Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Is it possible to fact-check?

There is no greater priority in the USA than finding a way to debunk lies and check on facts. All sides hurl assertions and leave it to citizens to decide which ones to believe. But in today's partisan echo-chambers, the choice nearly always depends on what sounds and feels "truthy." 

This is not the way adults operate! Politics used to at least bear slightly on confirmable-falsifiable factual evidence. That is, it did, before we entered a virulent 8th phase of the American Civil War.

Ponder what might happen if we all had a reliable place - or better yet, a suite of diverse and even competing places - where trustworthy folks could demolish some, maybe most, of today's howlers? Indignation-incantation junkies on the far-left and today's entire-right loathe that idea. Especially, Fox and ClearChannelRadio fought hard to end the Rebuttal Rule that would expose their audience to "here's disproof!" refutation.

Those attempting to verify evidence face a skilled immune system. Confederates denounce any attempt at fact-checking as "partisan."

"So what’s the basis for claims that, say, PolitiFact is biased?" explains Paul Krugman in Facts Have a Well-Known Liberal Bias

"Hey, The arch-rightwing Weekly Standard explained the criteria: "Surveys done by the University of Minnesota and George Mason University have shown that the supposedly impartial “fact checking” news organization (PolitiFact) rates Republican claims as false three times as often as Democratic claims...

"Notice the implicit assumption here," -- Krugman concludes -- "namely, that impartial fact-checking would find an equal number of false claims from each party. But what if – bear with me a minute – Republicans actually make more false claims than Democrats?"

Those who try my Questionnaire on Ideology, face a discomforting realization - that all of us have the same reflex: "My adversaries believe what they do because of propaganda or malignant purpose; but my beliefs come from logical appraisal of the evidence." 

Can "fact-checkers" be biased? Sure. That's not the smoking gun.

In fact, we're all koolaid-drinkers, to some degree. (We're human, after all -- at least until uplift or the arrival of AI.)  But the American/Western renaissance always depended on a majority of our citizens tempering this willful delusion with a grounding in pragmatic tools of evidence, even a willingness to murmur the sacred incantation of science: "I might be wrong."

And that is why the risen Confederacy must wage all-out war on every fact-centered profession. 

The smoking volcano is the confederates' refusal to ever offer up their own plan for a neutral fact-checking service!

== So what's to be done? ==

Over and over I have explained... confederates still have one zone where they accept the primacy of fact -- in wagers! Their macho will shrivel if they are faced with a bald challenge: 

"We dare you to offer up names of top conservative-adult sages who can help set up a neutral fact-checking service!"

Consider how this confrontation - (to date never used by even a single pundit, journalist, or Democratic politician) -- puts them in a bind.  

   --  If they refuse, they can be taunted with great effectiveness, that they are too cowardly to actually check on the 'fake news.'

   --  If they offer up loonies, that will help drive off their last fact-people. And mark this well: there are at least 10 million agonized "ostrich republicans" who may desert that fragile coalition, as many recently did in Alabama, if they get a 'last straw.'

   --  If they offer genuine adults to such a fact-checking endeavor, then those adults will betray the GOP and Fox, by saying: "that's not true." 

After the last 18 months, can we all agree that we need new tactics! 
Can we at least try this one? 

Make no mistake: the War on Science - and the war on all fact-using professions - constitutes the core of this treason. If we confront it boldly, then there may be a light.

By letting ourselves get distracted into symbolism and minutiae, we prove ourselves to be the fools.

== "Asserting something makes it so!" ==

Muslims celebrating on the roofs on September 11, 2001. Ted Cruz's father being involved in the JFK assassination. The largest inaugural crowds ever. Obama wire-tapping Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign. Three to 5 million people voting illegally in the election. And now DT is back to Birtherism! Claiming "evidence" he never shows, and plans to "sue" the almost twenty women who accused him of sexual assault... but never getting around to suing.

Or asking the IRS to stop the "audit" so he can share his tax returns. Or asking them to verify THAT there is an audit. "In Trump's first 298 days in office, Trump said 1,628 things that were either misleading or totally false, according to calculations made by the Washington Post's Fact Checker." 

My contribution to all this? Just perspective. (It's my job.) Squint and realize: this is how all our ancestors lived, all the time! No one could tell the king, or priest, or lords "that's not true and here's proof." 

We have lived in what was - historically - a bizarre experiment in reciprocal criticism and accountability. Adam Smith and the American Founders tried to embed this magical solution to human delusion, and it still lives! It has given us everything -- wealth, science, freedom -- but it is being torn down....

...by those who seek to restore feudalism. And it isn't just the oppression we should fear. It is the concomitant quality that always comes with that dismal formula.

Bad governance. Delusion,

Stupidity.

== Doing it right! ==

Peter Diamandis offers an excellent case for optimism! This ebook - Evidence of Abundance (free to download) should help stoke your determination not to let troglodytes yank us backward. Technology isn't the only factor than can help save us! Satiability, deferred gratification and avid use of the problem-perceiving prefrontal lobes are all urgent.  All of those can combine with guarded optimism and help us confidently act to save the world and our children.

Peter’s goal here is to help you “protect your abundance mindset despite this barrage of negative news. Consider this ebook as “conversational capital” for your dinner table conversations or some inspirational reading for your travels" this holiday.

== Using a private KGB/Smersh/SECTRE to bypass the “deep state” ==

If even a quarter of this is true, it demonstrates just how confident the new plantation lords are, that they’ll soon cancel or over-ride the foremost American tradition: rule-of-law. 

Former Blackwater head (and Trump cabinet-brother) Erik  Prince is apparently setting up - with Oliver North and financed by Trumpist oligarchs - a secret and private intelligence agency, intended to supply both information and ‘operations’ independent from our sworn officers in accountable agencies like the CIA and FBI. 

Those sworn federal officers are deemed too much part of the reviled “deep state”… the code phrase to dismiss fact-users who are answerable to laws and Congressional oversight and a free citizenry, and not to deep-pocket oligarchs. Horrors. Can’t have that.

How to stand up to the Kremlin: in the hifalutin-cogent journal Foreign Affairs, former VP Joe Biden and Michael Carpenter show in-detail that we are already mired in a kind of existential struggle… one that science fiction legend Frederik Pohl called “Cool War.” (Get the novel by that name. Its current plausibility will terrify you.)  Biden and his colleague lay out overwhelming evidence that a foreign regime - actually about two dozen, united in alliance — are using every means at their disposal to bring down America and the West and the entire Enlightenment Experiment.

In a few places, Ol’ Joe slightly oversimplifies: In contrast to the Soviet Union, however, contemporary Russia offers no clear ideological alternative to Western democracy. Russia’s leaders invoke nationalist, populist, and statist slogans or themes, but the Kremlin’s propaganda machine shies away from directly challenging the core precepts of Western democracy: competitive elections, accountability for those in power, constitutionally guaranteed rights, and the rule of law. Instead, the Kremlin carefully cultivates a democratic façade, paying lip service to those principles even as it subverts them.”

In fact, the members of the anti-west consortium have made it plain that very very concepts of democracy and rule-of-law are to be disdained.  Moreover, we see the rump intelligencia on the U.S. right parroting identical themes, e.g. declaring that “democracy and freedom are incompatible.”

(Here is where I demolish that obnoxious mystical catechism.)

There are many aspects that Biden leaves hanging… like what will happen to Siberia, when Russia’s population plummets while millions of Chinese cross over as “businessmen.” (I'm taking bets over whether Siberia has already been pre-sold, while our eyes are diverted to the South China Sea.)

Then there is the U.S. right’s obsession with symbolism — that all is well, so long as former KGB agents wear crosses in the Kremlin, instead of hammers and sickles. (The symbolism obsession, made plain.)

But Biden’s detailed appraisal of corrupt and corrupting practices merits your attention, your sober reflection… and it means that moves by certain western officials to discredit and weaken NATO amount to… well… I am thinking of a T-Word.

-->

117 comments:

TCB said...

I just recalled, one prominent reich-winger is roundly mocked (in certain quarters) for welching on a 'bet' of sorts.

It has now been seven and a half years since Sean Hannity said waterboarding was not torture, so much so that he'd be willing to be waterboarded for charity.

Because, ya know, it's like a dunking booth.

Keith Olbermann pounced at that time and offered $1000 for each second Hannity could tolerate it.

From the article:

"We'll see if he's anything but a gasbag," Olbermann said. ... Well, after seven years, I think we can definitively say he's a gasbag.You can email Hannity via his website or tweet him @SeanHannity and let him know that he may want to forget his promise to prove waterboarding is not torture but we won’t!

Zepp Jamieson said...

I posted my Solstice piece today. The theme, as aways, is that of hope, and this year, I looked to the technological sector, which dovetails nicely with the Doctor's essay today. For those who are interested:
http://readersupportednews.org/pm-section/186-186/47435-solstice-2017-despite-trump

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart | (almost had this ready before the buzzer went off on the last thread)

everyone who doesn't give for the highest degree of selflessness might as well not give at all

The fun thing about that argument (that I know you aren’t supporting) is that it is unvirtuous by definition. It puts forward the idea that we can optimize on one virtue at the expense of the others and if we can’t manage that, we should fall to vice instead. Pure selflessness is imprudent. Since prudence is one of the classical virtues, optimizing against it (for any reason) is as bad as optimizing solely for it. There is more than one virtue, so a complete lack of any particular one is a step into a world of vice. A PLAN to do such a thing qualifies as sin or worse.

Some argue for temperance being a form of selflessness, but that doesn’t hold up on close examination. Temperance is a moderation of sorts, but the point FOR that moderation is what really matters. From a Christian perspective, temperance is about suppressing our expression of ‘self’ long enough to witness the truth in others. If I suppress myself too much (to the point of selflessness), what is left to bear witness? Temperance requires the witness to exist to witness anything at all. From a secular perspective, the same argument works if you just ditch the ‘God’s gifts as Truth’ connection.

The Ayn Randians certainly believe that mercy is the opposite of justice

Randians have a very screwy sense of the virtue of Justice. From what I see, it looks like they try to reduce it to Prudence. It’s really no wonder that mature adults abandon them. Injustice isn’t mercy. It is not giving what others deserve OR not getting what we deserve. What those are is obviously relative to cultural norms, so Randians argue for abandoning those norms by treating Justice as a type of Prudence. In hindsight, that is a very silly idea, but lots of people tried for variations on it all through the latter half of the 19th century and most of the 20th.

take 2) as a postulate and 3) as obvious. Therefore, we conclude that 1) is false.

Another way out besides breaking omniscience or omnipotence is to recognize a different definition of ‘love.’ Many argue for a caring person being someone who will protect you from harm. Ask them if that care extends far enough to prevent you from acquiring experiences that might risk harm, though, and you’ll see the problem with the definition. The robots from David’s Foundation finale cared about humans, but did they love us? The differences among them can be mapped to different definitions.

cynical enough to think that… don't really believe the myths

I was fairly cynical about that too, but I’m not anymore. I’ve met a few people who take their faith seriously and unhypocritically. I’ve met many more who desperately try to convince themselves they believe. I don’t count them among the hypocrites either. The latter don’t believe as much as they say, but their flaw is a matter of delusion and inner turmoil they don’t face. The former are rare (from what I’ve seen), but they are quite real.

Steven Hammond said...

@ David Brin:

Just before "onward" in the last thread, you posted a very interesting idea.


Which is why, in my new play (no one will yet look at it!) I posit a "super saint" who is clearly bound for heaven, has faith, repents and has last rites... then deliberately commits a single mortal sin, in order to go down and minister to the damned! Knowing she will suffer eternally, but that is where the pain is greatest!



I have never heard of anything like it! Surely SOMEONE before me thought of this?


The first thought that came to mind is The Harrowing of Hell in early Christian theology where Jesus himself (there's your "super saint" ) went down to hell to teach the dead and rescue them. It was especially prominent in the early church when universalism was more accepted and is mentioned or alluded to in more modern Christian universalist writings. Here's a bit from a universalist website I just found googling this topic:

One of the primary beliefs of the early Christians was that Jesus descended into Sheol/Hades in order to preach to the dead and rescue all of those, as it clearly says in I Peter 3:20, “who in former times did not obey.” This terminology is familiar to anyone who has recited the Apostle’s Creed which states that Jesus descended to Hell after his death, before his resurrection. Known as the “Harrowing of Hell,” this is a major theme in Universalism because it underscores the early belief that judgment at the end of life is not final and that all souls can be saved after death. Interestingly, in the early Church there were not only prayers for the dead, but St. Paul notes there were also baptisms for the dead (I Cor 15: 29).

