Why was Guard restricted in blocking mob?

March 5, 2021

Christopher C. Miller, appointed by President Trump as interim Secretary of Defense, restricted the District of Columbia National Guard in controlling pro-Trump demonstrators and in protecting the Capitol.

The memo above shows that the Guard were forbidden to disarm protestors or help police.  General William Walker, the commander of the D.C. National Guard, testified Wednesday that he also was forbidden in a later letter Jan. 5 deploy troops to the Capitol without permission from the Pentagon.

He said he would have sent troops immediately on Jan. 6 to protect the Capitol from pro-Trump rioters if his authority had not been restricted by the Pentagon.

As it was, he said, he had to wait more than three hours before getting the needed authorization.

The benign interpretation of Miller’s actions is that he was motivated by public relations concerns.  He may have feared being criticized for over-reacting as happened after the Black Lives Matter protests last June.

The sinister interpretation is that he was motivated by sympathy for the Stop the Steal protests.  Either way, he has a lot to answer for.

I don’t think we the public as yet know the full story of what happened on Jan. 6.

LINKS

Christopher C. Miller Wikipedia biography.

Pentagon restricted commander of D.C. Guard ahead of Capitol riot by Paul Sonne for The Washington Post.

Trump Defense Secretary Disarmed D.C. National Guard Before Capitol Riot by Mark Sumner for The National Memo.

Pentagon prevented immediate response to mob, says Guard chief by Rebecca Beitsch for The Hill.

Pentagon hesitated on sending Guard to Capitol riot by Eric Tucker and Marie Clare Jalonick for the Associated Press.

Capitol riot probe zeroes in on Pentagon delay in sending troops by Kyle Cheney and Andrew Desiderio for POLITICO.

House of Representatives gives in to fear

March 4, 2021

The House of Representatives canceled its session today because of fears of a “possible plot” by an obscure militia group known as the Three Percenters to storm the Capitol.

That’s shameful!  What are they afraid of?

There are thousands of National Guard troops being kept in Washington, D.C., just to protect Congress from a repetition of the events of Jan. 6.

I think there’s little likelihood of such a plot being real.  But even if it were, members of the House should be willing to stand up and show they are not going to be terrorized by threats, whether real or imaginary.

The U.S. Senate is meeting as usual.

LINKS

Citing March 4 security threat, House cancels Thursday session by David Knowles for Yahoo News.

Capitol Police Officers say intel on possible March 4 plot being taken seriously by Jack Date, Luke Barr and Morgan Winsor for ABC News.

Nearly 5,000 National Guard troops to remain in Washington through mid-March by CNN.

Biden made a great statement on labor rights

March 3, 2021

President Joe Biden made a great statement last Sunday about labor union rights.

He called attention to what the law requires, as well as certain basic facts.

That may not seem like much.  But it has been decades since any President has been willing to speak up for labor.

Republicans from Reagan to Trump have been hostile to organized labor.  Democrats from Carter to Obama have been indifferent.  This has been a disaster.

Labor unions, as Biden said, made possible the middle class prosperity the United States (and many other countries) enjoyed following World War Two.  They also were essential to electing Democrats.

As unions have declined, so has the middle class.  And so has the Democratic Party. 

Recent public opinion polls indicate that 65 percent of Americans approve of labor unions, and 48 percent of non-union workers would join a union if they could.  

But only 10.3 percent of American workers actually belong to unions.  It would take a long time to get back to the 34.8 percent of the work force that belonged to unions in 1954.

Biden’s statement, without mentioning names, referred to labor union efforts to organize Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama.  This sets him against Jeff Bezos, who is possibly the world’s richest man and also the owner of the Washington Post.

If Biden is willing to make an enemy of Bezos, I have to respect him. I hope he doesn’t walk back his statement.

Read the rest of this entry »

Will we have a K-shaped recovery?

March 3, 2021

A K-shaped recovery is when the holders of financial assets do very well, and wage-earners don’t.

The recovery from the Great Recession of 2008 was a K-shaped recovery.  The Obama administration bailed out the financiers who helped cause and deepen the recession, and left mortgage-holders to fend for themselves.  

The political result was a decline in the Democratic vote, which made possible Donald Trump’s victory in 2016.  During the pandemic recession of 2020, the response of both Democrats and Republicans was to bail out the financial institutions and Fortune 500 corporations, while giving very limited help to the unemployed, front-line workers and small-business owners.

Evidently President Biden and Democrats in Congress realize that the government needs to do more now than it did then.  That’s good.  But will they do enough?

