Thursday, July 28, 2016

Chinese Christians

There are many things I could comment on in this essay by a Chinese Christian, but two jumped out at me.  He makes specific mention of the density and unity of the Christian community, even while connected to other dissident causes and movements; second, he places his ability to even see the sin of the culture around him in the context of seeing his own sin.

This is the opposite of what I was taught as a Congregationalist in the 1960's, and still hear a lot of from Christians today (especially denominational Christians, of which I am one).  The emphasis then was on being open and sharing and giving and loving to everyone - to be models of peace and tolerance and love. That's true as far as it goes, and the NT is clear that our actions toward those who are not believers are a great part of our being examples of Christ, that they might understand. But from the outset, He first chose a group to be around him, and on the night he was betrayed stressed their connection with one another, not everyone in town or in the Roman Empire.

Our unity as Christians is the foundation of further unities, it is not one unity among many. Unity with Americanism, unity with The World, unity with New Ideals or Traditional Culture - these are serious distractions.  Those who love all, love none. It perhaps does not have to be that way - but that is what I see around me.

And on to the second part.  We were encouraged first to see and to protest against the sin in our society - seeing our own sin was rather a general, subsidiary, private act, nowhere near as important. Theologically, of course everyone would claim that the insight into personal sin was more important - yet the amount of time, energy, and praise spent on one versus the other revealed what people really thought. So too now.  I can't get past the (CSL-driven) impression that being encouraged to be people of peace and tolerance is more of an accusation of cultural sins and surreptitious method of re-introducing the political as the only real measure of virtue.

From the same issue, and I think related, this article on Hypervisibilty from the same issue, closes with references to Father Jacques Hamel, 85, who was murdered while celebrating mass in France this month. He seems to have been a humble and gentle servant.  He laughed at the idea of retirement, stating "I'll work until my last breath."  And then he did.  Other quotes from him at the link.

Harmony

I didn't care much for the commentary, but the list is fun enough. I don't usually do lists, but...


Cowardice



Ultimately, it was cowardice that did Sanders in, a cowardice we long saw coming.

One of his key points at the beginning of his candidacy was limiting immigration, especially illegal immigration, as it is so destructive to the employment prospects of the poorer citizens, especially minority (and disabled).  But the SJW’s couldn’t call Republicans racists for anything one of their own major candidates was saying, so that part of his platform just melted away. (Nor did occur to them that the idea might actually be anti-racist.)  BUMP.BUMP.BUMP. He did keep up the fight on the topic of Wall Street and the taxes on the moneylenders, enough that it was his only issue.  Except he never really went after Hillary or Obama on that score, which would have been - how shall we phrase this nicely...friggin' obvious.  He just kept saying the system is rigged, without being too specific about that. And another one bites the dust.

Being a Vermonter, he wasn’t a big gun-control guy, but he changed his mind on that, too, as the zeitgeist of his party was against him. And another one bites the dust...

He had a chance early on with Hillary’s emails but wanted to play nice, or perhaps didn’t want to give even a teeny bit of ammunition to the Republicans, even if it benefited him.  In hindsight this is very obvious, but even then there were public voices pointing out that lack of security can lead to unnecessary wars – a powerful kick against Hillary without even mentioning Iraq, Libya, or Syria, and very much in keeping with Bernie’s more pacifistic stance. Of course, had he kept pushing however softly on the email issue throughout, she would be handing him talking points about competence and honesty without his even having to go after her. Hints and nods would have been fine.  A few more states, a few more delegates, then go ballistic leading into the convention and you are home.  In retrospect, that would coincide with Comey’s report well enough to look like the fix was in in his direction. But even without that good fortune, he would have been solid. Does he not want Hillary to yell at him or something? And another one gone and another one gone...

He kept going with the free stuff for kids program, especially student loans or college in general, and that remained popular. When his wife bankrupted Burlington College it didn’t seem to bother his supporters one bit, so the attacks from outsiders could have been handled by either defending his ideas strongly or defending his wife.  Even if you are wrong and seem hypocritical about the ideas, people will be okay with you defending your wife. They’ll write it off. And another one bites the dust.

