Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Question the narrative

Sorry folks, but you can expect more politics, across the next 100+ days, though I will try always to lift the mood with weekend postings about science!  And space and how many so-way-cool things are happening. And science fiction! Such a pity our media never point out how fabulous we are... and how many things appear to point to mighty and wondrous years ahead.

Oh, but the days ahead?  We have a fight on our hands, to save the Great Experiment that has delivered more hope and goodies than all other human civilizations, combined.

== A (political and psychological) family resemblance? ==

Fox News guest analyst Wayne Simmons. Just before he was sentenced to 33 months in prison, he apologized for lying about his security clearance, his criminal history and his finances… And claiming to be a CIA analyst.  Ah, (sexual predator) Roger Ailes’s fine team. That got its start when the GOP was led by now-revealed sexual predator Dennis Hastert. (How many perverts do we need to uncover before you guys draw obvious conclusion?)

In fact, the lineage of Fox News goes back to the 1920s, as you can read in this fascinating article: “In 1927, Fox News Service filmed Benito Mussolini telling immigrants to ‘make America great.’” Geez, the comparison to one of our current political svengalis was already close enough.  Except for the hair.

And this. The notion that the tragic deaths of four US diplomats in Benghazi was somehow the worst overseas failure of the American fight against terrorism is amazing tunnel vision. It was the worst during the Obama Administration, sure. Eight years. But there were dozens far worse across each Bush Administration.  One of those failures resulted in a thousand times as many Americans killed as in Benghazi. 

Now, the passing of Terry Sutherland, who languished in captivity for six years, held by Hezbollah during the Reagan and GHW Bush tenures, reminds us of calamities in Lebanon etc. that were vastly, vastly worse botches than anything under Clinton or Obama.  Take the Beirut Marine Barracks bombing that killed 241 US servicemen, 50 French and dozens more, in 1983. One of many stunning failures and culpable negligence. See a list of just attacks on US diplomatic personnel during the GW Bush administration.

Question the narrative. For the folks who were on watch during the 6 months leading up to 9/11 – diverting agents from counter-terror duties in order to hunt for dirt on Clintons – to preach to us about managing American safety in the world, well, it is mind boggling. 

For such folks to hold a major convention and never once even mention their party's previous two presidents?


== Proof of virtue – being rich! ==

As recently pointed out by Warren Buffett - the 'Oracle of Omaha' and the world's best (and best-loved) investor - simple analysis shows that when Donald Trump was first starting off, if he had simply invested the money his father gave him and then his inheritance in an index fund, he would be worth at least 4 times as much as he is now - assuming he is to be believed about his current worth. That fact and the bankruptcies and the trail of bitterly ripped off investors and contractors and Trump U. students… makes you wonder just whose Holodeck simulation this is. 

Oh, but nothing needs to be proved! Have you heard of the “prosperity gospel”? No longer satisfied with Revelation schaedenfreude – dreamily looking forward to the gruesome death and damnation of 99% of humanity in a foretold apocalypse -- there are now millions who tithe regularly to TV preachers whose message is even more astounding:

“Send me your money, not because I will do good works with it or help the poor, but because the fact that I am wealthy, talking so many suckers into sending me money, proves God loves especially me and wants me to be rich! If you both send money and believe it will happen to you, then it will!” 

I paraphrase, of course. But that’s essentially it. Can you imagine anything that better completes the conversion of American evangelical Christianity from the saintly-loving kindness of Jimmy Carter into the very diametric opposite of Jesus?

This article lays out much of the story, and how it plays into the Trump phenomenon… though it actually soft-pedals the “dominionism” that propelled Ted Cruz’s campaign… the new “theology” proclaiming that God not only materially rewards the faithful, but intends that they be ‘kings’ and take everything that belongs to the non-elect.  Meaning thee and me.

== But there’s no comparison ==

The U.S. Circuit Court struck down Texas’s voter ID law as inherently discriminatory.  And then two more, including North Carolina's which "surgically" targeted minorities. Which is true, as far as it goes.  But I have yet to see any plaintiff or judge in such cases point to the “smoking gun”… absolute proof that such laws are not aimed at solving a genuine problem (voter fraud) but are aimed solely at benefiting one political party at the expense of poor and minority citizens.  That proof is one I have raised many timescompliance assistance.

In fact, I disagree with Democrats on a significant point. I would have nothing against gradually rising voter ID requirements, even though almost no election day false voter fraud has been reported in 30 years. 

There is only one test to see if such ID requirements constitute "reform" or blatantly partisan voter suppression:

"Has the state accompanied its new voter ID law with substantial funding to help under-documented but legal US citizens to acquire the ID they need and to get registered?"

Dig it: corporations get compliance assistance any time government imposes a new regulation. So why can’t poor people – along with divorced women and many others -- get help with compliance for voter ID laws?

If a state has sincerely done that, then I will admit that the demand for voter ID might be honest and due to the rationalized declared reasons. I am willing to meet them halfway.

Alas, not one red state that passed such laws has allocated a penny to help poor citizens of the state, or the elderly or divorced women or the young, to comply with onerous new restrictions on their franchise. Not even fig-leaf funding. In fact, in most of these gerrymandered GOP-cheat states, there has been a concerted effort to close DMV offices, especially in counties where many democrats live. Seriously?  Can anything be more blatant?

In other words, they are exposed as lying-hypocritical, outright-cheating election thieves. And the same goes for anyone who defends this foul crime against democracy.

