Finessing God With Same Sex Marriage Bigotry

Bigot Pride MarchMark Joseph Stern made an excellent point over at Slate, Two Clerks Resigned to Avoid Issuing Gay Marriage Licenses. Good for Them! His point is that there are all kinds of homophobic bureaucrats who want the special right to not do their jobs. At least the two clerks who he talks about in the article showed integrity: they saw that their personal feelings stopped them from doing their jobs, so they quit. Although I think they are wrong about their positions on same sex marriage (so does Stern), I respect people who are willing to suffer a loss for it rather than just whine, which is the normal reaction.

But I’m struck by the fact that Christians seem to think that God cares about same sex marriage. If one is not a literalist, there is no problem at all. The discussions of homosexuality in the New Testament is mostly indirect, and when it is direct can be interpreted as discussing homosexual lust — and the whole Bible is down on lust as a general matter. Most of the Biblical arguments that people make against same sex marriage are based upon passages that actually just talk about procreation and opposite sex marriage — there is nothing explicit about same sex marriage. And if these passages mean that God doesn’t like same sex marriage they also mean that he doesn’t like marriages between old people.

But I’m more interested in the Biblical literalists. Leviticus 20:13 says, “If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them.” This is awkward syntax, but the point is that the men shall be put to death, not something like, “Well don’t be shocked in God strikes them dead!” The New Living Translation, for example, translates the passage, “They must both be put to death, for they are guilty of a capital offense.” The Holman Christian Standard Bible translates it, “They must be put to death; their blood is on their own hands.” The International Standard Version provides, “They are certainly to be put to death.”

So God wants homosexuals put to death long before they start marrying. Yet everywhere you go in America, you find Christian literalists — lots of them — who are not putting Neil Patrick Harris to death. In fact, they are not even calling for his death. I think these people lack integrity. But I understand. It really does go against natural human impulses to kill other people, even if your holy book says you should do it. But why is it okay to be wishy-washy about something God told you to do (killing the gays) and not about something that he was at best unclear about (stopping the gays from marrying).

According to Gallup, roughly 30% of Americans think, “The Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word.” This must be the group that is so concerned that giving out marriage licenses to same sex couples will cause them to burn in hell. But I just don’t see God saying to these people, “Well, you didn’t do what I explicitly told you to do. You just brushed that aside because it was hard to do. But you did make a big deal about giving out marriage licenses to the people I told you to kill. I guess that’s good enough, welcome to heaven!” I don’t see it happening that way. But for all the literalists’ claims, they seem to think that they can finesse God. And that, beyond anything else, is offensive.

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The Shortsighted Viciousness of the Greek Haters

SyrizaToday is the Greek referendum. Will the people be so afraid of the oligarchs that they will vote to accept savage austerity, aimed at the bottom of their economy? In a fundamental sense, it doesn’t matter. Even if the people vote “no” — as I think they should — it will not be an overwhelming victory. As in the United States, apparently, half the people in Greece still think the best thing is to allow the power elite to bash in their heads with ball-peen hammers. And as I’ve noted many times before, people are very risk adverse. Doing what all the “smart” powerful people want them to do is a natural response, even if the last five years of failure of the “smart” people ought to give cause for reflection.

But I don’t blame the Greek people. And I’m not really very interested in talking about them. I am interested in talking about the German people — and more specifically, the power elite who have caused the German people (and many others besides) to think of Greece as a badly behaving child. It reminds me of something that Paul Krugman used to say all the time, “Economics is not a morality play.” It doesn’t matter what Greece did in the past, there is a situation today. And regardless of how badly Greece behaved in the past, even if you did think that it needed to be punished, wouldn’t the last five years have been enough? Isn’t it time to move on?

Of course, the issue isn’t about “morality” for the power elite. That’s just what they use to make the German people puff themselves up as the paragons of virtue while looking down at naughty Greece. The power elite are involved in economic engineering. They are trying to turn Greece into the kind of “free market” dystopia that will allow them to take an ever larger fraction of the European economy. And that makes them just like the power elite here at home.

Right now, Syriza controls the government in Greece. The Troika and the power elite that it represents, could have decided to make the best of that situation. But instead, it set about destroying the government — even going to the extent of not allowing Syriza to save face after it had given in to every conceivable demand — totally repudiating everything it was elected to do. And let’s suppose that the power elite get what they want. Suppose that the Greek people vote for the austerity. It will be the end of the current Greek government. And it will send a powerful message to people in struggling euro countries.

