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

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

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

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Fools rush in....

Nothing else came to mind, and I liked this.  Otherwise, it has nothing to do with the post.

I had a rather elaborate post worked out about this; and then I realized Richard Dawkins was just being stupid:

On Tuesday, the English author got into it on Twitter when he tried to explain his position that “X is bad. Y is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of X, go away and don’t come back until you’ve learned how to think logically.” And the way he did was by declaring authoritatively that “Mild pedophilia is bad. Violent pedophilia is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of mild pedophilia, go away and learn how to think,” and, “Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.”

The stupidity is quite simple and entirely on the surface (and yes, you'd think he'd know to stay away from the subject of pedophilia).  What Mr. Dawkins implies here is that rape by a stranger is worse than rape by an acquaintance ("date rape").  The knife is the red herring, because an acquaintance wouldn't "need" a knife, and if he pulled one, he'd become a stranger, n'est pas?

So, you see, what Dawkins is really arguing is the definition of rape.  That is:  when is rape "legitimate rape"?

Now, this conclusion may not seem clear until you understand R (rape) is not the same crime as  R+V(Violence).  At that point, the knife being added to threaten the victim, you have two crimes:  rape plus assault with a deadly weapon.  Two crimes are objectively worse than one; that's why we have a felony murder rule.  If you commit a felony, say robbery, and in the course of the robbery kill someone, you've now committed felony murder, and your intent in the murder (maybe the death as inadvertent) is of less interest than it might be if you were merely negligent in the use of a firearm.  The commission of one crime makes the second crime worse.   So R+V is worse than R, but not because the R in one case is significantly different from the R in the other case; it's because you've added something else to the criminal acts.

But Mr. Dawkins' analysis implies there is a difference in the rape between R and R+V, and that difference is that the presence of the knife distinguishes acquaintance from stranger, and if you have to be raped, isn't it "better" coming from a friend?

I mean, it's bad; but is worse if it's a stranger, right?  The knife just distinguishes the stranger from the friend, if you discount the fact it makes two crimes instead of one.  Because unless you discount the additional crime there is no comparison; and if you do discount it, then date rape is a lesser sexual assault than rape by a stranger, which can only mean some rapes are more "legitimate" than others.

Which is utter bollocks; and makes me think the entry level requirements for Oxford dons aren't what they used to be.  Because knowing how to think no longer means what it used to mean.

One is a genius, the other's insane

What do groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda and even Hamas want? They want to impose their religious views on the rest of humanity. They want stifle every freedom that decent, educated, secular people care about. This is not a trivial difference. And yet judging from the level of condemnation that Israel now receives, you would think the difference ran the other way.

This kind of confusion puts all of us in danger. This is the great story of our time. For the rest of our lives, and the lives of our children, we are going to be confronted by people who don’t want to live peacefully in a secular, pluralistic world, because they are desperate to get to Paradise, and they are willing to destroy the very possibility of human happiness along the way. The truth is, we are all living in Israel. It’s just that some of us haven’t realized it yet.
What does the villain want to do in every comic book I ever read?

Try to take over the world.

What does the villain want to do in almost every James Bond movie since "Dr. No."?

Try to take over the world.

"Whaddya want to do tonight, Brain?"

"Same thing we do every night, Pinky.  TRY TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD!"

Sam Harris simply took his childhood too seriously.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Time Marches On

Wandering through the local thrift store (donations turned into sales for various charitable purposes), I found the above, sans colorful dust jacket.  The picture of the woman just to the left of Skin and Bones was embossed on the spine, and it was rather obvious she was meant to be undressed from the waist up, except for the hat and baseball glove.  This I thought odd in a book clearly not meant to pornographic.

I'd never heard of Thorne Smith, but popping it open I found Topper in the table of contents.  I know Topper from the Leo G. McCarroll TV show first (and Leo G. McCarroll from his stint on "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.", from my childhood.  "Topper" I knew from re-runs, later), and while the TV show isn't a patch on the original movie with Cary Grant (the first one, I mean), I still remember it fondly.  So, I found, this was the guy who wrote Topper.  That almost made the volume appealing.

Oddly, Topper was the one book in this omnibus with no illustrations.  Maybe because that story doesn't involve rich men with mistresses, the way the other two books apparently did.  (I got the impression Thorne Smith was the American version of P.G. Wodehouse, but with rich old men chasing nubile young women, rather than wooly-headed British aristocrats avoiding domineering women.)  The other two entries were lavishly illustrated, every one including at least one fully naked woman, if not merely topless, usually in a roomful of fully dressed men.  The copyright was 1934, and it was a Doubleday publication.  It took me a while to square the circle and figure out this is what passed for "adult entertainment" in print in the days before Playboy and Esquire (which never had the foldouts, but did have the semi-nude photographs of women, although not on quite as regular a basis.  Down right prim, actually, compared to Hefner's publication.  Don't bother asking how I know this....)