It goes on to mention how the church later narrowed the categories of people who were "saved from hell" by this "harrowing."

Here's the link to that page:
The Salvation Conspiracy: How Hell Became Eternal

fk said...

Which is why, in my new play (no one will yet look at it!) I posit a "super saint" who is clearly bound for heaven, has faith, repents and has last rites... then deliberately commits a single mortal sin, in order to go down and minister to the damned! Knowing she will suffer eternally, but that is where the pain is greatest!


Sounds slightly Buddhist.

In Buddhism Bodhisattvas are enlightened beings who, despite freeing themselves from the cycle of rebirth into a world filled with suffering, choose to return to it out of compassion in order to help others.

A more dramatic example would be the story of Captain Compassionate. According to this story, the Buddha is on a ship with 500 people. He discovers that there is a man on board who plans to kill everyone. If the Buddha informs the ship's crew and passengers, they will kill the murderer and become murderers themselves. So the Buddha, in order to save them from murder, as well as the crime of committing murder and thereby suffering Karmic punishment in the next life, goes ahead and murders the man himself!

In some versions, the Buddha goes to hell for this. But he saves the potential murderer from hell as well as the lives of the crew. Out of compassion he willing goes to hell in order to save another person from that fate.

LarryHart said...

Steven Hammond:

It goes on to mention how the church later narrowed the categories of people who were "saved from hell" by this "harrowing."


I hope that Republicans who voted for the tax scam were left off of the list.

The entire party belongs in Hell.

#ThereAreNoGoodRepublicans

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

Another way out besides breaking omniscience or omnipotence is to recognize a different definition of ‘love.’ Many argue for a caring person being someone who will protect you from harm. Ask them if that care extends far enough to prevent you from acquiring experiences that might risk harm, though, and you’ll see the problem with the definition. The robots from David’s Foundation finale cared about humans, but did they love us?


I encountered something like this as a parent when my daughter was a toddler. One day, I had her at the mall and let her run loose more than a good parent should, even when she insisted on running up on the down escalator. Eventually, of course, she fell, and while she wasn't terribly injured, she was hurt and scared. A few weeks later, doing something I can no longer remember, she gave me the lawyerly argument of a three-year-old, "Your job is to make sure your child is happy." To which I was able to respond that no, my job is to make sure she is safe, and that I failed to do my job when I let her get hurt on that escalator, and remember how that turned out?

She actually understood.


"cynical enough to think that… don't really believe the myths"

I was fairly cynical about that too, but I’m not anymore. I’ve met a few people who take their faith seriously and unhypocritically. I’ve met many more who desperately try to convince themselves they believe. I don’t count them among the hypocrites either. The latter don’t believe as much as they say, but their flaw is a matter of delusion and inner turmoil they don’t face. The former are rare (from what I’ve seen), but they are quite real.


I get that there are millions of believing Christians, but think about Dena's argument to Gordon in "The Postman"--those are the ones who don't count--who don't hold levers of power and affect the course of civilization. The rulers, the presidents, the Senators and congressmen and captains of industry who profess belief in God, I don't see any of them factoring God into the decisions that they make. They play Christian to the masses ("First of all, I'm a great Christian (and I am)."), but they show no sign of belief in God tempering their judgement.

LarryHart said...

fk:

A more dramatic example would be the story of Captain Compassionate. According to this story, the Buddha is on a ship with 500 people. He discovers that there is a man on board who plans to kill everyone. If the Buddha informs the ship's crew and passengers, they will kill the murderer and become murderers themselves. So the Buddha, in order to save them from murder, as well as the crime of committing murder and thereby suffering Karmic punishment in the next life, goes ahead and murders the man himself!

In some versions, the Buddha goes to hell for this. But he saves the potential murderer from hell as well as the lives of the crew. Out of compassion he willing goes to hell in order to save another person from that fate.


That's a very thought-provoking story.

I'm not sure I sympathize with the theme, though. It seems to make a mockery of justice. After all, the one who deserves punishment (but for a technicality that his crime was pre-emptively prevented) goes free, while the pure of heart who saved a net of 499 lives is punished instead. This is a "happy" ending?

Still, I'll give it a lot of thought, and maybe have a different take tomorrow.

I do have a snarky response which popped into my head, though. By virtue of being the better shot, Han Solo saved Greedo from becoming a murderer and going to hell (note, it doesn't matter whether Greedo shot first, as long as he friggin' missed). In fact, the result of any gunfight is reversed, with the "loser" being saved from hell by the "winner" who goes in his stead. Wyatt Earp saved the Clantons in the same manner.

David Brin said...

LH yes, the super-saint - in my play - is specifically inspired by the Harrowing of Hell and eagerness to live on by the example of Jesus.

Any of you out there into theater? Know a director willing to look at something new and impudent? Success in one genre does not mean you'll find it in others!

DavidTC said...

Hey, since we're looking for 'things that Republicans cannot respond to', here is one:

Donald Trump has claimed that he cannot produce his taxes because he is being audited. Let's ignore that and pretend there is some sort of rule there.

Well, you know what he, sometime this year, held in his hand? His _2016_ taxes, before he filed them. I think he filed for an extension, so it was perhaps sometimes in August, but it happened at some point. (Or his taxes are late.)

As it was before he filed them, he could not _possibly_ be audited on them. Even pretending the IRS has some rule that stops _currently audited_ taxes from being released (Which they don't, but we're pretending.), they can't possibly stop unfiled taxes from being released, which is literally just a sheet of paper until you sign it and give it to them.

In fact, come to think of it, we were all demanding his taxes by the time he would have filed his 2015 taxes, back in 2016, so he could have shown us those also.

Or is Donald Trump asserting it is illegal for someone to show their _unfiled_ taxes to someone? Is that a law that his Republican defenders are claiming exists? Are they okay with this hypothetical law? Have they themselves broken it by having someone else do their taxes or using an electronic tax submission service? They do realize exactly how stupid and fascist such a law would be, right?

The 'cannot show taxes currently under audit' has a slim veneer of plausibility because maybe it's like an investigation and you can't interfere, or maybe it's like a lawsuit and your lawyer says not to say anything. It's bogus, but it could _hypothetically_ make sense.

But the veneer is totally gone when it comes to _unfiled_ taxes, that literally makes no sense at all, and Trump's defender will be unable to rationalize it.

Twominds said...

Haven't read the post or the comment thread yet, and I need to go to my work now, but I wanted to carry this one over:

Quote Dr Brin "there's nothing saintly about saving your own soul without regard for anyone else's."

Which is why, in my new play (no one will yet look at it!) I posit a "super saint" who is clearly bound for heaven, has faith, repents and has last rites... then deliberately commits a single mortal sin, in order to go down and minister to the damned! Knowing she will suffer eternally, but that is where the pain is greatest!

I have never heard of anything like it! Surely SOMEONE before me thought of this?


That's more or less what Boddhisatva's do.

TCB said...

@DavidTC, never mind anything Trump says about his taxes. We won't see them as long as he has a say in it, obviously. But guess who already has them? Mueller and the FBI. Seems getting that info from the IRS via the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network is the first thing investigators do nowadays. They learn what income (and offsetting debts, loans, expenditures, etc.) you have, and whether you're telling the truth about that, and if you're crooked they can see it rather quickly. After that, rooting out the details (following the trail of money through shell companies and foreign bolt-holes and so on) and building criminal cases takes a lot longer. But the investigators have been Interested in Trump and his gang from (at least) the minute they were able to digest his returns.

Paul451 said...

From the last post:

David,
Re: A play about...
"then deliberately commits a single mortal sin, in order to go down and minister to the damned! Knowing she will suffer eternally, but that is where the pain is greatest!
I have never heard of anything like it! Surely SOMEONE before me thought of this?"


Isn't there a story about a famous rabbi who prays to God to save a friend from dying. In return, God says the rabbi can never enter heaven. Later the rabbi's student finds the rabbi dancing. "But why, you just discovered you are damned (or whatever the Jewish equivalent is.)" The rabbi smiles and says, "Yes, but now when I serve God, it proves to myself it is not for reward, but love."

Not quite the same, but not the opposite thing either.

Paul451 said...

Also from the last:

Larry,
Re: Torture testing faith,
"What I am saying is that the ones who do hold out must genuinely believe in the thing they're holding out for. Otherwise, the "business deal" makes no sense."

It might make no sense, but I'd be one holding out. I'm an atheist, so it means nothing to me to pretend to adopt my captors' religion to avoid even a moment's pain.

But... the moment they bring in a torturer, there's a part of my personality, not very smart but much stronger than the rest, which would say, "No."

I'm not saying I'd succeed. But that if I failed, I'd fail. My intent would be to deny whatever they wanted me to do, no matter how literally painless it would be for me to pretend to go along with them. And frankly, every second I held out would be a small victory over them.

I've made a similar argument before in response to "What if science proved the existence of God" questions from believers. If it was the OT-type God, then even if I accepted the proof, I might "believe", but I still wouldn't worship it. Every so often, I'd raise a middle finger to sky and quietly say, "You are not a good God." I couldn't worship/love/obey such a creature, even at the expense of my immortal soul. Oh, yeah, I'd regret it the moment my fat arse hit the fiery lake, but I know myself enough to know I still do it in spite of that, in spite of knowing that.

(Which also gets back to the argument that morality stems from God. Is there anything the God of the universe could do, could be, could demand, that would make you not worship/love/respect/obey that God? Would you be like Abraham and sacrifice your son because God arbitrarily demanded it? If God demanded that after defeating your enemy's army, you murdered every last person in their society, even the children and the old people, would you obey? Or would the demand itself show that this God is a bad God.)

LarryHart said...

Paul451:

It might make no sense, but I'd be one holding out. I'm an atheist, so it means nothing to me to pretend to adopt my captors' religion to avoid even a moment's pain.

But... the moment they bring in a torturer, there's a part of my personality, not very smart but much stronger than the rest, which would say, "No."

I'm not saying I'd succeed. But that if I failed, I'd fail. My intent would be to deny whatever they wanted me to do, no matter how literally painless it would be for me to pretend to go along with them.


I admire that. I'd like to think I'd be the same, especially since I've got my whole life behind me now.

But we're not really arguing, are we? You're not talking about the same "business deal" that Dr Brin was. If the thing that makes someone hold out against pain is the promise of heaven, then I still maintain he must really believe in the stories which make that promise.

In your separate case, the thing you really believe in is thwarting those who transgress against you. It's not the "business deal", but you're still a martyr to your cause.


And frankly, every second I held out would be a small victory over them.


I've read 1984, but at this point, I can't imagine what "they" could do to me to make me love Big Brother. They could probably force me to hate myself, but I still don't see how that would lead to the other thing.

And this is not entirely hypothetical. It's the reason I refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the current #IllegitimatePresident and will never use any sort of respectful title in front of his name. He has the office (by essentially a sit-down strike) and can do real-world things like start a war or destroy my economic future. In that sense, it might make sense to try to fawn and placate him. But he never earns the respect due to leaders of democratic governments that don't get captured. As you say, a small victory, but a victory nonetheless.

Paul SB said...

It looks like a few people beat me to the punch about Bodhisattvas, who in the Buddhist tradition do exactly that - sacrifice their own ticket to Nirvana so they can help others get there. Well, not really sacrifice, more like postpone for 1000s of years, possibly millions. People in the West are unlikely to come up with something like this because they see death as the time of judgement when you either join the army of God or of the Damned. It's a consequence of rigid linear thinking, versus seeing time in a more cyclical sense (and no, I am not arguing in favor of tautological cyclical history notions practiced by fools in the West). In Buddhism (and Hinduism as well) everything is temporary. Even gods do not remain gods forever. They use up their merits, die and are reborn as something much less privileged. But LOTS of people thought of this before - about 2500 years ago. It's just that they weren't white people. Even when we think of ourselves as open-minded and accepting people, all our institutions have taught us that Western people did virtually everything that matters. Most people think World War 2 was the deadliest war in all of history, but it pales by comparison to the Taiping Rebellion in China a century earlier. Who on this half of the planet has even heard of it?