== The presidency is not everything ==

Again, you Bernites out there...  many of you were convinced by Bernie himself and by the vivid DNC to support the nominee.  Others will do so grudgingly, and maybe only if they live in battleground states where a vote for president might matter.  Fair enough! (Any of you who pull a "Nader in Florida" though, can expect TP on your house, till the sun burns out.  Move and we'll find you.)

But whether you 'hold your nose" and vote Hillary, or flounce off to a gesture party, if you live in a "doesn't matter" state like NY, CA or Alabama, there is something to remember. Congress matters too!

And even more than Congress - which Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and Dennis (friend to all boys) Hastert turned into the laziest and most corrupt national legislature in U.S. history - what trully matters is state assembly and governor races!  Because if any statehouses can be flipped, this year, then in that state gerrymandering and other cheats will end. Voter suppression and rigged voting machines and all of that.  And the confederacy will lose that state forever.

So here's the test. If you truly were a Bernie-believer, don't just hold your nose and vote Hill. (Or against Trump.) Go find a down ticket race near you and get involved at a level where your activity and vote can make a real difference.

And yes, I sound partisan! Right now, as an American who believes in science and progress and the future, I have to be.

But I live in California. So I might vote a "gesture party" for president, despite all my pro-dem and pro-HC posturing!  And I will help the terrific democratic candidate in my district against our local, horrific confederate representative. Hey, you are human.  Be agile.  Dogmatic dogmas are for robots.


ElitistB said...

"Because if any statehouses can be flipped, this year, then in that state gerrymandering and other cheats will end."

I'm curious as to how likely you think this is? While the Democrats don't do it quite as studiously, they do engage in a fair bit of gerrymandering themselves. I know there have been some various initiatives, but for a state that has recently flipped I'm not sure how hard they are going to push to end it.

donzelion said...

@Dr. Brin - "Alas, not one red state that passed such laws has allocated a penny to help poor citizens of the state, or the elderly or divorced women or the young, to comply with onerous new restrictions on their franchise. Not even fig-leaf funding."

There does seem to have been some fig-leaf funding. One that I've heard of lately (Texas, Alabama) consists of mobile clinics to serve areas without DMV offices.

I'm skeptical of such devices. Quite easy to send a clinic to a church-sponsored elderly recreation facility, get a crop of voters whom you know will be 80% Republican together, and help them register or update their registration. The operators of the clinic may be fully neutral - but the people who dispatch the clinics have a good sense of who is likely to register or update their registration, and church-operated get-out-the-vote systems in rural areas have long relied on such measures.

If such 'registration assistance' measures were done through a "voter assistance" budget, they'd attract scrutiny, and someone might catch on and complain. However, if it's done through opaque budgets (highway safety programs, elder assistance programs, etc.), who can argue?

David Brin said...

ElitistB it is not Democratic POLITICIANS who have been trouncing gerrymandering but democratic VOTERS. A large number of Blue States have seen voter initiatives end the crime. The only red to do this was Idaho, in which the DP never has the slightest chance. This is a characteristic of the different voters, not the pols (who on this issue are corrupt across the board... eg in blue Illinois and Maryland.)

i_/0 said...

"But whether you 'hold your nose" and vote Hillary, or flounce off to a gesture party"

Which is a mass media truism/posture all by itself. Partly why nothing much changes. But whatever, it's all good. Right?

Tony Fisk said...

Prosperity Theology = Supply Side Economics.

I won't speculate on which prompted what.

Meanwhile, in Australia...
Having rejigged the senate voting rules (voting along the line *at last*), Turnbull's Double Dissolution gambit has not given him an upper house majority, and has not got rid of the minor parties. If anything, they're even *more* disparate! Palmer's gone (apart from Lambie, but she left him almost immediately). Ditto the gun toting Lomborg and the car toting Muir (who, to be honest, was better than expected).
On the other hand, remember Pauline Hanson? She's ba-ack (with climate activists added to her little list). OK, so there's Team Xenophon as well, who don't seem so bad. And probably Derryn Hinch. Interesting times ahead.

After the numb shock of seeing the Ministry of the Environment move from Greg Hunt's incapable hands* to Josh 'Mr. Coal' Frydenberg, we are seeing signs of... reconciliation!!?? Don't breathe easy yet...

* I can't decide whether Hunt was spectacularly delusional about his efforts, or the most cynical troller imaginable. To bow out with a quip like "My work here is done", when the news is that parts of the GBR are in total collapse... !!!???

Dave Cline said...

The strange beliefs of American's these days... It's as if they were never taught Critical Thinking in high school. Oh wait, they were NOT taught that course. They, instead, were taught Shakespeare or poetry or reams of instantly forgotten world history. Now, I love history, now that I'm much older. But I remember resenting every useless fact I had to echo on pointless history tests. Bah! Kids would do so much better learning how to think, how to examine and argue positions and suppositions. How the local, state and federal governments operate (or don't operate). And like Kahn said, what is actually IN the U.S. Constitution and the process by which it can get amended -- For The People.

Four years of Critical Thinking would do our youth so much more good than the nonsense classes school boards dictate these days.

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: I used to hold to the notion that continual improvements in both the physical sense and in the human capital sense were the bootstrapping that changed us. I don’t anymore, but not because I think the accumulations are irrelevant. What I suspect is that we have cause and effect backwards. Something else changed and THEN innovations began to pile up. The key to this is to recognize that the rate of innovation was terribly slow before about 1700 in Europe or 1600 if you focus upon the Dutch. The rate was so slow that women could have babies fast enough to consume the new wealth. The ever-so-slight changes increased our ‘carrying capacity’ and Malthus’ limit nudged higher. After the social change, though, it became difficult for women to keep up. Our wealth grew faster than the number of mouths to feed.