What struck me as really funny is that this was the time when Hemingway was being blasted for his "disgusting" works, including (probably; I'm no Hemingway scholar, but I've just polished off a volume of his complete short stories) one strongly inferring a young wife is a lesbian, and a few where Nick Adams makes the beast with two backs in the woods with young women, in prose so obtuse and embarrassed to be violet, much less purple, I was embarrassed for it.)  James Joyce, of course, was even worse, for reasons I still don't quite understand.  I'm assuming Thorne Smith never described the "act of love" nor dwelt much on the nudity of his females in prose.

But cartoons drawings of undressed women?  Sure, why not?

Of course today only strictly "Christian" bookstores (or Muslim, for that matter) might eschew 50 Shades of Grey on their bookshelves; but the trailer for the movie was apparently too racy for broadcast TV.

The past really is another country, and yet curiously the same as ours.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Mission Accomplished

Glasses received.* 

They look almost like this, but cooler.  No pictures will be forthcoming.  I look more like the son of an accountant than ever.

Yesterday I couldn't spell hipster, now I are one.

In solidarity I'll be off today. This post was published automatically, which means it doesn't count.

*no accompanying crew cut this time.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

This is the end, my beautiful friend, the end....

In his last battle with Voldemort, despite the fact witches and wizards we have come to know and love (all of them adults) are hurling death blasts at the enemy, Harry Potter faces Voldermort and defeats him with a purely defensive spell.  Voldemort pronounces his infamous "Let's have a corpse" (a loose translation, to be sure) and Harry counters with a spell to disarm.  Harry doesn't kill, Voldemort does, and the success of Harry's spell means the death spell strikes the one who conjured it.

Thus is Harry's world made morally safe for executions.

We have this strange relationship with state sponsored death; perhaps because we praise so much our democracy and "government of, by, and for the people."  But it is that form of government, Josh Marshall argues, that has kept the death penalty alive in America even as it has ended in Europe.   He points out that "37% of executions in the United States since the resumption of capital punishment in 1976 have taken place in Texas, and support for the death penalty is very high here. He also notes this, which has a bearing on my consideration of the topic, quoting Federal Judge Alex Kozinski:

 "Executions", he writes, "are, in fact, brutal, savage events, and nothing the state tries to do can mask that reality. Nor should we. If we as a society want to carry out executions, we should be willing to face the fact that the state is committing a horrendous brutality on our behalf." I'm not sure Kozinski has any problem with that. And many people are quite comfortable with it or claim that they are.

But the reality is that most are not.

Most of us never really have been.  When the executioner wielded an axe, he also wore a hood; anonymity of a sort provided absolution, of a sort.  The story is the guillotine was invented to make executions more humane (and, of course, more efficient).  We've never been wholly comfortable with the brutality of death; its why so many of us come back changed from war.

This isn't peculiar to America, but our response is peculiarly American.  After World War II it stopped being the War Department, and became the Defense Department, complete with a permanent headquarters originally designed as an archive (and that's the reason the Pentagon survived 9/11 with relatively little damage.  The floors were built to hold tons of paper.)  "Defense" sounds so much cleaner and more reasonable; "war" carries so many connotations of carnage and disaster.

Our Navy, now, far from being an military force capable of projecting fearsome power from the waves to any point on the globe, is a "global force for good."  And Israel has learned from us to defend even our destruction rained down on civilians and military foes indiscriminately; we make "surgical strikes" and "collateral damage" is the fault of the enemy using "human shields."  Because we don't want to kill anybody but "bad guys," which we all know from generations (now) of action movies, are the only people you can kill without compunction or even the mess of dead bodies (they just fall down, and an hour later the place is clean again.  Nobody even notices the slaughter, because it isn't slaughter; bad guys ain't human!).

All of this is in play now as we try, once again, to find a "humane" way to kill people.  It was supposed to be the electric chair; but that didn't work out.  Then it was lethal injection, and what could go wrong?  We anesthetize people for surgery, surely we can painlessly put them out of our misery.

Except, of course, doctors won't get involved in such matters; something about "First, do no harm," apparently.  So we kill the prisoners because we must, but we insist the killing be "humane" because, after all, we aren't savages.  The more cleanly and painlessly we can kill someone, the less of a burden it is on our collective conscience.

