  Was that introduction inevitably part of my character?    Is love will?  Or emotion only?  Or is it something other than both, something not exercised or aroused, but still subject to attention and intent?

And then what is "belief," what is "faith," especially if we understand faith as trust?

Conservative and "traditional" Christians treat belief and faith as matters to possess, items of spiritual and personal ownership.  My faith in God, my trust in God, is the same as my love of my wife and daughter:  it is because.  It is who I am and I can be no other way.  Does that make it an attribute peculiar to me?  No, it isn't a talent like my skill at certain small tasks (none of which are valued enough by society to be remunerative, the way we usually gauge talent).  It is a conviction, an activity, like my trust.  It is not an acquiescence toward "believing what you know ain't so."

My love for my wife (or my daughter; different kinds of love, to be sure, but still we use the same word for each relationship) is not a matter of will or emotion.  I don't force myself to love my family, and my love for them is not a matter of a persistent emotional state (indeed, my emotional states in my '60's are not at all what they were in my '20's.  I see this most distinctly with a 25 year old daughter still in my daily life.)  How do I explain my love for her, except, in part, as trust?  I trust her, not just physically or materially (she won't empty the bank account, say, or destroy my possessions) but humanly.  I don't know how more accurately to put it:  I trust her emotionally, but the trust is deeper and more significant than that.  And my trust is that I know that, in all things, she can be trusted.  I can trust her with me.  If that is not faith, I don't know what it is.

I don't have faith in her attributes, in her statements of love for me, or in what I expect her to do or in who I think she is.  If traditional Christianity rests on doctrines and statements about God and particular interpretations of scripture (all reading is interpretation; it's unavoidable.  Of course, we interpret each other's actions and words, too.  Again:  it's unavoidable.), then those are things I can, and must, possess, in order to "believe" in the sense implied (and commonly accepted) by "traditional" Christianity.  But that is not Christianity, and "progressive Christianity" some other nature of thing with, confusingly, the same label (like my love for my wife, my love for my daughter, and my love of coffee and theology and philosophy; all very different matters described by one word.  How we manage to say anything at all is a mystery.).   No, there is no one Christianity, and even to say it is all connected by a belief in the Trinity is to rely on the ambiguity (again!) of the word "belief."  I can recite the Trinitarian formulas in the creeds and confess the Trinitarian recital of the baptismal vow, but do I "believe" as a fundamentalist Christian does?  Probably not, right down to how we both use the word "believe".  But does that mean I'm refusing to answer because my answer would lead to problems?  Or does that mean you (the generic "you," let the reader understand) are asking the wrong questions?

There is, after all, a strong strand of wisdom in the Scriptures, and so in Christianity; and wisdom is not strong on giving definitive answers, largely because those answers tend to lead to problems, and not to wisdom.

I understand.  Help my lack of understanding.  Somewhere in there, is where the people are.

Because I can resist anything but temptation

Be careful who you give advice to....

Having posted on the Keurig inanity sponsored by Sean Hannity, I had to include this.  The tweet above shows the original poster that this is mocking so brilliantly:

UPDATE:  In case you're wondering, that tweet has been pulled, too.  Apparently it was not such excellent advice for leftists, after all.