But what will that message be? The power elite think that message will be that that their will is supreme and that the people should never forget that democracy is a myth and that the power elite will crush them should they ever vote to do what the people actually want. That might be the immediate effect. But in a year, a month, even a day, people are going to start thinking differently. People are going to conclude that they can’t depend upon those nice people on the left, so maybe they should give those strong people on the right a look.

A big part of the EU project was to eliminate the possibility of another world war. But I guess no one thought that whole thing through. The EU has provide the main belligerent of both the world wars — Germany — with unrivaled political power due to its economic power. I’ve watched in amazement over the last five years as Germany has abused its power. If Greece turns into a fascist state — or just a failed state — it will be because of the power elite of Europe. But the German people are not worried about the shortsighted greed of the power elite; they are worried about teaching the Greek people a lesson.

Regardless of what happens, it is going to be a bumpy ride. Greece should have left the euro zone five years ago. The Germans — and to be honest, the whole of Europe — was never going to allow the Greek economy to heal.

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Morning Music: Renaud

Mistral Gagnant - RenaudAfter the Fourth of July, I think we could use a little French music. So I offer up to you Renaud — a French singer-songwriter so popular, he actually has an English language Wikipedia page. We are going to listen to a very sweet song, “Mistral Gagnant” off his most successful album, 1985’s Mistral Gagnant. The title refers to a kind of candy, apparently. The song is sung to Renaud’s daughter and reflects on his own childhood, including stealing candy from the store.

People know that I’m fond of French film and music. But that’s not exactly true. I do tend to like things more if I know that they are French. I like some idea I have about the French. And the one time I was there, I liked it very much. But it is rather that I like certain kinds of French films and music. I’m sure that France produces all the same dreck that America does. But thankfully, I’m spared that. Also: I’m very fond of wine and cognac.


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Anniversary Post: Bloody Thursday

Mission and SteuartBloody Thursday occurred on this day in 1934. It was part of the 1934 West Coast waterfront strike. The result of that strike was good: it caused all of the west coast ports to become unionized. But Bloody Thursday was typical of the kind of thing that workers have had to live through in order to organize unions. Historically, the levers of official government power have been used to stop unions — most especially the courts. But on the front lines, it has been police departments.

On the day after the Fourth of July, the Industrial Association tried to get the San Francisco port working more despite the strike. And who was there to help them? Why the police department, of course. As will happen whenever the police get a tiny bit scared, officers eventually started firing into crowds of workers, killing two men. Afterward, workers put out flowers on the corner of Mission and Steuart. And the police came by and removed them. The workers put more flowers there. Eventually, police started firing into the International Longshoremen’s Association hall, but no one was killed.

The state sent in the National Guard. And federal troops were at the ready. Bloody Thursday resulted in a general strike — you know, the kind of thing that is now illegal in the “freedom loving” United States. And there was a good overall result for the workers. But I’m always struck by the fact that most people associate labor unions with violence. Well, yeah. But why is that?! The labor movement has been consistently attacked both politically and physically. So yeah, sometimes things get violent like when those heartless workers got in the way of those police bullets.

I’m afraid those days are coming back. The rich have been too greedy. Increasingly, workers have nothing to lose. And the rights that workers gained during the first half of the 20th century are being chipped away. They will have to be fought for all over again. And the rich really should hope that we succeed. Because America is doomed if we don’t.

We mark Bloody Thursday on this day 81 years ago.

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Ted Nugent and Cruelty to Black Bears

Ted Nugent With Dead Black BearI was over on No More Mister Nice Blog the other day, and I learned, Some of Ted Nugent’s Best Friends Are Illegal Bear-Penis Traffickers, Allegedly. It’s all about that strange little man and his hunting activities. The main thing involving Nugent dates back to 2009 when he was hunting black bears with a bow up in Alaska. But he apparently isn’t that good. He hit one, but it only wounded the bear, who ran away. Undeterred, Nugent found another bear four days later, which he shot and killed. This was illegal because once he wounded the first bear, his license was for that bear alone. He had no license to kill the second bear.

I’m not a vegetarian, so I certainly understand that animals die for the sake of my life. Still, I’ve always found “pleasure” hunting to be awful. Killing another animal shouldn’t be something one takes pleasure in. But it isn’t part of my culture and I don’t dismiss the practice altogether. I do, however, think that whatever thrill or joy one gets out of it should go along with a great deal of seriousness. To give you some idea of where I’m coming from, I will not swat a fly if I can’t get a clean hit. I don’t wish to be cruel to a house fly and I would hope that hunters would feel the same way about their quarry.

