“Hero” John McCain

John McCainYesdayday, Martha Jackovics of Beach Peanuts wrote, It’s Time To Stop Pretending John McCain Is A “Hero.” She is talking about his political career and how he once was a hero, but he isn’t anymore. It’s a good article. I have one minor complaint, however: I’m not so sure that John McCain was even a hero before he went into politics. Okay, let me explain.

John McCain did win a couple of medals during his service in Vietnam. He won the Bronze Star and the much less prestigious Navy Commendation Medal. But you have to put these things in context. His father was a Navy Admiral and even Commander of the United States Pacific Command. So somehow, I just don’t think medals came out of nowhere.

Now, we can call John McCain a hero because he was in the military at all. A lot of famous future Republicans managed to stay out of the war: George Bush Jr and Dick “I had other priorities” Cheney. But it is hard to take any Republican’s claim of being a hero, after the party allowed a clear war hero, John Kerry, to be dishonored publicly during the 2004 election. There was not a peep of complaint. And do you know why? Because Republicans care about political power more than care about anything else—certainly more than they care about honor.

So I don’t think much of John McCain. He was a privileged young man and he is a privileged old man now. He doesn’t stand for anything. And he never has. He’s a hero in the sense that every person who was ever in the military is a hero. But otherwise, not so much. Or at all.

Why Existence?

Why Does the World Exist? Jim HoltWhile preparing my earlier article about Ayn Rand, I came upon the following quote about a talk by uber-Randian Leonard Peikoff. (Actually Peikoff is far more reasonable than Rand.) The article noted that he said Obama was not a socialist but rather an egalitarian nihilist. It then describes this as “the form of Kantianism that gave us non-objective art, quantum mechanics, and progressive education.” So society is going to hell because of “liberal” science like quantum mechanics. See why I call Objectivism a religion? In this case, the writer doesn’t even seem to be an Objectivist—just a conservative. And this drives me crazy: if the loyal opposition is going to dismiss the last 80 years of physics because they have ontological problems with it, we are doomed.

Make no mistake: I am despairing today. And when I despair, I reach out for something I can grab onto—something that I have some control over. So I picked up Jim Holt’s new book, Why Does the World Exist?. It promises to provide me with insight into the only question that really matters, “Why does anything exist rather than nothing?” Actually, although I’d be happy with an answer to that question, I have a more fundamental question: do I exist. This is not as silly a question as you may think, and I’m sure that I will address it in various forms for as long as I “exist.”

Holt starts his book with a cheeky prologue, “A quick proof that there must be something rather than nothing, for modern people who lead busy lives”:

Suppose there were nothing. Then there would be no laws; for laws, after all, are something. If there were no laws, then everything would be permitted. If everything were permitted, then nothing would be forbidden. So if there were nothing, nothing would be forbidden. Thus nothing is self-forbidding.

Therefore, there must be something. QED

I will explain why this proof is invalid by way of explaining what I think about this question. I figure I should get my basic thoughts down before reading the book. That way, I can see how my thinking has changed. So stay tuned!

I have problems with the God debate. Postulating God as the reason for everything simply pushes the problem back one step. It naturally raises the question, “How God?” And this puts believers in the same place as the non-believers: God is self-created or some variation thereof. This is the argument that Lawrence Krauss makes in A Universe From Nothing. But the believers and non-believers alike seem not to understand that they have not answered the question.

If God or the universe[1] just sprang into being, that “nothing” from which it sprang must have had properties (or laws) that allowed it. And that begs the question: how was a nothingness that allowed something created?

In fairness, serious thinkers on both sides understand this problem.[2] But neither have any good answers. They are all basically definitional. On the theological side they define God as some kind of mechanism that allows existence. On the scientific side they define the problem away. (Really, Krauss seems to think that “nothingness is unstable” is something other than an evasion.)