What converted me was reading McCloskey’s second big book titled Bourgeois Dignity. In it she behaves like a porcupine in a bubble factory. Every idea people have tried to float to explain the industrial revolution and the great enrichment she addresses with a pin fashioned from historical data and a devastating counter-argument. For example, the bubble for accumulations of human capital is popped by pointing out that advanced educations weren’t needed in the early industrial era and there is no evidence that the average person in Europe did more than become literate, numerate, and moved to where those skills led to paychecks. The counter-argument takes the shape of asking why the great enrichment didn’t happen elsewhere during an earlier era. For example, the Chinese are well known to have developed many of the early industrial tricks used in Europe, yet they experienced no industrial revolution. Why not? Why not in Rome or Greece? Why not in Egypt?

That knowledge has been accumulating is clear, but in the last few centuries it has been growing at a rate better described as frenzy. Matt Ridley’s description speaks of it as ideas having sex. Why now? It’s not like we haven’t had smart ancestors who benefited from innovations. Read through McCloskey’s second big book and you’ll see how to burst every bubble based upon a materialist foundation. The only bubbles left floating are the ones based upon ideas that changed the humans involved.

In the case of the Dutch, an accident of history occurred. In their 16th century revolution against the Habsburgs, the Spaniards mostly killed off the Dutch aristocracy. The burghers had little choice but to rule themselves. Since the townspeople did NOT hold to the aristocratic/peasant ethic of rule and service, the northern end of the Netherlands changed. The southern end still under Spanish dominion did not so much. By this accidental social experiment, the Dutch became very wealthy relative to their European neighbors and kept the Habsburgs at bay. No planned accumulation of knowledge occurred, yet the accumulation occurred anyway. How? Study the history, literature, and art of the era and the story unfolds. Social Dignity/Honor and Liberty became available to the townspeople who had formerly been treated as natural, vulgar cheats. Oops. The aristocrats and priests who allowed this change to the rhetoric should have been flogged by the powers-that-be, but no one saw what a black swan those two ideas together were when held by people who worked at making money.

Jumper said...

You broke this link to the Mussolini story. It is

David Brin said...

i_/o: “Partly why nothing much changes.” You argue from a faulty axiom. Plenty changes and mostly for the better, though we must defeat the latest attempted putsch by oligarchy and end this phase of the Civil War. That’s all. Easy.

DC: science teaches critical thinking. I do see a fair number of moderns, lately, citing “logical fallacies in arguments. This’d be great! If they were doing it right. But alas, many use “appeal to authority” to claim that citing scientific expert testimony is fallacious.

AD: The Dutch also benefited from the Trial of Galileo, which sent the free thinkers across Catholic lands fleeing north. Also the flood of Spanish New World gold went to agile merchants able to provide what lazy Spanish nobles wanted. Result. The Dutch got rich in REAL ways.

LarryHart said...

Concerning the ongoing Trump/Khan "debate", has anyone thought to refer to "The Wrath of Khan" in that context. It seems obvious to me, but I can't recall seeing it out there.

Also, while the roles are reversed, I can't help hearing:

You're going to have to come down here, Trump!
You're going to have to come down here!

Another obvious irony that I haven't heard out there yet--that the Birther in Chief who harped on President Obama to release his birth certificate is now refusing to release his tax returns.

Alfred Differ said...

Agreed. I've picked up another history book on the period near the end of the 17th century that addresses the English response. I've only just started it, but the author makes the case that we shouldn't think of the Dutch as a single, isolated nation. They were swapping people back and forth with many others, thus the ethic they adapted got transferred to other cities and tested by new immigrants. Trade-tested innovation can be quantified in a goods and services market, but appears as imitation by the willing in an ideas and social relationships market. The English 'went Dutch' and then did something even the Dutch hadn't tried. Mercantilism has its limits and dies when Liberty is properly defended. 8)

The evidence for all this depends on a source I had not thought to consider. McCloskey likes to treat authors and artists as data sources when they 'write' fiction. Metaphoric realism speaks to what was going through their minds other than the primary point they were making. For example, Jane Austen’s minor characters were more driven by prudence than the major characters. Ignoring the main stories a moment to look at the flatness of the minor characters shows what she thought it took to be a full human being. Heh. I may have to pay attention to literature and art critics some day.

Paul SB said...

Dave Cline,

As an American public school teacher, I can say I agree with you entirely. Even in science, critical thinking tends to get short shrift, which I attribute mostly to the fact that very few administrators come from science backgrounds, and fewer politicians, who presumably should understand education, neurology, sociology and childhood development well enough to create sensible legislation about education policy, know jack about science. I have been teaching biology and earth science for 13 years, and I can very rarely get away with slipping critical thinking into the curriculum, though I do try (when they started to push more writing across the curriculum, I came up with an assignment I call Fallacy Fridays, in which students get a list of fallacious arguments are are expected to choose one each week to research and explain where they have seen this in their own lives). Science literally is critical thinking, but pedagogy has revolved around memorizing disjointed facts and regurgitating them on standardized tests, so while American students might memorize steps of the scientific method (a largely pointless exercise) the only practice that has tended to reinforce the idea of critical thinking has been writing lab reports (which at my school, few students bother to do). The new "Common Core" standards are an improvement over the old NCLB passed in the Bush Administration (though with bipartisan sponsorship and support - proof that a class of professional legislators can jack things up even when they are negotiating, due to shared educational backgrounds) but still get some things very wrong. Critical thinking, however, is actually written into the standards - along with engineering, which would be cool except that hardly any public school teachers know anything at all about engineering. There is some light at the end of the tunnel, though it might only be 15 watts...