What Nugent seems to have done strikes me as especially vile. If you wound a black bear, you should move heaven and earth to track it down and end its suffering. I often wonder if house flies have the same connection to pain that I do. But there is no doubt that a black bear does. Now according to Nugent’s lawyer, Wayne Anthony Ross, the arrow just grazed the bear. He said, “They’ve got apparently some crazy law in Southeast that says if you even touch an animal with an arrow, it becomes your animal… [Nugent] looked to see if he had hit it and didn’t believe that he’d hit it fatally.”

So Nugent’s arrow just “grazed” the bear. They’ve got a law that if you “touch an animal” it’s yours. The lawyer goes on and on to indicate that it was nothing big. But there are problems. There was blood at the site. I assume the arrow was still in the bear because no mention was made of finding it, which would have been exculpatory. But there was no trail of blood, which might be a sign that the the bear was moving fast — you know, adrenaline and all. And Nugent and his “buddies” looked for the bear but didn’t find it. Ross’ conclusion: “The bear didn’t die.” My conclusion: Nugent and his “buddies” aren’t good trackers and they didn’t care enough to track the bear anyway.

The form of hunting that Ted “real man” Nugent takes part in is pathetic anyway. They set up a “bait station” and wait for the bears to come by and then kill them. Now I see this as totally reasonable for those people who are hunting out of need. But for the sport hunter, it doesn’t seem very sporting. It sounds to me like a bunch of guys just sitting around drinking beer waiting for animals to be prone and then blowing them away. It’s about as sporting as the buffalo shoot in Bless the Beasts and Children.

For Nugent, apparently, the whole incident is about the law. His lawyer claimed, “He only took one bear.” But it really should be about his incompetence causing a fellow mammal to suffer. All in the name of Ted Nugent feeling like a real man to make up for the fact that he refused to go to war when he had the chance. It’s just pathetic and horrible.

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What to the Slave is Fourth of July?

Frederick DouglassWhat, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is a constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes that would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.

At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. Oh! Had I the ability, and could reach the nation’s ear, I would, today, pour forth a stream, a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and the crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

—Frederick Douglass
What to the Slave is 4th of July?

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Paul Waldman Wants to Trick You Into Being an Informed Voter

Paul WaldmanPaul Waldman wrote a useful little article over at The Week, How to Stay Abreast of 2016 Campaign Coverage Without Becoming an Idiot. It is presented as a list of ten rules that we all ought to follow, but there is cross over. It’s worth thinking about.

His first rule is, “It’s OK to care about the horse race, but it should be consumed in moderation.” It’s good advice, but a practical impossibility. Even I get dragged into it, and I really don’t much care about the horse race. The problem from my perspective is that horse race coverage focuses on the day to day race. And this is usually meaningless. Thinking back to the 1988 presidential election, most people think of a couple of bad Dukakis moments: his horrible response to the “What if Kitty were raped and murdered?” question, and the “tank ride” photo op. Also, there was the Willie Horton ad. But neither of these had anything to do with Dukakis’ defeat; the economic fundamentals were overwhelmingly in Bush’s favor. So Bush won. The rest was interesting, but irrelevant.

Waldman’s next two rules deal with exactly these issues: “Ignore all ‘gaffe’ coverage” and “Remember that not everything is consequential.” I’ve already seen this during the election so far. I understand that Hillary Clinton’s handling of her email while Secretary of State drives conservatives crazy. They think it plays into a wider narrative about her trustworthiness — or lack thereof. But no one cares. Unless it turns out that she confessed to killing Vince Foster in one of the emails, it won’t mean a thing. Similarly, Jeb Bush’s behavior regarding Terri Schiavo makes him unfit for elected office, if you ask me. But no one cares.

The fourth rule is really important apart from the campaign, “Pay close attention to the candidates’ promises.” This goes along with his sixth rule, “Believe that candidates can be sincere.” This is something that constantly annoys me. I think of myself as a fairly cynical person. But my cynicism is not automatic and most definitely not casual. Too many people use cynicism to justify supporting people and policies they can’t otherwise justify. I run into this in arguments with conservatives all the time: when their arguments become untenable, they throw up their hands and announce, “Well, they’re all crooks!” No they aren’t. And I know that conservatives who say this will not then choose not to vote; they will continue to vote with their “guts” — and that means they will vote for the conservative. But I also see a lot of casual cynicism among liberals. This bothers me even more, because it does cause liberals to just not vote. It was the whole Tweedledum and Tweedledee narrative that brought us President George W Bush.

