Sep 26

Live Blog: First Presidential Debate 2016

First Presidential Debate 2016So I guess that I will be live blogging the first presidential debate. It starts at 6:00 pm Pacific Time. But I will likely be blogging throughout the day.

I have to admit to being worried about this. This election is so important and this debate really could go any way. I figure that it makes sense to give you some idea of what I think will happen. And we’ll see if I turn out to be right.

In one way, it seems like the outcome of these debates doesn’t so much matter. I remember Mitt Romney’s excellent performance in the first 2012 presidential debate. He got a permanent bounce from it. But as I noted at the time, all that had actually happened was that people who were doubtless going to vote for him in the end finally felt good enough about him to tell pollsters.

Looking at the polls thus far, I think that Trump has already gotten that bounce: all the Republicans have come home to support him (because they really don’t care about the principles they claim to). This time, it is Clinton who has a lot of people who haven’t felt comfortable supporting her.

The word is that roughly 100 million people will be watching this. This is a good opportunity for Clinton. I wonder how much it can help Trump.

Trump at the Presidential Debate

I don’t think that Donald Trump is as much a loose cannon as many people think. I suspect that he will go into the debate doing his best impression of “presidential” that he can. Just the same, this thing will go on for a while. I suspect his greatest problem will be avoiding obvious bordom.

I’ve talked about this quite a lot in the past. Donald Trump really has only about 5 minutes worth of material. If you’ve listened to any of his speeches, you know this. He’s incredibly repetitive. The real question is whether he will be allowed to get away with this. Will people actually notice that he isn’t saying anything? That there is no substance to what he’s saying? It’s not like the viewing audience seems to care that much about substance. And sadly, neither do the professional pundits.

Clinton at the Presidential Debate

I think we do need to stop thinking about this election being all about Trump. At the same time, it’s hard not to think of Hillary Clinton as just a given. In a quantitative sense, it’s like Alabama playing against Sonoma State University. Alabama is one of the very best college football teams. Sonoma State isn’t in the same league. If the presidential debate were a football game, Clinton would simply crush Trump.

But I keep thinking back to Frank Bruni during the first 2000 presidential debate. Sure, Bush was pathetic. But Bruni wasn’t interested in that. Being stupid and ignorant was no sin compared to Gore’s being “barely able to suppress his self-satisfied grin.” Has the press learned for all this? I kind of doubt it.

What I Expect

I figure that Clinton will be prepared for whichever Trump shows up. What I except to show up is a fairly subdued Trump. But I do expect him to bring up the things that Clinton didn’t answer well in the primary debates. In particular, I expect some mention of her high speaking fees talking to bankers. But mostly, he will just pretend that things like his ridiculous tax plan are equivalent to Clinton’s carefully constructed policies.

Above all, I expect that the moderator will allow Trump to largely get away with this. So it really comes down to how Clinton is able to focus attention on the fact that Trump really is devoid of substance. Anyone who isn’t convinced that Trump is a bigot will not be convinced by anything in this presidential debate. But maybe, just maybe, if things go well, they will see he really is nothing but bluster.

Post-Debate Thoughts

I think you can see how worried I was before the debate based upon my posts. But right out of the gate, Hillary Clinton was in control. I really didn’t think that Trump could be as bad as he was.

There was reporting that he wasn’t taking the debate preparation very seriously. I didn’t believe that. But seeing the debate, it is clear he didn’t. He really approached it the same way that he approached the primary debates. I’ll be very interested to see what the pundits say. But I can’t imagine that anyone but the strongest Trump supporters thought he did well.

It’s interesting that at MSNBC there is much analysis. And even the Republicans think Clinton did great and Trump did poorly. On Fox News, there is no analysis. It is just Sean Hannity interviewing Donald Trump. That’s not exactly how you reach out to anyone but the truth believers.

Sep 26

Odd Words: Biedermeier

BiedermeierWe are back on track with Page 26 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition. Before I start complaining, let me just tell you that today’s word is “Biedermeier.” Yes: capitalized.

