Adventus

"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

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

These are the conditions that prevail


I almost remember this case, as I was living in Austin at the time it was prosecuted.

In 1992, Fran and Dan Keller were both sentenced to 48 years in prison over accusations of sexual abuse crimes related to children they babysat in their home daycare center outside of Austin. The accusations stemmed first from the testimony of one pre-schooler who claimed Dan Keller spanked her, and soon were twisted into many of the trademark accusations in the “Satanic panic” mass hysteria that gripped the nation in the 90’s, much of which occurred under the persuasion of parents, therapists and police officers.

 I do remember the panic, the fear that "Satan Worshippers" were traumatizing helpless children with unspeakable acts that they kept hidden until the innocent young souls were coaxed into telling the truth about what happened.  It sent innocent people to jail, these theories, and it ruined lives and reputations.  Today, in the words of the article, we say the evidence was "twisted," that parents, police, and therapists were all complicit in persuading children to say what we wanted to hear, even as we most feared it.  That's the narrative today; it wasn't the narrative in the '90's, and woe be unto the person who tried to point out the flaws in that accepted thesis.

This part of the story is especially chilling:

In 2013, after spending 21 years behind bars, the Kellers were released from prison after journalist Jordan Smith revealed that the medical opinion of the then-novice emergency room doctor that examined one of the children in the case was incorrect. The doctor initially concluded in 1991 that the child may have been abused, but soon after learned that the signs he took as abuse were normal physical variants.

When my daughter was 3 or 4, so sometime in the mid-'90's, she had mild swelling on the soles of her feet, and my wife and I agreed she needed to go to the doctor.  Our daughter's pediatrician at the time was an elderly man with many years experience who had just taken on a newly minted doctor, and it was the latter who entered the room to examine my daughter.  She looked at my daughter's feet, then looked at me like something she'd step on if she found me in the kitchen when she turned on the lights.  She began questioning my daughter in the most serious manner, determined to pry the truth from her innocent lips.  My daughter was confused, and I quickly realized this woman thought I was a child abuser stupid enough to bring my damaged daughter to the doctor after my anger (or whatever) had subsided.  Just before she was about to leave the room (and probably lock the door) to call the police, the older doctor walked by, and she asked his opinion of my daughter's condition.  From the hallway he looked at her feet and pronounced:  "Sand fleas."  He looked at me:  "Has she been playing in a sandbox?"  Yes.  "Sand fleas.  Give her some Benadryl, she'll be fine."

Narratives can make us see what we see, make us interpret what we have to interpret in order to understand.  25 years ago it was Satanic rituals.  Today, it is rape culture.

Well, almost; that's at least the outcome proponents of "Believe the women!" would have us pursue.  We believed the children because, after all, why would they lie?  We pressed them to tell us horrible things and then, when we heard our worst fears repeated back to us, we took it as true.  There was something comforting in making the world that simple, that either/or, a bright line between good and evil.  Now we are supposed to do that again:  believe the people who allege they were raped, and lock up the people they point to as guilty.  Trials are an obstruction, especially when they don't produce the results we prefer.

The Kellers got a trial, but it was a kangaroo court, a farce, a prosecution conducted in as fevered an atmosphere as any trial in Salem during the witch scare.  Even our justice system is not immune to this kind of fear and paranoia.  But that doesn't mean we should go on repeating it, giving the fear a new name and another justification and calling it "justice."

Justice is simply much harder to achieve than that.

"Let them eat cake!"


I'm a little surprised that this article at Slate never gets around to the real world experience of New Orleans after Katrina.

You will remember the tales of apocalypse and chaos coming out of the city:  the gangs roaming the Super Dome, raping and pillaging at will; the looting of the stores (or, in the famous AP photo, the white people feeding themselves, while the blacks were looters); even the people being turned away on the bridges out of town by police afraid the chaos was a contagion and would spread to them.  The stories sounded like this:

At stake in stories of disaster is what version of human nature we will accept, and at stake in that choice is how will we govern, and how we will cope with future disasters. By now, more than a week after New Orleans has been destroyed, we have heard the stories of poor, mostly black people who were “out of control.” We were told of “riots” and babies being murdered, of instances of cannibalism. And we were provided an image of authority, of control—of power as a necessary counter not to threats to human life but to unauthorized shopping, as though free TVs were the core of the crisis. “This place is going to look like Little Somalia,” Brigadier General Gary Jones, commander of the Louisiana National Guard's Joint Task Force told the Army Times. “We're going to go out and take this city back. This will be a combat operation to get this city under control.”
Combat operations because civilization was washed away with the flood waters.  As I say, one of those things was true:  the police did panic and block at least one bridge, and turn back American citizens who needed their help.  But the police didn't see human beings then:  they saw agents of chaos, Typhoid Marys of disaster, a plague of human locusts.  They saw the end of civilization as they knew it, and the rule of nature "red in tooth and claw," where life is "nasty, brutish, and short."  It wasn't quite like that, however:

As the water subsides and the truth filters out, we may be left with another version of human nature. I have heard innumerable stories of rescue, aid, and care by doctors, neighbors, strangers, and volunteers who arrived on their own boats, and in helicopters, buses, and trucks—stories substantiated by real names and real faces. So far, citizens across the country have offered at least 200,000 beds in their homes to refugees from Katrina's chaos on hurricanehousing.org, and unprecedented amounts have been donated to the Red Cross and other charities for hurricane victims. The greatest looter in this crisis may be twenty-year-old Jabbar Gibson, who appropriated a school bus and evacuated about seventy of his New Orleans neighbors to Houston.

We've absorbed the lesson of lawlessness and rapine so deeply that I remember, in my Houston neighborhood, the sign on a boarded up house (protection from the hurricane, not abandoned) with the boards covered in a scrawl that read:  "Looters will be shot."  This was when Rita descended on Houston even as the Astrodome was still full of refugees from New Orleans and fear of Katrina was so strong the highway from Houston to Dallas, all 250+ miles of it, was one giant traffic jam of fleeing people in cars.  It wasn't the fear of a hurricane that drove them; Houston has had its share of hurricanes.  It was fear of the apocalypse, of the breakdown of civilization.  The only thing civilized about that endless line of cars is that people didn't try to ram other cars out of the way, or take off across country in a desperate bid to flee.

But as I say, none of the breakdown of civilization and resort to gangs and tribalism and rule by those who were most ruthless and had the most guns occurred in New Orleans.  It was reported that way by the most respected journalists in America, and none of them lost their jobs for being liars, or apologized for having no idea what they were talking about.  Nobody was punished for repeating rumor and innuendo and plain fiction and fantasy as truth, because it fit the narrative we'd all agreed upon, and besides most of the faces in the Superdome were black ones, so it made it seem even more true (see that AP photo set again if you doubt it).

We are convinced, and our literature convinces us, that the veneer of civilization is a thin one, and it will part and erupt into chaos if we aren't careful.  This is, I think, a particularly American fantasy, and it is based on history.  Columbus came here first from Europe, and immediately set about making slaves of the natives because he could.  He had the firepower and the attitude, and the natives submitted, those who didn't run away from their homes to remain free. Slavery in America started there, and continued until the 13th Amendment was passed in the 19th century, almost 400 years later.  It takes a great deal of violence to maintain a system of slavery that America was built on (when the government wasn't building the country by offering land to settlers who would venture beyond the Mississippi, or supporting the transcontinental railroad, etc., etc., etc.  California's wealth was built as much on defense contracts as on Hollywood and orange groves.).  That violence came at a psychic cost:  we grew up fearing what the slaves would do if they had the chance, how they would repay us in kind for our cruelty.  Aside from fantasies of history by Quentin Tarantino, such violence never occurred.  Freed slaves in Texas didn't engage in a bloodbath on Juneteenth (June 19, 1865, the day emancipation was pronounced in Galveston, Texas), they set up a park in Houston, Texas which exists to this day:  Emancipation Park.  But fear of justice still haunts us, and so our greatest fear now is not vampires and werewolves prowling the night, but chaos and the horrors of disorder:  not coincidentally, the fears of the ruling class about what the "lower classes" will do, a la the French Revolution.