He didn’t defend his wife, just quietly changed the subject every time. Avoided talking about it.
In the end his supporters did the heavy outrage work upon learning that another system was really rigged – the nominating process. Bernie just folded like a pressed-metal tray table, spindly legs deforming for no reason. Had he taken Jill Stein’s offer and become the Green Party nominee he would have gotten 15% of the vote and made it a legitimate national party for the next ten years.  Not a bad legacy. And what would it have cost him, really? He ended up defending nothing he believed in. Hey I'm gonna get you too.

The reasons in favor of endorsing Hillary come down to two: he feared she will hurt his career in some way, because he knows she’s a vindictive person.  But what career beyond a few years does he have anyway? He’s 75.  The other reason is disliking the idea of a Trump presidency so much that he would give up anything to prevent it. That will play well in some corners, but not in all. I don’t know what percentage of his supporters believes Trump is so horribly worse than Hillary that they should swallow their electoral voice over it, but it’s not unanimous.  Some of those kids are thinking of the long run and figuring a Trump term can be weathered, but the Democratic machine must be destroyed. Sanders could also have asked his supporters to vote their conscience – or bolted Green and asked them to vote for him.

This seems generation-appropriate for BernieBros

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Bellboy

Great Or Not Great?



There are of course ironies in the discussion of whether America is great or not.  Michelle Obama was proud of being an American for the first time in 2008, and now in 2016 insists that America is great, not needing to be made great.  What changed, other than her personal fortunes. It reminds me of the admonition repeated every four years that this is the most important election in our lifetime.  I think it feels that way to the candidates, because it likely is the most import event, never mind election,  in their lifetime.  Not necessarily in mine, though.  Next irony: It has usually been conservatives who insist that America is great, while liberals talk about America living up to her promise.  Trump isn't a 180-degree reversal of that, but it's a go 120 degrees, anyway.

It’s posturing and positioning, of course.  Most Americans think their country is great-but-not-great, meaning different things by the same words at different times. That’s the beauty of such things politically, because people can feel sure that Trump means the same thing that they do about what used to be great about America and will be in the future, while others believe that they agree with Michelle about what is already great that doesn’t need fixing. If you let people talk long enough, they usually let you know what they really mean, but most voters have long since left the auditorium by then.  They know already, they are sure of it.

Also, everyone thinks they know what the other guys really mean when they say it. That’s not always unfair, if you have some actual data to work from, not just your fantasy of how stupid and evil they are. Michelle Obama likely means ten things when she says America is great, but the one that she always mentions is that there are finally black people in the White House. Trump is the opposite, so far as I can tell, alluding to many things but keeping it vague.

Side note: Best example in my lifetime of the media having cried wolf for years about Republicans, now shocked that a lot of Americans are ignoring them.

Jonathan Rauch Makes Uncomfortable Sense



Jonathan Rauch over at The Atlantic has an interesting article, whose basic premise is that all that old-timey political party hack and back room stuff was actually good for us. Someone over at Volokh put it up where I could see it.  I have already received some disagreement about it, which is fine. Rauch does leave out a couple of his own sacred cows, but tries to be even-handed. Whenever a liberal can bring himself to refer to Obama as "pandering" during the 2008 election, and as much as admitting Barack did nothing like what he promised afterward, I give credit.

My mind went first to the negative things that resulted from all those earlier Tammany Hall, machine-politics types of things - but contrasting that to now, I'm not sure it's worse.  Eliminating pork-barrel spending was always a popular cry, but it was never the problem.  Secondly, I thought of the non-corrupt countries of Northern Europe, who don't seem to have all this deal-making, and wondered if Rauch's offenders really are the problem. I also wondered that if Rauch's insight is a true one, or even a half-true one, whether this tells us anything about Christian denominations versus independent churches.

All that you can chew over yourselves.  One of the few new bits I bring to the discussion is the discovery of the politiphobes, who believe there are simple and obvious solutions to America's problems if corrupt politicians would simply enact them.  This reminded me strongly of the natural-healing and anti-vaxxer crowds, who believe there are simple treatments for all our health problems, but they are being suppressed by Big Pharma and Western Medicine.  I wondered how much overlap there are between those groups and the Trump and Bernie crowds.  Among my personal acquaintances, it is true for my #1 Trump and #1 Bernie supporters, followed by #2 Bernie, #3 Trump and sprinkling further on.  Hard to say, though, as I often don't know enough of a person's other views.