Not Great Beyond Biedermeier

As I’ve noted in the past, words tend to clump because of roots. This was a big day for biblio- words. There were 14 of the little suckers. That’s almost an entire column. And then there were the bi- words. There were eight of them — with more to come. The page still had a lot of good words, however. It had bibelot, a small decorative objective. It also had biggin, which is some kind of coffee pot contraption. And it had bijouterie, a collection of jewelry.

It also had some interesting words that I already knew. For example, it had “Donald Trump.” I’m sorry, I mean “bigot.” Additionally, it had “bigamy.” I don’t especially care, except for a great Captain Spaulding bit in Animal Crackers. When told that his suggestion that two women marry him is bigamy, he responds, “Yes and it’s big o’ me too! It’s big of all of us. Why not be big for a change!” And that’s just an excuse for embedding this little bit of video:

But enough of that. On to Biedermeier:

Bie·der·mei·er  adjective  \bē’-dər-mī-ər\

1. denoting or relating to a style of interior decoration, furnishing, etc, found in German-speaking countries in the 19th century and characterized by ebony inlays and veneers of fruitwood used in a simplified style resembling French Empire.

Date: mid 19th century.

Origin: from the character Gottlieb Biedermaier.

Example: Ruszwurm, a tiny shop close to Buda Castle, is a Biedermeier-era throwback flaunting original wood and spot-on krémes that unite buttery vanilla cream with flaky pastry.Alia Akkam

Sep 25

Ted Cruz: Perfect Republican

Ted CruzLast weekend, I was freaking out. The idea of Donald Trump winning the presidency is frightening. But this week, the polls have swung back in Hillary Clinton’s direction. I really do think the whole thing is simple: if the media stop talking about all the “questions” that “remain,” then she does better. The truth is that this election is going to go as I’ve long said: Republicans will vote for Trump, regardless of their supposed concerns about him. The perfect example of this was Friday’s announce by Ted Cruz that he was endorsing Trump.

Now why would he do that? After all, Ted Cruz was the man of principle! Why is he endorsing Trump now. Well, I think the direct cause is the same as my last weekend freak-out: it looks much more likely that Trump will win. If that happens, Cruz would be marginalized. He might even be primaried in 2018 and lose his awesome government job. But the issue is deeper than that.

Ted Cruz Looks Out for Ted Cruz

It was clear all along that Ted Cruz was looking toward the 2020 presidential election. If Trump went down in a major defeat in 2016, he could present himself as the Republican who really stands for something. As we all know, if Trump loses, the Republican Party will not blame it on its ideology and hostility toward simple governing competence. They will blame it on Trump being a bad candidate. And they will blame it on him not being a “true” conservative.

(Fun fact: what is a “true” conservative? A conservative who wins.)

Back in July, Trump’s chances of getting the presidency looked really bad. So Ted Cruz was making a calculated bet about his own future. It actually shows intelligence. I always wondered about Hillary Clinton and John Kerry with regard to their votes for the Iraq War. They were thinking short term. They weren’t playing the long game, and it hurt them both. So I’m impressed that Cruz even tried to play this long game.

Of course, the whole thing demonstrates that he is the opposite of what he claims to be. He doesn’t care about principle. Ted Cruz has no soul. He just wants power. That’s why he decided to snub Trump at the RNC. And that’s why he decided to endorse him on Friday. And this has been the complaint that people in the Republican Party itself have always had against Ted Cruz: he cares about his own political career and isn’t a team player.

Republican Party Looks Out for Republican Party

In that way, he’s perfect for the Republican Party. After all, the Republican Party is all about doing what is best for it at all costs. There are currently over 5 million American adults who do not have insurance simply because a whole lot of Republicans want to send some kind of message to President Obama. This certainly represents hundreds, if not thousands, of extra deaths each year. But partisan posturing is more important than the lives of constituents.

And that’s Ted Cruz. That’s why he’s a Republican. That’s why he didn’t endorse Trump before. And that’s why he did endorse Trump on Friday. He’s a vile guy. He’s the perfect Republican!

Sep 25

Odd Words: Bedizen

BedizenPage 24 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition just sucked. Really! First we got more be- words. Then we got a bunch of ben- words. I decided to go with “bedizen,” because there was only one other word that I could even remotely say I didn’t know.