We fear it because we know what we have done.

The collapse of Rome led to the feudal system in medieval Europe, and we look at that system as a particularly evil one, full of oppression and class distinction.  We do that because we've been taught to honor Rome (it's a British leaning, as much as anything.  They still call their circles "Circuses," taught their best and brightest Latin as if it still mattered to know the tongue, base much of their legal practice if not their laws on the Roman models left behind millennia ago, and passed on to America a veneration of Rome it ill deserves).  If you want an example of how enlightened Roman rule was, look no further than the life of Jesus of Nazareth, a man barbarously executed by a method still considered brutally inhuman today (who practices it?  Even ISIS executes swiftly, not as slowly and publicly as crucifixion.), all for talking about the wrong things at the wrong time.  If that's "civilization," give me the German tribes or the Celts on the other side of Hadrian's Wall any day.  American society is still built on that wall:  on one side, civilization, on the other, blue-skinned barbarians and "berserkers."  We process equality and democracy and the common man; but we retreat into walled compounds when we can't wall ourselves in through property values and laws, and fear those who are "NOK," because we know they are savages at heart and will take from us what we most prize.

My neighborhood, as I've mentioned before, lies just across a freeway from some of the wealthiest families in Houston.  When the new grocery store opened on my side of the freeway (within walking distance of my house, where I've lived with my family for 15+ years), people from the other side were drawn to the store, but afraid of the violence they were sure is endemic to the area.  They were sure they would be robbed in the parking lot, or worse, so the store put out cameras and hired off duty police officers to stand outside and simply wear their uniforms.  It took several years before they decided it was safe to shop at that store.  They weren't afraid for any good reason:  no robberies have occurred there (the robberies have been at another store, on the other side of the freeway, in a neighborhood where many executives of oil companies live.  You can cut the irony with a knife.), no assaults in the parking lot.  But still, that freeway is a "wall" that keeps the good people safe, and the bad people out.

American society is divided along these lines everywhere, and the tripwires of fear are almost impossible to disarm.  I think the fear is because they know they are outnumbered; that the vast majority of people in this country are not as privileged as the wealthy minority.  And they think that we, like them, think only of possession, and our only way to possess is through theft and robbery, that our natural recourse is to violence.  So they buy guns, and hire private security, and pay for local police forces (the neighborhoods are in villages politically separate from Houston) to keep them safe from violence that never comes.  They are convinced these measures are all that keep the violence on our side of the freeway.  That, and money; because rich people are not inherently violent, only poor people are.  The poor are violent because, having nothing, they have nothing to lose.  They have nothing to gain, either, from violence, but that doesn't figure into the equation.  We are "NOK" to them (not that I am poor, but neither am I rich enough to live across the freeway), and they fear most that which is not them.

We all do.  The question is:  why?  Why do we believe so little in democracy, in the ideals espoused in our most famous founding documents?  Why are we so convinced our civilization is a thin veneer which will soon be swept away to reveal a ravening chaos that isn't even the nature of the jungle, but something so much worse?  I don't want that and you don't want that, but "they" do.  And who is they if not you and me, to someone else?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Meanwhile, on Bizarro World






How dare you hold Trump to the standard he himself set?  Trump is not a politician!  He's still learning this job!

Besides, China tried!  What more do you expect of a President, except to thank another country for trying?  It's not like we can do more, ya know!


The Paucity of Public Discourse


Summed up in a paragraph:

As a political matter, Democrats should be shouting from the rooftops about McConnell’s secrecy. But they should also be hitting what we know, what is really all but certain: that the net effect of this bill will be to deprive tens of millions of Americans of the coverage they currently have – whether that’s because of the loss of market subsidies, Medicaid expansion or because of the curtailment of regulations which allowed various classes of individuals to purchase coverage at realistic rates.

In other words, if Democrats were doing this right, the evil thing that's about to happen WOULD NOT HAPPEN!!!!!!1111!!!!!!!!

Really?

All I hear in the news, even on NPR, is that the Republicans are keeping this bill secret.  NPR has even reported (twice) that McConnell understands you can't fight what you can't see, so he's not going to let the public (or the Democrats) see this bill until he just has to (i.e., when he has secured 50 certain votes for it).  Smart money (again, per NPR reporting) says he has to do this by the July 4 recess (which will start July 3 and run through the 10th, unless McConnell holds the Senate in session on the 1st and 2nd), because they also want to pass tax reform (Ryan is already talking about it) and, well, there are deadlines and other requirements of reconciliation which make June 30th (effectively) the drop dead date (if Senators are less than enthused, can McConnell keep them in town the weekend before the recess?  Not likely.)

None of this matters, of course, because the GOP is dastardly and unified and monolithic (which is why they passed a bill out of the House the first time, right?) and will destroy our noble band of squabbling heroes if they don't SHOUT IT FROM THE ROOFTOPS!

Because shouting would cause the people to storm the castle with pitchforks and kill the monster that is there aborning.  Right?

Here's the thing (again):  the GOP is acting this way because they are dancing with the ones what brung 'em.  Having promised for years to repeal and replace, it's time to fish or cut bait.  Trump isn't helping their cause at all, but failing to pass a bill would be political suicide.  They have to do what their voters voted for them to do, at least as they see why they were elected.  Sure the town halls are erupting in anger, and sure repealing the ACA is about as popular as drowning puppies on live TeeVee, but the alternative is just to quit now and save themselves in the trouble in 2018 (well, for one-third of the Senate, anyway).

Shouting is not going to change that.  Who was leading the charge in the town halls?  Schumer?  Sanders?  Warren?  Somehow I don't think so.  Is further organization really the answer? And will this repeal solve problems for the GOP?  I don't think so.  They're in a round room and being told to sit in the corner, and they don't know what to do but keep trying to find the corner.  Damned if they do and damned if they don't, in other words.  And if reports are true that "moderate" Democrats of the Liebermann/Nelson ilk (who killed single payer when Obama tried) are in the minority, and if less "moderate" Democrats win in 2018, we may get single payer out of this; and are more likely to if Obamacare goes the way of the dodo.

In fact, don't think of an elephant, or a dodo; think of a phoenix.  And calm down; just because you think it's true doesn't mean everyone would if THEY WOULD JUST LISTEN!  It's never been that simple, and it never will be.

Woe is us!


Since I shopped at Whole Foods back when it was "Whole Floods" (I'll explain in a minute), I am an expert on the purchase of Whole Foods by Amazon.

Well, as expert as anyone else is.

Whole Paycheck is, and always has been, an elitist institution.  That's what it is, that's how it stays in business.  I shopped there very infrequently when I worked in downtown Austin and could walk to the original store ("Whole Floods" because it sat the the bottom of a valley created by the landscape and caught all the water flowing down in two directions.  The store took to marking the high water marks by painting a water logo on the side of the building and dating each one.  WF didn't leave that location until well after it went public in the '90's, if memory serves.) on my lunch hour.  I shopped there for organic meat when no one else carried it (and still I ate just hamburger.  The prices for steaks or non-ground meat was too much to bear.), and remember it had almost no sugar at all (not even "evaporated cane juice," one of the funnier euphemisms of the "natural foods" movement).