And Larry,

Justice isn't the point. To a Buddhist, justice is what we all need to escape. Karma is not about some angry god punishing people, it is simple cause and effect. It sounds like justice, except that all living things have weaknesses and every one of us does something wrong at some point in our lives. Saving the murderer was a practical thing to do. If a Buddha can prevent someone from earning very bad karma and get that person to Nirvana, then that person will no longer be in a state where they can make terrible decisions like that, decisions that result in more angry people doing more terrible things to satisfy their desire for revenge. What this Buddha did was practical, if you assume they are right about karma and cause and effect, that action reduced the overall pain, suffering and bad consequences in the world. Anyone who achieves Enlightenment would not be hanging out in Hell for long - even Hell is only a temporary state. In the Buddhist belief system (I won't say theology, because gods are irrelevant to Buddhists) justice is not some universal good, it is a universal trap that shuts down the much higher virtue of compassion, and ultimately defeats itself.

Tim H. said...

Brad DeLong had something of interest:
http://www.bradford-delong.com/2017/12/an-appeal-to-the-republican-supporting-plutocrats-of-america.html
The gist is that oligarchs who wish to establish dynasties would do well to stop their interference in the transition of The United States to a social democracy, where wealth is subject to taxation, as opposed to a Fascist state where wealth may be expropriated and the formerly wealthy reeducated, exiled or executed.

Tim H. said...

The idea of saints in Hell is reminiscent of Niven & Pournelle's* "Inferno", where Benito Mussolini guided souls out of Hell, though I lean towards Phillip Pullman's idea of an ethereal essence recycling into new life, old sin and goodness alike decaying with the body, no punishment or reward.

*Niven & Pournelle may be read without fear of becoming conservative, just as Heinlein may be read without developing any new uncontrollable urges.

Steven Hammond said...

David Brin said:

LH yes, the super-saint - in my play - is specifically inspired by the Harrowing of Hell and eagerness to live on by the example of Jesus.

Any of you out there into theater? Know a director willing to look at something new and impudent? Success in one genre does not mean you'll find it in others!


Ah! I thought that might be the case. I did remember something similar in one of George MacDonald's novels. MacDonald was a prolific and popular Victorian writer--most famous for his fairy-tales and fantasies these days--who was a Christian universalist. In any event in his novel Robert Falconer, Robert has very much the same sort of idea of saving people in Hell, though not by committing a sin and being sent there. The idea of anyone he knows and loved suffering eternally while those in heaven live in joy is unbearable to him. Here's the bit where he explains his plan. It's written in Scots dialect so might be difficult to understand by some. He's speaking of his plan when he first gets to heaven.

'Weel, gin I win in there, the verra first nicht I sit doon wi’ the lave o’ them, I’m gaein’ to rise up an’ say—that is, gin the Maister, at the heid o’ the table, disna bid me sit doon—an’ say: “Brithers an’ sisters, the haill o’ ye, hearken to me for ae minute; an’, O Lord! gin I say wrang, jist tak the speech frae me, and I’ll sit doon dumb an’ rebukit. We’re a’ here by grace and no by merit, save his, as ye a’ ken better nor I can tell ye, for ye hae been langer here nor me. But it’s jist ruggin’ an’ rivin’ at my hert to think o’ them ‘at’s doon there. Maybe ye can hear them. I canna. Noo, we hae nae merit, an’ they hae nae merit, an’ what for are we here and them there? But we’re washed clean and innocent noo; and noo, whan there’s no wyte lying upo’ oursel’s, it seems to me that we micht beir some o’ the sins o’ them ‘at hae ower mony. I call upo’ ilk ane o’ ye ‘at has a frien’ or a neebor down yonner, to rise up an’ taste nor bite nor sup mair till we gang up a’thegither to the fut o’ the throne, and pray the Lord to lat’s gang and du as the Maister did afore ‘s, and beir their griefs, and cairry their sorrows doon in hell there; gin it maybe that they may repent and get remission o’ their sins, an’ come up here wi’ us at the lang last, and sit doon wi’ ‘s at this table, a’ throuw the merits o’ oor Saviour Jesus Christ, at the heid o’ the table there. Amen.”’

As far as theatre directors willing to try something new and impudent, I would wonder about the director of or others involved with The Light Princess, a musical championed by Tori Amos based on a George MacDonald story, but I'm just brainstorming here.

raito said...

Dr. Brin,

Of course the President never shows his possibly-nonexistent cards. He learned that tactic at the knee of Roy Cohn, cohort of Tailgunner Joe (who never did give us any Commie names).

As for something like your saint, Holly Lisle's Sympathy for the Devil is close in theme, but not plot. And is a pretty good depiction of a diety who genuinely is rooting for humanity, to the point of giving the damned a second chance.

As for fact-checking, it really hasn't changed much. Do your research, and document every step:
https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/vbympa/net-neutrality-fcc-inspector-general-report

As for whether it's possible, it is, but only when people agree on facts. Otherwise, the other guy is always lying. The current putsch is to keep people from believing the other guys facts, either by discrediting the person, poisoning the well, or other tactics.

Larry Hart,

My job is to see that my children become adults.

occam's comic said...

In terms of real observable god.
I would like to point out that Gaia has an observable reality that you don't get from Jesus, Buddha, or Allah.
Gaia is at least "real" as you are or I am.

Steven Hammond said...

occam'ss comic said:

In terms of real observable god.
I would like to point out that Gaia has an observable reality that you don't get from Jesus, Buddha, or Allah.
Gaia is at least "real" as you are or I am.


Very true and I'm quite interested in Gaian philosophy, as is Mary Midgley, the philosopher I've been reading lately. That being said, I think certain forms of Christian panentheism are compatible with Gaianism--I don't know enough about Buddhism or Islam to know if they are.

LarryHart said...

http://www.electoral-vote.com/evp2017/Senate/Maps/Dec20.html#item-3


With all the talk about Donald Trump possibly firing special counsel Robert Mueller, there is actually something Trump could easily do that is worse than firing Mueller: Firing Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein. First of all, Trump doesn't have the legal authority to fire Mueller, so he would first have to fire most of the top staff of the Justice Dept. until he found someone willing to do the job. This would be Saturday Night Massacre II and would probably lead to Trump's impeachment for obstruction of justice. But there is something much simpler that he could do that would be almost as good, namely replacing Rosenstein with someone who wanted to muzzle Mueller without too much commotion.

The deputy AG is Mueller's boss because AG Jeff Sessions has recused himself. Rosenstein has taken a hands-off position with respect to Mueller and let him do what he wants without interference. If Trump fired Rosenstein and replaced him with (an acting) deputy AG, Mueller's new boss could insist that Mueller report to him every day with his plans for tomorrow, which the new acting deputy AG could veto. He could insist on seeing every subpoena and request for information in advance and veto them all. He could make Mueller's life hell and prevent him from making progress. This could all be done under the radar without anyone in Congress calling for the new deputy's head. It might be the ideal way to block Mueller without making waves.


Just putting certain fellow posters here (you know who you are) on notice that Trump firing Rosenstein counts as much as Trump firing Mueller as far as making his illegitimacy apparent to all. No weaseling about how firing Rosenstein isn't obstruction unless Mueller's new boss lets him find that out.

LarryHart said...

raito:

Larry Hart,

My job is to see that my children become adults.


Well, yeah, but try explaining that to a three-year-old.

Keeping her safe is a way of seeing that she becomes an adult.

David Brin said...

“but they show no sign of belief in God tempering their judgement.”

I fear the ones… like Palin and Pence… who would.

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart | that I failed to do my job when I let her get hurt on that escalator

Hmm. Did you really? Seems to me like you traded a scrape for the fear she needed to protect her from bigger dangers in the future. As a bonus, you got to see that she comprehended the lesson on a conscious level. The bonus isn’t needed to protect her, but it probably will. Happy vs Safety. Some things come at the partial cost of others.

The next lesson is the one that says there might be a way to cheat the zero-sum nature of those trade-offs. It takes forethought and hard work, but kids DO that if the reward is high enough.

who don't hold levers of power and affect the course of civilization

Well… that sounds too much like the big man theory of history for me to accept it. Some voter in Virginia did a “big thing” by voting for a particular Democrat which caused a 50/50 split in their lower house. Does that person fit the ‘big man’ model? Nah. It was a small thing that added to other small things. It is our small beliefs that guide us in our small actions and the politicians aren’t any different in this. Their small actions are amplified by the small actions of their voters.

As for wanting a sign of belief tempering someone’s judgment, I’d prefer they stuck closer to social norms. Idealists can be such a pain in the a$$ when they get elected because they have built-in preferences for not compromising. Think about it. What would it be like if I got elected as a legislator. I’d annoy quite a few people when it came to taxes and the death penalty and property rights and …

Russell Osterlund said...

I had recorded earlier and am now watching - painfully - Ken Burns' "The Vietnam War" documentary, having just finished episode 7, "The Veneer of Civilization". A taped conversation between LBJ and Tricky Dicky was played with the 1st (or 2nd) worst President in history lying through his teeth (made my skin crawl hearing his voice again) about sabotaging a possible "October Surprise", the last minute peace breakthrough announced by a halt of the bombing of North Vietnam: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_presidential_election,_1968#Nixon_campaign_sabotage_of_peace_talks

With obvious parallels to recent history, let us hope it doesn't take four decades to expose the latest example of chicanery and treason at the highest levels of our government.

LarryHart said...

@Russell Osterlund,

This part of the linked article was sadly repeated by President Obama this time around, and for pretty much the same reason (thinking that the Democrat was going to win).

The more things change...


Johnson learned of the Nixon-Chennault effort because the NSA was interfering in communications in Vietnam. In response, Johnson ordered NSA surveillance of Chennault and wire-tapped the South Vietnamese embassy and members of the Nixon campaign. He did not leak the information to the public because he did not want to "shock America" with the revelation, nor reveal that the NSA was interfering in communications in Vietnam. Johnson did make information available to Humphrey, but at this point Humphrey thought he was going to win the election, so he did not reveal the information to the public. Humphrey later regretted this as a mistake.

LarryHart said...

Republicans aren't just greedy; they're evil.

#ThereAreNoGoodRepublicans

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/20/opinion/republican-tax-bill-senate-house.html


Republicans will almost certainly focus on instituting work requirements in programs where they don’t already exist, namely Medicaid and food stamps. But most adults on Medicaid already work; those who don’t are primarily people with an illness or disability, caring for family members, in school, or retired. A work requirement will simply take health coverage away from them. Similarly, many childless adults already have to work to get food stamps. Stricter requirements will kick very poor people off the program who tend to struggle with finding a job anyway. Existing work requirements don’t help people find jobs, but simply penalize them.

Republican leaders have wanted to do this for a long time. Mr. Ryan has been salivating over cutting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security for as long as he’s had a political career. Mr. Trump’s 2018 budget proposal, released well ahead of the tax legislation, named “welfare reform” one of its core pillars.

But now that they’ve succeeded in passing a tax package that will reduce government revenues so much, the ensuing cost will serve as the excuse to get everything else they want. They’ll count on our short memories to forget who created larger deficits in the first place. Those deficits will serve as the motivation to enact cuts they’ve sought all along. The tax bill isn’t just a regressive giveaway to corporations and the rich. It’s a Trojan horse with deep government reductions stuffed inside.

TCB said...

Welfare: work requirements.

The Presidency: Twitter, golf, two scoops of ice cream, three hours of Fox News, an hour of praise from a room full of sycophants, Big Macs, Twitter on the shitter, bedtime. Every other week, attempt sex.

Steven Hammond said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LarryHart said...

The long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is over!

Steven Hammond said...

TCB said:

Welfare: work requirements.

The Presidency: Twitter, golf, two scoops of ice cream, three hours of Fox News, an hour of praise from a room full of sycophants, Big Macs, Twitter on the shitter, bedtime. Every other week, attempt sex.


Thanks! That just made my day. I just finished watching Guardians of the Galaxy 1 and 2 so I can't help but see and hear Rocket saying it. ;)

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

As for wanting a sign of belief tempering someone’s judgment, I’d prefer they stuck closer to social norms. Idealists can be such a pain in the a$$ when they get elected because they have built-in preferences for not compromising.


Exhibit A is Paul Ryan. He's an Ayn Randist through and through, and nothing will change that bias. But the thing is, he also publicly claims to be guided by his Catholic moral system, but he doesn't let that get in the way of his philosophical devotion to an atheist misanthrope.

I think you perceive me as calling for more religious morality among our politicians, where what I'm really saying is that the ones who purport to and run on an appeal to religious morality should at least pay more service to that morality. I don't mind them being irreligious. I do mind them being lying hypo-Christians.