One Word Beyond Bedizen

The other word was beldam, which our dictionary defines as “an old woman; a hag.” That’s interesting in that I would have figured that it meant “beautiful woman.” That is, after all, what it literally means. And apparently, it was first used to mean more or less “grandmother.” But now it’s just an old woman or even a hag. Anyway, I think the word is archaic. Thus: don’t use it — not even for an odd words post.

Bedizen is a more interesting word:

Be·di·zen  verb  \bi-‘dī-zən\

1. to ornament or dress gaudily or vulgarly.

Date: mid 17th century.

Origin: it seems to come from the Dutch word disen, which seems to mean to put on a facade to impress others. But I’ve had to use a number of different sources to come to that conclusion.

Example: But with age — and possibly, I concede, declining virility — I began to see that pornography entailed the exploitation of vulnerable and mostly young people, while the depictions of violence which bedizen our ubiquitous screens aren’t victimless crimes — no matter how enthusiastically those who stage them, may consent.A Point of View

Sep 24

Samuel Goldman: Another Very Surprised Conservative

Samuel GoldmanZack Beauchamp seems to have pissed off Ezra Klein. Over at Vox, he’s been getting these assignments to hang out and talk to conservative intellectuals who he needs to treat as though they are anything but entirely part of the problem. Most recently, I noted him talking to healthcare “expert” and eternal Young Republican Avik Roy, Avik Roy Cries Into His Beer. And this week he was stuck talking to George Washington University political theorist Samuel Goldman, A Conservative Intellectual Explains Why the GOP Has Fallen to Donald Trump.

That headline is deceptive. Samuel Goldman didn’t explain anything. The whole interview was an extended apologetics session for the conservative movement. Oh how surprised Samuel Goldman was that serious conservatives like himself weren’t what was actually powering the conservative movement! How could they ever have known?! Well, one thing they could have done would be to look at the last 50 years of the Republican Party. They might have noticed how the Republican Party would be dead if it weren’t for all the southern segregationists moving from the Democratic to the Republican Party.

Samuel Goldman Don’t Know Much About Political Science

But how could a professor of political science have had access to that kind of information. I’m sure that such history is withheld from all the faculty at George Washington University. It’s either that, or it’s that it has been really convenient for “principled” conservatives like Samuel Goldman to have ignored the racist power that allowed them to get their tax cuts and wars and “Christian” values. It strikes me as very much like Captain Renault in Casablanca. “I’m shocked — Shocked! — to find that gambling is going on in here!

What I said about Avik Roy could just as easily be said about Samuel Goldman, “But did it really take Donald Trump to make Avik Roy realize that the Republican base wasn’t actually in it for the tax cuts they never got? For the deregulation that caused them to lose their jobs? For the lead in their drinking water that mentally retarded their children? I don’t think so.” It’s just so much nonsense.

Hate Trump But Love His Policies

In the end, I doubt very seriously that either Roy or Goldman will be bothered if Trump gets into office and signs Paul Ryan’s budget and appoints extremist judges. What the two of them don’t like is that Donald Trump makes explicit the lie they’ve been telling for years: that the people who vote their way don’t give half a stick of crewed gum about “limited government, social conservatism, and a strong military.”

What has caused all these conservative intellectuals to be so surprised by the rise of Trump is still going on with them. They won’t admit to reality. Samuel Goldman dismisses the fact that black voters aren’t in the Republican Party as being the “result of a very specific history.” Yeah: a history of being racist.

Samuel Goldman Don’t Know Much About Economics

And he doesn’t engage with economics at all. He claims that “the truth is nobody really has any idea.” Well, just because Goldman doesn’t known anything about about economics (undoubtedly because he wants to continue to play the “Who knows?!” game) doesn’t mean the rest of us are so inclined. As Mark Thoma has shown, there are actually policy reasons, Why the Economy Does Better Under Democrats.

The Future of Conservatism Is Like Its Past

But Samuel Goldman does see a replacement for the old conservative movement. He sees three things. First, there is nationalism — but not the racist kind — just something that stands up to the open-borders crowd. Second, there is some kind of anti-PC politics. Third, there is a “realistic form of foreign policy.” If this sounds kind of pathetic, it’s not surprising.

