Who would you rather punch?

Martin Shkreli or Stephen Miller?

Yeah, that’s a toughie. Discuss…

The “Elites”

So we have a lot of pushback against those damn “elites” that want to tell those of us in flyover country how we should live, think, vote & act.

Let’s unpack that for a second though. Especially in light of the recent NFL knee-taking followed by another Trump tweetstorm.

Hollywood & the major sports leagues aren’t full of people who, unlike Trump, were born on third base thinking they hit a triple (to use a particularly apt sports metaphor.) Instead they’re full of people from the Midwest & the projects et al. Many are the “American Dream” personified.

Many of them remember going without dinners as a kid. Many of them are just a short time away from sweating bullets over making rent for an $800 studio apartment. Most of them worked their a**es off to get where they are. Sure and there are some who achieve positions aided by family connections, but I think it’s safe to say this is the exception rather than the rule. In areas where performance counts in such a blatantly obvious way, it’s put up or shut up & it doesn’t matter who your daddy is.

So let’s consider for a second. If Jimmy Kimmel goes after a health care bill or Colin Kapernick takes a knee, they might actually be acting from real-life empathy. They’re not so far from where most of us are that they’ve become “out of touch”, instead they’re a stone’s throw away from being us – and they remember.

Something to ponder.

Just sayin’…

BefehlTrim

Anybody Notice…

… how many Republican congressmen are saying they’re against the AHCA aka “Trumpcare” because they fear it’s unpopularity will doom their majorities in the House and Senate come 2018?

Not a word about how the fact that it will literally kill older & sicker segments of our population. Not a word about it being a deeply mean-spirited and unethical piece of legislation.

Might hurt re-election chances though…

Happy New Year?

So 2017 is upon us, and I remarked to my significant other at about 300AM on the 1st, “Well, we’ve had our last celebrity death of 2016 (William Christopher aka Father Mulcahy) and our first terror attack of 2017 (Istanbul’s Reina nightclub.)

2016 was full of both. There’s no need to list them all here. I must say, however, that while the death of baby boomer celebrities is to be expected (they’re getting up there); Prince, George Michael & Carrie Fisher really hit me where I grew up.

I’ve read a number of articles talking about what a crappy year 2016 was. Yet I worry that last year is going to eventually enter the books as “the good old days.”

I was hoping that my Nov. 9th post would help exorcise my deep unease, but it was no catharsis. I spend too much time worrying about us as a nation. Or, more accurately, as humans.

OK. I’ll cop to the fact that I spend too much time worrying about everything. Time to go listen to some Bobby McFerrin.

Still. What can I do to overcome this – to “fight back?” Taking action is always a good cure for fear.

It’s a bit tricky. I’m a middle-aged, white, heterosexual male who marks “some college” on forms that ask for such things. In profile, I suppose I look like a typical Trump voter. Yet I want to get involved. I get that no-one wants to hear complaints from someone in my demographic but seriously, if I read one more screed that essentially says, “Dear White People, you’re not helping” followed by another saying essentially, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem” I’m going to scream. Good lord, I thought a little thing like wearing safety pins was a simple, understated (and inexpensive) way of showing support. Apparently they’re an “embarrassment” and a symptom of “white savior complex.”

So, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to give a little money where I can, and I’m going to start watching what’s happening at the Capitol. If there’s a protest/march I feel strongly about, I’m going to make a sign and go join the ranks – something I’ve never done before.

Readers? I’d love to hear your suggestions.

Words fail me…

… but I’ll post a few nonetheless.

I’ve never had much faith in people or institutions. If faith is a gift, it is one I wasn’t given. Mine is to doubt & question – and often be profoundly disturbed by the answers I find. Especially those in regard to the nature of humanity.

I am absolutely soul-sick this morning. The people have spoken and I am appalled at their words. The always tenuous link I feel with my fellow humans is frayed to the breaking point and I’m beyond feeling that rational discourse & the exchange of ideas is useful.

For I live in the land of the willfully ignorant and the home of the afraid.

And I want no part of it.

Last Theological Debate w/ My Father

Buckle up, this is a long one.