In addition to this, it is well established that presidents really do follow through on their campaign promises. People have a tendency to listen closely to campaigns but then tune out after the new president starts to work. So they assume the candidates didn’t even try to follow through. But they do. What’s more, they usually succeed with regard to many of their promises. So believe candidates when they make promises.

Four of Waldman’s rules are really just about paying attention what’s really going on in campaigns instead of the grand narratives that the media so love to create. He noted that changing positions are important in what they say about the changing parties — not anything about the candidates being unstable or “flip-floppers.” Judge the candidates’ private lives on how they would affect their presidencies. Pay attention to how candidates plan to affect their goals. With regard to this, Waldman noted, “If they’re saying they’ll amend the Constitution for some reason, don’t forget that actually, they won’t.” And above all, “Keep asking, ‘What does this mean for the next presidency?'”

But it is Waldman’s last rule that is the most important, “If your usual news sources suck, look around for some others.” I would put it differently, “Your usual news sources do suck!” That’s true of 99% of Americans. I recommend Democracy Now! and Al Jazeera America. The latter of these is especially good in being a network — but one that has a much greater focus on political substance than just about any other news network. Check our Reed Richardson’s article on the network, Can Al Jazeera America Save Cable News?

I think that Paul Waldman’s rules are very good. They can be boiled down to a single rule: stay focused on reality. But that makes the rules fundamentally liberal — in a modern American context. Because I really believe that all the Republican Party has to offer the people is an outlet for their fear and resentment. When a conservative tells me they take politics seriously, I know that the next thing out of their mouths will be some arcane subject only discussed deep in the bowels of conservative media: Solyndra or Benghazi or Jade Helm. On the right, being serious about politics means being a gnostic: having special knowledge that “they don’t want you to know about.” So obviously, Waldman is part of the liberal media conspiracy to get you to think about reality instead of the far more interesting “hidden reality.”

But just imagine if instead of new consumers following Waldman’s rules, the news providers did so. They won’t. That’s because news is a business. In a capitalism, businesses do whatever maximizes profits. So journalists live with great cognitive dissonance: they want to inform, but they know that they are paid to construct narratives and produce content to justify them. Doing better work would end with them working for less money, not more. So we can depend upon more coverage like we’ve gotten before: Al Gore exaggerates and George W Bush is a regular guy and Obama is an elitist and John McCain is a maverick. On a personal level, it really will help to follow Waldman’s rules. On a national level, it is business as usual. Yes: we are doomed.


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Independence Day Isn’t a Conservative Thing

1776 MusicalIt is the Fourth of July, and so all good Americans should sit down and watch 1776. There are two reasons for this. First, it is about the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Second, it is a musical, and there really is no more American art form than the Broadway musical. Today is also a good day to watch The Music Man — but it is optional. The main thing about 1776 is that it is both accurate and completely deceptive. Well, I will grant that Benjamin Franklin was a charming fellow. But John Adams wanted to break with England so that he could set up an aristocracy here. Most all of them did.

But there is one story about 1776 that really explains America. The producer of the film, Jack Warner, was a friend of Richard Nixon’s. So after it was finished, Warner screened it for the president. And Nixon loved it. There was just one problem with it: “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men.” It presents the men who were not so keen on independence as, well, conservative. The refrain is even, “To the right, ever to the right; never to the left, forever to the right.” So Warner had the number cut from the film, against the wishes of the director. He also told the studio to destroy the negative. But Warner was no longer president of Warner Bros, so his instructions were thankfully ignored.

What was cut was not just one of the more interesting songs in the film, it was a great number. It included an exchange between John Dickinson and John Hancock. Dickinson warns Hancock that history will brand people like him traitors. Hancock replies, “Traitors, Mr. Dickinson? To what? The British crown, or the British half-crown? Fortunately there are not enough men of property in America to dictate policy.” To which Dickinson responds with something that is as true today as ever, “Perhaps not. But don’t forget that most men without property would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich, than face the reality of being poor. And that is why they will follow us…” And the chorus starts singing, “To the right, forever to the right…” It’s wonderful.

Another aspect of it is as the song is ending, all the cool, considerate men make their ways out of the chamber to their carriages — going off to enjoy their rich propertied lives. There is something wonderfully arrogant about it. And McNair, the custodian of the Continental Congress, who was watching them go, reflects, “How’d you like to try and borrow a dollar from one of them?” Indeed.