First, there really isn’t an open-borders crowd outside of the collective conservative fever dream. Anti-PC is just another term for racism and other forms of discrimination. It’s guys unhappy that they are looked down on for making sexist comments. It’s people thinking they are losing out because of minorities. As for the realistic form of foreign policy, I think that would be the Democrats.

To be fair, Samuel Goldman doesn’t say that he is happy with this replacement. But the fact that he thinks “political correctness” is a issue of sufficient importance to talk about says much about him. It says that just as before, he’s willing to feed the beast in the name of tax cuts and regulation cuts and individual rights cuts. In other words, he’s just another conservative apologist.

Sep 24

Odd Words: Berdache

Berdache Ceremony - George Catlin

We’ve made it to page 25 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition. And you know what? I knew all the words except for one: berdache. But I have a feeling other people know this word. It’s so modern and edgy.

Beyond Berdache

The page was filled with be- words: bereft, beseech, besmitch, bespoke, betide, betrade. Geez! Very disappointing. But I’m quite glad to learn berdache. With so much discussion of people who see their gender as different from their sex, it’s good to remember that things have always been that way. Social conservatives want to pretend that it is all some kind of liberal conspiracy and that everyone would be exactly the same if they weren’t given “ideas.”

So onward with the word of the day: berdache.

Ber·dache  noun  \bər-‘dash\

1. an American Indian tribesman who adopts the clothing and duties of a woman.

Date: 17th century.

Origin: from the French bardache, which goes back to an Arabic word that seems to describe a sex slave, which itself goes back to a Persian word for a prisoner.

Example: Men who were poor hunters, possibly berdaches, procured bark for the cabins, ran errands back to the town where the old people were left, made wooden bowls and dishes and clay tobacco pipes.John Lawson

Afterword

From my brief reading, the word “berdache” is meant to indicate not a discrete individual or form of behavior but rather the continuum of people and their behavior. In recent years, the term “two-spirit” has become popular. But it is important in such matters to remember that there is no such think as an American Indian or Native American. There are 562 federally recognized tribes in the United States. And I don’t know how many there were when the Europeans began their invasion. But the diversity of cultures in North America was enormous. So when discussing “berdache,” we want to be careful about making too many assumptions. It is a word used to describe a lot of different behavior from an outsider’s perspective.

Note

I screwed up and did Page 25 when I should have done Page 24. I’ll do Page 24 tomorrow.

Sep 23

An Insightful Analysis of the Divorce of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie

Brad PittGiven the audience for this blog and my status as a maven of pop culture, it should come as a complete surprise that I’m writing about the divorce of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. After all, Jolie only filed for divorce on Monday. That’s 19 September 2016. Normally, I wouldn’t get around to the subject until early 2019 at best. Indeed, it is only a complete fluke that I found out about it. Because here’s the thing: I don’t care. That, I’m sure, will come as no surprise.

But I am interested in why it is that Hollywood couples so often divorce. Of course, it isn’t just them. “Power” couples tend not to last. And this, I believe, is due to a fundamental flaw in human social psychology and capitalism itself. Personally, I think that Brad Pitt is a very attractive man. I assume that’s widely accepted. Angelina Jolie looks very odd to me. But most men I know think she is attractive. And both members of this power couple are certainly professional-level screen actors.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie Are Not That Amazing

But neither Brad Pitt nor Angelina Jolie are so distinguished in any way that they would be considered more than near the top of a collection of people. Yet because of their success, they are held in ridiculously high esteem. This is where the social psychology and capitalism come in. It is because of the capitalist system that they are far more successful than their talents warrant. Success creates success in a capitalist system — especially one so very aggressive in enforcing property rights. It’s not surprising that people look up to icons like this, even though it isn’t justified. A little hierarchy isn’t a bad thing. Sadly, there is no such thing as “a little hierarchy” in a capitalist system.