While packing up to move across town, I ran across hard copies of this exchange between my father & myself. A hardcore Christian vs. his rationalist son. As my father died a little over a year ago, full disclosure forces me to admit that some little part of me hopes he’s right…

However, viewed dispassionately, I think I did a pretty good job of gutting these arguments that he picked up while attending a seminar at his church, although, atypical of me, I think I was rather gentle about it. Most of the pro-Christianity viewpoint was taken from the notes of the man running the seminar – a converted Jew with some sort of science background. Here are my “opponent’s” notes (in italics):

Cosmology
The Big Bang – the idea that the universe exploded into being 13.8 billion years ago, underwent a rapid, faster-than-light inflation & then slowed to its current rate of expansion is the most widely accepted theory of origin. Nevertheless, there are a number of problems with it. A few are:

  • The necessity for dark matter & dark energy (neither of which we can detect or measure) to adjust for perceived inconsistencies, such as galaxies that don’t have enough gravity to keep from flying apart.
  • Problems with the density of elements.
  • Problems with the large-scale structure of the universe & its galaxy groups in that said structure would need a great deal more time to evolve than the Big Bang permits.
  • Observation of extremely distant galaxies that should show evidence of Population III stars (extremely early), but instead showing Pop. II & even Pop. I spectra. They shouldn’t be there.
  • There are a bunch of others as well.

Many alternative theories have been around for a while, but as is typical, weren’t paid much attention. As the problems with the prevailing theory accumulate, alternatives take on new significance, to the great annoyance of the Big Bang proponents. To wit:

“I had one well-respected scientist tell me we should stop (promoting alternative theories) because we were undermining public confidence in the Big Bang.” -Neil Turok (Big Bang alternative theorist)

Some of the alternatives are:

  • “Brane” (short for membrane) cosmology in which the universe is part of a “multiverse” of 3-dimensional universes floating in a higher-order dimension. Collisions between them could produce a Big Bang-like effect.
  • An oscillating universe that will collapse in a “Big Crunch” at some point, starting a new cycle & Big Bang.
  • A purely steady-state universe in which the expansion we see is a local phenomenon in our “neck of the woods” so to speak.
  • Various others.

All of these are hard or impossible to test. All rely on great leaps of faith!

In any case, there has to be an “I AM” to avoid the problem of infinite regression. An object or person that we perceive could be 1) an illusion, 2) self-created (a formal logical contradiction), 3) created from or by something, or 4) self-existent, that is it has the property that it “exists, period”. Another word is eternal.

If we discount the first two as not useful or ridiculous, we can see how virtually everything falls under “3”. If that is so, then answering the question of “who made it” or how was it made” immediately leads to the next question: Who made that? This goes on and on until infinity (the infinite regression), unless at some point there is a God or a self-existent entity. It’s a formal, logical necessity. So from both logical necessity & scripture, we understand that God exists & is eternal.

Some physicists believe that the Strings & Quantum Foam they theorize be the ultimate substrate of matter, energy, space & time are what is self-existent. But one could easily ask, “But how did it all come to be?”

Ultimately in looking at science & its theorizing, we understand that scientists must always seek the explanation that best explains the observable facts. My final question & thought: What are the facts of human existence? Why are we here? How should we live? In fact, it seems to me that a faith-driven, biblically-lived life unquestionable provides the clear best answer. We will, of course, fail at times, or often, but the closer we are the less problems of our own making will occur, & when troubles occur, we will be best equipped to deal with them.

Of course it is faith that makes it possible. Without it, one may realize that it’s true, but it will not drive our lives.

Perhaps having lived both ways makes this dichotomy really powerful & personal. Peace & blessings!

______________________________________________________

 Wow… I have to tell you my atheist’s horns came out pretty quickly at some of the logic mangling & unfounded conclusions in the above, but as I said, I think my response was measured & reasonably mild. Read on:

______________________________________________________

As I see it, your man is attempting to use 3 arguments:

  • “god-of-the-gaps” to prove the necessity of faith
  • “argument from first cause” to prove the necessity of a creator
  • “argument from personal experience” to prove said creator is the god of the bible

An adequate (albeit brief) job is done summarizing some current thinking about the origin & nature of the universe. These are some of the best working models we have at this time. That they are flawed/incomplete is undeniable, but to infer that this requires “great leaps of faith” is a non sequitur.

Let’s put this in historical context. Galilean/Copernican heliocentrism (heresy!) did a better job of describing the observable motions of the planets than Ptolemaic geocentrism did, but there were also observable flaws. Then Kepler added his laws of planetary motion & the idea of elliptical orbits (heresy!) Better, but as our measurement capability grew, we realized there were still unexplained perturbations. Aha! The planets exert gravitational influence on one another! Not incidentally, that’s how “Uncle Clyde” knew where to look for Pluto. Our imperfect models had become powerful predictors.

So it is with the “big bang”, or “brane” theory or even evolution. There are holes in our body of knowledge. This is where your man wanders into “god-of-the-gaps” territory, whereby the unknown implies the existence of god & the necessity of faith. Historically, this has been shifty ground as our scientific understanding has grown, but apologists of all stripes have made careers out of ‘moving the goalposts’ (not to mention finding creative ways to silence those who would push the frontiers of knowledge – heresy!) I can only imagine what was going through the mind of the scientist quoted by Turok when he made the unfortunate statement in your notes, but my guess is something like, “Oh great. More ammo for those who misunderstand the nature of theories & would throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Of course, the whole quote is hearsay – not to mention self-serving for Turok.

