New List of Presidential Debate Schedule

Knight on Horseback - Don QuixoteI’ve created a short page with a list of all the dates and times of the presidential debates: 2016 Presidential Debates. But it is right there on the menu bar at the top of every page on the site. That would be: right below my reminder that you buy all your Amazon stuff through Frankly Curious so I can can continue to Earn $10 Per Month Blogging (Before Expenses)!

As you may remember, I couldn’t even bear to watch the first Republican debate. And to be honest, I don’t know just how many of those I am going to watch. I will watch this next one because Paul Bibeau has been posting this haunted house story that has to do with realtime goings on at the Reagan library where the event is taking place. There have been three installments (one, two, and three) with more coming and then the exciting conclusion via live Twitter. As he says, “Tell your friends. It should be fun.”

Anyway, haunted library or no, now you know where to get the debate info.

I Want the Word “Atheist” Back, Antitheists!

Lawrence KraussAs the days go on and atheists make me more and more annoyed, I’ve begun to wonder if I shouldn’t call myself something else. It’s kind of annoying, because I feel like this is my turf and they’ve taken it over. A great many atheists are former theists who have “seen the light.” But I was never a theist. It always seemed absurd to me. But as a result, I think I am much less combative about it. I don’t much care. There are all kinds of people with all kinds of stupid ideas. Is religion worse on that account? I don’t think so.

The common atheist claim is that religion teaches irrationality. But humans hardly need any help. Everything I’ve read about neurology indicates that most of our ideas about “choosing” and “deciding” are just clever lies we tell to ourselves to continue our fantasy that we aren’t just very big chemistry based machines. But the idea that all religions are irrational is just nonsense. There’s even a word, fideism, which means “reliance on faith rather than reason in pursuit of religious truth.” The fact that most atheists don’t know this word is indicative of their own special blend of ignorance and arrogance.

My problem is that I’m starting to think that the atheist community is becoming kind of dangerous in itself. I recently read a comment on another blog where someone said that he was rational and that was why he was an atheist. And more recently, Lawrence Krauss wrote an article, All Scientists Should Be Militant Atheists. In it, he said that in science “the very word ‘sacred’ is profane.” This is because everything is open to question. But he shows he either doesn’t know what the word “sacred” means or he too has a sense of the sacred. How can such smart people be so ignorant?

Here is a short interview clip with David Mitchell talking about atheism. Not surprisingly, people tend to think that he’s an atheist. I think he makes one very good point. He goes after the idea that religion has caused a lot of killing. “Humans have killed humans in the name of anything… Humans just like to kill each other.” I know some atheists will respond, “Yeah, but Muslims kill while quoting from the Quran!” Which sounds good, but doesn’t counter the argument.

On the other hand, Mitchell calls himself an agnostic, in part, because, “I do want there to be an all powerful benevolent God.” And that to me makes no sense whatsoever. You might want it, but clearly we don’t have it. If this universe has a God, it is at best indifferent. So Mitchell can’t seriously be suggesting that he thinks he might be wrong about that God. If he were, he would have to fundamentally change his definition of “benevolent.”

But I do find myself much more in Mitchell’s camp than Krauss’. And I think when you really get down to it, both Mitchell and I are atheists. No one knows for sure — you can’t prove a negative — Russell’s teapot, and all. But I’m as certain of a lack of an Abrahamic kind of God as I am of anything in my life. And I suspect that Mitchell is the same. So here’s my idea: we get the term “atheists” and Krauss and all the New Atheists can have the term antitheists.[1] That would make the most sense. Because I think they are giving us true atheists a really bad name.

[1] I know: antitheism is a different kind of thing. But it isn’t the atheism I have a problem with. It is all the antitheistic rhetoric that goes along with it. I still want my word back.

Erik Loomis’ Obit for Brad Anderson and Comics

Erik LoomisMarmaduke creator Brad Anderson has died and it’s worth taking this opportunity to remember what a pile of hot, steaming garbage not only Marmaduke but the entirety of the newspaper comics has been for decades. On the “funny” pages, it’s amazingly still basically 1958, with children now drawing their parents ancient comic franchises. You have Family Circus with its suburban, idealized white family untouched by any social changes. You have Beetle Bailey with the same sexist jokes that were stale in 1973 and that is evidently only read by people who think the military jokes are funny because it reminds them of their time in the Army just after the Korean War. There’s BC’s revanchist politics. Garfield sure hates Mondays! For Better or For Worse was interesting enough for awhile, but even there the creator decided to stop moving through time and just go back to sentimental material about kids. Peanuts is now in Car Talk territory with long retired or dead artists being recycled for the ancients who can’t imagine not reading or hearing it…

Of course, it wasn’t necessarily always this way. In the 1980s, alongside the already stale comics mentioned above, you had The Far Side, Bloom County, etc. Doonesbury was still relatively fresh (and you have to give Trudeau credit for continuing to try long after others on the newspaper comic page have given up). And then The Boondocks came along to desegregate the funny pages and it had to be moved to the editorial pages in many papers because it upset the old white people who read the comics. The sop I guess was that Mallard Fillmore was also moved to the editorial page but the sheer existence of that piece of trash shows how low the bar is for right-wing voices to be heard in the media.