LarryHart said...

Is it sexist to perceive accurately that Susan Collins traded her vote for not even a bowl of porridge, but a vaporware promise for a bowl to be delivered at some unspecified date?

https://www.politico.com/story/2017/12/19/susan-collins-gop-tax-bill-media-sexist-244784


The Maine Republican, a key swing vote on the tax package, accused reporters of ignoring her influence over the final legislation and unfairly criticizing her efforts to pass a pair of Obamacare stabilization bills.

“I believe that the coverage has been unbelievably sexist, and I cannot believe that the press would have treated another senator with 20 years of experience as they have treated me,” she told reporters in the Capitol. “They’ve ignored everything that I’ve gotten and written story after story about how I’m duped. How am I duped when all your amendments get accepted?”


Efforts which amount to naught. Is it supposed to be the thought that counts? She gave McConnell what he wanted in exchange for nothing that she wanted, but she meant well?

It's not sexism to notice that Ms Collins has joined Orrin Hatch and Bob Corker in the last refuge of the scoundrel--high horse indignation that people would dare to notice the inconsistent and stupid justifications they give for reversing their vote and conclude that there must be other motivation at work.

As far as I'm concerned, these people can't burn quickly enough or long enough in Hell.

#ThereAreNoGoodRepublicans

A more authoritative voice than mine:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/wp/2017/12/20/sen-collins-its-bogus-to-blame-sexism-for-the-tax-bill-backlash/?utm_term=.440ac3e673c2


No, Collins is unique. She is the only senator who staked her continued presence in the Senate (forgoing a run for governor) on bridging the divide between the parties and who vowed to protect the Obamacare exchanges. What she got was a promise from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to pass two partial offsets that would mitigate some of the harm done by repeal of the individual mandate. She also at the time stated that she’d have a vote on those bills in hand before voting for the tax bill. She doesn’t have that promised vote and likely won’t get the bills through the House (which objects to anything shoring up Obamacare). Collins nevertheless will vote for a bill that included repeal of the individual mandate without receiving any offset. Her vote in that regard is no different from that of other Republicans who vowed to rip up Obamacare root and branch. Her constituents and local media are understandably very upset with her.

She might not like the characterization that she was “duped,” but there is no other way to describe the “deal” she made to secure her vote on a bill that does harm to many of her constituents, perhaps pricing them out of the individual insurance market.

Collins wants praise for pressing for unrelated tax changes (e.g. deductibility of state and local property taxes up to $10,000) that she thinks helps her constituents. Those changes have been noted in most stories concerning her vote but do not in any way mitigate the accurate charge that in the tax bill she is voting to inflict damage on the exchanges that she vigorously fought against in the Obamacare bill. It’s for this reason that some have concluded she was “duped.” (She has not helped her cause by falsely citing economists for the proposition that tax cuts would pay for themselves or for incorrectly claiming that the two health-care bills would more than make up for repeal of the individual mandate.)

Listen, if it makes her feel any better, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) has been getting plenty of criticism, too, for reversing himself on the bill. If Collins is upset by her fall from grace and loss of the applause she received for defense of the Obamacare exchanges, she has no one but herself to blame.

Steven Hammond said...

LarryHart said:

I think you perceive me as calling for more religious morality among our politicians, where what I'm really saying is that the ones who purport to and run on an appeal to religious morality should at least pay more service to that morality. I don't mind them being irreligious. I do mind them being lying hypo-Christians.

The question, of course, is what do Christians mean by "religious morality". Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christians have been accused of having a "Janus faced God"--A God who desires exhorts his minions to unspeakable evil. (See Psalm 137 for advice Christians may see as literal about bashing babies heads against rocks. This, obviously, was not something that continued as literal advice in the Jewish traditions.

From what I can see, there was a very active and vibrant tradition of questioning scripture and making sense of it for humans while retaining the specialness of being a member of the Jewish community. Scripture was used as a stepping-off point in an argument,, much like someone currently might reference a movie or popular novel. Even today, referencing a work of Shakespeare adds credence to your argument.

So, where does that leave us in regards to "religious morality" on the part of Christians? I think you'll see those (mainly fundamentalists and evangelicals) who incorporate some very ancient ideas regarding the role of women, homosexuality, violence toward unbelievers and the fate of unbelievers.

On the other hand, we have the words of Jesus such as the Sermon on the Mount and all the other examples he presents of "enemy love". This is something that Christians have been wrestling with for centuries. From what I can see, non-violence and universal salvation were pretty prevalent amongst Christian scholars in the early church. Origen (wrongly impugned, IMO) is a good example.

We, as Christians (I'll include myself right now) have not done well living up to what Jesus taught. It's so easy to go back to the tribalistic violence in the OT (again, I know modern Jewish teachers are far beyond that). We, as humans, frickin' LOVE righteous violence. That's why Superhero movies are so popular. Even early Christians (like Matthew) had to say, "We'll be peaceful for now, but when Jesus returns, he'll kick your frickin' ASS!"

Jesus had a different message.

LarryHart said...

@Stephen Hammond,

In this particular thread, I'm not complaining about Christians not being nice enough or tolerant enough. I'm complaining about the ones who will do the bidding of the wealthy and powerful for their own enrichment, and when doing so conflicts with the religious morality they use to gain credibility with voters, that religious morality doesn't affect their consideration at all.

The obvious worst offender is Donald Trump, who knows nothing of religion or morality, but proclaims with a straight face, "First of all, I'm a great Christian (and I am)!" But Paul Ryan, who claims to be a great Catholic but has wet dreams about afflicting the afflicted and comforting the comfortable is a close second.

Steven Hammond said...

@ Larry Hart

I Can't agree with you more.

Not sure how Trump became a darling of the Christian right. I suspect it has to do with abortion, but I'm not sure . May be the same with Ryan.

"Christians" are weird... (I'm being honest and non-ironic here).



David Brin said...

“Humphrey thought he was going to win the election, so he did not reveal the information to the public. Humphrey later regretted this as a mistake.”

And Reagan arranged with the Ayatollahs not to release the hostages under Carter.

And Obama took the high road, not revealing Russian meddling… but Flynn, Kushner etc asked the Russians to cooperate, under promise of lifting sanctions…

And swift boat lies and WMD lies….

LH… let me avow when I have a ‘conservative” opinion. I see nothing wrong with asking food stamp or other recipients… even - yes - disability, to show up a couple of times a month and (if they can) do some litter management or light trash removal, etc.
=

Steve, literary-linguistic evidence suggests that the only gospel writer who might have known Jesus personally was Mark. Matthew was blatantly written last. See how the “jailhouse mob” is treated in each gospel. In Mark it’s “the mob” who ask for Barraqbas instead of Jesus. In Matthew it’s “The Jews,” since by his time - 100 y later - the Jews were a competing and separate faith. And he has them openly calling a curse upon their own heads and childrens’ children… Who… Does… Something … Like… That?


“Not sure how Trump became a darling of the Christian right.”

They acknowledge he’s surficially awful, but “God chose him as the vehicle of his justice.” How do they know? “By his fruits you shall know him!”

Oh, these confederates get great fruits from the leaders they choose. If we subtract outliers like Utah and Detroit & Chicago, name a metric of moral and healthy living that is not worse in Red America, from teen sex, STD and pregnancy rates to obesity, dropouts, divorce and domestic violence, gambling and so on. Name... one... exception.  Other than abortion which is a disagreement over fundamentals.

matthew said...

Why do Christian fundamentalists support Donald Trump?
Abortion and Racism.
Misogyny and Tribalism.

No need to go beyond those four points. If Trump appoints only anti-abortion judges, makes blatant his hatred for all non-whites (except those that will personally kiss his ring), makes even more blatant his flat-out contempt of women, and most importantly pisses liberal intellectuals off - well then, Trump could be revealed to be Lucifer himself in a bad red suit with black horns and white Evangelicals would fall all over themselves to vote for him again.

Guns fall into there somewhere too, but in the context of a response to the above, at least for the evangelicals I know, not as a root cause. Then again, I know evangelical-types that didn't become gun nuts until they heard that they should be from the pulpit. 30 years ago, not all Southern Baptists I knew had guns. Now, 100% of the ones I'm still in touch with do have large collections.

Russell Osterlund said...

@Dr. Brin

The problem with your succinct list of past events is that it trivializes each to the point of saying: "Everyone does it; why get in a twist." While perhaps intending a very cynical viewpoint (which I share), the circumstances, the consequences, and the exposure for each event were quite different. The Chennault episode took place while lives, Vietnamese and Americans, were being lost during a political power-play. There is a scale by which these acts should be measured and judged; it took four decades for the truth to come out which is troubling indeed.

LarryHart said...

Steven Hammond:

Not sure how Trump became a darling of the Christian right. I suspect it has to do with abortion, but I'm not sure . May be the same with Ryan.


We've discussed this here before, and the short answer seems to be "He's mean to the people they want to be mean to." It makes more sense if you don't try to think of him as their exemplar, but as their soldier. Whether or not he's one of them, he'll be the attack dog for their issues.

With Ryan...well, it's been pointed out recently that when politicians these days talk about their "Christian values" or "Traditional Christian values", they seem to mean only one thing--or really two related things: Traditional monogamous male/female sex roles with the woman subservient, and sex being only for procreation. That, and that alone, seems to be what is meant by "I'm a Christian", or "I'm a Catholic."


"Christians" are weird... (I'm being honest and non-ironic here).


Ahhh, you bring to mind a time when my daughter was very young and I tried to explain the Easter backstory to her. She wanted to know if Jesus (who she mostly knew as "Baby Jesus" at the time) was dead. I told her that Jesus was not dead, but that He had gone to heaven to be with God. Since most kids know "gone to Heaven" as a euphemism for "dead", this wasn't at all helpful. So after several pauses, I followed up with, "He was alive when He did that," and "Most people don't do it that way."

To which she responded: "Jesus is a weird person."

LarryHart said...

Russell Osterlund:

The problem with your succinct list of past events is that it trivializes each to the point of saying: "Everyone does it; why get in a twist."


That wasn't how I interpreted Dr Brin's list at all. I think his point is that Republicans do this, and that we should be in even more of a twist about that fact.

That's a different thing, in fact the opposite thing.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

LH… let me avow when I have a ‘conservative” opinion. I see nothing wrong with asking food stamp or other recipients… even - yes - disability, to show up a couple of times a month and (if they can) do some litter management or light trash removal, etc.


I wasn't the one complaining about work requirements. But I would put this in the same category as you do with voter id. If people are asked to perform some useful function that within their abilities in order to earn a paycheck, then that's the state being the employer of last resort, and I'm ok with that. However, if work requirements are designed to kick people off of welfare or to punish them for being on welfare, then I have a big problem with that.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

In Mark it’s “the mob” who ask for Barraqbas instead of Jesus. In Matthew it’s “The Jews,” since by his time - 100 y later - the Jews were a competing and separate faith. And he has them openly calling a curse upon their own heads and childrens’ children… Who… Does… Something … Like… That?


Well, Weston did in Perelandra, right before he willingly made himself a receptacle for the evil Oyarsa/devil analogue. But I never got the antecedent for that bit until you made it clear.

Paul SB said...

Dr. Brin,

I agree that welfare recipients should have to do something to keep the gravy train coming in - and not just fill out a form with the names of every job they have applied for (remember the scene in "History of the World" with the unemployed gladiator - "Have you killed anybody today?" "No." "Have you tried to kill anybody today?" "Yes." "Okay, here's your bread." Disability is a trickier matter, because there are so many different kinds of disabilities and different levels of disabilities. Today clinical depression is the #1 cause of disability worldwide, but it's a thing that comes and goes. Someone who has MDD can seem perfectly fine and capable one day, then the next day be having a potentially deadly episode. It's hard to schedule work around something like that, which is why so many of them find themselves unable to keep down a job. So in principal I agree - I still retain much of that old Protestant work ethic I was raised with. But if we are going to hold the disabled to a standard we don't hold our leaders to - and not just the TV Junkie in Chief, but thanks for making that point, TCB - here is a bit of a problem there. I have said before that I would prefer it if we could handle our differences without resorting to pogroms, but I suspect that with this current crop of thieves on our national throne it will take guillotines. Every flag in the nation should be at half-mast until the end of this administration. It has been 35 years since Reagan's tax deform and the nation has done nothing but spiral downward into plutocracy since then. I am doubtful the nation will ever recover from the Grope's latest atrocity.