Later, after it went public, WF started carrying Imperial Sugar; white and brown.  I don't think I ever got over the shock.  (You can't be a publicly traded grocery store chain and not sell regular sugar.  That, for me, is when WF lost its "do-gooder" reputation.)

What I never saw was WF crowded.  Well, the original store was, but it was tiny and crowded with more than 2 customers in the place.  The grocery near my house I use now is a Texas chain, and it doesn't even cover all of Texas.  Still, the store is crowded on the slowest days (it's very popular), and it ain't catering to the Wal-Mart crowd (largest grocery seller in the country, I'm told).  I occasionally go to the nearest WF (for vitamins, mostly, and a cheap French wine I can't find anywhere else), and even at Thanksgiving or Christmas, I've never seen it as crowded as the store near me on a slow day.  There are two WF's within driving distance of me (about equally inconvenient to me); one I avoid like the plague because the shoppers there are even snottier than at the other store.

Which is the funny thing about WF:  it used to be a hippie store, and while the hippies could be annoying in their own way (where do you think vegans get the attitude?), they are not snotty.  WF is now the realm of the nouveau riche, and I think that's why tout le internet is so upset that Amazon has bought them.

Typical is the response that Amazon will now rule the retail world, buying up a grocery chain of 400 stores that serves a select clientele.  The Slate article mentions Aldi and even Wal-Mart in the same breath, but those two are competing for the same customers, and not the ones served by Whole Foods.  I'm beginning, in fact, to think of Amazon as the Fox News of retail.  It's probably more important than that, but the response to Megyn Kelly on NBC is proving that FoxNews is a big fish in a very small pond, and those who go to the big pond don't bring much with them.  I don't know what the sales comparisons are between Amazon and Wal-Mart, but I don't think Wal-Mart is sweating too hard.  Their customers don't require an internet connection and a credit card to make their purchases.  That's not a deadly limiting feature, but it is a defining one.  Especially since the people who buy food at Wal-Mart probably couldn't identify the location of a Whole Foods in their city.

The Slate article argues that Amazon is all about being the Wal-Mart of the internet:  cutting prices to undercut competitors and take over markets.  That is a self-limiting proposition in that Amazon will never really eat into Wal-Mart's customer base, though I'm sure that doesn't keep Jeff Bezos up at night.  But if Amazon decides to slash prices at Whole Foods, who is going to pour into that store to buy organic meat and flour?  I can already get that stuff at my popular local store, and I regularly buy organic ground bison (much better flavor and less fat) at Costco, where I can buy a lot of other organic foods (yes, Costco is self-limiting, too; but  7-Eleven is about the only place you can't easily buy organic food anymore).  Whole Foods works because it offers greater variety than Trader Joe's and because it offers an elite experience.  Paying more for Imperial Sugar there (and organic meat) proves you are a superior kind of person.  Destroy that experience in the name of going Amazon and you've just pissed away $14 billion.

Something tells me Jeff Bezos isn't that stupid.

I've read other, even more outlandish expectations from this purchase.  I confess I don't really care, because Whole Foods is not Safeway or Kroger, and there really isn't a national grocery chain that rules this country.  I remember that idea being bandied about a few years back, when Safeway and Kroger didn't seem to be doing so well.  There is a definite regional bias in grocery stores, and chains cannot really become national champions and rule from sea to shining sea.  400 stores nationally may sound like a lot, but Google tells me Kroger has over 2200, just ahead of Albertson's (heard of them?) at 2000.  Unless Bezos turns WF into Kroger or Albertson's, he's not likely to catch up with that number of stores anytime soon.  And if he does, will customers flee those stores to buy at Amazon's Whole Paycheck Discount Grocery where they have to be Amazon Prime members to buy things without whipping out cash or a check or even having staff in the story to check them out (I've actually seen this as an expectation of Bezos' plans)?  Probably not.*

What will happen?  Don't know, don't really care.  I barely shop on Amazon, and I don't shop at Whole Foods enough to make any difference to them (and if I had to stop, I'd barely notice).  What's funny about this kerfuffle is now elitist it is.  I mean, the people so concerned about it seem to be the people most afraid they'll be affected by it.

And despite what they think, they are not tout le monde; not by a long shot.

*Matt Yglesias gives us a nice, typical argument:

Of course the nightmare scenario for the supermarket industry is that acquiring Whole Foods does allow Amazon to fundamentally crack the grocery home-delivery game in a way that leads Kroger to go the way of Borders.

But the reason the takeover is such a disaster for the industry is that the financial implications are bleak even if Amazon doesn’t succeed in bringing incredible game-changing innovation to the sector. Introducing a player into the market that doesn’t care about profit margins is going to be devastating to competitors who have to.

They won’t necessarily be put out of business, but they will be forced to respond to lower prices and lower margins with lower prices and lower margins of their own — making the current round of dividend hikes extremely difficult to maintain. From the standpoint of an executive at a conventional business it must seem extraordinarily unfair. How is anyone supposed to compete and make money in an industry that features a major player who doesn’t actually try to make money? So far, history hasn’t shown us many examples of companies who’ve been able to pull it off.
This analysis is predicated on the idea that home delivery of groceries is going to take over the world, again (it was once a common practice when stores were smaller and closer to the homes they delivered to (i.e., non-suburban America).  Even then, deliveries were for the rich; everyone else walked to the store almost every day.  The store I shop at has opened a curbside pick up service; you purchase on-line and drive up later to get your car loaded.  It's popular, but only with people who think they are too busy (or important) to walk the aisles of the store.  You gotta remember, it costs extra, and extra means you can afford it, and they can; which is the whole appeal of Whole Paycheck.  The curbside service has probably increased store traffic, but it hasn't really made a dent in the crowds inside, and I doubt it ever will.  Again, the people this idea appeals to are the people who think Whole Foods is a major grocery store chain.  Google tells me my local preferred chain has 370 stores; which makes them no less significant than WF, but since they don't appeal to the elites on the internet (and aren't thinly spread across the nation, rather than concentrated in only part of Texas), if Bezos bought that chain everyone would just wonder what he was thinking.

As for the undercutting prices argument, as I said, once you do that, you're just another grocery store. Then what?

Is what we know who we are?

But how do I know?*

Or is who we are what we know?

This post from 12 years ago is suddenly, according to my stats reader, a hot topic.  I daresay I was more clear headed then than I am now; but I was also as prone then as now to let my readers work out their own salvation in fear and trembling.  Or at least confront ideas and reach their own conclusions (the two comments indicate this is still a source of frustration; but the source is intentional about it, to this day):

Which brings us back to Yourgrau: is it a question of being, or a question of knowing? Most criticism of religion in the Western world focusses on the question of knowing. If we don't know God exists, or don't know exactly what God wants, or don't know for sure which rules of God apply, or how to interpret them, how then do we claim as Christians to know anything at all? Likewise, if we do know these things, how do we restrain from imposing them on everyone else, from defining our truth as the truth absolute and even if we are tolerant of other truths, of not measuring them against ours and finding them, inevitably and if we are honest, wanting?

But what if it is a question of being, instead?