Paul SB said...

In the previous thread, occam's comic said...
Insanity - Doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.
Insane method for breaking a camel’s back – take some straw and put it on the camel’s back, then repeat.

Agreed, but the saying demonstrates that breaking the camel's back is not the intention, it is an unintended consequence. Likewise flatlining the ecosystems of Earth was never the intention of anybody, it is an unintended consequence. But as I said before, some of us, at least, understand these unintended consequences, which is much more than can be said for any past society. That means we can work on realistic solutions. Going with your camel analogy, we can classify solutions into 2 groups.

1) Straw Reduction - anything that reduces the impact human society has on the environment, which would include birth control, recycling, changing the energy sources and infrastructure, etc. This can take the form of reducing the numbers of humans, reducing their individual impacts, or both.

2) Camel Improvement - anything that makes the camel's back stronger. Replace the vertebrae with cybernetics? This is a side of the equation that has not gotten as much attention, but perhaps will make it possible for human population to continue rising without flatlining the planet. But for any of this to happen, we have to remove two major stumbling blocks.

A) Denialism - all those fools who refuse to change/don't want to pay to clean up their messes (including the religious deniers, who claim that God won't let it happen anyway)
B) Nihilism - those equally foolish people who think that we are all doomed and so there is no reason to try to solve problems. I suppose in one sense B is better than A in that they are at least acknowledging the problems, but the bottom line is that both mentalities lead to the same inaction. : / Storm and Does?

David Brin said...

Empower the camel to complain and to hold accountable those who load too high and feed too little.

Pierce said...

But is more food, above the healthiest diet for a camel bearing immense straw loads, helpful? Are the complaints addressed or are they merely a mechanism for dissipating energy the camel could be putting into getting out from under all that straw?

Unknown said...

Find another camel, or at least an alpaca or some such. Science fiction has urged humanity to reach for the stars boldly go where in one has gone before and the like. Sadly I fear that while spending such a staggering amount of resources and energy on ways to destroy ourselves the stars will exceed the grasp of our wonderful but deeply flawed species. On the other hand recent developments, most of which I hear about through this particular site give me some hope that my pessimistic outlook is short sighted and maybe, hopefully wrong.

Anonymous said...

two points from outside about voter registration and gerrymandering: isn't the whole "voluntary" voter registration thing/FPTP voting flawed in itself and FUBAR?

In continental Europe you're registered as voter automatically by the city governmnent's demographic services when you come of age, period. Here in Italy you get sent home a voter card with the address and number of the polling station, to be stamped when you vote to prevent fraud: you show it and an ID or driver's license at the polling station, and if you move to another address you're sent home a sticker to put on it with the new address and the new polling station. Ain't rocket science...

And I suppose US states are empowered to change their own voting systems: a German style PR system with high treshold cutting out smaller parties would make gerrymandering moot, as seats would be allotted in the state as a whole (say: 100 members of the state assembly, party with 40% gets 40 seats, party with 30% gets 30 seats, the largest third or fourth parties take the remaining seats. ) Or the Italian system for local elections, mayor or region president (usually dubbed "governors" US style). PR, but the winner gets a prize (all the seats in a supporting list added to the party votes) so he gets a safe majority.

Unless it's a bad case of Not Invented Here syndrome...

Jumper said...

Could mercantilism even exist without nationalism? In a world of city-states what form could it take?

Marino said...

In a world of city-states what form could it take?

historically Italian and German city states had mercantilist policies: custom fees paid at the city gates, monopolies and restrictions on transfer of know how (iirc bringing abroad designs or even skilled workers in, say, glass blowing or silk spinning and weaving, or details of looms and spinning machines was a serious crime)

Paul SB said...

Dr. Brin & Pierce,

Either I am confused, or you may have misunderstood the analogy here. The camel in the analogy represents the Earth, or perhaps more specifically the Earth's biosphere - not underclasses within human societies. How can this camel complain, being, essentially, a mute rock? Earthquakes that happen after a region has been fracked, or perhaps the frightening rate of species loss that makes the Anthropocene host to the Sixth Extinction? Shane Mallatt got the analogy, proposing colonization of other worlds, but wouldn't humans do the same thing on whatever other camelids we colonize, treating them as resources to exploit, then exploiting them to death?

Maybe Dr.Brin is suggesting uplift, and the voices of the uplifted animals would speak for the biosphere itself. But then, would uplifted chimps want us to lay off exploiting the biosphere, or would them all want their own SUVs to prove that they are just as "good" as the humans who uplifted them (good being defined in human terms, meaning good at competing in the arena of Conspicuous Consumption)?

raito said...

In Wisconsin, there has been fig-leaf funding only for getting information about the new voter ID law. Why is it a fig-leaf? Because the money was given to the GAO, an office that was killed off recently. Along with regulations that don't allow well-off communities to keep their offices open 'because it's not fair to communities who can't'.