I knew the musical originally from the film, but later, I listened to the original Broadway cast album, so I knew the song very well. But I never put it together and noticed that the number had been removed — much less the reason for it. And this was true of people who saw the film in the theaters and on VHS for decades. It was only in 2002, when the Restored Director’s Cut was released, that we got to see the scene — and much else — restored to the film. Now the original release seems hollow.

But think about the irony of the whole thing. The President of the United States, acting just like King George III would have, said, “Butcher this work of art, because it offends me.” And it was done. And it was done in the name of patriotism. That’s the way with things. Dickinson was right: those men would be remembered as traitors — by some people. The problem is not that today’s conservatives would have been against American independence. The problem is that conservatives delude themselves in thinking that they would have been backers of the revolution when they most clearly would not have been. It is the liberals who are always there pushing in new directions. Not the conservatives.

And that’s fine. We need conservatives to hold liberals back and keep us from moving ahead too quickly. But they should stop thinking that they ever would have been for long settled liberal policies of the past. It’s like Glenn Beck’s Common Sense: The Case Against an Out-of-Control Government, Inspired by Thomas Paine, which shows no trace of the author ever having read Paine. They need to stop embarrassing themselves. William F Buckley Jr was right, “A conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling Stop…” That’s what it means to be a conservative. They were the John Dickinsons and Edward Rutledges. When it comes to Independence Day, they are a bad guys. Conservatives need to embrace that.


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Morning Music: James Brown

It's a Man's Man's Man's WorldI was talking to my sister earlier and she brought up “that song about it being a man’s world.” Well, I found my morning music! You just can’t start a day better than with a little James Brown. And “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” is one of the best. The lyrics of the song are about as sexist as can be, but it somehow isn’t surprising that they were written by Brown’s girlfriend at the time, Betty Jean Newsome. Nor is it surprising that on the original release of the song, only Brown got credit. No wonder the singer thinks that it is “man” who invented all those things in the song, it was because “man” forgot to give “woman” credit — just like always.

Still, it’s an unbelievably great song. I never listen to the lyrics anyway. Regardless, how ever the world is, “It wouldn’t be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl.”

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Anniversary Post: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Alice's Adventures in WonderlandOn this day in 1862, legend has it, Lewis Carroll rowed a boat up part of the River Thames with Robinson Duckworth and the three young Liddell girls, one of whom was ten year old Alice. And during that trip, he started telling the story that would be published three years later as, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I don’t like the contrast: while Lewis Carroll was busy creating one of the most charming stories of all time, across the great big ocean, hundreds of thousands Americans were being killed because a small number of white men wanted to continue to own human beings.

There was a table set out under a tree in front of the house, and the March Hare and the Hatter were having tea at it: a Dormouse was sitting between them, fast asleep, and the other two were using it as a cushion, resting their elbows on it, and talking over its head. ‘Very uncomfortable for the Dormouse,’ thought Alice; ‘only, as it’s asleep, I suppose it doesn’t mind.’

The table was a large one, but the three were all crowded together at one corner of it: ‘No room! No room!’ they cried out when they saw Alice coming. ‘There’s plenty of room!’ said Alice indignantly, and she sat down in a large arm-chair at one end of the table.

‘Have some wine,’ the March Hare said in an encouraging tone.

Alice looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but tea. ‘I don’t see any wine,’ she remarked.

‘There isn’t any,’ said the March Hare.

‘Then it wasn’t very civil of you to offer it,’ said Alice angrily.

‘It wasn’t very civil of you to sit down without being invited,’ said the March Hare.

‘I didn’t know it was your table,’ said Alice; ‘it’s laid for a great many more than three.’

‘Your hair wants cutting,’ said the Hatter. He had been looking at Alice for some time with great curiosity, and this was his first speech.

‘You should learn not to make personal remarks,’ Alice said with some severity; ‘it’s very rude.’

The Hatter opened his eyes very wide on hearing this; but all he said was, ‘Why is a raven like a writing-desk?’

‘Come, we shall have some fun now!’ thought Alice. ‘I’m glad they’ve begun asking riddles.– I believe I can guess that,’ she added aloud.

‘Do you mean that you think you can find out the answer to it?’ said the March Hare.

‘Exactly so,’ said Alice.

‘Then you should say what you mean,’ the March Hare went on.

‘I do,’ Alice hastily replied; ‘at least — at least I mean what I say — that’s the same thing, you know.’

‘Not the same thing a bit!’ said the Hatter. ‘You might just as well say that “I see what I eat” is the same thing as “I eat what I see”!’

‘You might just as well say,’ added the March Hare, ‘that “I like what I get” is the same thing as “I get what I like”!’