The conflict of the thesis is between Continental and Anglo-American schools of philosophy, described as fundamentally divided over the issue of epistemology v. ontology, and which is paramount.  I liked this concluding paragraph in part because I wrote it (let's be honest, and clear false modesty away now), but that's no recommendation for what it says.  I return to it because, 12 years later, I'm still picking the bones of the philosophical position of God's existence, and this puts that question in perspective (well, I think it does).

If knowledge is what being human is all about, then these are legitimate questions and, as well, legitimate stumbling blocks.  But if I don't think they are the foundation of being human (I was going to say "human being," but I'd be misinterpreted as referring to the species, not to being as regards the class of humans, which is what I'd mean), then am I guilty of violating Wittgenstein's "language games"?  Or just playing a language game, which most people think means playing fast and loose with the rules of the discussion.  (And is this particular concern, with engaging jargon, a consequence of our very Anglo resistance to speaking a language other than English?  The Brits and the Americans have that much in common:  we expect the Continent (at least; Mexico and the rest of the Americas, in our case) to speak English.  When people speak another language here in America, we typically grow uncomfortable that they don't speak in a way we can understand.  Jargon is as opaque as a language I don't speak, so....).  It is a language game, in one sense (though not, I think, in Wittgenstein's sense; he wasn't that slow, and besides, he spoke and wrote in at least two languages); but in another, it's simply a requirement that we reset our perspective; which is, admittedly, equally hard to do.

Challenging your assumptions, seeing your perspective as a choice, not an absolute of the universe, was one of the lessons taught in seminary.  We had to learn that our preferences, our assumptions, our theology, was not the only one available; was not the position of wisdom and superiority against which all others should be judged; was not the point of view aligned with God's.  It's tougher than you might think because it requires you to subsume your own ideas and listen carefully to those of others.  Good liberals like this when it involves issues of race, as it did for my seminary class.  There was a student, an African American woman, who wore her grievances about American society and white people, on her sleeve.  She came in prickly and we prickled right back, most of us being whites with the privileges of both our race and our class behind us.  In the end she taught us, and we taught her, because we both came to see each other as human beings, not as "others" impinging on "us."  That is the default setting of human beings, my Christianity teaches me:  the base selfishness of "I" and "not-I" that is how the world divides (and children, presumably, learn to overcome, though never wholly).  It isn't that self-abnegation is the goal, but overcoming selfishness surely is.

But is to be, to do?  Or is to do, to be?

There's not a real consistent thread in the scriptures for the idea that knowledge is fundamental to being human.  Abraham is told by God in Genesis 12 to go where God will lead him.  There is purposefully nothing in the story to indicate Abram (as he is in Gen. 12) knows God, has a relationship with God, is familiar and knowledgeable about God.  God just says "Go," and Abram without a word of demurrer, goes.  It echoes the beginning of the akedeh, the story of the binding of Isaac for sacrifice.  God says "Abraham," and Abraham responds "Here I am."  Abraham says the same thing when Isaac asks where they are going, and why.  "Here I am" is not a question, not a seeking of knowledge, not an acknowledgment (in every possible meaning of that word).  It is simply, as Jonathan Froer explained it in an interview recently, being present.   Abraham doesn't declare even a need to know; Abraham simply declares himself present, available, in the moment.

"Of the making of books there is no end, and much study is a vexation."  One of my favorite verses from Ecclesiastes, and one I used whenever I could to send high school and college graduates on their way in a special recognition in a worship service (and you wonder why I don't have a pulpit today.  More and more I wonder that I ever had one.)  Ecclesiastes, often attributed to Solomon (who probably didn't write anything, but purchased his wisdom by hiring scholars to make him look smart), is not a book to look to for confirmation that knowledge is the be all and end all of human existence.  Indeed, the final advice of the Preacher almost predicts that of Paul to the Thessalonians (where he advises them to work out their salvation with fear and trembling):  fear God.  Fear, need I point out, is not a position of knowledge.  If anything, it is the position of ignorance, or a lack of knowledge that cannot be filled.  Is our fundamental humanity to be found in fear ("I will show you fear in a handful of dust," Eliot says in "The Wasteland.")?  No, of course not.  But our fundamental humanity is certainly not found in knowledge.

Jesus mocks our preference for knowing:  Consider the lilies of the field; they neither spin nor sow.  Consider the birds of the air.  If your child ask for bread, would you give them a stone?  All aimed at the one thing his audience needs to know:  God loves you.  What knowing is needed in love?

Then there is the lesson in James, that what we do is what matters, not what we profess.  Consider there, again, the remonstrance of Jesus against the person who prays loudly in public, so all will know his piety.  Better to do good in secret, so that only God knows what you have done.  Knowing is not a waste of time; but knowing is not the purpose of being.

This is something of a facile contrast, but it's the difference between discovery and revelation.  Traditional Western thought rests on the importance of discovery, especially since the Renaissance.  One of the distinctly valid differences between "medieval" thought and post-Renaissance thought (there are many invalid ones) is that the former rested heavily on revelation (think of the Shewings of Julian of Norwich as a single example.  The visions came from God, not from human insight.), the latter of human effort at "uncovering" what nature hides.  Nature, of course, hides nothing; it is the nature of our knowledge that makes understanding nature complicated and difficult.

It's at this point I realize I'm not running a philosophical seminar, and not writing a theological treatise, and that I promised to say more about the thoughts raised by "Wonder Woman."

Maybe I need another cup of coffee first....


*also my Father's Day gift.  I am so proud.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Not that it really matters

Just so you believe me when I say "22"
But I call "bullshit":

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, an African-American who became a staunch critic of the Black Lives Matter movement and a supporter of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, has withdrawn his acceptance for a job as assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. newspapers reported on Saturday.

Clarke notified Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly on Friday of his decision, Craig Peterson, an adviser to Clarke, said in a statement, according to the Washington Post and other newspapers.

You will note this is entirely from Clarke:

Neither the agency nor Clarke’s office immediately responded to requests for comment.

Clarke’s decision comes a month after he told radio station WISN in Milwaukee that he would leave his post as sheriff in June to join the Department of Homeland Security.

At the time, a spokeswoman for the agency said no announcement on Clarke had been made.
I've yet to find an article, including the original from the Washington Post, that doesn't provide information solely from Clarke's camp.  I think this was pure fantasy, start to finish.  Hell, even the medals he likes to flash are mostly prizes from a Cracker Jack box.  Of the 22 pins he likes to wear, 1 is his sheriff's badge.  The other 21 include:

...a pin that reads “Sheriff” made and branded by the Harley-Davidson motorcycle company.

A U.S. flag lapel pin.

A “thin blue line” pin. The expression “thin blue line” is meant to evoke the role of police in society: a thin blue line of people willing to stand between us and them. This pin mirrors similar others that are popular in the United Kingdom.

...a pin for the Israeli civil guard.... At other times, Clarke has worn a badge for the Israeli traffic police.

A 9/11 memorial pin

...a badge for the General Mitchell International Airport division of the Milwaukee County Sheriffs Department.

a pin from the National Rifle Association. Clarke has been a proponent of the organization for some time, including starring in an ad for the NRA.

A U.S. flag bar pin.

A small replica of a 19th-century U.S. Secret Service badge

A 75th anniversary FBI National Academy pin.

A “thin blue line” ribbon from Concerns of Police Survivors, an organization for the family members of law enforcement officials killed in the line of duty.

An FBI National Executive Institute pin.

A pin labeled “NSI,” perhaps for the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) Initiative of which Milwaukee is a part.