On this morning's drive, I got to hear the author of this:
(The Value of the Moon: How to Explore, Live, and Prosper in Space Using the Moon's Resources)

Fair warning, though. The guy makes at least part of his economic livelihood on the premise that we should do this. So I take it with a bit of a grain of salt.

His basic premise is that we should go to the moon ti mine it for resources for other space missions, rather than for export to earth.

One bit that came up was that this morning, the FAA granted permission for Moon Express (the author's company, one way or another) to attempt to land a payload on the moon.

He also had one of the best rejoinders for one of the callers who expressed the view that we should spend money on earth. He pointed out how much economic benefit we already get from space (satellites) and how his proposals would help that, even if we didn't go any further than the moon.

He also pointed out previously that if you wait for all your problems to get solved before doing anything new, you'd never do anything new.

And here's one from a former GOP governor (assuming it's actually his account):

Zepp Jamieson said...

ON "Prosperity Gospel": I commend a series John Oliver is on propserity gospel preachers over the course of a dozen shows, a brilliant sequence in which he founded his own prosperity church for the sole purpose of showing how much grift and criminality can be hidden under the skirts of "a church" in America. It's not hard to find on You Tube.

Here's a scenario I'm chewing over: Trump up and quits over the next fortnight. The GOP select a replacement (most likely the loathsome but established Paul Ryan) and immediately begin a campaign about how Trump, while making errors, was opportunistically destroyed by the liberal media, who of course are in Hillary's pantsuit pocket. The GOP, if they time it right, benefit from a wholly undeserved sympathy-rebound vote.

Chilling note of the day: Three times during a 40 minute briefing on foreign affairs, Trump asked, "Why can't we use nukes?"

occam's comic said...

Oh man, I was trying to make that my last comment on here (at least until after the election )

You have an interesting take on what I wrote, but my intension was: the Einstein quote on insanity is funny and generally true, there are plenty of situations in which it is not true. And the camel's back was just a convenient meme to associate with Einstein's insanity.

Feel free to use it and show everyone how contrarian you are.

(now I have to go and find my meds and wait for them to work ;-)

Dennis M Davidson said...

See David's April 2, 2016 post Our Next Target in Space?
A major issue here is the energy cost of getting stuff up and/or down the moon's gravity well.

Jeff B. said...

Dr. Brin/Zepp Jamieson,

I find it interesting that the Prosperity Gospel only now seems to be garnering mainstream attention- Oral Roberts was one of the great populizers in the 50s, and it was later practiced by Jim and Tammy Fae Bakker in the 80s, and recently by Creflo Dollar and Joel Osteen. It seems a predominantly evangelical phenomenon, and is widely criticized, even by other evangelicals like Rick Warren and Jerry Falwell. But while there definitely are similarities in Trump's campaign, I tend to think it's more of a style issue; while Trump actively courts evangelical voters, his behavior and attitude and manner of speaking is anything but reflective of many regular, churchgoing evangelicals.

The Prosperity Gospel is vile, but relatively harmless to society as a whole (I'm not talking about those fleeced by these "false prophets." But it is Dominionism that is the truly scary theology, and the article on Ted Cruz barely scrapes the surface of how truly, utterly repulsive a theology it is. (Women literally subjugated to men, removed from the public sphere; deviants such as liberals, nonbelievers, believers not following Dominionism, children who disobey their parents, and of course miscegenists and "Darwinists" and homosexuals imprisoned, dealt with by corporal punishment and/or (by some proponents) death. Because earth is literally controlled and commanded by demons, who manage all aspects of society, so total warfare is required. And it gets worse from there...

That one of our major parties even toyed with such someone supporting such an idea is truly, truly frightening. I don't generally read depressing sci fi so never brought myself to read The Handmaid's Tale, but this is exactly the type of society that this would lead to.

David Brin said...

In fact, the Earth IS like a camel we have been straining harshly. I used many such metaphors in a novel called... EARTH.

And for every piece of good news - e.g. whales... there are "straws" that worry me, deeply.

Jeff B. said...

The Wikipedia entry on Dominionism is a fairly well-balanced discussion of the crazy.

On a much lighter note, if you aren't offended by a bit (ok, a lot)of profanity, the Liberal Redneck's discussion of Donald Trump and his popularity with "his" people (the "rednecks") is a very interesting take I've not seen expressed in such a way (or so colorfully) before: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PsqKyv86pEY

David Brin said...

Trump is everything than non-hypocrite Christians should find bothersome: a philandering, cheating stealing, egotistical gambling lord on his 3rd marriage with many admitted affairs. Yes, Christians have the perfect Get Out of Jail card to flash, called Confession and Forgiveness. Hence Dr. Ben Carson *bragged* about having tried to murder a boy with a knife! It just makes his ("believe me and take my sobbing word for it!") conversion all the more wondrous and somehow credible!

DT's 'confessions' and claims of conversion are as thin and transparent and non-credible as they could possibly be. So why proclaim him washed clean enough for all the fundies to follow... yet Bill Clinton - who has been clean and watched like a hawk for 16 years -- is not?

Simple. If you *Share My Enemies* then I will make excuses for you.


Paul SB said...

Occam's Comic,

Sorry, I can be a bit of a thicky sometimes. When I was a larva in school, I was often referred to as "Serious Paul" - a little slow on the humor uptake. That doesn't seem to have changed, has it? I'm not particularly interested in "contrarian cred." I just like to think things through, but I like the jokes, too, when I realize I am looking at one. It's harder in the blogosphere with no tone of voice or body language cues. Let me know when your meds kick in and I'll try not to take you too seriously.