Angelina JolieBut I’m more interested in how it destroys the icons themselves. Why do Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie suffer from “irreconcilable differences”? You know what most hurts couples: financial difficulties. This couple did not have that problem. Their combined net worth is estimated to be almost a half billion dollars. What could be so bad in their lives that they absolutely can’t work it out? Infidelity? Drug addiction? Domestic abuse? People with much less manage to work through these problems — and worse.

Don’t Need to Work

I think it comes down to this: they don’t need to work through their differences. All their wealth and celebrity have turned them into adult versions of spoiled brats. And just as I don’t blame spoiled children for their behavior, I don’t blame Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie for theirs. The blame goes to all of us: the people that accept an economic system that allows people to have that kind of money. They are, after all, actors. They should live in a system that requires them to act for a living until they are in their mid-60s.

Before someone mentions it: I know about their humanitarian work. I don’t care. All it shows is that they are at least vaguely aware of their privilege. Did I meantion they have a combined net worth of almost a half billion dollars? These are people who could be stripped of every penny they have and would still manage to be millionaires by this time next year. They will not suffer. They cannot suffer in an economic sense.

Save the Rich!

The reason we need economic reform is primarily for the billions who suffer in a direct economic sense. But we also need it for people like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Because we’ve allowed them lose at least part of their souls. Because that’s what great privilege does to people. It doesn’t make them bad people. I think Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have managed remarkably well. As far as I know they haven’t murdered anyone. But for their sake — For the sake of their children! — we must stop the madness. We must save the souls of the rich by making them like the rest of us.

Afterword

Note that one reason conservative give for paying the rich excessive sums of money is that if we don’t they will work less. But this has never held water. If you increase my salary by 10%, I’ll probably work more. I don’t make that much money, so it works as an incentive. But for people like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie? Don’t you think they would act in a lot more films if they actually had to do it for a living? If it was something more than a habit or a hobby?

Sep 23

Odd Words: Bastinado

BastinadoThere were problems with page 23 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition. There were some cool words (which I’ll discuss), but I didn’t have enough resources to do a full definition. So we are stuck with: bastinado.

Beating Past Bastinado

The first word I wanted to use was “battologize.” It is “to repeat words or phrases excessively in speech or writing.” I suffer from this. It’s not just that; I also suffer from this. In fact, it gets so bad, that I sometimes suffer from this. But really: it’s easy to fall into that kind of thing. That’s why it’s important to at least read a piece of writing before publishing.

The second word I selected was “bavardage.” It means “foolish or nonsensical talk.” You would have thought that I would have known that word. It’s like the first word I remember learning: facetious. By the time I was four, the most common sentence my mother said to me was, “Don’t be facetious.” One day I asked her what it meant. Here’s the thing: I could tell it wasn’t good. But whenever she said it, I was feeling pretty damned good myself. Not much has changed over the last five decades.

I suppose I could complain about all the bathy- words on this page. But you know how I feel about that. So let’s move on to today’s word: bastinado.

Bas·ti·na·do  noun  \bas-tə-‘nā-dō\

1. a blow or a beating with a stick, especially as applied to the soles of the feet as a method of punishment.

Date: very late 16th century.

Origin: from the Spanish word bastón, which is a stick.

Example: Inflicting the bastinado is not different from (the capital punishment for) serious crimes; if by good fortune (the victims) do not die, they cannot function (again) as men.Anthony François Paulus Hulsewé

Sep 22

Absurd Notions About Illegal Votes: Math Edition

Charles PierceNevertheless, according to the latest Marquette poll, 44 percent of the respondents believe that at least as many illegal votes are cast as legal votes. In 2014, for example, 2.9 million votes were cast in Wisconsin’s congressional elections. You do the math. If the 44 percent of the respondents in the Marquette poll are right, then there were well over a million votes cast illegally in that election. This is, to put it mildly, so insanely detached from reality as to make you wonder whether or not alma mater’s pollsters oversampled schizophrenics and people who see the face of Jesus in their wallpaper.

I honestly don’t believe that many people are that crazy, but I do think that many people can be led to believe things that are not true as long as someone keeps telling them those things, over and over again. Like I said, you have to respect how well the propaganda has worked. It’s another triumph for all the wrong things.