An FBI National Academy completion pin.

Pin for the CeaseFire crime reduction program of which he was once a liaison for the Milwaukee Police Department.
 A pin depicting a baby’s feet (“the precious feet”), signifying support for the antiabortion movement.

Blue Knights law enforcement motorcycle club pin.

And his response when WaPo contacted him to find out what the pins were:

I am the subject of a lot of ridiculous narratives. This, I must say is the height of that ridiculousness. This smear is beneath me to say any more about, especially with a media outlet (Washington Post) that has proven time and time again with their biased coverage that they are always at the ready to be that propaganda machine for those pushing fake narratives — especially those that smear black conservatives.
He goes on for five paragraphs like that.  The man is a fantasist.  I'm sure he isn't working in the Administration because he would upstage the Fantasist-in-Chief.

Hey hey hey!


The Bill Cosby trial reminds me of a line a friend told me her former employer used.  He was a criminal lawyer, and when he lost a case, he'd always return to the office to say "Justice prevailed!"

I learned, as a legal assistant, that the courts only did things right when the client you represented, won.  Otherwise it was a gross miscarriage of justice and sign of the moral decay of America.  Or something. At least the clients always thought that way.  It was never what they deserved, or a reasonable outcome based on the facts and the law.

So is Bill Cosby guilty, still?  Not legally; well, not yet, anyway.  Tout le internet (well, the few websites I frequent) insist justice was once again denied.  Camille Cosby would beg to differ, and no doubt she will be castigated for her frank opinions (I even read an internet post castigating a former actor on "The Cosby Show" for going to court with Mr. Cosby on the first day of trial, when Mrs. Cosby was conspicuously absent.  Apparently friends of Mr. Cosby are traitors to the rest of us, or something.  Sort of like the outrage directed, for very different reasons, at Megyn Kelly.  Maybe enough is enough; then again, many people probably won't think so.)

Mrs. Cosby's reaction to the hung jury and mistrial verdict sound familiar to me.  She would agree that justice prevailed.  Many others don't think so.  But we don't sit in the courtroom; we don't hear the evidence; we don't carry the burden of the decision.  The Castile shooting case is in the same boat, unfortunately.  It seems perfectly clear the jury decided a black man is inherently dangerous, and police have a superior duty to shoot first and ask questions later, because you never know, right?

Did Bill Cosby equally escape justice because of "rape culture"?  That seems to me rather less well-established.  After all, many were convinced Cosby's lawyers had given up when they didn't put on a defense for their client.  But they knew what the non-lawyers didn't:  the burden of proof is on the state.  There is no burden on the defendant to prove he is not guilty.  The state failed to meet its burden.  If there is fault here, it is on the lawyers who brought this case.

Vox has a typical analysis of a jury trial:  typical, because it is subtly wrong.

After six days of deliberations regarding accusations that comedian Bill Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted a woman, a jury in Pennsylvania could not come to an agreement on whether he drugged and sexually assaulted Andrea Constand, resulting in a mistrial, the New York Times reports.
The jury asked, at one point, for a definition of "reasonable doubt."  What they were asked to decide was not, did Bill Cosby drug Andrea Constand and assault her, but did he do these things without her consent?  Consent is a key element of assault law.  The simple tort of assault is an unwanted and offensive contact.  So bumping into someone on the street isn't assault, but going out of your way to grab someone's butt, for example, is.  The question of what is "offensive contact" discriminates one from the other, and even when someone grabs your butt in a crowd, it can still be an assault (whereas if you don't want to be jostled by crowds, stay out of them).  The jury's question pretty clearly went to the issue of whether or not the prosecution had made its case, and the jury's decision was:  no, they hadn't.  They couldn't agree on whether the elements of the crime had been proven, not whether the acts alleged had occurred.  The jury, in other words, couldn't decide how to define the acts alleged; or maybe even if they believed they had occurred.  Vox has already made up its mind what happened and who is guilty; the jury didn't have that luxury, and had the burden of following the law.  That's why they asked for a definition of a term of law.

The jury did its job as it saw fit.  The prosecutors are the ones who failed the alleged victim.  If there is an injustice in this case, it is in their failure, not the decision, or inability to reach a decision, of the jury.

Who will rid us of this troublesome Twitter?




Just a quick fact check:

1)  Rasmussen is an outlier.

2) As of 100 days, these are the "legislative bills" Trump had signed:

The 28 Bills That Trump Has Signed Into Law
Extending Obama-Era Policy

S. 544: "A bill to amend the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 to modify the termination date for the Veterans Choice Program, and for other purposes."
Modifying Existing Programs

H.R. 353: "Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017"
S. 442: "National Aeronautics and Space Administration Transition Authorization Act of 2017"
H.R. 72: "GAO Access and Oversight Act of 2017"
Repealing Obama-Era Rules And Regulations

H.J.Res. 67: "Disapproving the rule submitted by the Department of Labor relating to savings arrangements established by qualified State political subdivisions for non-governmental employees"
H.J.Res. 43: "Providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the final rule submitted by Secretary of Health and Human Services relating to compliance with title X requirements by project recipients in selecting subrecipients"
H.J.Res. 69: "Providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the final rule of the Department of the Interior relating to 'Non-Subsistence Take of Wildlife, and Public Participation and Closure Procedures, on National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska' "
H.J.Res. 83: "Disapproving the rule submitted by the Department of Labor relating to 'Clarification of Employer's Continuing Obligation to Make and Maintain an Accurate Record of Each Recordable Injury and Illness' "
S.J.Res. 34: "A joint resolution providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the rule submitted by the Federal Communications Commission relating to 'Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunications Services' "
H.J.Res. 42: "Disapproving the rule submitted by the Department of Labor relating to drug testing of unemployment compensation applicants"
H.J.Res. 57: "Providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the rule submitted by the Department of Education relating to accountability and State plans under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965"
H.J.Res. 58: "Providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the rule submitted by the Department of Education relating to teacher preparation issues"
H.J.Res. 37: "Disapproving the rule submitted by the Department of Defense, the General Services Administration, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration relating to the Federal Acquisition Regulation"
H.J.Res. 44: "Disapproving the rule submitted by the Department of the Interior relating to Bureau of Land Management regulations that establish the procedures used to prepare, revise, or amend land use plans pursuant to the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976"
H.J.Res. 40: "Providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the rule submitted by the Social Security Administration relating to Implementation of the NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007"
H.J.Res. 38: "Disapproving the rule submitted by the Department of the Interior known as the Stream Protection Rule"
H.J.Res. 41: "Providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of a rule submitted by the Securities and Exchange Commission relating to 'Disclosure of Payments by Resource Extraction Issuers' "
Naming Something/Siting A Memorial/Encouraging Flag Flying

S.J.Res. 1: "A joint resolution approving the location of a memorial to commemorate and honor the members of the Armed Forces who served on active duty in support of Operation Desert Storm or Operation Desert Shield"
H.R. 1362: "To name the Department of Veterans Affairs community-based outpatient clinic in Pago Pago, American Samoa, the Faleomavaega Eni Fa'aua'a Hunkin VA Clinic"
H.R. 609: "To designate the Department of Veterans Affairs health care center in Center Township, Butler County, Pennsylvania, as the 'Abie Abraham VA Clinic' "
S. 305: "Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017"
Encouraging An Agency To Try Something New

H.R. 321: "Inspiring the Next Space Pioneers, Innovators, Researchers, and Explorers (INSPIRE) Women Act"
H.R. 255: "Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act"
Personnel-Related

S.J.Res. 30: "A joint resolution providing for the reappointment of Steve Case as a citizen regent of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution"
S.J.Res. 36: "A joint resolution providing for the appointment of Roger W. Ferguson as a citizen regent of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution"
S.J.Res. 35: "A joint resolution providing for the appointment of Michael Govan as a citizen regent of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution"
H.R. 1228: "To provide for the appointment of members of the Board of Directors of the Office of Compliance to replace members whose terms expire during 2017, and for other purposes"
S. 84: "A bill to provide for an exception to a limitation against appointment of persons as Secretary of Defense within seven years of relief from active duty as a regular commissioned officer of the Armed Forces"

Yeah; game changers, every one.  None of the 8 others signed since then have been any more significant.