Paul SB said...

Prosperity Gospel, like Jeff B., points out, is nothing new (and not just in the Abrahamic tradition - ever hear of Nichiren?). You can look at any religion anywhere and create a scale, on one end you have a "worldly" focus on promises from supernatural entities for the here and now, on the other end you have the cluster of memes that declare all joy in the here and now sinful, focusing attention on a promised afterlife. Both are cons, but one strives for total obedience while the other only strives for donation.

donzelion said...

@Jeff B - "The Prosperity Gospel is vile, but relatively harmless to society as a whole..."

To quote a passage from the Bible, "Ye shall know them by their fruits." In the case of the Prosperity Gospel (which is a pretty remarkable repudiation of what Jesus actually said) - the proponents turn to that quote, and apply it as a measure of "who is righteous and who is not." But in context, it's better applied to discerning a false from a true prophet - and the fruits of this monstrosity tend to be (1) people anticipating prosperity but don't attain it, who (2) blame someone for denying them what God had intended they should have.

It's hardly a new doctrine. This sort of logic justified dispossessing "natives" around the world (in both the Dutch and Anglo variations) - the indigenous peoples "stood against God" by not permitting the 'hardworking' colonists to get rich. Therefore, "punishing" the "evildoers" was justified, and both "punishment" and "evildoer" can be quite malleable (e.g., both Socialists and Nazis applied their own variations on the theme, as have most genocidaires).

The "Prosperity Gospel" for Christians raises a special sort of cognitive dissonance (e.g., Christians who love the "name" of Jesus more than the "words" he spoke - and have to deflect stories about rich men with fantasies about camels passing through the eye of the needle) - not only must its adherents renounce the literal text they claim to love in order to embrace it, they must acknowledge the authority of the person who overrides their common sense. All sorts of mischief and malice follow from that...

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

DT's 'confessions' and claims of conversion are as thin and transparent and non-credible as they could possibly be. So why proclaim him washed clean enough for all the fundies to follow...

I'm not going to post the verbatim Ayn Rand quote a third time, but it does exactly describe the dynamic going on when evangelicals proclaim Trump to be a good Christian or when Mike Pence asserts that Trump reminds him of Ronald Reagan. The same thing went on when George W Bush had to claim to have looked into Putin's soul and seen something wonderful there.

They're no longer even elevating Trump. Rather, they're spitting on whatever good quality they ascribe to Trump.

yet Bill Clinton - who has been clean and watched like a hawk for 16 years -- is not?

Simple. If you *Share My Enemies* then I will make excuses for you.

Exactly. "He's a good Christian" or "He's just like Saint Reagan" becomes just another way of saying "I'd have said that about whoever the Republican nominee was, irrespective of their actual qualities." The qualities themselves become immaterial and degraded.

LarryHart said...

...with "Hamilton" on the brain, still...

Trump, if you stand for nothing,
Then what will you fall for?

Alfred Differ said...

@raito: Paul Spudis is a long-term fan of exploiting the Moon. If he says something technical about the Moon, I’m inclined to believe him. Once he veers into the business or market domains, I’d be sure to get a second and third opinion. That applies to essentially ALL of us who have been advocating space projects for decades, though, so I’m not picking on him. If you know the right people to ask, they can tell you about some of my own ‘interesting’ beliefs concerning what is possible. So… ask around. 8)

I sure hope he gets a good chance to show whether he is right or wrong. Trade-tested progress is what makes the world we have today.

bigsteve said...

I live in the swing part of Florida, the I-4 corridor. Will be out of state during election time taking care of Mom in law so sis in law who is taking care of her now can recover from knee surgery. But I have requested a absentee ballot for me and the wife so we can help deny Trump the White House and make Bill first dude. And help elect good people down ballot. For Bernie supporters in Florida as one commenter said on Morning Joe , I have three words for you Ralph Nader and Iraq.

bigsteve said...

I also might add is is easy to get an absentee ballot in Florida. Request it by phone, mail or over the Internet which is what I did. This is used mainly by older voters who mainly vote Republican which is why is was not mess with. But anyone can use it. It gets you around artificial created long lines, voter ID laws , voting hours not friendly to working folk and other such nonsense.

LarryHart said...


I also might add is is easy to get an absentee ballot in Florida. Request it by phone, mail or over the Internet which is what I did. This is used mainly by older voters who mainly vote Republican which is why is was not mess with. But anyone can use it.

It probably helps if your address is not in Palm Beach, Broward, or Miami-Dade Counties too. I'll bet requests from those areas get "lost" more than others.

You may have the secret to getting around voter-suppression laws; pass for a likely Republican. In Texas, get a FOID card or an NRA membership. Maybe it helps to spend $5 or so and join AARP. That sort of thing.

bigsteve said...

@ Larry,
I live in bright blue Orlando, Orange county Florida. Which is surrounded by a Sea of Red. It is easy here. I suspect that it would be as easy in the Counties you mention. This is controlled by your local supervisor of election not the state government. Just trying to help other voters who might have with voter ID laws.

bigsteve said...

@ donzelion,

Pretty much agree with you. But the eye of the needle actually existed. It was a narrow slot in the city wall that a camel on it's knees with great difficulty could get through.

Berial said...

But I have requested a absentee ballot for me and the wife so we can help deny Trump the White House and make Bill first dude

Personally I prefer First Laddy. ;)

bigsteve said...