Here’s what Matt Taibbi has to say:

This is a fascinating moment in American history. On the one hand, generations of elite-focused politics have left a tiny oligarchical minority not only in possession of massively increased wealth, but also political power. Since 2008, we’ve seen increased disparities in income, but also criminal justice outcomes, regulatory attention, access to tax loopholes, political influence (through decisions like Citizens United), vulnerability to surveillance, and rights to transparency, and, lately, speech. With the corporate-friendly Biden administration in office, there’s a clear opportunity for his backers to continue the K-shaped influence distribution if they wanted.

But we may be at the end of the era where even the most rapacious interests feel they can get away with such policies. Between the 2016 election of Trump, the near-nomination of Sanders in 2020, and widespread unrest on both the left and right, it sounds like the Washington consensus is inching toward the realization that they finally have to deliver something significant for ordinary people, if they want to keep their cushy DC sinecures, to say nothing of staying pitchfork-free.

Read the rest of this entry »

On growing older, but not necessarily wiser

February 27, 2021

Time for something lighter.  These two items were sent to me some time back by my old friend Larry Lack.

GOD’S PLAN FOR AGING

Most seniors never get enough exercise. In His wisdom God decreed that seniors become forgetful so they would have to search for their glasses, keys and other things thus doing more walking.

And God looked down and saw that it was good.

Then God saw there was another need. In His wisdom He made seniors lose coordination so they would drop things requiring them to bend, reach and stretch.

And God looked down and saw that it was good

Then God considered the function of bladders and decided seniors would have additional calls of nature requiring more trips to the bathroom, thus providing more exercise.

God looked down and saw that it was good.

So if you find as you age, you are getting up and down more, remember it’s God’s will. It is all in your best interest even though you mutter under your breath.

Read the rest of this entry »

How the GOP could become a workers’ party

February 26, 2021

A Modest Proposal for Republicans: Use the Word “Class” by Scott A. Siskind for Astral Codex Ten. “Pivot from mindless populist rage to a thoughtful campaign to fight classism.”

There are some interesting ideas here that are consistent with what Republican leaders say they stand for.  I’m not sure I agree with Siskind about prediction markets being better than credentialed experts, though.

Read the rest of this entry »

Matt Taibbi on the student loan trap

February 26, 2021

Student Loan Horror: When You Think You Quality for Debt Relief, Check Again – And Again by Matt Taibbi for TK News. “A pair of science teachers were sure they qualified for student debt forgiveness. They discovered what many borrowers learned in the 2010s: not qualifying for aid is the norm.”

House Democrats threaten right-wing cable news

February 24, 2021

House Democrats, Targeting Right-Wing Cable Outlets, Are Assaulting Press Freedoms by Glenn Greenwald.  “Democrats’ justification for silencing their adversaries online and in media — ‘they are spreading fake news and inciting extremism’ — is what despots everywhere say.”

US political polarization, past and present

February 23, 2021

Thomas Nast cartoons from the 1870s

Polarization in American public life is based on identity politics. That is, we Americans are more divided over who we think we are than over what we think needs to be done.

This isn’t anything new. We’ve always been more divided over race, religion, ethnic culture and region than over econom.

Or rather, clashes over economic interests have taken the form of clashes over race, religion and regionalism.  For example, the antagonism between native-born Yankee Protestants and immigrant Irish Catholics was not over questions of theology.

During the Gilded Age period lasting from the end of Reconstruction to the beginning of the New Deal, the Democratic Party got the votes of Southern white people, Catholics and Jews, and the Republican Party the votes of Northern white Protestants, plus African-Americans in the parts of the country where they were allowed to vote.

Even when I was growing up in the 1940s, Jews and Catholics were barred from many elite clubs and college fraternities.  Most universities had quotas on the number of Jewish students that could be admitted.

It was taken for granted that no Catholic, no Jew and no white Southerner could be elected President, let alone a woman, an African American or an atheist.

During the Gilded Age, leaders of both political parties were committed to support of corporate business and suppression of organized labor. 

Bribery and corruption were common and out in the open.  So was election fraud.

Class warfare during that era was actual warfare.  The most extreme example was the Battle of Blair Mountain in West Virginia in 1921, where coal company supporters bombed militant coal miners from the air.

But none of this produced a realignment between Democrats and Republicans.  Opposition to corporate domination, such as it was, took place within the two political parties or, more rarely, through short-lived independent parties.

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Greenwald on the threat to freedom of speech

February 22, 2021

During the previous four years, Democratic leaders and pro-Democratic newspapers and broadcasters aligned with U.S. intelligence agencies to undermine the Trump administration. 

Now that Democrats are in power, the alliance continues.  It’s highly improbable that the Biden administration will dial down any of the covert wars now being waged by the United States.