What of course drives everyone crazy is that the level of talent in the universe of drawing comics is off the charts, as the internet has shown. One can argue that the internet has been a net negative for musicians because of downloading, Spotify, etc, for filmmakers because of bootlegging… and for authors because of the decline of the bookstore and PDFs. But for comic artists, it’s been an unmitigated positive and demonstrates just how unnecessarily awful the newspaper comics have been for a very long time.

Marmaduke is especially terrible. Brad Anderson created a entire career out of one joke — Marmaduke is a large dog. That is literally the entirety of this comic. And yet it’s been an indispensable part of the comic page since the Van Buren administration…

And yet Brad Anderson was rolling in the cash!

I mean, good for him, but my god does the newspaper comic page need to die in a fire.

—Erik Loomis

In the full article, Loomis mentioned Marmaduke Explained, which was brilliant.

Left Is In Control of the Labour Party; Now What?

Jeremy CorbynAs you have heard if you follow these sorts of things, Jeremy Corbyn has been elected to lead the British Labour Party. It isn’t surprising, in that polls have indicated that this would happen for some time. But if you had asked anyone a year ago, they would have laughed at you. Corbyn didn’t even have enough support among Labour MPs to get on the ballot. He was only added at the last minute to provide a range of opinions in the election. This is because, just as in the US Democratic Party, the Labour Party leaders have moved very far to the right. So they were all surprised to find that the base of the Labour Party is the same as it has always been: liberal, even socialist.

But is this a good thing? The answer can be found in this headline from The Guardian, Osborne Says Electing Corbyn Will Set Labour Back a Generation. That would be George Osborne: First Secretary of State and UK Conservative Party power player. You always know that the left is doing the right thing when the conservatives start wringing their hands about the prospects of their opponents. He said that the Labour Party’s move to the right the last few decades has been good for them, and that if Labour had only elected Liz Kendall it would have caused the conservatives “the greatest problems.”

That is the real issue going forward: is the Labour Party going to find its roots? Is it going to be smart about this opportunity? Or is it going to crumble to pieces?

This is such nonsense. What Kendall offered was something we in the US know only too well from the Democrats. It’s the “not quite as bad” approach to campaigning. “We aren’t quite as bad as the conservatives — at least we care about the people!” At one time, I would have thought it sounded like a good political strategy, but it never works. People care about ideology, but they also care about passion. Most voters don’t know what to think — they are pulled in so many directions. So making a clear case for what you believe in can be useful.

Needless to say, George Osborne is not happy about Corbyn’s win. He is likely concerned — for his own party. They knew exactly how to fight against a Labour Party led by Liz Kendall. They really don’t know how to fight one led by Jeremy Corbyn. They haven’t had to do so in decades. That doesn’t mean that Corbyn is going to lead the Labour Party to victory in 2020. But it throws a wrench into the whole thing. The conservatives would have had almost nothing to lose if Liz Kendall led the Labour Party to victory. But if Corbyn does so, it will mean real change.

As a result, the Conservative Party may have to hold back some now. Maybe their continued policies of austerity — which work to enrich the rich and impoverish the poor — might not look so good when they are facing the possibility of a leftist revolution that will roll-back the current normal brought to the UK people by Margaret Thatcher. But Labour is going to have to be smart about this. And I fear that there are too many people in the Labour Party establishment who have a greater hatred of Corbyn than they do the Conservative Party. That is the real issue going forward: is the Labour Party going to find its roots? Is it going to be smart about this opportunity? Or is it going to crumble to pieces?

Ben Carson: Racial Valium for Republicans

Ben CarsonLast week, Jonathan Capehart tried to explain, How Ben Carson Cures White Fright in the Republican Party. It’s mostly an interview with Leah Wright Rigueur, author of the recent book, The Loneliness of the Black Republican. With all the discussion of Donald Trump leading the pack in the Republican presidential nomination, it is easy to overlook the fact that Ben Carson is the only person who is even close to him. It is Trump, then Carson, then statistical noise.