Love your pun Berial. Wish I had thought of it.

LarryHart said...


But the eye of the needle actually existed. It was a narrow slot in the city wall that a camel on it's knees with great difficulty could get through

That jibes with how I learned it as well--that the biblical verse about the camel and the needle's eye described a difficult act rather than a ridiculously impossible one.

duncan cairncross said...

I vote for the

"First Laddy"

When I was a kid we were taught that a "camel" was a type of rope - so an impossible act but not a silly/weird one

And then of course we had the solution! - Curry it! (the camel not the rope)

David Brin said...

bigsteve good stuff. What a lot of minority churches have done in states that allow early voting is hold Vote Sundays in which they bus the whole congregation to a polling place.

Tony Fisk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
donzelion said...

@BigSteve - "But the eye of the needle actually existed. It was a narrow slot in the city wall that a camel on it's knees with great difficulty could get through."

There is ZERO archaeological evidence of that there ever was an "Eye of the Needle" gate. None whatsoever. Anywhere. Nada.

Indeed, if there ever was an "Eye of the Needle Gate," then the disciples, who were shocked by Jesus words and asked, "Who then can be saved?" were quite stupid. Obviously, anyone can be saved, they just need to unload the camel and go through great difficulty. Why were they bothered by that?

The fascinating part in this story is its role as part of Prosperity Theology. American Evangelicals have a choice, when confronted with this text:
(1) Reject it as a fake, or a translation error - not 'camel,' but 'rope' ('kamelos' v. 'kamilos' - an easy error to make, since Semitic languages, including Aramaic, Hebrew, and Arabic, tend to omit vowels when written). Maybe reject what the disciples said in response to it as well - surely they knew about the 'famous 'eye of the needle gate'!
(2) Reinterpret it as a hyperbolic allusion that does not mean what it appears to mean.
(3) Fabricate the existence of a "gate" - which certainly will make the wealthiest members of the congregation feel a lot better.

Either of the first two options requires rejecting the Bible as the literal, inerrant word of God. Not something most American Evangelicals are comfortable with. Only the last option avoids that (by making the disciples into idiots - well, they were also communists, but that's a different story).

My problem with this story, and with Prosperity Theology in general, isn't that Christians are being lied to repeatedly by their pastors. It's that their pastors will balk at anyone who points out the deception - rejecting that person, and clinging to their dogma. First, you toss out the linguists, then the archaeologists, then the scientists - shucks, you're under attack by all sorts of people all the time "oppressing" you with their "elitist airs..."

Tony Fisk said...

Update from Downunder. Final results:

Lower House: (150 seats. 76 majority)
_________LNP: 76 (-14) (-1 for Speaker, so be nice guys!)
_________ALP: 69 (+14)
______Greens:_ 1 (0) (Nearly got more, despite ALP LNP supporting each other)
Independents:_ 4 (0)

Upper House: (76 seats. 39 majority)
_________LNP: 30 (-3)
_________ALP: 26 (+1)
______Greens:_ 9 (-1)
__One Nation:_ 4 (+4. Oh Lordy! Hanson and the Primordial Tea Party)
____Xenophon:_ 3 (+2. Less Oh Lordy. Anti gambling.)
______Lambie:_ 1 (+1. Formerly with Palmer)
_Social Dem.:_ 1 (0. Local NRA rep.)
Family First:_ 1 (0. Nuclear family first, of course!)
_______Hinch:_ 1 (+1. Jailed TV opinion jock. Now for law and order reform...)
______Palmer:_ 0 (-3. What happens when personality stands in for politics...)
_________DLP:_ 0 (-1. Undead item found in a wardrobe unopened since the '70s)
____Motoring:_ 0 (-1. Vale Ricky. You were better than expected)

In summary, the plan to return to office and rid the Senate of micro-parties worked a treat, but I think a few more cat wranglers are going to be needed.

Jeff B. said...

Paul SB:
"Prosperity Gospel, like Jeff B., points out, is nothing new (and not just in the Abrahamic tradition - ever hear of Nichiren?)."

I prefer a bit of Pratchett: "The Yen Buddhists are the richest religious sect in the universe. They hold that the accumulation of money is a great evil and burden to the soul. They therefore, regardless of personal hazard, see it as their unpleasant duty to acquire as much as possible in order to reduce the risk to innocent people."

Donzelion, I agree about the Prosperity Gospel. I categorized it as "mostly harmless" because in the scope of things, the practitioners are "merely" parasites; dominionists are the predators, deliberately planning to bring our democracy down. Not much of a threat, but not too long ago there were some serious concerns about inroads into the USAF Academy by some such groups, so...

Jeff B. said...

Tony Fisk, can you translate what these results mean, and where this points to Australia's future? I have only a very general picture...

Tim Whitten said...

So, I've always tried to spend a bit of time skimming the more unpleasant corners of the news webs - i.e. in addition to visiting the sites I more naturally agree with. It's something I think is a sensible self-calibration technique since first getting the idea from Jen Wolling in "Earth", back in '92. Not trying to blow smoke up your skirt, David Brin, but hey, credit's due where credit's due! (Of course there's a danger also that I'm slightly addicted to my own sense of outrage, but let's move swiftly past that ... )

Anyway - caveat out of the way for exactly why it is I've been poking around Fox News: has anyone else noticed a change in the tone over the last few days? At first it was in the comments - for a long time it has been an overwhelmingly pro-Trump / anti-Clinton narrative, with just the occasional more sensible voice chipping in. But in the last week that seems to have flipped; there are only a few pro-Trump voices all of a sudden, and many many more people calling them idiots as a result (in that delightful single sentence way of talking that Fox comments people have).