—Charlie Pierce
Propaganda Works

Sep 22

Jimmy Dore Doesn’t Know the Filibuster Is Dead

Jimmy Dore Knows Nothing of the FilibusterI heard an extended period of Wednesday’s Majority Report where Sam Seder went after Jimmy Dore hard on Dore’s fantasy scenarios for how Donald Trump getting elected is going to all work out. Then Dore called into the show. (This was planned.) And the two of them talked for an interminable period about how Trump could or could not be stopped from filling vacancies on the Supreme Court. Dore’s argument is that the Democrats can just filibuster for two years. Seder pushed back on this. But neither of them seem to be aware of the fact that the filibuster has been dead for years.

Now I know: there is still a filibuster in name. But it will never again stand in the way of the party in power doing what it wants. Let’s suppose that Hillary Clinton is the next president and the Democrats have a majority in the Senate. The Republicans will continue to filibuster Merrick Garland. So then Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will step in and say the Republicans are not playing by the rules — because they won’t be. And he will get rid of the filibuster on Supreme Court nominees.

The Zombie Filibuster

This is what will happen because the filibuster has been effectively dead since the 2005 with the rise of the Gang of 14. As you may remember, this was a bipartisan group in the Senate that stopped Bill Frist from eliminating the filibuster, but only by allowing the Republicans to get 99% of the nominations that they wanted.

But notice something in my hypothetical above: I said that Schumer would only get rid of the filibuster on Supreme Court nominees. He won’t do it on legislation. Why would he? Schumer will have to take some political heat for officially cutting the filibuster back on the Supreme Court. There’s no point in him taking any heat for cutting it back on legislation, given that the Republicans will still have the House.

On the other hand, if the Republicans have control of the House, Senate, and presidency, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will get rid of the filibuster completely. That’s because they will all be prepared to cram Paul Ryan’s horrible budget into law. And there are many other horrible things they will do as well. McConnell would (Rightly!) not let the filibuster get in the way of his plans. The filibuster is like a zombie: it’s been dead for ten years. Somehow, people like Jimmy Dore (and to some extent, Sam Seder) don’t know that.

Jimmy Dore Is Ignorant and Dangerous

I fond the whole Jimmy Dore routine hard to stomach. It reminded me of the way that Scotty got out of the whole “changing history” thing in Star Trek IV. You may remember that they gave some chemist the secret to transparent aluminum. Bones questioned Scotty on the issue and Scotty replied, “How do we know he didn’t invent the thing?” Problem solved! You come up with something that could happen and suddenly it will.

Dore’s entire case against voting for Clinton is that there are ways in which Trump could be great for the nation — or at least not too bad for a couple of years before we get the glorious revolution. And that’s true! There are scenarios you can come up with. But the odds are at least a hundred to one that if Trump becomes president, he is going to be an unmitigated disaster that will take decades to recover from.

Jimmy Dore’s Life Is Good!

Of course, Jimmy Dore can go on spouting his nonsense about how the zombie filibuster will save us. He has nothing to fear. He’s a successful guy. I don’t know if he has kids, but if he does, he needn’t worry that they will go hungry if Trump turns out to be as bad as all evidence indicates. So listening to him prattle on as though he were some kind revolutionary just makes the absurdity of his upper-middle class (Or upper class!) privilege all the more vile.

The Filibuster Is Dead

The filibuster is dead. If Trump gets into office, the Republicans will push through legislation that they’ve been hanging onto for years. It will be catastrophic for poor people. And if this happens, I’m sure Jimmy Dore will say, “Oops! I guess I was wrong.” But I want more. Jimmy Dore should go out to the desert, pour gasoline all over his body, and light the match. I want this election to be a matter of life-and-death for him, just as it is for millions of poor Americans. Then maybe he would think a little deeper about his zombie filibuster fantasies.

Sep 22

Odd Words: Barcarole

Barcarole - Venetian Boat SongThere were really only two things on page 22 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition: barbiturate and barometer. Really: it was amazing. I understand barometer. It was all pressure related words. But it was remarkable how many words had to do with barbiturates. Just the same, that was a time when there was still memory of people dying a lot for them. Hail the benzodiazepines! But there were other words, so today’s is barcarole.