There is another way to approach the unknown. Simply admit, “We don’t know!” There is nothing wrong with suspending judgment until the evidence is in. It is not ‘flip-flopping’ (to use a nonsensical modern political buzzword) to swap out ideas if new ones fit the observable facts more closely, and we do not need to invoke the ineffable to cover our discomfiture with our ignorance.

Your man & I agree that the scientist’s job is to pick hypotheses that best fit the observable facts. I’ll ask you: “What hypotheses best fit what we can observe about the origin of the universe (or the origin of the species, or the motions of planets et al)” and, “Does attempting to use those models to describe our environment require faith”?

On to “argument from first cause”. While this idea is on firmer historical ground with such luminaries as Plato & Aquinas among its proponents, it has always seemed to me to be on the intellectual level of a two year-old, “Why? Why? Why, daddy?!” Our two year-old has a point, however, when the answer is the answer he/she gets is the equivalent of “turtles all the way down”. So “God” is the traditional cop-out. It answers nothing definitively but ends the conversation – much like, “Because I said so”. This is another manifestation of the ‘discomfiture with ignorance’ observation above.

To me, a more interesting point arises if we grant the existence of a “first cause”. This opens the door to speculation about its nature. Don’t you find it peculiar that so many seem to find this argument a justification for their version of a first cause? We’ll get to the weaknesses of “personal experience” below, but for now we can reasonably argue that a ‘first cause’ is no more likely to be the God of the Bible than it is to be Quetzalcoatl, or the Great Green Arkleseizure or… hey… the “Big Bang”!

Here are a few more nuggets to chew on re “first cause”:

  • What about the possibility of multiple first causes? Ever seen a directed acyclic graph? Which element is first cause?
  • The whole logic of ‘cause & effect’ is in force only if time (more or less as we know it) is in play. We already know (& can observe) that time is flexible at relativistic speeds & near large gravitational fields. What if ‘cause & effect’ (& thus ‘first cause’) are mere artifacts of time? One can get into the realm of science fiction quite easily here. I’ll desist, but encourage you to mull over the ramifications. It’s quite diverting. To start you off… If God is “eternal” (i.e. exists outside of time), then how does the assertion that he is the ‘first cause’ have any meaning?
  • Some point to such things as radioactive decay (statistically measurable, but apparently spontaneous & acausal) as well as the existence of Hawking radiation (evidence of virtual particles spontaneously winking into existence near the Schwarzschild radius of a black hole) as counterexamples to the ‘first cause’ notion. I don’t find these particularly convincing since “acausal” is often shorthand for, “We don’t understand the mechanism yet.” Rather like ‘God’ in that respect. Nevertheless, these phenomena do make it a little easier to second-guess the “everything has a cause” assumption.

Lastly comes the “personal experience” bit. Let’s look at the notes directly. “In fact, it seems to me that a faith-driven, biblically lived life unquestionably provides the clear best answer.” This speaks to me either of naiveté or arrogance. The kinder version is naiveté. I remember using this argument with Mother when I was 7 or 8 saying, “I’m going to be a Christian when I grow up because all the happiest people I know are Christians.” That was easy to say when the most exotic belief system I was even remotely familiar with was Catholicism. The uglier answer is arrogance. The idea that your man & others who think like him have a special corner on the ‘clear best answer’ market is quite the feat of overreach. I suspect the actual motivation involves a little bit of both. I also shouldn’t neglect to ask, “Exactly what metric(s) are being used when the word ‘best’ is being bandied about?”

When it comes to defining a “biblically lived life”, I’ll use your old argument against the precepts of socialism. Who decides? Me? You? The lecturer? A majority opinion? A cabal of priests? If the Bible is supposed to be clear & unambiguous, then none of us are reading the same book. I won’t digress into a criticism of the Bible here (although it’s low-hanging fruit) but rather let you work out which bits you want to live by, which bits are metaphorical, which bits are relevant only to a specific vanished era & which bits are the product of overactive imaginations and/or a serious desire to meddle in the behavior of others.

I’m in danger of digressing into theological minutiae here, so I’ll back away. The point I wish to make is simply that “personal experience” (here in the relatively innocuous form of “it seems to me”) means absolutely nothing to anyone but the person in possession of the experience & those who already agree with him/her. If “personal experience” had any kind of rhetorical weight we’d all have to believe in alien abductions & Bigfoot. My ongoing stance on this is, “Hey, if you saw Elvis working a fruit stand in the Florida Keys & he told you to be nicer to the downtrodden – & it actually helps you be kinder to people – you roll with that”. Paradoxically, by its very nature, ‘personal experience’ is the weakest of all arguments but the hardest to logically refute. Personally, I’m going to assign that particular ‘personal experience’ all the objective weight I feel it deserves. Of course, if our Elvis fan starts trying to open a bunch of tax-exempt temples to the “King of Peace, Charity & Bananas” across the country I’m going to A) enjoy the irony and B) actively oppose his plans in whatever manner seems appropriate.