Paul SB said...

Christians are weird ... Jesus is a weird person...

I think we need to be a little more cautious about how we characterize large groups of people, especially ones who are separated from us by different cultures or gulfs of time, and especially when we find ourselves inclined to throw the "W" word around. It's very easy to judge others by not just the standards but the barely-conscious assumption sets that form our comprehension of what is "normal."

This talk of weirdness reminds me of a conversation I had a few days ago. I don't remember how it veered onto the topic of homosexuality and the Bible, but I brought up the fact that the Levitical restriction restriction covers male homosexuality but makes no mention of female homosexuality. An older lady explained that as "male homosexuality is gross, but female homosexuality is hot." She was being sarcastic, of course, rolling her eyes at the irony of that double standard. However, that dichotomy is how people tend to react today. For a history class I had a couple geological epochs ago we read a book about a lesbian nun in Renaissance Italy. The author made the point that at the time male homosexuality was seen as a understandable but against God's commands, and therefore a sin. But the Bible is silent on female sexuality because the idea was virtually incomprehensible to the authors of those scrolls. In Biblical times women were not really considered to be fully human. They were treated as property - valuable property like horses or cattle, but property nonetheless. The idea that anyone would desire a woman in a romantic way drew a blank for them, because women simply were not seen as valued members of the human race. You might love your dog or horse but if you have romantic feelings for a beast there is something seriously wrong with you.

If I remember it right, the author went into what the Church Fathers had to say on the subject of female homosexuality and found that the ideas had changed a bit centuries later, in the context of a much more cosmopolitan Rome than the very backward, isolationist Levites of the 3rd Century B.C. Saint Augustine of Hippo, considered one of the most important voices in the Christian Church, was willing to make an exception. According to him, if two women used an imitation of male anatomy "of leather or glass" then that was okay, because they were just warming themselves up to their men. Being the weaker sex, women have less courage when faced with their Godly duty to reproduce the Chosen People, so it should be natural that they would do such things to give each other courage. If, on the other hand, they did not use an object of leather or glass, then they were being "bestial" (equating women with beasts) and should be stoned to death. Centuries later, St, Francis turned that one around, demanding death for those who substituted an imitation for a real man, but claiming that women who made love with just their hands and mouths were just expressing their weakness for touch and physical comfort, which they might not be getting from their husbands, because men don't really feel any more romantic toward their women than they do for their dogs or horses.

I don't remember the author bringing up Marshall Sahlins, but it's a very similar argument to how he explains the irrational refusal of most people today to eat dogs or horses. As a natural desire it would be nearly incomprehensible because of our current valuation system. Anyway, the point of that long digression is to be careful about how we think about people of the distant past. We rarely know the background assumptions that formed their beliefs and personalities. Sometimes it's best to just stretch our heads and admit that we don't really understand. Otherwise we start believing whatever ideas flatter our ancestors /co-religionists and denigrate all Others.

LarryHart said...

PaulSB:

For a history class I had a couple geological epochs ago we read a book about a lesbian nun in Renaissance Italy. The author made the point that at the time male homosexuality was seen as a understandable but against God's commands, and therefore a sin. But the Bible is silent on female sexuality because the idea was virtually incomprehensible to the authors of those scrolls


I used to (quite understandably, IMHO) perceive "homosexual" as referring to anyone whose sexual preference is for their own gender. It has since been made clear (by people like Larry Craig who can say without irony, "I'm not gay. I just like to have sex with other men.") that the culture defines a clear distinction between men who like to be inseminated (gay) vs those who like to inseminate other men (not gay). The former is considered to be a man acting as a woman should, whereas the latter is not.

From that perspective, female homosexuality, which has nothing to do with insemination, is almost off the radar entirely.

Paul SB said...

Interesting point. The very same thing came up in a WHO report on AIDS in Brazil. Apparently being manly in Brazil means having anal sex, which is seen as "risky," but women don't generally want it, so "manly" men chase after "womanly" men who are even more submissive than "real" women. So that meme predates Larry Craig. I'm not sure how far it goes in the U.S., but off a famous person says it, millions will accept it.

Russell Osterlund said...

@LarryHart

Perhaps the references to Humphrey and Obama obscured his point and strengthens your rebuttal. Part of "my" response to Dr. Brin's list is how each incident rises to different levels of indecency. Are you seriously going to equate "swift boat lies" and Iran to "Russian meddling"? Perhaps through partisan shades it might. LBJ's attempt to influence the 1968 election is not above reproach; but, both Humphrey and Obama, I believe, measured their actions against the harm it might do our democracy and deserve our admiration. "The more things change..." indeed.

LarryHart said...

Russell Osterlund:

Are you seriously going to equate "swift boat lies" and Iran to "Russian meddling"?


Not in degree, but they don't have to be equated as if the are on opposite sides of a balance. Both are examples of Republican disingenuousness paying off in terms of power.

Appropriate salutation from a caller to Stephanie Miller's show:

Treason's greetings.

Darrell E said...

I think that "meme" has been around since recorded history. In many ancient cultures homosexuality was not considered to be abnormal or unacceptable. Whether you were the dominant member of the pairing or not was where a distinction was made. The same general attitude can be seen these days everywhere from US prison populations to Muslim cultures in which homosexuality could get you killed, but an older male dominating a younger male is not necessarily a problem.

LarryHart said...

@Paul SB:

I didn't think the idea of gayness being related to insemination originated with Larry Craig; it was just his statements that clarified the concept for me.

Apparently, homosexuality is not about which gender one wants to have sex with, but about how someone wants to have sex. "Manly men" want to inseminate others--which others being immaterial. "Gay" men are the ones who "elect to receive", as it were.

Lesbians would be a completely different milieu, having nothing to do with giving or receiving semen. Disapproval of lesbianism is more like disapproval of masturbation--not nearly as rage-inducing as (yuck!) male homosexuality, which is seen as a crime against God.

raito said...

Dr. Brin, Larry Hart,

I remember debating certain political portions of Starship Troopers with someone. He asked if someone who was a blind, deaf, dumb, quadriplegic with no schooling could enter federal service. I said, yes, everyone was eligible, and even if all he did was literally act as a doorstop, he'd be able to gain his franchise. Because the point was that anyone could get it, and that the state would make whatever arrangements were necessary for him to get it. So simultaneously, you had a state that was unforgiving in letting people slack off but compassionate to those who tried.

And yes, this is similar to the voter ID thing in that respect. If the state imposes in that manner upon the individual, then it behooves the state to arrange so that the imposition is possible. Like Dr. Brin keeps saying about voter ID and compliance assistance.

But circumstances also impinge on 'abilities' here. Let's say that the state does impose some minimum amount of work in order to receive benefits. And let's say further that all those benefits are given as vouchers, not cash. But a person has children of pre-school age, and the state does not provide child care, either itself or by voucher. Now what happens? The person is unable to pay for child care in order to do the minimum to get the benefits.

Paul SB,

I've seen both sides. I lived in an apartment complex (in WI) where 2/3 of the license plates were from IL, and they disappeared for a day or two every couple weeks. I've also seen people who were otherwise unemployable for a plethora of reasons. In the end, I think I'm usually willing to give assistance even though there will be some abuse of the system. I'd rather help and recognize the waste than to be efficient and not help. Then again, I also see assistance programs as investments, and not all investments pay off.

For the rest of you, you might like the card game Dogma, a recreation of the First Council of Nicea, where you play a faction attempting to get its tenets into doctrine. Each card as a tenet, and the history behind it. You can get very different Creeds in different games...

Jon S. said...

"I remember debating certain political portions of Starship Troopers with someone. He asked if someone who was a blind, deaf, dumb, quadriplegic with no schooling could enter federal service. I said, yes, everyone was eligible, and even if all he did was literally act as a doorstop, he'd be able to gain his franchise. Because the point was that anyone could get it, and that the state would make whatever arrangements were necessary for him to get it. So simultaneously, you had a state that was unforgiving in letting people slack off but compassionate to those who tried."

To quote the book itself:

"But if you came in here in a wheel chair and blind in both eyes and were silly enough to insist on enrolling, they would find something silly enough to match. Counting the fuzz on a caterpillar by touch, maybe. The only way you can fail is by having psychiatrists decide that you are not able to understand the oath."

Robert said...

So I was considering the new corporate tax rates and how it basically screws over the American worker and innovations in general... and was thinking "what sorts of tax breaks should exist for corporations which would encourage innovation, higher wages, and the like?

So. I'm thinking we could have a flat corporate tax rate of 35% as a base.

The federal government would offer an employment incentive for employers. Most wages are 100% tax deductible, but only for those wages that are at within a range of say 5x. So if the lowest wage worker is $20,000 a year, then the highest wage that would qualify for deductions is $100,000. If part-time workers are at least 20% of your workforce then the lowest part-time worker yearly pay would be that base. This does mean that senior executive teams would likely not have their wages deducted unless their total salary (including benefits, stock options, and the like) is no more than 5x that of their lowest paid employee.

Contractors would be included in this for the base salary. If you employ contractors then the lowest-paid contractor's salary would be the base from which you get deductions. This encourages companies to use contractors who treat their employees well.

Next, local infrastructure investments are fully deducted. If the company pays for electric transmission lines, water pipes, sewage pipes, road construction or repairs, or the like? It's deducted (so long as the company used is not a subsidiary of the business). This would encourage business to start improving local infrastructure rather than take advantage of local areas. (If the company owns the company doing the infrastructure work, then perhaps give them a 50% deduction instead.)

Research and Development is also a tax deduction. We want companies investing in new technology, scientific research, and more. This research is what improves this nation and makes our businesses a success.

-------------

What other things would you guys suggest as corporate deductions?

Rob H.

Jacob said...

Hi Rob H,

If there are known externalities in an industry, I think those businesses which take steps to voluntarily limit said externalities should be able to deduct said expenses.

LarryHart said...

#ThereAreNoGoodRepublicans

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/20/opinion/trump-republican-coup.html


When Donald Trump’s campaign was accused of spreading “fake news,” he quickly appropriated the term for himself. The true purveyors of fake news, he claimed, were television networks like CNN and newspapers like this one.

Now, as Mr. Trump and his allies seem on the verge of staging a coup against independent institutions and the rule of law — maligning the special counsel Robert Mueller and threatening a purge at the F.B.I. — the president’s supporters are appropriating yet another word for themselves. Mr. Mueller’s investigation aims to “destroy” the Trump presidency “for partisan political purposes and to disenfranchise millions of American voters,” the Fox News host Jesse Watters claimed on Saturday. “We have a coup on our hands in America.”

This marks a new era in American politics. The Republican Party is no longer just obfuscating the truth or defending the president when he is accused of wrongdoing. Rather, Mr. Trump, Fox News and Republicans in Congress seem to be actively using falsehoods to prepare an assault on the institutions that allow American democracy to function.

...

This is why the pundits and politicians who have helped to delegitimize Mr. Mueller and his investigation over the past weeks are making themselves active accomplices in a deliberate assault on our democracy. But it is also why those who have failed to condemn these attacks — like Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, and Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader — are equally to blame.

The only effective way to stop the creation of an alternative reality that justifies any action whatsoever is for politicians who are trusted by their own side to call out shameless falsehoods. That is precisely what most mainstream conservatives are failing to do.

SapphireHarp said...

"Other than abortion which is a disagreement over fundamentals."

And possibly not even that. Web searches for do-it-yourself abortion procedures have risen throughout the south as it has become more difficult to get a legal abortion. The searches suggest a range from legal mail-order pills with remote medical support to the most horrifying scenarios possible. Exact numbers would be impossible to discover, but there's definitely a significant occurrence happening.

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/06/opinion/sunday/the-return-of-the-diy-abortion.html
https://talkpoverty.org/2017/08/11/let-remind-jeff-sessions/

Darrell E said...

"Is it possible to fact-check?"

Sure. There are people / groups that do a decent job of that already. But I wonder how much benefit it actually is. Good fact checkers are a great resource for people that care about reality and accuracy. But that is very much like preaching to the choir because there are a significant number of people out there that won't believe the truth no matter the preponderance or quality of the evidence that supports it. Going by recent events in the US (past 25 years or so) such people apparently comprise about 35% of the voting population. Granted, some number of those are very likely to have a good grasp of the facts and are simply liars, cheaters and or thieves.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

In fact, we're all koolaid-drinkers, to some degree. (We're human, after all -- at least until uplift or the arrival of AI.) But the American/Western renaissance always depended on a majority of our citizens tempering this willful delusion with a grounding in pragmatic tools of evidence, even a willingness to murmur the sacred incantation of science: "I might be wrong."