‘You might just as well say,’ added the Dormouse, who seemed to be talking in his sleep, ‘that “I breathe when I sleep” is the same thing as “I sleep when I breathe”!’

‘It is the same thing with you,’ said the Hatter, and here the conversation dropped, and the party sat silent for a minute, while Alice thought over all she could remember about ravens and writing-desks, which wasn’t much.

The Hatter was the first to break the silence. ‘What day of the month is it?’ he said, turning to Alice: he had taken his watch out of his pocket, and was looking at it uneasily, shaking it every now and then, and holding it to his ear.

Alice considered a little, and then said ‘The fourth.’

‘Two days wrong!’ sighed the Hatter. ‘I told you butter wouldn’t suit the works!’ he added looking angrily at the March Hare.

‘It was the best butter,’ the March Hare meekly replied.

‘Yes, but some crumbs must have got in as well,’ the Hatter grumbled: ‘you shouldn’t have put it in with the bread-knife.’

The March Hare took the watch and looked at it gloomily: then he dipped it into his cup of tea, and looked at it again: but he could think of nothing better to say than his first remark, ‘It was the best butter, you know.’

Alice had been looking over his shoulder with some curiosity. ‘What a funny watch!’ she remarked. ‘It tells the day of the month, and doesn’t tell what o’clock it is!’

‘Why should it?’ muttered the Hatter. ‘Does your watch tell you what year it is?’

‘Of course not,’ Alice replied very readily: ‘but that’s because it stays the same year for such a long time together.’

‘Which is just the case with mine,’ said the Hatter.

Alice felt dreadfully puzzled. The Hatter’s remark seemed to have no sort of meaning in it, and yet it was certainly English. ‘I don’t quite understand you,’ she said, as politely as she could.

‘The Dormouse is asleep again,’ said the Hatter, and he poured a little hot tea upon its nose.

The Dormouse shook its head impatiently, and said, without opening its eyes, ‘Of course, of course; just what I was going to remark myself.’

‘Have you guessed the riddle yet?’ the Hatter said, turning to Alice again.

‘No, I give it up,’ Alice replied: ‘what’s the answer?’

‘I haven’t the slightest idea,’ said the Hatter.

‘Nor I,’ said the March Hare.

Alice sighed wearily. ‘I think you might do something better with the time,’ she said, ‘than waste it in asking riddles that have no answers.’

‘If you knew Time as well as I do,’ said the Hatter, ‘you wouldn’t talk about wasting it. It’s him.’

‘I don’t know what you mean,’ said Alice.

‘Of course you don’t!’ the Hatter said, tossing his head contemptuously. ‘I dare say you never even spoke to Time!’

‘Perhaps not,’ Alice cautiously replied: ‘but I know I have to beat time when I learn music.’

‘Ah! that accounts for it,’ said the Hatter. ‘He won’t stand beating. Now, if you only kept on good terms with him, he’d do almost anything you liked with the clock. For instance, suppose it were nine o’clock in the morning, just time to begin lessons: you’d only have to whisper a hint to Time, and round goes the clock in a twinkling! Half-past one, time for dinner!’

(‘I only wish it was,’ the March Hare said to itself in a whisper.)

‘That would be grand, certainly,’ said Alice thoughtfully: ‘but then — I shouldn’t be hungry for it, you know.’

‘Not at first, perhaps,’ said the Hatter: ‘but you could keep it to half-past one as long as you liked.’

‘Is that the way you manage?’ Alice asked.

The Hatter shook his head mournfully. ‘Not I!’ he replied. ‘We quarrelled last March — just before he went mad, you know–‘ (pointing with his tea spoon at the March Hare,) ‘–it was at the great concert given by the Queen of Hearts, and I had to sing

“Twinkle, twinkle, little bat!
How I wonder what you’re at!

You know the song, perhaps?’

‘I’ve heard something like it,’ said Alice.

‘It goes on, you know,’ the Hatter continued, ‘in this way:–

“Up above the world you fly,
Like a tea-tray in the sky.
Twinkle, twinkle–“‘

Here the Dormouse shook itself, and began singing in its sleep ‘Twinkle, twinkle, twinkle, twinkle–‘ and went on so long that they had to pinch it to make it stop.

‘Well, I’d hardly finished the first verse,’ said the Hatter, ‘when the Queen jumped up and bawled out, “He’s murdering the time! Off with his head!”‘

‘How dreadfully savage!’ exclaimed Alice.

‘And ever since that,’ the Hatter went on in a mournful tone, ‘he won’t do a thing I ask! It’s always six o’clock now.’