So the latest death didn't take two hours and involve torment tantamount to torture.  No, the prisoner was snoring!  After all, we aren't vicious killers; they are!

"While justice was carried out today, I directed the Department of Corrections to conduct a full review of the process,” she said. “One thing is certain, however: Inmate Wood died in a lawful manner, and by eyewitness and medical accounts he did not suffer. This is in stark comparison to the gruesome, vicious suffering that he inflicted on his two victims—and the lifetime of suffering he has caused their family.”

As Dahlia Lithwick points out, this statement by Gov. Jan Brewer simultaneously says something went wrong and a full review must be demanded, but nothing went wrong because we aren't monsters like the guy we just took two hours to kill with drugs we can't tell anybody anything about because if we did we might not get anymore, and then we'd have to back to an even more inhumane method of execution, and as a state and nation, we aren't really ready to admit what the cost of killing someone really is.

Because we the people are not monsters.  We don't go to war, we "defend" the "global good."  And we don't kill people; we execute them in a humane and decent manner; even when we don't; even when we can't.  And if we can't, what then?

Miserable creatures that we are, who will free us from this prison?

Friday, July 25, 2014

Things I wonder about.....

There are three military bases within the city limits of San Antonio, Texas.  You can find the map showing their relative locations here.  One of those bases is identified as the headquarters of the 5th Army.

Camp Mabry, a former military depot and now headquarters for the Texas National Guard, is inside Austin, Texas.

If a foreign power had reason to attack any of these facilities, could they declare we had put them in civilian areas in order to create "human shields," and so any deaths of civilians were not the foreign power's fault?

Could they defend their attack as a "right" to exist and a "right" to defend themselves?

And who would listen?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

"Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends...."

I started this days ago, then froze it.  Events have decided me to publish it after all, with an addendum.

This rally really isn't as surprising as ThinkProgress imagines it is.

Texas is a big state, both geographically and demographically.  As I've said before, you can draw a line from Houston almost straight across to El Paso (800 miles away; I told you it was big); and everything south of that line is culturally Mexico.

When you get down to cities like McAllen, it IS Mexico.  And that's a good thing.

The counties of South Texas, especially along the Rio Grande, went for Obama in both 2012 and 2008.  The river, which is the U.S. Border in Texas, is simply a water feature between Texas and northern Mexico.  People are casually bi-lingual all along the border, and move back and forth across the river as easily as New Yorkers cross to Manhattan Island and back.  Most people have family on both sides of the border.  Any example you can cite of a xenophobic Texas politician (and I can cite many), is always a resident north of the line I just imagined.  Always.

You'll notice some of the signs ThinkProgress highlighted at that rally are in Spanish.  That isn't an accident, nor is it some measure of pandering.  The border is resolutely bi-lingual.  And sentiments like this are typical of life along the border:

Linda Yanez, a former state judge, told ThinkProgress that these children should be given the right to plead their cases in front of an immigration judge, and that any proposed legislation would actually harm their ability to do so. “I’m not against the Border Patrol, they’re just doing their jobs,” Yanez said. “It’s about our policy lawmakers and about what they tell our Border Patrol to do. I’m here to support due process.”

“The fact that gangs and drug lords have the biggest influence is something we can’t ignore,” Yanez added. “It’s a life and death situation… It’s Sophie’s choice. If these are my choices, I’m going to take the one that gives my child some chance at survival.”
That's what this situation on the border is about; a situation that, as TP notes, has been going on since 2009, and only gotten worse as conditions in some countries in Central America have gotten worse.
Which just means Ted Cruz, who doesn't get any votes from the Border, is even more of an ass.


The dichotomy of Texas is captured perfectly by this town hall meeting in Longview, a town much closer to Texarkana than it is to McAllen:

The tea party conservative representing Longview in Austin was criticized from the right Wednesday as he advocated compassion for immigrants and outlined legal steps that can be taken at the state level.

Republican state Rep. David Simpson also told an audience of about 160 people about flights from abuse and sexual slavery that state and federal officials described as a big part of what’s driven thousands of Central Americans to the Texas border.

“I believe your constituents should come first when you talk about people who are impacted,” Terri Hill of Longview said during a town hall session that followed a slide show of Simpson’s recent tour of the southern border. “You are to represent us, and we have children. These (immigrants) are people that are coming in with leprosy, tuberculosis, polio.”
Simpson’s combined approach of compassion for children beset by predators tempered with more stern action along the border wasn’t always what the crowd wanted to hear.

A letter sent Monday from the state Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee chairman to Simpson and fellow House members reported three cases each of tuberculosis and H1N1 flu and “minimal” cases of chickenpox and some scabies, lice and rashes among the so-called unaccompanied immigrant children.