Rigueur mentions a number of reasons why Carson is doing so well. One rather obvious one that she doesn’t mention is that he’s been a Fox News celebrity for years. If Dr Oz decided to run for president, it wouldn’t be surprising that he would have an installed base of support. But that does rather beg the question. Carson is doing well because he did well on Fox News and he did well on Fox News because conservatives like him and conservatives like him because… Well, that is the question.

One of the minor reasons that Rigueur mentions is that Carson is an evangelical. Of course, he’s more than that: he’s a young earth creationist. So he not only appeals to the conservative Christians, but he also assuages their fear about him being a “scientist” — or close enough. And there is also the fact that Carson is kind of a self-made man. He found something he was good at and got rich doing it. And then, much more to the point, Carson is able to complain about the “wrong kind of blacks.” So he can say that Black Lives Matters is all wrong and no one can say that he is a racist.

But this is all nuance if you ask me. Ben Carson is doing well with the very same people who once made another political neophyte, Herman Cain, the front-runner in the 2012 Republican primary. And I think it is pretty clear that Carson and Cain are extremely different men. In fact, Cain is more akin to Donald Trump: loose, entertaining, substanceless. Carson is soft spoken. He seems serious — like he’s given the issues serious thought (even though he clearly has not). Indeed, if you look at the two men, you can see what a lie the whole concept of race is. Other than having darker skin than I do, there aren’t a lot of things that bind them together. They have totally different shaped heads, different noses, different eyes. But the key thing is that all Americans recognize them as the same race. And that’s most especially true of conservatives.

Like everyone else — very few conservatives think of themselves as racists. But they are painfully aware of just how white their party is. And yes, they take some comfort in convenient narratives about how the Democratic Party has tricked African Americans into supporting them. But they also know that for almost a century, African Americans were very loyal to the Republican Party. So something happened about 50 years ago, and we all know what it is: Richard Nixon and the southern strategy.

So there is a certain section of the conservative movement that is just dying to support a black candidate. So when one comes along who seems good enough, they love him! (It’s always him, right?) I know that I’ve seen this in my father. He wants to vote for black candidates because it makes him feel better about his belief that racism is mostly a thing of the past. Rich corporate CEOs and famous brain surgeons fit that bill. So I think there is always going to be a good 15% of the Republican Party who will support whatever black candidate shows up — as long as that candidate has the basic conservative qualification. And often not even that. There is one qualification that trumps all others: the belief that if these black kids would just pull up their pants and get a job, everything would be fine.

Ben Carson is the Valium for Republican racial anxiety.

Morning Music: Nick Drake

Nick DrakeI haven’t really given much thought to what I would do this week for the Morning Music. That’s because I decided last week that I would do Nick Drake. But as the John Martyn week moved on, I started to have questions about it. It seems kind of lazy to do. But the only other thing I’ve been thinking about — an explanation of different styles of classical music — is far too much work for me right now. So Nick Drake it is! And why not? I mean, I love his work as much as I did when I first heard it. It is unbelievable great.

Of course, there isn’t a whole lot of Nick Drake music. And there is basically no live stuff online. (There does seem to be a documentary on him that I might use next Saturday.) So let’s start with his outstanding first album, Five Leaves Left. Supposedly, Drake considered “River Man” the centerpiece of the album. So it seems as good place to start as any. It’s the story of woman who negotiates or just plans with Death how she will die. I don’t think it has any special meaning beyond that, but I’m sure there are Nick Drake fans who will tell me otherwise. It’s also uses 5/4 time most beautifully:

Anniversary Post: David Begins

Michelangelo's David

On this day in 1501, Michelangelo started carving very possibly his greatest work, David. The work has a special meaning to me. When I was 17 years old, I found myself in Florence and I saw it — that actual sculpture, not a replica. I had seen pictures of it before. But I was not prepared for it. It was probably the first time I had a truly transcendent experience with art — something almost mystical. I found myself unable to leave. It’s was like being psychically fed as I saw more and more of the work. I’ve had the experience a number of times since.

I fully admit that this has something to do with my extreme introversion. I’m not that clued into the outside world, so it really does take me a long time to begin to see things. But I only go through this process with things that strike me on a very deep level. And the first time I had that experience was with Michelangelo’s David.

There really is nothing more to add. I’m not that great with visual art as it is. It’s more that I know what I like and I’m really open to new things — even when they’re really old. But I don’t much understand why. Why am I so taken with Bernard Frouchtben? I don’t know. To some extent, I don’t want to know. To some extent, I don’t think anyone really knows. It’s just that some people have a vocabulary to talk about it. But ultimate it works or it doesn’t; it is transcendent or it isn’t; it affects me or it doesn’t. David does all of this and more for me.