And about those regulations that were rolled back:

The Congressional Review Act allows Congress to reverse rules within 60 legislative days of their submission, requiring only a simple majority in the Senate. In the current Congress, that means Democrats are not able to block the rollbacks.

House Speaker Paul Ryan touted the 13 laws as "measures to take excessive regulations off the book so we can grow this economy."

They included a rule meant to protect streams from pollution, which opponents argued hurt the coal industry; and a rule requiring financial advisers to put consumers' best interests ahead of their own, which critics said would hurt retirees.
Thanks for the sour persimmons, Cousin!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

I blame Twitter


for sometime-in-the-future celebrating the death of Kellyanne Conway:

The Lenox company has received roughly 40 such messages, including one that wished the theater “the worst possible life you could have and hope you all get sick and die.” At Shakespeare Dallas, executive and artistic director Raphael Parry says his company has received about 80 messages, including threats of rape, death, and wishes that the theater’s staff is “sent to ISIS to be killed with real knives.”

Meanwhile, New York Classical Theatre, which performs in Central Park, has received a host of threatening messages, and Shakespeare Theatre Company of Washington, D.C., has received about a dozen caustic e-mails and numerous tweets accusing the company of inciting violence and linking it to this week’s shooting at a congressional baseball practice.

“We just got slammed,” Parry said. “It’s pretty amazing the vitriol, the wishing we would die and our family would die. A whole lot of them say that we should burn in hell.”

Because, you know, Shakespeare.  I'm guessing all these threats are coming from confirmed Baconians; or maybe DeVereans.  Those people can be quite zealous.  But the play they're concerned about is a production in Central Park.  It's not a play Shakespeare wrote about Donald Trump.

Yeah, yeah, I know, ignorance and all that.*  I'm left wondering why somebody dressed to resemble Trump is portraying Julius Caesar in the first place, except maybe the reference is to current governmental leaders in the country where the play is being performed.  It's not like Shakespeare ever wrote a play advocating anarchy or the death of rulers (his theater company would have been arrested on the spot, and he'd never have been heard from again).

Indeed, if you really wanted to insult Trump, dress an actor to look like him in the role of Iago.  That is Shakespeare's prime villain (Lady Macbeth could take lessons from Iago, who never felt a twinge of conscience about anything).  He identifies himself with the Father of Lies, and every word he utters, except in his soliloquies, the audience knows to be a falsehood.  You can see where I'm going with this.  And how many people would pick up on the reference, the way they are reacting to this play?

Protesters attempted to shut down the Friday night performance of Trump-assassination play, Julius Caesar, in New York's Central Park as one man shouted from the audience that 'the blood of Steve Scalise is on your hands'.

'Right-wing' journalist and activist, Laura Loomer, stormed the stage shouting that the controversial play was 'unacceptable'.

'Stop the normalization of political violence against the right! This is unacceptable. You cannot promote this type of violence against Donald Trump!'

'This is violence against the right. This is violence against Donald Trump,' Loomer yelled as many people in the audience started to boo her off the stage.
Enough, by the way, with this idea of "normalization" where something is said publicly you don't like.  Right wing loons are using it, which should be enough reason for the left-wing to be more reasonable (but don't hold your breath).   As I say, a true depiction of Trump in Shakespeare would be through Iago; and it wouldn't inflame the ignorant who want to march on Shakespeare in Dallas, now.

And really, the "blood of Steve Scalise"?  This is where Trump's loose talk about Scalise taking a bullet for us (what about the Capitol Police officers, who took bullets for Scalise and the other people there?) gets us.  If Scalise dies from his wounds (and again, no, I wish him no ill, despite his politics), heaven help us for the martyrdom that becomes.

Shakespeare actually had a lot to say about discord in government.  His famous phrase (very popular when I entered law school; I even had it on a t-shirt, though I knew what Willie meant, and most people didn't):  "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers," was not a plea for rough justice, but for anarchy.  Remove the laws, as Robert Bolt had Thomas More say, and what stands between you and the Devil?

Iago is as lawless a character as Shakespeare ever created.  He is in no way to be admired.  His every action is for himself alone.  He manipulates and abuses everyone he knows; only his wife knows him well enough not to fully trust him, and he kills her in cold blood when she finally exposes him.  As I say, if you want to comment on the true character of Trump, making him resemble Julius Caesar, a man assassinated by fanatics who act, not selflessly but selfishly, is not the way to do it.

And maybe, once again, we can start turning down the rhetoric about turning down the rhetoric.  That fight doesn't seem to be winning this fight.


*Yeah, could be this, too:

“What might be gurgling up for them is their ire around having to do Shakespeare in high school,” he quipped. “They’re like, you know what? I never realized I hated my English teacher as much as I did.”

Philistines.

Friday, June 16, 2017

While the rest of us are on planet Earth....


Is this the point where we should tone down the rhetoric about toning down the rhetoric?

“I was there at the game last night at the beginning and there was a feeling of unity and healing,” Conway said. “I think that was brought about by our leader, President Donald Trump. He’s being a healer in chief he’s been just remarkably wonderful to the entire country calling for unity praying for those who have been injured for their full recovery.”

She continued: “I think the unity lasted a hot minute for some leaders.”

Conway argued that “You can oppose policies but it’s done with such hateful, charged rhetoric that active resistance becomes armed resistance in the case of this lone gunman.”

The program’s hosts then asked her about congressional Democrats whom she accused of inciting Hodgkinson. Conway pointed to Twitter to claim that “if I were shot and killed tomorrow, half of Twitter would explode in applause and excitement.”

Granted, Twitter is not a very nice place; but her boss does his part to make it so.  As for the "healer in chief," you mean this guy?

“My dear friend Steve Scalise took a bullet for all of us,” Trump said. “And because of him and the tremendous pain and suffering he’s now enduring — and he’s having a hard time, far worse than anybody thought — our country will perhaps become closer, more unified — so important. So we all owe Steve a big, big thank you.”

“And let’s keep the Warmbier family and the Scalise family and all of the victims of the congressional shooting in our hearts and prayers,” Trump continued. “And it was quite a day, and our police officers were incredible, weren’t they? They did a great job. Thank you. And let us all pray for a future of peace, unity, and safety for all of our people. Thank you.”
I'm still trying to wrap my head around how Steve Scalise was shot for my sins, or even the sins of Congress, but to ignore the other people who were shot, to not even be able to call them by name ("our police officers" is as close as he came, in an afterthought), is close to an obscenity.  Healing?  You must be joking.  Praying?  Is this where he asks if we're Christians, again?  That would REALLY be a "healing moment," donchaknow?

Maybe we can get somebody more unifying than Kellyanne Conway?  Like, I dunno, Ted Nugent?