Barcarole and Beyond

There were some other interesting words beside barcarole, of course. For example: barghest. This is some kind of ghostly apparition that is supposed to be an omen of death. I have a curious relationship with death. I really don’t fear it. At the same time, I wonder how I would feel if I were staring it right in the face. I know that any freak-out that I experienced would just be genetic encoding. But it wouldn’t make it any less unpleasant. The point is that I wonder how I would react if a barghest appeared to me tonight. Probably okay. I’m most okay with death when I’m half asleep.

Anyway, enough of that. On to “barcarole.”

Bar·ca·role  noun  \bär’-kə-rōl\

1. a Venetian boat song or a piece of music in imitation of this.

Date: late 18th century.

Origin: from the French word barcarolle, which means exactly what barcarole means. In fact, the word is often spelled the same way in English. Where the French got the word, I don’t kow.

Example: But whether I am faking on a player piano, or striking the chords with my own mind and hands, the song of my life is equally suspenseful and full of surprises as it rolls off the pulsating sounding board of destiny — a barcarole that either way will leave.Bulletin of the New York Public Library

Sep 21

Silly and Stupid Atheist Challenge

PZ Myers - Atheist ChallengeChristopher Hitchens offered up an atheist challenge to religious believers: name one moral act that is excluded from the atheist population. Well, that’s a silly challenge. Even brain damaged Biblical literalists understand that atheists can be good people. What is the purpose of this challenge but to get into the gutter with the most vile of apologetics of the cultural Christians? Nothing obviously. And this is a big part of my problem with the modern atheist community. Are we really going to be just like them? Are we really going to show that our understanding of their culture is as vapid as theirs is of ours?

But I was listening to a lecture that PZ Myers gave back in 2010, Science vs Religion: How Faith Makes Us Wrong. And he ended it with his own atheist challenge: name one example where religion has provided us with a novel insight about the natural world. I actually like PZ Myers, but his atheist challenge is beyond silly. It’s just stupid.

How about a theist challenge: name one example where science has provided us with a novel insight about theology. Religion is not in the business of coming up with insights about the natural world. It serves a sociological purpose. Asking it for insights about nature is like asking Dancing with the Stars for insights about nature. It’s absurd.

Who Cares About the Atheist Challenge?

I say all this as someone who doesn’t think that religion adds much to society. Human experience is so varied that what we once got from religion we can now get in countless other ways. The one thing that religion could provide us is some kind of social cohesion. But given that most people still follow ancient religions, we don’t get that. In fact, we get rather the opposite. But there are trends toward a shared spiritual sense. And I do think that humans are likely reach some kind of shared insight. But it will be no thanks to the atheist community that acts every bit as tribal and intolerant as the the theistic fundamentalists.

Myers brought up a tired old atheist complaint: why didn’t God tell the people to wash their hands?! Oh my God! Jesus said it wasn’t necessary to wash your hands! He must not be God! Well, as I would have said when I was ten: duh! What do people like PZ Myers think the Bible is, anyway? It’s just a bunch of folk tales and the results of sectional fighting about how the Jewish and (later) Christian communities should be. It was, in that way, no different than the Iliad was for the Greeks.

The problem with so many atheist complaints — and totally on display in the atheist challenge — is that they are committing the straw man fallacy. Most people think of this only in terms of the individual. There are theists who make stupid arguments and 99% of the time spent by professional atheists is used to refute these arguments. So we get the atheist challenge to show that atheists can be moral. And we get the atheist challenge that religion should provide scientific insights. These do not address the best arguments theists make. It’s unbelievable that atheists act this way.

Saving Atheism From Itself

And before my atheist friends get all upset that I am yet again complaining about the atheist community, consider this: it’s embarrassing. We atheists are supposed to be the smart ones. We’re supposed to be the open-minded ones. But instead, we’re just like them. We’re more interested in winning people to our side than in looking for the truth. The fact that I still complain shows my commitment. But I have to admit, it is failing me. More and more, I see the atheist community as bankrupt and irredeemable.

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