In my online groups, I have too little data, because I have so few representatives of each of those circles in the Venn Diagram that I don't trust it.

The essay did emphasise for me again that Trump is chaotic, and that is a great part of his appeal.  I had put it a few months ago that his supporters liked that he would shake things up, wasn't afraid to say what he thought, and would be a force for disruption in Washington, which needs disruption.  I hadn't quite gotten from that to the next step of identifying it as "chaos."  From a D&D perspective, does that make him Chaotic Neutral while Hillary is Lawful Evil? That, as Reverend Jim would say, is a tough choice.




In discussing chaos, I also was reminded of Chesterton's Fence, which came up in a related context today.

Well, that's a lot of possibilities to think about and comment on, isn't it?  Probably too many, and hard to settle into a clear path.  My apologies.  I think you'll work it out, though.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Discussion Update

I should have mentioned that I believe the authors of Mistakes Were Made would likely at least try to be honest brokers and would have mentioned the Janet Reno connection or chosen better examples than the Crusades or the Shah if they had known about such. I don't mean to imply any dishonesty on their part.  My distress is that we are in a state of public knowledge that so much that is generally known is actually less than half true.

Also, a humorous note.  In Silver's discussion of how wrong political predictions can be, and how these guys are sometimes just trying to get notices, he singles out Dick Morris specifically for predicting that Donald Trump would run for the Republican nomination and win it - in 2012. What a fool that Morris is, eh?

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Discussion of Two

There used to be pamphlets and short books at the Christian bookstores about how CS Lewis, and sometimes JRR Tolkien, weren't Christians.  Now they have websites instead, which I notice never have comments sections. Once in a while a character like that will show up on a Lewis or Tolkien FB page, attempting to argue the same tired points. The difficulty is that they have central ideas* that cannot be dislodged by any counterevidence or discussion. In my few pointless exchanges with them over the years I can report no success.  They cannot hear and there is no place for discussion.  This group has considerable overlap with the KJV-only folks, who present similar difficulties in discussion.

Whenever I have decided I don't like something, in this case a book, I always worry I'm going to be that guy. That's a bit of an overstatement, because I can find something of value even with writers I disagree with strongly.  Yet I do worry that I am too sharply on the lookout for further confirming examples that I was right the first time about this yo-yo, and may miss much. I had started Mistakes Were Made (but not by me) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson and gotten irritated right off by the introduction to the second edition.  They tell on themselves with some candor that they reacted badly to a mostly-positive review that nonetheless took them to task for their political bias, while loving a five-star review that contained no such criticism. They use this example to illustrate what they are exposing in others throughout their book, ruefully noting that we all, even they, are subject to these sorts or biases and inability to see objectively.

At which point they revert immediately to their bias with no correction, so far as I can tell.

I find this infuriating, because this is exactly the point at which a little thought should pop up and go "Huh.  I should make extra-special sure not to do this.  Especially over the next few sentences." I waited long before I went back at the book, and it does have some value, mostly as a handy reference book for the research behind the ideas on bias, self-justification, and memory. But the political bias continues throughout.  It is less blatant than what one encounters in news sources, but I don't know if the subtlety isn't actually more dangerous.

More on that to come, because it did open up a useful train of thought for me. But I put this forward in contrast to Nate Silver's The Signal and The Noise. Silver has far less in the way of academic credentials for such discussions, but he knows how to look at a proposition and ask himself "Have I missed something? Am I seeing what I want to see, or what is real? Have others come to different conclusions?  What were their methods?"

I see on the sidebar that Bethany has just put something up about the book over at her site.  Haven't read it yet.  I hope she's not saying the opposite of what I do here.

Silver's book is more about predictions, why they fail and what can be done to improve them.  There has been enormous improvement in weather prediction, political polling, and the performance of athletes, even though these are all dependent on many interacting variables. Other predictions, such as climate change and the economy, also have improved, but not nearly so much, and we are not much better off on predicting earthquakes than we were fifty years ago.  He writes engagingly and convincingly why this would be so.  I have decided that his explanation and opinion on climate change are the best I have read for acknowledging both that some things are known, while others remain uncertain, and how initial bias on these matters prevents discussion.