"At the tender age of 69, my wife has convinced me that I just can't use those harsh terms," he said. "I cannot and I will not, and I encourage even my friends-slash-enemy on the left in the Democrat and liberal world that we have got to be civil to each other."
...
"The whole world is watching America, where you have the God-given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and we have got to be more respectful to the other side," Nugent continued.
I mean, when the Nuge does the "healing" and "unity" thing better than you do, maybe you should withdraw and consider your place in the national conversation.

Or you can just whine about how mean Twitter is and how the "hot mess" in D.C. is the fault of people you don't agree with.  That's healing and unifying, too; in Bizarro World.

Ever so much more so


On that bullet thing I was talking about earlier; just go read this.

Maybe that will explain it better.
.

The Sound of Silence


There's something distasteful about this:

“My dear friend Steve Scalise took a bullet for all of us,” Trump said. “And because of him and the tremendous pain and suffering he’s now enduring — and he’s having a hard time, far worse than anybody thought — our country will perhaps become closer, more unified — so important. So we all owe Steve a big, big thank you.”

Ah, that's what it is!  The silence that is deafening:

It’s not that people should be defined by their skin color, gender, or who they love. But in this case, these details are important enough to focus on for a moment.

Capitol Police special agents Crystal Griner and David Bailey are widely credited with saving Republican lawmakers and staff during the horrific shooting in Alexandria, Virginia that left Representative Steve Scalise in the hospital in critical condition.

Both Griner and Bailey were wounded.

Both Griner and Bailey are minorities.

Crystal Griner is a female minority, who just so happens to be married to a woman. Griner married Tiffany Dyar in 2015.

As ESPN’s LZ Granderson pointed out, Griner saved the life of Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), who is opposed to same-sex marriage,

Well, yeah....


No, what's sad is that you think they have to.  It's still an investigation, not a trial.  Suck it up, buttercup.


No, that's not the problem....(patience, we're getting there!)

Enthusiasm for what?  Your removal from office?  As for regulations, they take years to alter or even remove.  That you think you've swept them away in your first 5 months in office is laughable!  The most effective thing you've done is issue two executive orders that courts have consistently rebuffed as beyond the scope of your powers.

Funny, you told the world you were going to fire Comey anyway.  How does this concept of causation work again?

Being a petty blogger, I can post those tweets and comment on them and chortle in my righteous joy and attract my audience of 3 or more (Hi!  Thanks for coming!).  CNN, on the other hand:

“This morning his tweets were about pushing back that there has been no proof yet on collusion with Russia,” Cuomo explained. “That was his first tweet morning.”

“Shame on us,” Camerota interjected. “I mean shame on us. We are the people who become consumed with the tweets. I know Chris likes the tweets — he thinks they are a window inside the mind of the president. But we are the people devoting our hours of this morning to that instead of something that affects a lot of people like, say, health care and what the Republican plan is and why they’re doing it behind closed doors.”

“I mean, we are the people that have to be judicious about which rabbit hole we want to go down,” she continued.

After CNN political director David Chalian attempted to defend the coverage, Camerota made a suggestion.

“There’s only 24 hours in a day. We have been doing it at the expense of health care,” Camerota remarked. “Let’s change that right now. Let me put my money with my mouth is. So we’re done with the tweets. What do you know about the health care — what do you know about what’s going on? Do we know any of the details of what the president will be presenting? Would be easier to talk about health care if we actually knew what was in the bill?”
The healthcare bill is a big deal.  But it isn't in print, and it isn't being done in front of cameras, and frankly no one knows what's in it (it's on double super secret probation!).  So how can CNN report on it when there are so many tweets from POTUS to flash on the screen and tut-tut over?

I mean, journalism is hard!  They've got 24 hours to fill, and talking about health care bills creates MEGO!  Right?  Of course, they could do this:  "We asked 8 Senate Republicans to explain what their health bill is trying to do," and report on the non-answers the way VOX did.   Or report on this story:

“I have been in contact with a lot of Democrats in Congress,” says Yale’s Jacob Hacker, who is influential in liberal health policy circles, “and I am confident that the modal policy approach has shifted pretty strongly toward a more direct, public-option strategy, if not ‘Medicare for all.’”
Which seems like a pretty big deal.  Because frankly, the problem of Trump's tweets is getting pretty boring, even for a petty blogger like me.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Shut up, Fool!


For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. 27For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Galataians 3:26-29

v. 29 makes it quite clear, you white supremacist idiot:  in Christ, we are all Jews!

But enough about you, let's talk about me

Yesterday:


Today:


Turns out he wasn't through for the day:





Steve Scalise is undergoing his third surgery.  The Capitol Police who shot John Hodgkinson are still wounded.  The people in the UPS facility in San Francisco are still dead.  Otto Warmbier is still "awake but unresponsive."  And this is what the President has time to think about and talk about on Thursday afternoon.

This is why we need guns?


There has been some talk recently, marginalized and largely ignored, by surgeons and ER physicians and people familiar with treating gunshot wounds, to make us pay attention to what bullets do.

Not the bullets in Hollywood movies, which do whatever the writers want them to do, including bloodlessly enter bodies and render them immediately inert but otherwise unmarred, and certainly not pumping bodily fluids from sudden holes.  It is the Hollywood representation of guns that makes us think we are the heroes of our own action films, that if we only had a gun when the "bad guy" was there, we'd have saved the day.

Of course, it doesn't work that way.

Rep. Steve Scalise is finding out first hand what bullets do.  Reports this afternoon are that he's undergoing a third surgery for what the bullet that hit him in the hip did to him internally.  There are fragments, there are damaged organs, there are complications.   He remains in critical condition. You seldom see this kind of thing in a Hollywood movie, and when you do it's always vague and indefinite and calculated to raise the tension and make you sympathize with the "good guy" who is soon to go forth and slay the "bad guy" in the name the now dying comrade.  And the good guy will always hit his mark and the bad guy won't hit the broad side of a barn at 10 paces, and guns will win against guns again.

I do not think Steve Scalise deserves to learn the lesson of what it is to be on the receiving end of gunfire.  I have no doubt the lesson he will learn, should he live (and I pray that he does), is that he, too, should have had a gun; that two armed police officers was clearly not enough to stop the "bad guy with a gun."

And I don't think we'll take the lesson from this real-world experience (even as we ignore so many other victims of gun violence as if they were simply extras in our national movie).  We will go on pretending guns have totemic value, or symbolic value, or even Constitutional value, rather than look at them for what they are:  devices for hurling pieces of metal into other people at very high velocities, with very unpredictable results.

That's what guns are for;  this is what bullets do.

In the U.S.A.


Naomi Klein insists Donald Trump is acting out a deeply complicated theory that makes the "deep state" look like a coffee-klatsch and which only she can explain (even Noam Chomsky would be out of his depth) across three books and some 20 years.

Charlie Pierce puts the opposite case (without even referencing Klein) neatly and succinctly:  follow the money.

For a long time, I didn't believe that the president* would bring all this down on himself just to hide the fact that he isn't as rich as he says he is, but now I'm less sure. I think, maybe, that's what's at the bottom of everything else. I think he isn't that rich, so he and the family business allegedly needed freshly laundered Russian money to keep the business—and his image—afloat. Then, of course, the bill came due from Moscow, and that required another set of malodorous transactions which, in turn, required that they be concealed by another set of malodorous transactions, including the firing of James Comey, and so on.