A bright idea came into Alice’s head. ‘Is that the reason so many tea-things are put out here?’ she asked.

‘Yes, that’s it,’ said the Hatter with a sigh: ‘it’s always tea-time, and we’ve no time to wash the things between whiles.’

‘Then you keep moving round, I suppose?’ said Alice.

‘Exactly so,’ said the Hatter: ‘as the things get used up.’

‘But what happens when you come to the beginning again?’ Alice ventured to ask.

‘Suppose we change the subject,’ the March Hare interrupted, yawning. ‘I’m getting tired of this. I vote the young lady tells us a story.’

‘I’m afraid I don’t know one,’ said Alice, rather alarmed at the proposal.

‘Then the Dormouse shall!’ they both cried. ‘Wake up, Dormouse!’ And they pinched it on both sides at once.

The Dormouse slowly opened his eyes. ‘I wasn’t asleep,’ he said in a hoarse, feeble voice: ‘I heard every word you fellows were saying.’

‘Tell us a story!’ said the March Hare.

‘Yes, please do!’ pleaded Alice.

‘And be quick about it,’ added the Hatter, ‘or you’ll be asleep again before it’s done.’

‘Once upon a time there were three little sisters,’ the Dormouse began in a great hurry; ‘and their names were Elsie, Lacie, and Tillie; and they lived at the bottom of a well–‘

‘What did they live on?’ said Alice, who always took a great interest in questions of eating and drinking.

‘They lived on treacle,’ said the Dormouse, after thinking a minute or two.

‘They couldn’t have done that, you know,’ Alice gently remarked; ‘they’d have been ill.’

‘So they were,’ said the Dormouse; ‘very ill.’

Alice tried to fancy to herself what such an extraordinary ways of living would be like, but it puzzled her too much, so she went on: ‘But why did they live at the bottom of a well?’

‘Take some more tea,’ the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.

‘I’ve had nothing yet,’ Alice replied in an offended tone, ‘so I can’t take more.’

‘You mean you can’t take less,’ said the Hatter: ‘it’s very easy to take more than nothing.’

‘Nobody asked your opinion,’ said Alice.

‘Who’s making personal remarks now?’ the Hatter asked triumphantly.

Alice did not quite know what to say to this: so she helped herself to some tea and bread-and-butter, and then turned to the Dormouse, and repeated her question. ‘Why did they live at the bottom of a well?’

The Dormouse again took a minute or two to think about it, and then said, ‘It was a treacle-well.’

‘There’s no such thing!’ Alice was beginning very angrily, but the Hatter and the March Hare went ‘Sh! sh!’ and the Dormouse sulkily remarked, ‘If you can’t be civil, you’d better finish the story for yourself.’

‘No, please go on!’ Alice said very humbly; ‘I won’t interrupt again. I dare say there may be one.’

‘One, indeed!’ said the Dormouse indignantly. However, he consented to go on. ‘And so these three little sisters — they were learning to draw, you know–‘

‘What did they draw?’ said Alice, quite forgetting her promise.

‘Treacle,’ said the Dormouse, without considering at all this time.

‘I want a clean cup,’ interrupted the Hatter: ‘let’s all move one place on.’

He moved on as he spoke, and the Dormouse followed him: the March Hare moved into the Dormouse’s place, and Alice rather unwillingly took the place of the March Hare. The Hatter was the only one who got any advantage from the change: and Alice was a good deal worse off than before, as the March Hare had just upset the milk-jug into his plate.

Alice did not wish to offend the Dormouse again, so she began very cautiously: ‘But I don’t understand. Where did they draw the treacle from?’

‘You can draw water out of a water-well,’ said the Hatter; ‘so I should think you could draw treacle out of a treacle-well — eh, stupid?’

‘But they were in the well,’ Alice said to the Dormouse, not choosing to notice this last remark.

‘Of course they were’, said the Dormouse; ‘–well in.’

This answer so confused poor Alice, that she let the Dormouse go on for some time without interrupting it.

‘They were learning to draw,’ the Dormouse went on, yawning and rubbing its eyes, for it was getting very sleepy; ‘and they drew all manner of things — everything that begins with an M–‘

‘Why with an M?’ said Alice.

‘Why not?’ said the March Hare.

Alice was silent.

The Dormouse had closed its eyes by this time, and was going off into a doze; but, on being pinched by the Hatter, it woke up again with a little shriek, and went on: ‘–that begins with an M, such as mouse-traps, and the moon, and memory, and muchness — you know you say things are “much of a muchness” — did you ever see such a thing as a drawing of a muchness?’