This is a tangent to the subject, but it seems to me that this will ultimately be the downfall of bitcoin. Enough scammers agree with each other that the rest of the world has "fake news", and that they (the scammers) actually own all of the bitcoins in question. You say it can't happen that way, but the fact that an analogous thing is happening in cable news should give one pause.

Robert said...

Another thing I figure would work well for a Corporate tax deduction is recycling costs - this would also include fees for recycling equipment that is being replaced (like computers or various machinery) to discourage dumping. Perhaps this could include benefits for those companies that recycle using companies that use environmentally friendly methods of recycling rather than just sending old computers and the like overseas to be torn apart in small villages and the like as often happens.

Hmm. what else would be a constructive corporate tax deduction? Well, I suppose corporate charitable giving, seeing that currently the Republicans are trying to gut charities.

Other ideas?

Rob H.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Re - Unemployment Benefits

I am much much more in favor of a UBI - and that would not be a "benefit" but it would be part of the citizens "share" of our combined joint inheritance from our forebears

Not being a "benefit" has substantial health benefits - in Sweden healthy people on "benefit" have much higher sickness levels than people working UNTIL they reach retirement age and change to the pension - then their sickness levels drop to the same as the rest of the population

Being able to do required but "uneconomic" work for a "top up" to the UBI would be a good idea

David S said...

Robert, the 2010 HIRE act allowed companies to deduct the new hire's employer side social security contribution (up to 12 months worth) if the company could document that the new hire was unemployed for the previous 60 days.

Looking big picture, if we going to run up $1.5T in deficits, I would rather we just deficit spend $1.5T in infrastructure because at least we'd have the infrastructure.

As a Keynesian, I would rather have seen us follow the second half of Keynesian recommendation. During the recession we ran up deficits by the goverment being the spender of last resort. Now that major economic indicators (near full employement, record stock levels, record corporate profits, GDP growth) indicate we are out of the recession, we should be paying down debt. So that we can afford to run up a debt the next recession or war (both seem likely).

Robert said...

That's a new hire. Also, how long was that law allowed to stay in effect? Seeing it's an Obama-era law, I could see Trump killing it out of spite.

Also, it's a minimal thing there- the Social Security contribution, for up to 12 months. I'm talking a long-term tax deduction that would encourage more balanced wages (and even higher wages). After all, if wages are no longer an expense (seeing they would be fully deducted from taxable income, then corporations have an incentive to actually pay employees rather than cut wages or jobs when the economy goes south.

As for what I'd have done with the extra tax money coming in, I would actually advocate having it pay down the deficit and then the debt. In fact, having Democrats state the money would be used for deficit and debt reduction would be a nail in the coffin for Republican Party "tax-and-spend" claims. Smart Democrats could even say "in years back Republicans claimed Democrats are the tax-and-spend party. Well, Republicans are the "charge it to our grandkids and spend anyway" party, and it's time we pay our bills. It is time to pay down our debt and get into responsible spending habits. Any Republican voting against this genuine corporate tax reform is advocating foolish spending habits that would bankrupt any lower- or middle-class American family, and risks bankrupting our country."

Rob H. who still wants to hear other corporate tax deduction ideas that would be beneficial in this scenario

LarryHart said...

@Robert,

I used to want to pay down the debt. In fact, I was quite hopeful when it looked as if the debt might be paid off during the Clinton era.

George W Bush proved that the only "benefit" to Democrats paying down debt is that Republicans feel more free to run debt back up again.

That told me that there's no such thing as fiscal responsibility--it's just a matter of whether borrowed money gets spent on Democratic priorities or Republican priorities. Given that choice, it's not even a contest.

LarryHart said...

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/20/world/middleeast/pence-mideast-trip-palestinians-christians.html


Evangelicals believe in the biblical prophecy that God promised the land of Israel — including modern-day Jerusalem — to Abraham and his descendants


Do they even know their own history? Arabs are descendants of Abraham as much as Jews are.

LarryHart said...

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/21/world/middleeast/trump-jerusalem-united-nations.html


In a collective act of defiance toward Washington, the United Nations General Assembly voted 128 to 9, with 35 abstentions, for a resolution demanding that the United States rescind its Dec. 6 declaration on Jerusalem, the contested holy city.


Heh. 191 to 2 would have been nice, but this is almost as nice.

And I say this as a Jewish American who is not opposed to Israel on most things. But this wasn't about Israel. It was about a bully and a thug destroying American's place in the world and sabotaging any prospect of peace just to play up to his Evangelical base.


...
Many diplomats who spoke before the vote — from Turkey, Venezuela, Pakistan, the Maldives, Bangladesh and others — took offense at the pressure campaign by the White House, including last-minute threats by Mr. Trump to cut off aid to countries who voted for the resolution.
...
“The administration made the issue about them — not about Israel,” he said. “And since they made it about them and they used unprecedented tactics, unheard-of in the diplomatic work of the U.N., including blackmail and extortion, then they in my opinion offended the entire international community.”
...

Alfred Differ said...

Rob H | I would actually advocate having it pay down the deficit and then the debt.

That probably has some tricky consequences. Pay down the debt enough and you'll dry up a segment of the fixed income market that is treated as almost riskless. That would have interesting consequences for people with a lot of money or a need to hedge the risks they take. Where to put it?

Lending money to the government really should be treated as a problem by those of us who don't. Progressives get upset at the 1% (really the 0.0001%), but don't seem to pay attention to the way those folks REALLY make money. Riskless lending is an important thing to understand.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

"I would actually advocate having it pay down the deficit and then the debt."

That probably has some tricky consequences. Pay down the debt enough and you'll dry up a segment of the fixed income market that is treated as almost riskless


I think the W administration taught us how freaked out the Powers That Be get at the possibility of the national debt disappearing.

I don't mind a manageable debt. What I mind is the Republicans using the debt as a club to shrink domestic spending when they're out of power when they're the ones who run that debt up when they're in power.

LarryHart said...

...but is there a limit above which your lending to the government stops being risk-free?

Also, Republicans are the ones who claim to want a balanced budget Amendment, which would be disastrous for many reasons, some of which you just mentioned.

And Libertarians seem to want us back on the gold standard, which is a balanced budget amendment on steroids.

TCB said...

>...but is there a limit above which your lending to the government stops being risk-free?

The Empire may have spent $852 quadrillion to build the Death Star and if that was all borrowed, then when Luke dropped a cheap torpedo down the exhaust port, millions of Imperial Government accountants must have cried out in terror and been suddenly silenced.

Apk Hx said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
David Brin said...

TCB Robot Chicken had a hilarious take on the Emperor receiving the news of Vader being the only survivor.

"It wasn't even paid off! WHat? Build another one? That's your answer? Who's gonna loan me... oh, now, stop crying..."

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart | The smaller the national debt, the smaller the influence creditors (spelled 'donors') can have on the politicians who serve our children in the next generation. One can still try to buy a politician, but it is harder to scare them with what happens if interest rates rise. Remember that a creditor (remember... 'donor') can choose not to buy treasuries as much. They can even make it sound like they intend good. If the buyers aren't there in the necessary numbers, interest rates go up because offer prices go down to match supply with demand. Fixed income creditors have political power from the sheer fact that they are willing to buy at a certain price HERE instead of THERE.

We are better off in the long run if we minimize supply so they stay hungry for low risk bonds. If we keep our spending down, they have to take risks OR submit in our fixed price markets. For it to work well, we need all the West to pitch in.

Always weigh your desired spending projects against the power you grant to creditors who pay for them. It's really hard to have one and not get the other.

TCB said...

Oh! Right! I DO remember that Robot Chicken.

"What the hell is a aluminum falcon?"

Paul451 said...

Robert,
Re: Limiting deductible wages to 5x range.
"This does mean that senior executive teams would likely not have their wages deducted unless their total salary (including benefits, stock options, and the like) is no more than 5x that of their lowest paid employee."

In effect, you are trying to invent a convoluted, indirect version of a progressive income tax system. You'd be better off having a progressing tax system. Anything you do that creates complexity above that, merely provides ways for those who have the necessary resources to manipulate the system, while creating a system that is too complex for ordinary people to understand.

For example, "Contractors would be included in this for the base salary." I assume you mean labour hire companies, not just individual contract-workers, in order to prevent the obvious loophole of simply splitting a company in multiple "service" companies working for the core. But how exactly would you define that? And how does a business check that it's genuinely independent suppliers meet or don't meet the definition, and if they meet the definition whether they do or don't meet the 5x rule. No supplier is going to tell me what they pay their staff and managers.

I do the books for small businesses, and the number of suppliers even a small business deals each year with is enormous. Your system would be impossible for us to comply with, even if we were doing nothing "wrong". Therefore, politically, even small/medium business would be lining up being with big-business-funded politicians who promise to destroy such a system.

If you want a progressive income tax system, just have a freakin' progressive income tax system. If you can't maintain a progressive income tax system, then what on Earth makes you think you could get something like this into law?

Re: Recycling deduction.

Not a deduction but Germany (IIRC) has a law that adds the cost of recycling to all products as a tax. The manufacturers can then claim that tax money back by handling the recycling themselves. The incentive, therefore, is to make products as easy to recycle as possible.

--

PaulSB repeats the assumption that people must be forced to "do something" to be allowed to fall into a welfare safety net. It's ironic, given his concerns about the mental health issues of the competitive culture in the US. All you end up doing with adversarial welfare is institutionalising the recipients. By constantly hanging Damocles' sword over them, they focus on nothing else but dealing with the system (and then escaping from the stress of dealing with the system. Financial instability replicates the psychology of addiction, favouring short term thinking at the expense of long term planning.) OTOH, UBIs act as a genuine safety net: when you know you aren't going to fall, you can focus on larger goals. It gives people the freedom to think long term.

Paul SB said...

I was helping some students prepare for a chemistry final a couples days ago and while they were looking up Selenium on the PTE I mumbled something about a Selenium Falcon. We decided that after the final it might be a fun project to make a PTE of science-fiction puns. So besides the Aluminum Falcon, any other ideas?

LarryHart said...

The Democrat should have won the Virginia recount!

http://www.electoral-vote.com/evp2017/Senate/Maps/Dec22.html#item-4

I can't reproduce the image here, but if you go to the link, you can see what the deciding ballot looked like.

While I agree that, if taken at face value, it seems to indicate that the intent of the voter was to cross out a vote for the Democrat and vote Republican instead, the also-obvious fact is that there's no way to tell whether the voter himself or a Republican operative did the scratching out and filling in, which is why such ballots are considered spoiled in the first place.

Paul SB said...

Paul #1 (assuming you were the first Paul to become a regular here,

I actually agree with you about UBI, and you make an important point here. But I think you are misunderstanding Paul #2 a wee bit. I was adding some caveats to what Dr. Brin was saying, not presenting some new idea whole-cloth. As a general rule I think it is necessary for people to contribute to society however they are capable, but I also accept that there are many people in this world who simply aren't capable of contributing, at least not in a conventional sense. I have spent time working in special education classes, helping children whose brains are so out of whack there is very little hope for them. A true conservative would say 'Fuck 'em, they're freaks of nature, cursed by God - we should let them die." Many teachers who have helped out in special ed classes once never came back, and weren't much good while they were there.

But the conventional sense misses something - it misses a lot of something. Let's start with the neurochemistry, as I am so wont to do. 'Tis better to give than to receive, and that has been proven by neuroscience. Most people get three times as much oxytocin when they help another (and not just other humans, caring for animals can have the same effect) as they do when they are given help (or money). Helping people like these can be immensely rewarding for many people. While most people see the mentally handicapped as parasites, for others caring for them is an emotional lifeline. In that way, they ARE contributing, and I'm perfectly happy with counting that. Now for the symbolic side we can look at notions of charity (Christian or otherwise) and common ideas humans all over the world share about the value of human life.

As Clifford Geertz might say, the story we tell about ourselves matters, it influences how we act. America has been telling itself the story that humans are naturally competitive, that the ones who "win" are the good people and anyone who cares about their fellow human beings are really Communist infiltrators trying to take away our glorious freedom. That's why it's so easy to get a huge chuck of the American people to elect obvious charlatans and gangs of thieves to high office, and why the nation has been slipping back into a land of great poverty since the end of the Cold War. During the Cold War we were too preoccupied with the External Other, which unified us. Now without that enemy we have fallen to petty factionalism and are tearing the place apart.