“(Texas Department of State Health Services) continuously performs surveillance to detect disease outbreaks,” the letter from Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, said.

“I’ve got four kids and a fifth one on the way,” Ben Denson of Gilmer told Simpson from a forum microphone. “These (Central American) kids have scabies and influenza, viral pneumonia, leprosy. These kids are going to be part of the school system. ... They are bleeding Texas (Democrat) blue.”

Simpson maintained a defense of the children he saw during his trip the first week of July.

“These children are fodder in this,” he said. “They are being assaulted. ... I don’t believe in amnesty. I don’t believe in treating people who’ve crossed the border as a murderer. ... I do think there should be a path, a legal path, for naturalization or citizenship. We’re a nation of immigrants.”

Simpson also was skeptical of the notion voiced by some that a special session of the Texas Legislature would accomplish much in addressing the border dilemma.

The call for a special session (the Texas Lege meets for only 140 consecutive days ever two years) is a new one on me.  What the Texas Legislature could do is beyond me, since border control is a solely Federal enterprise.  But the panic spouted in this town hall is peculiar to that part of the state that is not Mexico.  Kudos to David Simpson for being a human being about this problem, and not a caricature.  Sometimes a representative government is not what you want.

But since this meeting was held at a Baptist church (and knowing Longview, most of the people there were probably Baptists), a little of that old "wrath of God" they love to call down:
Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed;

To turn aside the needy from judgment, and to take away the right from the poor of my people, that widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless!

And what will ye do in the day of visitation, and in the desolation which shall come from far? to
whom will ye flee for help? and where will ye leave your glory?

Without me they shall bow down under the prisoners, and they shall fall under the slain. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.

Or just Matthew:

25:41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;

25:42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,

25:43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.'

25:44 Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?'

25:45 Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'

25:46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
Not really interested in the condemnation language there, but c'mon people; get some perspective! Or maybe this is just another object lesson in the dangers of hospitality.

"Go and sin no more"

I just wrote this in comments at Slate, and I'm so pleased with it (although in an hour the glow may well have faded; and yes, pride is a sin) that I decided to post it here.  It begins with a quote from the article:

“The Bible is very clear and consistent in its teaching that sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage are not pleasing to God,” Renfroe says. “The only way we could accept sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage would be to believe the Bible is not God’s word.” He adds, “And we’re not prepared to do that.”

It does if you are determined to find those teachings. It's actually quite a bit clearer about food restrictions and other matters most Christians set aside now, thanks to Peter's vision of the "unclean" food in the book of Acts (the fight between Peter and Paul on whether to evangelize Gentiles or only Jews turned on that vision, at least in Luke's version of history).

But for some reason, we can't set aside the law (such as it is) on sex. We can eat cheeseburgers, we can't allow gays to rub their genitalia together.

It's a very persuasive argument, in other words, if you think God is terribly concerned with whose genitalia is touching whose, and under what legal (marriage is a legal contract, thanks to Protestantism) arrangement.

But if you note how much of the Scriptures are concerned with social justice, with care for the widow and the orphan and the alien among you, to use the felicitous phrasing of the KJV and most English translations, and note how often Jesus refuses to condemn anyone for their behavior (his favorite phrase seems to be "Go, and sin no more," which in context means "sin" is a burden put on you by society, not God, and you don't need to live your life condemned by your category; you are meant for more than that). then the whole concern with who rubbing genitals with whom, fades into silly irrelevancy.

Or you can get mad at God for not being concerned with what concerns you the most; but that's the other major tenet of the sayings of Jesus: God is not you and your concerns. God is among the poor, not among the sexually active; and God is concerned with how you treat the poor, not with how well you control the sexually active.

Indeed, how you can ignore the former and obsess over the latter turns the whole concept of respecting the Bible as "God's word" on its head.

To which I would add, because I have the space here, the example of the prostitute in Luke 7:36-50.  Jesus not only refused to condemn her, he refused to even call her a sinner.  His "Go and sin no more" was precisely what I had in mind above; he wanted to liberate her from the shackles of prostitution she had been forced into by society, a society quick to condemn her sexual behavior (which may have been little worse than entering a roomful of men and washing their feet for payment; "prostitution" isn't limited to sexual intercourse for pay, especially in 1st century Palestine) and so condemn her to a life of prostitution.

And the "rubbing genitalia" together is not an accidental phrasing.  From the article:
According to the Judicial Council (the Supreme Court for the UMC), proving that one is a “practicing” homosexual means confirming that a person has had genital contact with a member of the same sex.
You can't make this stuff up. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Everybody knows this is nowhere....