‘Really, now you ask me,’ said Alice, very much confused, ‘I don’t think–‘

‘Then you shouldn’t talk,’ said the Hatter.

This piece of rudeness was more than Alice could bear: she got up in great disgust, and walked off; the Dormouse fell asleep instantly, and neither of the others took the least notice of her going, though she looked back once or twice, half hoping that they would call after her: the last time she saw them, they were trying to put the Dormouse into the teapot.

‘At any rate I’ll never go there again!’ said Alice as she picked her way through the wood. ‘It’s the stupidest tea-party I ever was at in all my life!’

I can just hear the snarky reply, “Well at least they weren’t pedophiles!” But I think it is clear that Carroll was no such things. But it hardly matters. The work is what it is. And what it is, is great. So happy birthday to the beginning of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, even if it is just a legend!

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So How Do You Like Scott Walker Now?

Scott WalkerAlmost from the first day of Obama’s presidency, I began seeing a really offensive bumper sticker, “So how do you like Obama now?” My reaction even at the time was, “I’m fine with him.” But my problem with the bumper sticker has always been that it was presumptuous. The implication was that Obama promised something that he hadn’t delivered. Or even more: that supporters of the president were duped by him. What it really says is, “I told you so!” But it isn’t clear what the reader is supposed to have been told. What’s really going on is that the conservative with the bumper sticker didn’t like Obama before and doesn’t like him now. There’s a shocker!

But recently, I’ve been thinking more about the “bait and switch” message of the bumper sticker. I’ve looked. There don’t appear to have been any bumper stickers that said, “So how do you like Bush now?” The only thing I’ve found is another bumper sticker that came out a bit later; it features an image of Bush with the text, “How do you like me now?” So there was a sense among conservatives that Obama had in fact conned the American people. And now they must know.

What do you think of Obama NowI’m not completely against that reading: I think that the nation as a whole (including Obama) conned itself into thinking that the Republicans were just like the rest of us and that they wanted what was best for the country. The only way that Obama misled the country was by claiming that he would usher in a post-partisan era. Well, he tried — far harder than was reasonable. But that was a pretty vague notion to start with. And regardless, that is not what conservatives were thinking of when they put these lame bumper stickers on their SUVs. They were thinking of policy. In general, they were not upset because Obama didn’t do what he said he would do but rather because he did almost exactly what he said he would do.

But now this is linked in my mind to Scott Walker. What do the voters of Wisconsin think of Walker now? Well, they aren’t as keen on him as they once were. And in that case, they have a reasonably good case: Walker did deceive them. Rather than telling the truth when faced with the subject of Wisconsin becoming a “right to work” state, Walker always brushed it aside claiming that it wasn’t in the realm of possibilities. When it was, he couldn’t get to his pen fast enough to sign it.

I’ve been critical of the people of Wisconsin — and other states as well. Anyone who pays attention to politics should have known what Scott Walker was up to. It wasn’t just his hedging on the “right to work” issue. Everything he had done in his four years as governor indicated that he would do absolutely anything he could to destroy unions. Politicians are usually pretty clear about what they intend to do. And when they won’t answer a question, it means they intend to do what is unpopular.

But most people are busy just trying to make ends meet. So they can be forgiven for not noticing some of the subtleties of politics. Obama did not intend to deceive. But clearly Scott Walker did. In fact, pretty much any Republican politician will intentionally deceive — unless they are in an area that is overwhelmingly Republican. That’s because (for the umpteenth time), Republican policies are unpopular. So it makes a lot more sense to ask voters what they think of Republicans after they have betrayed their voters.

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The Purpose of Vaccination

Elizabeth Stoker BruenigParents who identify vaccination as a personal choice made for themselves and their own children misunderstand vaccination as a concept. Most people will survive childhood illnesses without the aid of a vaccine; vaccines are not administered on behalf of these people, though they do help them avoid the non-lethal downsides of disease, such as temporary discomfort and long-term injury. Vaccines are rather administered on behalf of people who cannot receive them, and people who would not survive the illnesses they protect against based on deficits in their own immune systems. These people include the very old, the very young, and those already suffering: people with HIV/AIDS, people going through chemotherapy, pregnant women, and people who have never had strong defenses of their own. Widespread vaccination of healthy people creates “community immunity” or “herd immunity,” which prevents illnesses from penetrating groups where vulnerable people live, thus saving their lives.

—Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig
The Christian Case for Vaccinating Children

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