I would prefer to promote a culture of unity and service, one where we take individual freedom seriously enough to recognize that freedom won't last long if we continue to ignore and denigrate social responsibility. I just saw a little blurb on Facepalm in which a Disney heiress explains how she is going to make a killing off the new tax bill, while most of us are going to sink into poverty because of it. She was willing to forgo the tax break for the sake of the American people, and recognized something that I have been saying for a very long time - greedy bastards are generally short-sighted, because when they parasitize their customer base, eventually they are going to lose the customers who buy their products. Even the slum lords will lose out in the end, as people come to realize that they can't afford to have children and fail to reproduce the next generation of wage slaves. The people who need the Sword of Damocles over their heads are (as Damocles himself was) the rulers, the elites, the 0.0001%.

I don't know how society can create that sword. This is a good forum for discussion, at least. One thing I do know is that we need to attend to our memes much more closely, and try to find that sweet spot between rapacious self-interest and ant-like conformity. America went way too far in the rapacious direction, and we have been reaping what we've sown. We need to try to re-instill some of that natural human community and the ideals that go with it.

Tim Wolter said...

Paul SB
Regards PTE puns, I suggest: What gets put into different water supplies. Not just Florine!

In descending atomic number order

107 Bohrium. High School drinking fountains
105 Dubnium George Bush's ranch in Texas
102 Nobelium water supply at Swedish Academy of Sciences. See also any public figures you actually admire in 2017
107 Berkelium preferred beverage of Antifa!
90 Thorium water supply in Valhalla
62 Samarium for doers of good deeds everywhere
56 Barium Yogi, Smokey, etc
48 Cadmium Harvey Weinstein
37 Rubidium Fox News viewers

And with that Christmas present to my partisan friends, I bid you adieu and wish you the Merriest

TW/Tacitus

Robert said...

Concerning the corporate tax and wage rates:

This would be for services, not good. If you hire a janitorial firm then the lowest-paid janitor counts as the baseline. If you are buying car hoods from Generic Auto Manufacturer then you are not buying a service but a product and thus those companies are separate.

A lot of companies contract out their cleaning services and the like. It helps them save money. A lot of companies also hire temp workers to lower costs seeing they don't have to give them benefits and can let them go on the drop of a dime. If you don't have some method of encouraging wage equality, you will see corporations full of contract workers so that the billionaire bosses can deduct their rape of the company from the taxes.

This isn't a progressive tax. This is a tax deduction. And it's meant to encourage higher wages. And there are incentives needed to ensure higher wages - like Obama's little one-year lapse in hiring an unemployed person to try and cut down on long-term unemployment was meant as an incentive to help encourage hiring of the unemployed.

Now you have seen a flaw in this tax deduction. Let's examine this and determine how to make it work so that it encourages wage equality but is not too complex.

For instance, we could just state "if 20% or more of your workforce is part-time or contract workers, their average yearly income will be considered the baseline for what wages are deductible." We could also state that ALL wages can be deducted up to that limit - so if someone is making $1,000 above that top line, the company isn't penalized and is only unable to deduct levels above that amount (and that actually makes the math fairly easy - say you have the lowest annual salary is $10,000 a year due to part-time work, then the company gets to deduct up to $50,000 from corporate profits for each person's wages.

And let's face it. The current system of deductions is quite convoluted. What we're doing is simplifying things in a number of areas to encourage companies to do socially responsible spending.

Rob H.

Finn de Siecle said...

@Robert/Rob H., I've had similar thoughts on incentives in the corporate tax, though you were more generous than my idea was -- my version was just "you can deduct the cost of wages and benefits for your lowest-paid full-time employee times the number of full-timers you employ," with the intentions being to both raise base pay and discourage the skyrocketing of the top ends of pay scales. (I never sorted out how to balance the legitimate need for some part-timers with discouraging employers from turning full-timers into part-timers just to make more money off of them.) As far as subcontractors go, I figure if you outsource, then it's the contractor's company that gets the wage/benefit deduction (if domestic).

@Paul451, I think the point of Rob's suggestion was that corporate & business tax laws already include various deductions, and while some of them may have made sense when they were enacted, many now just incentivize companies to do things they would do anyway or do things that we now find counterproductive -- for example, though I don't recall where I saw it, I remember reading that a company can deduct the bonus perks it gives to its top officers, which has merely led to ridiculous levels of executive compensation. If we're going to incentivize via tax deductions at all (and we probably should, if only so the taxation "stick" has a "carrot" to balance it out), better to encourage businesses to do things that have benefits beyond themselves and their bottom lines. They'll take care of the bottom line just fine without any incentive needed.

LarryHart said...

Tim Wolter:

And with that Christmas present to my partisan friends, I bid you adieu and wish you the Merriest


I hope that isn't a "goodbye forever". I'd rather bid you au revioir.

Merry Christmas in any case.

Catfish N. Cod said...

TCB: The Empire may have spent $852 quadrillion to build the Death Star and if that was all borrowed, then when Luke dropped a cheap torpedo down the exhaust port, millions of Imperial Government accountants must have cried out in terror and been suddenly silenced.

Well, the population of the Empire was estimated at 100 quadrillion (50 million planets * 2 billion average population, with a very wide variance from a city-planet of over one trillion (Coruscant) down to barely-habitable places like Bespin with under a million.

So that's just $800 per sentient. Even at a relatively low technology level (pre-fusion, no FTL), an incompletely developed medium-population planet produces $16,000 per sentient per year. So the original Death Star, whose costs could be amortized over the twenty years from planning to completion, could have easily been accommodated by the Empire's budget.

Now the second Death Star was thrown together in only three years, and was 40 km larger in diameter, therefore 2.37 times larger in volume. That might have stressed the Imperial budget considerably, despite being only partially completed (probably a five-year amortization would the plan).

One can see why future evil overlords sought cost-cutting measures.

George Carty said...

@David Brin

"If we subtract outliers like Utah and Detroit & Chicago, name a metric of moral and healthy living that is not worse in Red America, from teen sex, STD and pregnancy rates to obesity, dropouts, divorce and domestic violence, gambling and so on. Name... one... exception."

How much of this disparity is down to Blue America being more competently run though, and how much of it is because there is less poverty in Blue America because its sky-high housing costs have priced out the poor (at least the white poor)?

I expect that most poor people in blue-state cities are third-world immigrants (or their descendants unassimilated to American culture), as they are far more likely to tolerate the level of overcrowding necessary to live there on a menial worker's wage. That could have an effect on the moral metrics as immigrants by definition have more "get up and go" than the native population (as they're the people who actually got up and went!)

Jon S. said...

"Oh! Right! I DO remember that Robot Chicken.

'What the hell is a aluminum falcon?'"


For the benefit of those who don't remember it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3F1d3QWsyk0

:D

David S said...

I'm all for more progressive tax rates, so maybe add more high end brackets. Adding brackets does not complicate the tax code. Calculating the tax is the easiest part of the process, you just look up the value in pre-calculated table.

If working within the current system of deductions and exemptions, how about tax breaks per unionized employee, deductions for employee training programs, employee ownership programs, employee profit sharing?

If your looking for more radical systemic changes, how about removing all all the targeted handouts given via the tax deductions/exemptions form the tax code. Put back into the general budget so that the government has to actually cut the checks for those hand outs. Make them programs that have to get regularly renewed.

While we are at it, should there be more things that are funded with specific taxes like how social security & medicare are straight payroll deductions that don't get manipulated with deductions & exemptions like state & federal withholding is. If programs like these were subject to progressive tax rates (instead of the current regressive rate that SS uses).

Robert said...

Well, Finn, the alternative is to rule that any employee that works at least 20 hours average per week is considered full-time for sake of factoring in the baseline wage.

I also have to wonder if benefits should be included in this, though it should be the portion of the benefits that employers pay, not the bits that employees pay into.

There are problems with this and this is why I brought this out here, so that intelligent people can look at it and poke holes in it. If a well-constructed system is initially developed then we can avoid politicians trying to add all sorts of amendments to "fix" it.

So let's see. What are some things that would be beneficial corporate tax deductions?
Employee wages - maybe make it ALL employee wages except for senior management teams?
Local infrastructure improvements
Recycling costs
Research and Development costs
Environmental Regulation Compliance costs?

Rob H. who knows the last is iffy but if we give them a carrot then they might comply and we could save the damn planet....

Robert said...

Okay. It seems that next year Republicans plan on trying to pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill to try and keep their base happy and stave off a huge upset in 2018's elections. I fully support Democrats working for an effective bipartisan bill but there is one huge tremendous thing they have to insist on:

Temporary tax increases to pay for the infrastructure project.

In short, Democrats need to state "we will not borrow on our children's future to pay for Republican projects - or our own." If Republicans whine about it, they can state "you are the party that insists the deficit is a huge deal when we have a Democrat in the White House. But now that you control the Legislature, the White House, and the Supreme Court, you now claim deficits are not a problem?"

Further, Democrats should insist these temporary tax increases be paid purely by the rich and by corporations, which will benefit most from infrastructure improvements. After all, if our roads and railroads are falling apart then goods can't make it to market which hurts the corporations and bottom lines for the wealthy.

Republicans will end up looking bad either way. Either they just agreed to tax increases which will infuriate part of their base? Or they openly state that they don't care about deficits unless it's a Democrat behind it.

In the end this infrastructure bill will fall apart. Republicans are far too fractured to go for it. But Democrats could end up looking golden if they play their cards right.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

"How much of this disparity is down to Blue America being more competently run though, and how much of it is because there is less poverty in Blue America ..."

Across 150 years, there's a difference? Red states have received net in-flows of money, especially from FDR's and LBJ's massive help programs. If your state cannot leverage that into a rise in all categories, you are electing the wrong folks. NCarolina, VA and (lesser) Georgia and Texas all invested in universities. The benefits were huge, but also turned the first two purple and gave the other two islands of utter blue.

Jacob said...

@Rob H.
That is sort of where I was going with externalities. It can be hard to make recommendations that you know can easily be abused. Take for example your initial description of R&D (investing in new technology, scientific research, and more). I don't think that many of the things that companies claim as R&D even try to aspire to that noble cause.

My general rule for considering every tax advantage is the following.
"I think everyone else should pay more in Taxes than this individual/coperation because they do X."
If you feel you can't justify raising others taxes because the virtues of a behavior, I don't think you should provide the break.

Mind you I'm not trying to say don't offer any breaks. I'm comfortable with us taking action. Sorry I don't have other examples for you than compensating for unrealized costs of doing their business.

Jacob said...

@Rob H. How do you feel about the following language? Democrats should insist these temporary tax increases be paid by those who are not realizing an equivalent burden on their freedom that other respectable taxpayers are. That the goal isn't to limit freedom any more than the average that currently exists.

Twominds said...

I've no addition to the tax discussion, but it did remind me of a thought I had about banks and loans and interests.

When you take a loan you pay interest of course, no problem there. If you pay it back on time, you'll pay say 15% on the main sum. If you can't pay it back in time, interest will add to interest and that quickly grows. I had an acquaintance who got into trouble with a loan, and by the time he was on his feet again, it had grown into an unmanageable debt. The main sum plus five times that IIRC, with interest adding almost a main sum per year by then. I lost sight of him around that time, so I don't know if and how he solved that.

I think such interest is much too much. A bank needs interest of course on a loan, to earn money. But I think a cap of 100% of the main sum should be enough. That's still a lot more than what they'd get from a reliable borrower, so they won't lose out. And it would help prevent people to drown in debts that can't be repaid. Bonus would be that it would place a brake on giving out loans where chances are high that they can't be paid back, or too large loans.

This should be true for countries too. Main sum + 100% is what the borrower can expect at a maximum. It prevents countries from needing most of their GDP for just the interest on their debts, and discourages 'adversarial or predatory borrowing' as I would call it. Like some banks did with Greece.

Is this an idea that could be hammered into a useful from, or do you see holes in it from afar?


By the way, I never need to prove anymore I'm no robot. Don't we need to teach the self-driving cars road-signs anymore?

Twominds said...

To add to my previous post: I can see one hole. In times of high inflation, it could be easier to let inflation melt away most the debt than pay the fixed sum that results from my idea. Borrowers wouldn't have an instrument against that.

Robert said...

Small note that I suspect Dr. Brin might find humor in...