The Tavris and Aronson book has the source material for much that we discuss around here about reliability of memory, personal and group bias. It does a good job of that - though very little of it was new to me, here it is now, all in one place. But that bias. While it is insisted in theory that everyone is subject to biases, different perceptions, and instantaneous excuse-making, there are apparently no gay people who are biased;  nor are there any people of color who misperceive; Democrats and liberals - especially ones from longer ago - do show some bias, both experimentally and by observation - but only in the context of Republicans and conservatives doing something worse. Similarly, women might do bad things to other women, but never to men, unless the man has done something worse that they are responding to.  If you want lists of groups that do evil things, corporate CEO's and religious leaders will show up.  But no employees of government unions, no heads of non-profits, and no academics do such things.  Nor are they observed to be biased. One black man, Bill Cosby, did do wrong things.  I note that he had become controversial in the black community for criticisng its culture.

I cannot imagine that this is intentional.  These are simply where their minds go when they look for examples. I was steaming as I read the section about recovered memory and the damage it caused, with no mention of Janet Reno and how that had launched her career (and oh, does the overreaction at Waco seem clearer now?); I shook my head in irritation when they pointed out that the 1979 Iranian Revolution had its roots in the 1953 CIA coup installing the Shah, ignoring the complexities and assassinations the few years before; and I won't even discuss the ways they were wrong-headed in discussing the Crusades. I looked at those and thought How can they leave those out? 

Well, probably because they didn't know about them, I suddenly realised.  If you don't read the conservative press Janet Reno's prosecutions against supposed ritual abusers in Dade County never come before you.  If your goal is to trace back events until you can hit a point where you can blame exactly who you want, you will look no deeper, no wider, no older. So, the terrible events of 1953 just pop out of thin air, and Christians travel thousands of miles to kill Moslems and capture a few square miles of territory for no discernible reason. It's not really their job to get the history exactly fair, but to find good examples from history to illustrate their points. I would have wished an editor or fact-checker along the way had noticed something awry, but that would be unlikely.  They are from the same culture.  They don't know either.

When one looks at it that way, that's pretty much what all of us do, including me. If things look bad for My Fellows, My Tribe, My Team, I look about until I can find a parallel event, a mirror injustice, or an older chapter until I can get them out from under, at least a bit. Sometimes I can largely exonerate them - sometimes there really isn't much in the way of mitigating circumstances.

This is the reason that control of institutions and eliminating counternarratives is important to so many in the present day, and why the destruction - no, the defanging of the past and of traditions is worrisome. It is not merely that "well, they did some wrong things that we'd like to stop doing," - it's an entire program of having nothing to set against the present and the imagined future. Destroy the past, and even the skeptical mind will find nothing to fasten on to raise as a question.

On the other hand, the information explosion works against this very thing.  One political or social group can write all the textbooks and all think alike when they write scripts and essays.  But when I go looking for something, I find...other things, quite by accident.


*For the record, the first is usually that there is magic in the stories, and everything to do with magic is satanic - the Bible says so; second that they believe in Purgatory (Lewis thought it likely but did not insist on it), which is Roman Catholic and we all know they aren't really Christians.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Clinton's Appearance

I think that in general, as Laura notes and T99 supports, Hillary's appearance is commented on far more than any male candidate. For women of a certain percentage of feminism (of whatever wave) in their bones, it is a default position to be annoyed at that.  I think that is a reasonable general rule.  I don't think it applies in Hillary Clinton's case.    Men have a very narrow range, and it is considered a major screw-up if they deviate from that in any public photograph, such as Bush in crocs, or Obama in something too informal. So it's simple for them, really.  Safe.