And then not long after that (literally in the last day or so), the articles themselves seem to be shifting away from Trump to being, if not exactly pro-Clinton, at least somewhat more accepting of the idea of her as President.

It's possible I'm imagining it of course, or at the very least jumping the gun, but it does seem like just the hint of a ray of sunshine. I mean if FOX are wavering....

Paul SB said...

Jeff B.,

I don't remember which book that quote comes from, but it sounds very Pratchett to me, right down to the double-entendre name (Yen Buddhist - yen as in Japanese currency, but also to yen for something, meaning to desire, something Buddhists are supposed to quell as much as they can. It's funny how common a theme it is in religions to control your desires or "animal" impulses. It's also basic maturation, to some extent, but it's easy to see what Pratchett was getting at. The ethos has always served the interests of established religious institutions. Ever see that 1980s Robert DeNiro movie called "The Mission?" At one point a Papal Legate shows up, dressed in the best foppery of the times, and begins a discussion of the fate of a native group by saying "We are not hear to discuss whether or not Jesus owned the shirt on his back, but whether or not the Church should own the shirt on its back." Total non-sequitur, but shows where their interests were.)

There must be something wrong when a parenthetical aside comes out longer than the rest of the paragraph...

Paul SB said...


I haven't read McCloskey, so I can't really criticize, but (my daughter says I'm the King of Buts - fortunately not the King of Butts, though), I never trust monocausal arguments. If she has, as you say, eliminated all material causes, leaving only "ideas" she is missing the middle level completely. Material causes fall under infrastructure, the realm of ideas is superstructure, between these is structure, which is all the institutions and traditions. Perhaps there is a connection between the rise of institutionalized police forces and people having the sense that if they invented something useful it would simply be stolen from them by wealthier, more powerful people. Social scientists have always had a tendency to pay lip-service to the idea that all three of these levels matter, but they almost invariably place most of their emphasis on one or the other. I don't think it's very useful to reject one or the other based on a priori assumptions.

A little of the social history might be instructive, whether you like to use the term "deconstruction" or prefer to just call it critique. While most people think of Marx only in terms of his associations with Communism, his writings marks a real watershed event in Western thought. Not the "Communist Manifesto" but the much shorter "German Ideology." Up to then, Western thought was trapped in a paradigm in which belief (superstructure, to use the modern term) was seen to be everything. Of course the reality was that those who had the greatest influence over ideas were exactly those who had the greatest wealth and political power, which is what he was on about when he used the phrase "the means of production." Marx saw all that talk about ideology and belief as a distraction from the real issues, which mostly revolved around who owned what and how much. Note that this encompasses both structure and infrastructure, but under Stalin a lot of the emphasis on structure got downplayed (gee, I wonder why?).

In short, superstructure came to be seen in the 20th C as naive, and those who focused on it were seen as dupes of the old aristocracy or their newer equivalents ("social elites"). Given that, I can imagine what my old anthropology professors would say about Mccloskey. Post Modernists, on the other hand, would probably like Mccloskey,as they reject all ideas coming from the older generations, and have gone from the extreme of infrastructural determinism to the extreme of superstructural determinism. I don't trust either of them. I am curious, though, how she deals with population. Why not Rome or Egypt? How many people existed in the world during their heydays? Not even close to our world today. More people = more minds (probably) = more clever people coming up with good ideas. I see it as akin to how absolute brain size does not tell you absolute intelligence, because most of a brain is busy controlling the rest of the body. Brain size relative to body mass is much more relevant. However, even if an ant had a huge percentage of its body devoted to neural tissue, it would still be so small it would not be able to carry on a conversation, much less parse Shakespeare. Likewise Egypt never had an Industrial Revolution probably because it was simply too small-scale to support it. How does Mccloskey deal with this? I'm not asking because I want to shoot her down, but because I want to know if the book would be worth my time - I have so little I can devote to reading.

If i spent less time here, I would be able to read more, but then, I would only have the reading recommendations of my mother and the English teachers at my school, neither of which are inclined toward the social science egghead stuff that fires my neurons.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB: It's funny how common a theme it is in religions to control your desires or "animal" impulses.

Temperance is one of Aristotle’s four pagan virtues that Thomas Aquinas preserved and adapted for Catholics. It shows up all through history as a ‘good’ thing to do, but isn’t typically related to any transcendent goals. Personal control/responsibility is its core lesson. From where I sit, this is the virtue most denied by the Prosperity Gospel. Ignore it enough at it becomes a vice. Organize to ignore it and it becomes a sin. Those who fall for this stuff make for good object lessons for those who don’t. 8)

There must be something wrong when a parenthetical aside comes out longer than the rest of the paragraph...

I’ve done this so often I’ve lost count. I just move the cursor up and remove the parentheses and then consider a paragraph break. The folks who study AI could learn a thing or two from how we humans chain ideas like this. 8)

David Brin said...

TimW… please keep reporting your observations from Fox! I try to dip in down there, from time to time, but I admit to laziness and revulsion.

Paul SB the movie you refer to is Sean Connery’s version of the Ecco story The Name of the Rose. Great flick!

Now onward



duncan cairncross said...

Hi Paul & Alfred
I have bought McCloskey's book
So after reading I will see if she has changed my mind as well