I recently read a Tumblr post thread in which people were commenting on how urban animals will come to humans for aid and the discussion evolved to describing humans in the eyes of animals much like we humans have stories about the Fae.

This includes "don't eat the food of the fae lest you never find human food satisfying again" - compared to how animals will prefer human food to their own (because of the higher sugar content perhaps), how our homes are always summer-like in winter, and spring/fall-like in summer, and how we are... whimsical. Sometimes helpful. sometimes harmful. And you never can truly be sure which unless you can identify the individual human (like crows and ravens can).

https://tangent101.tumblr.com/post/168835080530/oceaxereturns-roachpatrol-sapphicaquarius

Rob H.

Steven Hammond said...

@ Robert

Urban animals are a recent interest of mine. Pedators primarily which are obviously charismatic, but also something average suburban and urban humans don't think should be present in their territory.

I recently read Coyote America by Dan Flores. Enjoyed it immensely and also gained some knowledge about these remarkable creatures such as the fact that their density in certain urban environments quite a bit greater than in surrounding rural areas and pups one year life expectancy is significantly higher.

It also appears that accipiters, those small, primarily bird-eating hawks like sharp-shinned and Cooper's hawks have changed their migratory pattern due to the availability of prey at bird-feeders. I put up a bird feeder recently and saw a small hawk scoping out the sparrows, chickadees etc within a week. I was pretty chuffed I have to say. No actual predation (witnessed) yet, and if there was a lot I might have to take down the bird-feeder for a bit.

I'm actually most interested lately in the rough-legged hawk I see in the semi-rural area/park where I walk my dogs. It's come down from the tundra to spend its winter here. It's a little bit more shy than the bald eagles which are common (never thought I would say that) but it appears to be a dark morph rough-legged hawk and I've seen its wings well.

As far as the bit about these animal coming to humans for assistance and the Fae... Well, I have dogs that are very attuned to their humans and know very well how to manipulate them. I've also witnessed behavior that makes me think they actually have empathy. Our yellow lab recently rubbed her face in something really foul-smelling during a walk--maybe a dead fish or something like that. She seemed quite happy with the effect, like she'd put on glamorous make-up and Chanel perfume. I had to wash her up outside, and our other dog wouldn't watch while that was done and afterwards, he went and rolled in grass as if he, himself, had had the semi-bath.

So, I think the differences between intelligent animals an humans is one of degrees. As far as the Fae goes, I tend to love any books or comics they are in and wonder what experiences led to belief in them.

David Brin said...

Now we know: there was zero "tax law simplification" in the new "reform." The law is more complicated and Christmas Tree laden than ever. It's true that tens of millions of Americans will have simpler forms, because their use the new Standard deduction. But they'll still have to make their list in order to verify that's what to use.

In sharp contrast, my "No-Losers" computerized simplification process simply would work. It would simplify the tax code by maybe 30%+, possibly more, without eliciting political outrage from any but a few thousand very special interests, because the boundary parameter of the optimization requires that 99% of citizens (including the honest rich) would see minimal difference in outcomes.

I'm not astonished that it hasn't been tried. It's too practical and non-political. But for it to never get even looked-at? Dang.

http://www.davidbrin.com/nonfiction/taxsimplification.html

David Brin said...

Fascinated and moved by tales of whales and elephants who are injured... and travel to nature centers for help, despite having never been there before. Some kind of communication seems obvious.

It also implies my "food chain" moral philosphy has some standing out there. They do not hate us as a species. They know that some of us love.

LarryHart said...

Steven Hammond:

Urban animals are a recent interest of mine. Pedators primarily which are obviously charismatic, but also something average suburban and urban humans don't think should be present in their territory.


I don't know if you have kids or what their ages might be, but if you can stand watching kids' movies, it might be worth your while to watch "Over The Hedge"

George Carty said...

@David Brin

"Across 150 years, there's a difference? Red states have received net in-flows of money, especially from FDR's and LBJ's massive help programs."

Talk about missing the point of my original post!

My query was how would you respond to those who advocate that the better blue-state moral metrics were achieved partially by pricing out the poor through high housing costs? Organizations such as Demographia point out that median house prices are usually no more than three times median annual salary in most red-state cities, while they are at least double that in most blue-state cities, especially New York City and Californian cities.

TCB said...

@ George Carty, who asked:

"My query was how would you respond to those who advocate that the better blue-state moral metrics were achieved partially by pricing out the poor through high housing costs?"

Having lived in both North Carolina and Massachusetts, I can tell you that blue states were not expensive to live in until the 1980's. I lived in Boston circa 1980 and it was no harder to make rent there, at that time. Then the cities (New York, San Francisco, Boston etc. started getting pricier: if I knew then what I know now I might have bought a three-decker in Boston for say $20,000 and now it would be worth $500,000 perhaps!) As the cities got more expensive people started buying in the suburbs and nowadays even a place like Asheville, NC is expensive partly as a result of people who sold their place in NYC for a million now being able to drop half of that on a nice (but not fancy) house and bank the rest.

So what, exactly, drove up the prices? I'm pretty convinced the GOP tax cuts of the 1980's were a major factor. They left the wealthy with more money to sit on and one great way to invest it is in real estate speculation. More specifically there are (I'm told) some rules on deducting interest on real-estate loans for a NON-PRIMARY home or property. I.e. there are lots of landlords collecting rent on property they borrowed to own, and they can deduct some of the interest on the loan, and the working-class renters are footing the bill.

TCB said...

Oh, and what has all that to do with red-state versus blue-state morals? Only this:

Pricey blue state homes are a phenomenon of the last forty years. If we were going to link that with driving the poor out of blue states, we would need to provide evidence for the following assertions and probably some others:

"The relevant moral metrics are worse among the poor."

"The relevant moral metrics are measurably worse among blue-to-red poorer transplants."

"The diff in said moral metrics is only found in the last forty years."

Aaaaaaand so on. I think a closer look will find that all these assertions are dubious and that native red state citizens, both rich and poor, can sin with the best of us.

Faulkner seemed to think so!

Paul451 said...

PaulSB,
"As a general rule I think it is necessary for people to contribute to society however they are capable, but I also accept that there are many people in this world who simply aren't capable of contributing, at least not in a conventional sense."

However, in practice, all adversarial welfare systems are harmful. So your principle is that all people who need society's help should be subject to ongoing low level abuse that reduces their ability to function. Don't hide it behind some Protestant work-ethic bullshit, look at what the actual effect is, and that is what you are defending. And even if you would prefer a better system, the "everyone must contribute" mentality rewards and enables those who create the complexity and vindictiveness of existing welfare systems.

Paul451 said...

Robert,
Re: the 5x rule
"This isn't a progressive tax. This is a tax deduction."

No, it's a disallowed deduction.

All business costs, such as wages and salaries, are 100% deductible. With very limited exceptions. What you've described would be a new exception for deducting the cost of excessive high salaries: in other words, you want to add a new tax to businesses, based on wage-ratios.

Instead of simply taxing higher personal income the way we used to (which worked, btw), you are trying to replicate the effect of that with a hideously complex system which would be easy for the rich to game, and impossible for small business to comply with.

Note: Not "difficult" for small business to comply with. Impossible. I do this for a living, I could not comply with your system for the small businesses I administer.

"If you are buying car hoods from Generic Auto Manufacturer then you are not buying a service but a product and thus those companies are separate."

And the taxi-truck company that delivers those hoods to you? And the power company? And the phone company? And your external accountant, or law firm. And the city land-rates (which are treated as a service for tax purposes)? And so on and so on and so on... and so on... And, seriously, so on...

But it's worse than that. What about the repair shop that works on the trucks for that delivery service, are they part of "my" business under your scheme? What about that mechanic's accountant? I'll need to know the minimum wage paid to the apprentice working in the truck repair shop, or the gardener who works for our external accountant, and the wages of the CEO of the phone company, or bank, or other service provided I use, and every single other similar case, in order to work out what the ratio is between the lowest and highest, so I can work out how much tax I'm going to be paying on wages.

"Employee wages - maybe make it ALL employee wages except for senior management teams?
Local infrastructure improvements
Recycling costs
Research and Development costs
Environmental Regulation Compliance costs?"


These are all already 100% deductible. Some are more than 100% deductible.

Paul451 said...

Finn de Siecle,
"I think the point of Rob's suggestion was that corporate & business tax laws already include various deductions

No, not "various", all business expenses are deductible. Unless they've been expressly excluded by law. Profits are taxed. And at the simplest level, profit = revenue - expenses.

You are Robert are treating "deductions" as if they are some special exclusive thing on a small number of items. They are not. All expenses related to the business's income earning activity are fully, 100% tax deductible.

"for example, though I don't recall where I saw it, I remember reading that a company can deduct the bonus perks it gives to its top officers"

Of course it is. All bonuses, commissions, wages, salaries, "prizes" and any other wage-like device is fully tax deductible for the company paying them. And all are supposed to be treated as taxable income by the recipient. The rorts are where bonuses/commissions are engineered so that they are exempt from both business income tax and personal income tax in some way.

--

David S,
Things like employee training are already fully deductible.

Tim Wolter said...

TCB

In response:

"The relevant moral metrics are worse among the poor." (I think this would be fairly easy to prove...with the caveat that Dr. Brin has always reserved to himself sole definition of what is relevant)

"The relevant moral metrics are measurably worse among blue-to-red poorer transplants." (difficult. Likely to bog down in small size of a clean sample. One could look at the great red to blue migration of the post WWI era for some insight. Maybe translocation is always disruptive?)

"The diff in said moral metrics is only found in the last forty years. (Good luck.People are never upfront about moral issues. How many out of wedlock pregnancies resulted in shotgun weddings in times past? How many STDs were treated quietly, no report to public health dept? etc)

There is of course a huge Blue in Red concentration of unfortunate stats but speaking of this is Triple Plus Ungood. And hardly fare to debate in the holiday season.

T/Tacitus

LarryHart said...

Tim Wolter in response to others:

"The relevant moral metrics are worse among the poor." (I think this would be fairly easy to prove...with the caveat that Dr. Brin has always reserved to himself sole definition of what is relevant)


You really think so? The wealthy have a much easier time getting abortions and trophy wives. Since you're all about the Harvey Weinstein these days, where would be the equivalent among poor people?


"The relevant moral metrics are measurably worse among blue-to-red poorer transplants." (difficult. Likely to bog down in small size of a clean sample. One could look at the great red to blue migration of the post WWI era for some insight. Maybe translocation is always disruptive?)


How much "blue-to-red" migration would really be caused by gentrification? Sure, the poorer citizens have to move out of the suddenly-pricier city center neighborhoods, but don't they generally move to the poorer neighborhoods or surrounding areas? Do people really move from (say) New York to Alabama when they can no longer afford to live in the city?

LarryHart said...

"Not so fast" on those trickle-down benefits that are already accruing to employees. The companies who are giving raises and bonuses based upon the tax cut are not doing so for economic reasons. They are currying favor with Trump for specific reasons. This is just another example like Carrier helping Trump (and Pence) look good by keeping a few jobs in Indiana.

http://www.electoral-vote.com/evp2017/Senate/Maps/Dec23.html#item-1

Trump congratulated AT&T, Comcast, Wells Fargo, and Boeing for announcing they would give their employees bonuses as a result of the huge tax cut they will get. What he didn't mention (and may not even know) is that these bonuses are small potatoes compared to what the companies will save in taxes, and all of them are trying to curry favor with his administration in hopes of getting something big from the government. AT&T wants permission to merge with Time Warner so it will have its own content to send down its wires and possibly block competing content now that net neutrality is gone. Comcast does not want the government to start investigating its merger with NBC or set conditions to it. Wells Fargo would love to get out from under the fines it was hit with when it cheated its customers. Boeing sells the Defense Dept. lots of airplanes at very high prices and would like to keep doing so in the future. Few economists expect many companies to raise wages as U.S. Corporations are sitting on a $2 trillion pile of cash and could easily have done so a year ago if they wanted to. When the PR efforts die down, most of the tax cuts will benefits the wealthy in general and stockholders in particular. Very little will trickle down to the middle class.


But then, we knew that already, didn't we?

TCB said...

Charles Barkley on the newest trickle-down tax scam: "I'm going to trickle my fat ass down to the jewelry store."

Robert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robert said...

Ah. Sorry, I was obviously wrong and will drop the idea.

David Brin said...

onward

onward

Paul451 said...

Me,
"You are Robert are"

Dammit, I actually proof-read that.

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