But there are safe choices for women as well.  Most female politicians use them.  Sarah Palin had some nasty comments directed at her for her hair and glasses, but she was electing to appeal to Her People. The women who hated that look for cultural reasons skewered her. And notice, she wasn't that different. She could have dressed like Nikki Haley instead - within the range but pushing the edges.  Sometimes she did, sometimes not.  She got kicked just about as much as she deviated.  Same as the men.  No one is forcing Hillary Clinton to wear yellow Mao jackets. The comments don't come up for men because the short guys, the bald guys, the fat guys, the guys with glasses, the guys who wear elbow patches or Hawaiian shirts or feed caps/ball caps are pretty much dead in the water right out of the gate.

Elizabeth Warren, Barbara Boxer, Diane Feinstein, Nancy Pelosi, Patty Murray, Mary Landrieu, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kelly Ayotte, Michele Bachman, Condoleeza Rice...they dress the same. They don't get a lot of flak.  Hillary doesn't dress that way.  There's a reason for that, and she owns it. She wants to be something else, a celebrity, an icon, a superstar.

She has an expressive face, which is probably a charming thing in person, but leads to many unflattering photos.  The Wymans are very familiar with this, and you will notice that we don't run for public office for related reasons.  That's not fair?  The general public should admire her for her policy positions? Or her character?  Gosh darn it, the sexism never ends, does it?  What would Antonin Scalia say? Or Ruth Bader Ginsburg?

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Away

I will be at camp, with some computer access but much less. Blogging will be light.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Wanting To Win

Note: small but important edit of changing "can't" to "can" in paragraph 5.  I think most of you would have recognised it as an error anyway.


Editorialists often take a one-sided approach to discussions.  I suppose this is not contemptible in context.  They are supposed to identify a POV and put forth the clearest expression of it.  Like an attorney arguing a case, their job is to present one side – let the other attorney provide the counterpoint. Artists sometimes present ambiguity, but more often it is a faux ambiguity – playing with the sighs and ponders and nods but coming down in the predetermined spot in the end; most often of all artists attempt to express one side as powerfully as possible.

Yet for the rest of us life is not quite so simple.  One may side pretty strenuously with feminists in general and still know women who are no more than difficult personalities who have stumbled onto feminism as a convenient cudgel for the thrashing of parents or bosses or first husbands. All Christians know some brethren who they wish would just shut up, and some commonly-advanced arguments that are ludicrous. Few they are who cannot see any reason for going to war, nor any reason for staying out of it. Plus, we have people we like at least somewhat who see things quite differently.  When we have these discussions we concede points (sometimes too readily in the cause of keeping a discussion friendly), or we hold back from full-throated expression of our conclusion that our opponent’s POV leads to the deaths of children.

Yet in the theater of debate, and certainly in online debate, we tend to the firmer expression of our ideas. I think that is entirely proper. But I think there is a limit. No quarter asked or given should only be acceptable when the consequences are dire, and this particular episode of the larger debate is actually going to affect anything. I write this because I am tired of reading people who are not trying to arrive at truth, but are only trying to win an argument - fastening on some smaller point where they think they can prevail or embarrass, misrepresenting what the opposition is saying, etc. Orwell has a nice quote about it.

The thing that strikes me more and more—and it strikes a lot of other people, too—is the extraordinary viciousness and dishonesty of political controversy in our time.  I don't mean merely that controversies are acrimonious.  They ought to be that when they are on serious subjects.  I mean that almost nobody seems to feel that an opponent deserves a fair hearing or that the objective truth matters as long as you can score a neat debating point. (Italics mine)

I have a request.  Someone find for me a recent non-liberal example of this – a moderate, or conservative, or libertarian writer or speaker who is not fighting fair in this fashion.  I have a fresh example by a liberal, but I always have a fresh example by a liberal. When I search for examples of people I more-or-less agree with who are (likely willfully) overstating their case, I can find them easily in comments sections, but those are a suspect source: they might be trolls, or sock puppets, or simple provocateurs. Even if they are arguing sincerely, they might simply be fools and pigheaded. When I seek for bad examples from my own side(s), my mind shuts down too quickly, I think, gravitating to the points the writer made that were fair.
I am tired of reading people who should not be believed yet have a large audience.  I imagine there are people who feel the same way about me.  I know, I know, this audience is likely to have similar blind spots to my own.  But not all, and certainly not exactly.  If there are none, I will not put my own example forward.