If there is a problem with how religion is perceived in America, it is this one:

“The ‘religion’ being rejected turns out to be quite unlike the religion being practiced and described by those affiliated with religious institutions. Likewise, the ‘spirituality’ being endorsed as an alternative is at least as widely practiced by those same religious people as it is by the people drawing a moral boundary against them.”

The idea, popular on many internet sites, that America is rapidly become a non-religious country is a false one (especially considering how much of a religion "atheism" tends to be, in America).  It is false for two reasons, one of which is alluded to in that quote (which is all I can find of the entire essay on-line, unfortunately):  the religion being rejected is probably some version of "God doesn't drive parked cars," when most people don't consider God and parked cars having any relationship, real or metaphorical, at all.

Despite truly radical changes in most mainline denominations, Christianity is still widely perceived in this country as being "against."  It is against gay marriages; or abortion; or birth control; or immigration; or taxes, big government, welfare, social justice; you name it.  That mainline denominations are by and large not against any of those things, and that they don't preach hellfire and brimstone and "sinners in the hands of an angry God" anymore, is not even noticed.  And, when it is, those churches are condemned (in some very small circles, to be sure) as not preaching the "true" Christian doctrine, even as the critics reject that Christian doctrine as hurtful and cruel.

Well, that's one side of it; the other is that the fire and brimstone/hellfire and damnation crowd still captures the American imagination; perhaps because it is so American.  "Paint Your Wagon" includes a frontier evangelical preacher calling down the wrath of God on No Name City because we're all quite sure such pastors frowned on the California Gold Rush.  "Inherit the Wind" is taken as an historical text because it fits our prejudices about Christian fundamentalists.  Weepers and wailers like Jimmy Swaggart and Jim and Tammye Bakker catch our attention far better than Robert Schuller or even Rick Warren, although none of those named are associated with the kind of Biblical justice we heard the Rev. Jeremiah Wright call down, albeit in snippets we tut-tutted over because here was a "radical" black preacher who had stopped preachin' and proceeded to meddlin'.  He was concerned with the conditions of our cities and people, not with the state of our souls; at least the other four I named had the courtesy to leave our lives alone, and only be concerned with how much better God wanted to know us and bless us.

Most of American Christianity seems to come down to that, based on the famous "separation of church and state."  The pastor and God can worry about the state of our soul, we'll take care of the state of our balance sheet and the condition of our neighborhood and city.  Which is part of why the preacher in "Paint Your Wagon" is a comic figure; he's trying to interfere with commerce, and we don't allow any religion to do that.  Why, the very idea is laughable!

Yes, there are reports of Christians doing good things in the world.  Those reports mostly come from Christians themselves.   We've heard from the Pope on this crisis on America's Mexican border; but besides a Catholic Bishop regularly getting on CNN or CBS or even FoxNews (and that because he's in New York City), have you ever heard anything from any other representative of any Protestant denomination?  Is the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church a regular guest on network television?  (Did you even know they had a Presiding Bishop?).  Heard lately from anyone with the United Church of Christ (even though they put out press releases like the one I just linked to)?  See anything about what the Methodist church thinks or is doing, the PCUSA, the Evangelical Lutherans?  Do any of these people ever get on cable news, or a Sunday morning show?  Do you read about their positions in the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today?  Anywhere, aside from their own websites?  Church actions sometimes make local news, but that's about it.  We have a great respect for power in American media, which is why you can always get a quote from one of the "Princes of the Church," but to listen to Protestants who don't have TV shows or run universities or publish best sellers?

Why bother?

One thinks sardonically of Stalin's alleged statement about how many divisions the Pope has.  If you don't command money, what power do you command?

And yet "religious" people are out there; just like the poor and the homeless, honored more in the breech than in the keeping, regarded almost wholly as a faceless group with a small set of characteristics which make them either "religious" or "poor," and usually deserving of their benighted state.  After all, if you don't command money, what power do you command?

When I say "interfere with commerce," I don't mean religion must stand opposed to economics; but I do mean we have yet to learn to value people more than we value things, and the future is not looking any brighter because of that.  (Yes, I'm dropping in a lengthly article on a difficult subject related to what I'm talking about; that's what hyperlinks are for.)  Indeed, it may be that the greatest hope is that:

“The ‘religion’ being rejected turns out to be quite unlike the religion being practiced and described by those affiliated with religious institutions. Likewise, the ‘spirituality’ being endorsed as an alternative is at least as widely practiced by those same religious people as it is by the people drawing a moral boundary against them.”

Funny, that.