In the end, I think, we are left with a paradox. And so what?! I have no problem with that. We exist and yet we shouldn’t. I think this says a whole lot about how the brain works and a whole nothing about how the universe works. We know via Godel that even some deductive systems can be shown to be incomplete or inconsistent. Is it such a leap to suggest that the universe is the same way? That we are trapped by our perceptions to see problems where none exist?

And that brings us back to Holt’s cheeky proof: it is self-consistent. But everything we know about existence indicates that the universe does not feel obliged to follow Aristotle’s teachings. What’s more, at bottom, the proof is no more helpful than, “I exist therefore something much exist!” Although that is more or less what I believe.

Afterword

I think that humans want to make sense of all things. But a lot of things just don’t make sense. And I think that’s a good thing. The universe would be a sad place if it were explicable. In conclusion: wow!


[1] I don’t mean to confine this discuss to our universe. Think of this as shorthand. I don’t see any reason why a single universe is any more likely than literally an infinity of universes. I say this because our universe seems to be around 14 billion years old. But that can’t be true of existence itself. (Or nonexistence, if you prefer.)

[2] Unfortunately, just about every believer and non-believer you’ve heard of does not fall into this category. I know the non-believers better, so let me name a few: Krauss, Dawkins, Hitchens.

Flipping and Flopping with Harry

Flipping:Filibuster

These two young, fine senators said it was time to change the rules of the Senate, and we didn’t. And they were right. The rest of us were wrong—or most of us, anyway. What a shame… If there were anything that ever needed changing in this body, it’s the filibuster rule, because it’s been abused, abused and abused.

—Harry Reid, May 2012

And Flopping:

I’m not personally, at this stage, ready to get rid of the 60-vote threshold.

—Harry Reid, January 2012
When it mattered

H/T Ezra Klein

Harry Reid Fucks America

Fuck You Harry ReidThe Democrats completely folded on filibuster reform.

I had been figuring that this would be Harry Reid’s last term as a senator. And I was fine with that. He could step aside and allow a younger Democrat to take his seat. But now, I hope that doesn’t happen. I hope that Reid just dies. It doesn’t have to be a violent or painful death. But it wouldn’t hurt.

Last year Reid was screaming about how broken the Senate was. He stated publicly that he regretted not fixing the filibuster when he had the chance. But now he says that he isn’t quite ready to get rid of the 60 vote requirement for renaming a fucking post office! He said, “With the history of the Senate, we have to understand the Senate isn’t and shouldn’t be like the House.” Last time I checked, the Senate wasn’t at all like the House. It is already undemocratic. The 300,000 people in Wyoming get two senators, just like the 36 million people in California.This is inside the Beltway bullshit, pure and simple.

And it is all so frustrating! If Reid wasn’t prepared to go with the constitutional (nuclear) option, he should have negotiated different. If he had pushed for the elimination of the filibuster (Which is what I wanted!) then McConnell might have cut a deal with him to only require the talking filibuster. But instead, he threatened just the talking filibuster. And McConnell effectively said this, “My final offer is this: nothing. Not even the fee for the gaming license, because you are such a pussy, I know I can walk all over you.”

If this sounds familiar, it should: this is the first term Obama school of negotiating with yourself. But this is worse, because Reid didn’t have to negotiate with anyone. The Democrats could have just taken the ridiculously undemocratic Senate and made it just a tad less undemocratic. But no! We can’t do that! Because Reid cares more about setting a bad (i.e. democratic) precident in the Senate than he cares about his constituency or the whole of the United States.

So fuck Harry Reid! Fuck Carl Levin! Fuck the lot of you! This is why the average man on the street votes Republican: he thinks the Democrats are a bunch of pussies. And he is right.

Update (24 January 2013 12:10 pm)

Ezra Klein on this news, “Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell have come to a deal on filibuster reform. The deal is this: the filibuster will not be reformed.”

Armstrong, The Deceiver

This was the Calvin and Hobbes comic posted today.

This is the headline of a “Featured” CNN story that caught my eye this morning: Readers sue, say Armstrong book is a lie. I’d give you the link, but the article is short and stupid so you might as well stay here.