To sum up. These are some rather moldy arguments dressed up with references to some modern thinking & capped by what I imagine is a heartfelt personal appeal. Effective, I suppose, for preaching to the choir. If this helps you be a better person, go with it. It has been my personal experience, however, that apologists are wise to avoid rationalism & appeal instead to the mystical & spiritual natures of man.

Clinton v Trump vs Sanders v Trump

So the stated goal of Dems is to keep Trump out of the White House. It’s also the goal of several reasonably sane GOP members and, of course, there’s the whole #nevertrump movement which runs the gamut of affiliations.

So starting with that as our premise (and discounting the Libertarians and anything Bill Krystol has to say about David French or any other “viable” third party candidate) let’s take a look at the best way to do that.

Conventional wisdom, such as it is, would be that Sanders needs to drop out and throw his support to Hillary. Yeah, could work, should work – unless the Justice Dept. decides to file racketeering or mishandling of classified material or whatever charges they deem appropriate against her. To my mind that’s doubtful, but where there’s smoke…

Still, let’s ignore that too and look at some really easy-to-understand numbers. According to RealClearPolitics.com, a site which looks at polls from a whole bunch of sources and more or less averages them together. Here’s what you get in a general election at this point in time:

Clinton vs. Trump: Clinton 43.8%, Trump 42.3%. That’s a close call, kids – and while the margin of error for each poll differs significantly, they’re all between 2.4% and 4.0%. A 1.5% Clinton lead is well within that.

Sanders vs. Trump: Sanders 49.8%, Trump 39.4%. Trump gets crushed even if the MoE is the maximum 4.0%.

So, if keeping Trump out of the White House is really the goal. Which Democratic candidate is most likely to make that happen? Just sayin’.

I sometimes have to wonder if some of the states that voted early in the process, before Sanders was viewed as even remotely viable, would like a take-back.

Doing it backwards

There’s been some version of this quote floating around forever. Trying to source it is next to impossible, but it goes something like…

“He who is not a liberal at 25 has no heart. He who is not a conservative at 35 has no mind.”

Yeah, I’m going to have to call bullsh*t on that. I find myself drifting farther and farther left as I age, and it comes from my head.

Here’s why. I’ve managed to survive a good chunk of time on this planet now. I was raised in a very conservative household. Thus, I suppose, I started with a bit of a conservative bent. When I expressed a liberal sentiment it was usually either the naivete of youth or my rebellious self trying to p*ss some authority figure off. But something funny happened, I actually paid attention to politics and I remember.

I remember conservatives throughout my lifetime being perpetually on the wrong side of history. Supply-side/trickle-down/Laffer curve economics? Wrong. The inevitable disintegration of society if homosexuality became acceptable. Wrong again. Views on the roles of women? Oh my… Slicing education and social spending in favor of gigantic military budgets? Considering the U.S. hasn’t won a war (including the “drug war”) since 1945 and kids go hungry and 50% of adults cannot read books written at an 8th grade level* in one of the most developed countries in the world that sure looks like a black hole. Yes, I’m stopping now. If I start that research I’ll be up for days.

I think I could probably write a book. It might be fun. I’d love to go back over conservative campaign and convention speeches and point out how completely f*cking silly  they sound now. Not that liberals haven’t had their moments, although I’ve noticed most liberal BS arises when a liberal tries to disguise/dumb down his or her views in order to appeal to the LCD.

That’s not my bleeding heart speaking. That’s pure empiricism.

*Source/ http://literacyprojectfoundation.org/community/statistics

A few more remember/I leave Twitter

Yes, a few more people remembered to wish me a happy birthday today. Thank you to those good folks.

Today I deleted my Twitter account. I got it at the urging of a friend but I’ve only had it for about four months. It was moderately fun to live tweet/ridicule one of the GOP debates at one point, but – I really just don’t have the time or interest required to get even partially invested in social media. The whole enterprise is lost on me. I don’t give a crap and I’m tired of reiterating that so… signing off.

I’ll still be here. I might even start spending more time here again. This was supposed to be my own private playground and I’ve been neglecting it. I need to clean and hang some new decorations. Apparently I still need a place to sound off online. I’ve noticed a heavy percentage of my recent posts have fallen under the “Unmitigated Crankiness” category. Oh well, that’s fine. We all need an outlet.

There’s a lot of new music heading out soon too. I’ll post that here and get a SoundCloud account going. That should do it. Peace out

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