God, the tax returns. If he'd only released the tax returns, and the people had gotten a look at how he does business and how much he's really worth, it's likely none of this happens. Of course, it's also likely he doesn't become president* either, but, what the hell, all indications are he doesn't much like the job, anyway, at least not enough to learn the basics of how to do it properly.

In any event, it appears that we're all going to get a crash course in the crooked side of high finance—like we need another one of those—and in identifying all the various fauna in the wild kingdom of the international real estate game. I love those teachable moments. Truly, I do.
It's not about shock and its not about "intersectionality" or how "all our movements are interconnected" (she means activist movements, not physical ones, to be clear), or even how Justin Trudeau is a "hollow brand" too (just like Trump; and as a dual Canadian-American citizen, she alone has returned alive to tell us this).  And it's not about three books and 20 years of conspiracy theorizing it took for her to tell us Trump is not just an idiot but a walking "shock-creation machine." It's simply about the words of wisdom William Goldman put in the mouth of "Deep Throat" for that movie about Watergate (search in vain for it in the works of Woodstein):  "Follow the money."

Trump's only raison d'être is money.  It's all he understands, lives for, and pursues.  He's running the Presidency like it was another business licensing the Trump brand.  Mueller is reportedly investigating money laundering by Trump associates.  Sometime back Pierce noted that Mueller had added an expert on such prosecutions to his team; now we know why.

Follow the money.  It's just that simple.  Follow the money.  Everything about this will resolve to that.

This is America, after all.  "It's money that matters/in the U.S.A.!"

Possession is 9/10ths of the need


The good guys with guns fired back at James Hodgkinson.  Their guns didn't provide them with protective shields.  They were wounded.  It also didn't protect Steve Scalise:

Only now he was aiming at human beings, and he hit Scalise over by second base despite the instant efforts of the majority whip’s security detail. Scalise went down and began to crawl across the field as the gunfire continued.

“The guy who’s shot out there—is he OK?” somebody called out.

The cellphone video shows Scalise sprawled in the field. And to see him was not to see a gun-control opponent or a Trump supporter or a Republican or a politician. He was a gunshot victim, as in need of help as any other, his blood as red as yours and mine.

His protectors continued to battle the gunman even after at least one of them was shot, calling out to the gunman, “Drop the weapon! Drop the weapon!”

The cadence of the protectors’ fire intensified and they brought the gunman down. The shooting ceased altogether.

In the cellphone video, figures can be seen rushing to assist Scalise. They included Rep. Brad Wenstrup of Ohio, who is also a physician and served as a combat surgeon in Iraq.

“You never expect a baseball field in America to feel like being back in a combat zone in Iraq, but this morning it did,” he later tweeted.

As night fell, Scalise and one of the other six wounded were listed in critical condition. Scalise’s wife and two young children were reportedly traveling from Louisiana to see him.

And Wenstrup was telling Fox & Friends, “If Scalise was not there, he’s the one with the security detail, we wouldn’t have had any protection, and God knows how bad that might have been.”
More guns didn't protect anyone from gunfire.  It stopped the shooter, but not allowing him to have a gun in the first place would have done more:

A deputy responded and determined that Hodgkinson had upgraded to an assault rifle such as a renewed federal ban would have kept him from legally possessing. Hodgkinson’s prior arrest for firing the shotgun and his outbursts in court had not prevented him from securing  a Firearm Owners Identification card, which is needed to acquire and own a gun in Illinois.

“SUBJECT DID HAVE IN HIS POSSESSION A VALID ILLINOIS FOID CARD,” the sheriff’s report reads. “SUBJECT WAS ADVISED TO NOT DISCHARGE HIS WEAPON IN THE AREA.” 

Hodgkinson was firing that gun in his backyard.  A gun he simply shouldn't have been able to get, but for a change in the law.  Had the law not changed there'd have simply been no need for good guys with guns to put their lives on the line, to risk death themselves, in order to stop a man from shooting other human beings for reasons we'll never understand, never even know.  Although, according to Steve Scalise following the Sandy Hook shooting, even raising that issue is an affront to the grieving process.

Steve Scalise didn't deserve to be shot because of his A+ rating from the NRA, as a kind of ironic joke on him from the cosmos.  But we don't deserve to live in a country ruled by the stupidity of slogans.  Val Demings, D-FL, pointed out on NPR yesterday that:

But I do want to go back to something that my colleague said about, you know, repeating the NRA statement about the answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Let me just remind everyone here that the Capitol Police were on scene, and Lord knows there's no question about them being good guys with guns. But I think we do have a responsibility to make sure that they - as they protect us, that we do everything we can to protect our first responders.

Paul Mitchell, R-MI, interrupted her to challenge the idea he was an NRA puppet spouting their slogans mindlessly.  It was not, he said, an NRA slogan, that one about the good guy with the gun.  He recognized the threat, and he had to shut it down:  this discussion can never be about people on the receiving end of bullets, it can only be about people on the possessory end of guns. Even discussion of gun safety, once the raison d'être of the NRA (how I first heard of them, in my youth), is not allowed.  We can only focus on our ability to own.

"The love of possession is a disease with them."  A friend had a poster which attributed that statement to Chief Sitting Bull of the Lakota Nation.  That's all this discussion is about now:  who can possess firearms.  How they are used, what they do to us when they turn a school into a slaughterhouse, a baseball diamond into a combat zone, is not to be considered.  Not even when the advocates of that possession are the victims of the violence it inevitably produces.

No wonder there is so much talk about who is responsible for this, and none of that talk focusses on our responsibility to each other, rather than to our possessions.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Anybody for cherry pie?

Might as well quit cherry-picking that quote....

There were two more shootings today, on opposite coasts, as it turns out.

One of those two is going to suck all the national oxygen out of the room.  The other will be a footnote, at best.

And I'm wondering how many people were shot in New Orleans in the last 24 hours. Or in Houston, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, Atlanta, San Antonio (when I spent some time there the evening news always led with the shootings in the bars.  It was as regular as the weather report.), and so on and so on and so on.  We won't even notice.  We certainly won't talk about it.

NPR ran a "conversation" between a GOP Rep from Michigan and a Democratic rep from Florida.  He quickly brought up the NRA slogan about bad guys with guns and good guys with guns, and then took all kinds of umbrage when she called it an NRA slogan in response (he doesn't work for the NRA, you see).  As best I could tell, the conversation started nowhere and went nowhere.  Guns save us from the bad guys; guns threaten us all.  You can write that script by now.

This is America.  This is what we do.  We shoot each other, and then we blame each other for the fact that we shoot each other.  Occasionally, someone among us sinks so low that even Fox News won't put up with it:

“The intensity on the left is very real,” Gingrich said. “Whether it’s a so-called comedian holding up the president’s head in blood, or it’s right here, in New York City, a play that shows the president being assassinated. Or it’s Democratic leading national politicians who are so angry they have to use vulgarity because they can’t find any common language.”

Fox’s Melissa Francis at this point objected and questioned whether it was right to blame the shooter’s actions on Democrats who swear.

“With respect, though, even if everything you’re saying is true, to talk about it in those kinds of terms, in left and right, right now in the wake of it, does that make sense?” she asked.

“If you want to know the truth,” Gingrich replied.

“But do you rise above it and say…” she began.

“No!” Gingrich objected.
The proper response there is that Newt Gingrich is no longer fit to be among civilized people, yet alone have privileged access to our national airwaves/conversation.  Or to at least point out if we did rise above it, Newt couldn't see us anymore, and wouldn't that be a shame?  We'd certainly have to look down on him more than we do now.

But this is America.  This is what we do.