Rob Stutzman doesn’t buy too many books.

But he not only read Lance Armstrong’s bestseller “It’s Not About the Bike” cover to cover, he also recommended it to several friends.

Now, the public affairs consultant from Sacramento, California, wants his money back, and he wants the disgraced cyclist to pony up.

Stutzman is part of a class-action lawsuit against Armstrong and his book publishers accusing them of peddling fiction as fact.

Joining Stutzman is a Sacramento chef and cycling enthusiast, Jonathan Wheeler, who says he too was moved and inspired by the Armstrong book.

The lawsuit, filed this week in federal court in California, also mentions Armstrong’s other book, “Every Second Counts,” and accuses the cyclist and his publishers of fraud and false advertising.

“Throughout the book, Defendant Armstrong repeatedly denies that he ever used banned substances before or during his professional cycling career,” the suit said.

And the pair bought the book “based upon the false belief that they were true and honest works of nonfiction when, in fact, Defendants knew or should have known that these books were works of fiction.”

The suit may just be the tip of the iceberg.

After years of vehemently denying that he used drugs to boost his performance during his record seven Tour de France wins, Armstrong confessed to Oprah Winfrey last week that he lied.

His virtually tearless admission of doping could likely have litigants lining up against him like cyclists at the start of the Tour de France.

Already several are suing or say they will sue.

The new federal lawsuit does not specify how much Stutzman and Wheeler are seeking.

But it does ask for “any statutorily permissible damages, attorneys’ fees, expenses and costs.”

In other words, a lot more than the price of the book.

Stutzman, who is a former deputy chief of staff for former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said he was duped into reading Armstrong’s book, drawn in by the cyclist’s compelling life story.

And the lawsuit said he even met Armstrong years before the confession.

“At that time, Stutzman thanked Defandant Armstrong for writing his book and told him it was very inspiring and that he recommended it to friends who were fighting cancer,” the lawsuit said. “In response, Armstrong thanked Stutzman.”

Had they known Armstrong’s accounts were lies, the suit said, they wouldn’t have bought the book, or they’d have enjoyed it less.

They would have enjoyed it less? The inspiration is nullified and any positive effect that a celebrity’s embellished story may have had on their lives doesn’t count? Rob Stutzman and Jonathan Wheeler are perfect examples of Americans’ twisted sense of entitlement and appalling, self-created, and opportunistic victimhood. Their petty greed is surpassed only by their gullible stupidity. No one is always honest. No one is always good. No one gets through life without making a regrettable mistake.

If you look up to someone, do it as an adult, not as a four-year-old. Instead of pretending to be an innocent victim, duped by a celebrity you mistook for an Olympian god, why not grow up and stop being selfish, useless bastards.

The Atlasphere: Rape for Everyone!

Ayn RandLast night on the Colbert Report, I was introduced to The Atlasphere, a dating service for devotees of Ayn Rand’s novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Colbert did a funny bit about the website. He said, “The Atlasphere is the best place for Randians to find the one they love, other than their bathroom mirror.” But it all focused on the egomaniacal aspect of this group. I admit that this is the most defining aspect of the Rand’s movement. But when it comes to sexuality, it is not.

In both The Fountainhead and Night of January 16th, the hero rapes the heroine. Which begs the question: what sane woman would want to meet a man who loved The Fountainhead. A researcher in abnormal psychology? Somehow I doubt it will be a woman who holds “the values of reason, independence, hard work, and personal integrity.”

Yes, yes, Ayn Rand was a deeply troubled person. And it is her commitment to a bizarre mixture of fascism, anarchism, and Hollywood romanticism that makes her so popular among mostly ignorant aspirants. But like Christians, Randians have to do a lot of work to distinguish between what they like and what they don’t. And that’s just fine. You have to do that with any dogmatic system. (And Objectivism is certainly that!) But that doesn’t mean I’d trust anyone dating on the basis of Rand’s creepy pro-rape writings.