As usual, Glenn Greenwald, who got his start as a civil liberties lawyer, has the facts.

I’m not a supporter of Donald Trump.  As one who believes in historic American ideals of freedom and democracy, I’m concerned about the large fraction of the 74 million Trump voters who endorse mob violence or believe in the crazy Q-Anon conspiracy theory.

But trying to suppress people’s basic rights is not a good way to refute their belief that there is a conspiracy to suppress their basic rights.

Also, progressives and left-wingers are naive if they think the social media crackdown is going to be limited to their enemies. 

Donald Trump was a very bad President.  I’m glad he’s no longer in office.  But I don’t believe in attacking historic constitutional liberties in the name of preventing Trump supporters from destroying historic constitutional liberties.

LINKS

Congress Escalates Pressure on Tech Giants to Censor More, Threatening the First Amendment by Glenn Greenwald.  “In their zeal for control of on-line speech, House Democrats are getting closer to the constitutional line, if they have not already crossed it.”

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The survival and future of philosophy

February 21, 2021

Is academic philosophy dead?  Is philosophy itself dead?  Is it even worth bothering about?

Rep. Rick Santorum, R-PA, argued years ago that the study of welding would give you a bigger payoff in terms of earning power than the study of philosophy. 

A lot of political leaders, business executives and college administrators have endorsed that view.  They think that what the country needs is more students of STEM (science technology, engineering, mathematics) topics and fewer liberal arts majors. 

Philosophy is a subject that contributes neither to individual career success, business profits nor national power.  So why bother with it?

Philosophy also has enemies within.  Some teachers of philosophy teach that philosophy teaches nothing—that there are no certain grounds for distinguishing reality from unreality, truth from falsehood or knowledge from ignorance.   If so, why bother with it?

My friend David White e-mailed me an article from the Times (of London) Literary Supplement by a philosophy professor named Crispin Sartwell, pushing back against philosophy’s foes.

The questions themselves arise in some form even among children, and they concern matters that are central to the lives of all of us: the question of how I or we should live is not a scientific question, and it is not so easy, on a sleepless night or on a beautiful day, to set it aside entirely.

That we are not likely to answer such questions once and for all or test our accounts with double-blind studies or particle accelerators, does not entail that the activity is avoidable or that it is profitless.

The fact is that everybody has a philosophy of some kind.  Everyone has some idea of good and bad, truth and falsehood, and some criteria for telling one from the other.

Every parent is a philosopher.  Good parents try to answer their children’s questions about how to live.  All parents teach children how to live, if only by example.  

Some people are unconscious of their philosophies; some have thought them out in detail.  Some philosophies make sense; some don’t.  Some learn from life experience rather than books, and many such have valuable wisdom.  Others learn from conversation, and still others learn from books.

The advantage of learning from books is that you don’t have to start from the beginning.  You don’t have re-invent the wheel.  There’s benefit from knowing what the great minds of the past have thought.

Philosophy may or may not survive as an academic discipline.  Philosophy as a human activity is eternal, as much for scientists, technicians, engineers, mathematicians—and welders—as anyone else.  Hopefully, people will never stop trying to figure out what life is all about, and never stop talking about it and writing about it.

Prof. Sartwell concluded his article thus. 

I take the persistence of philosophy and its return in some form to its traditional terrain to suggest that philosophy as an inquiry into ultimate values (or something along those lines) is irrepressible: we just weren’t going to be able to leave the questions alone forever, or the history of distinguished attempts to address them.

So the internal reasons for philosophy’s survival are not that puzzling.

And even through all the science, the university never entirely stopped viewing (or marketing) itself as a repository of human values and intellectual traditions.

A small philosophy department is an inexpensive way to express that.

Perhaps philosophy, like art, should congratulate itself on being, or on having been, open and critical enough to attack itself in its own entirety, even if, in both cases, many interesting and potentially useful traditional elements were jettisoned almost cavalierly.

In both cases, the traditional elements have slowly been recuperated in new forms; there is a lot of painting in the contemporary galleries.

The overweening scientism was uncritical and defensive, and the zeal of many twentieth-century philosophers against their own kind excessive.

As to Rorty’s notion that philosophy should merge with poetry or fiction, or that it should just admit that it always had been a merely literary genre: well, I find that as irritating in 2021 as I did in 1986, but I’m less worried now that the view will gain currency.

It has itself become a curious artifact in the museum of ideas.

Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t worry about the snow

February 20, 2021

How they used to clear the roads

February 18, 2021

How They Used to Clear Snowy Roads Before Trucks and Snowplows Were Invented by Rainy Noe for Core77.

Fake news and the storming of the Capitol

February 17, 2021

It is not true that Officer Brian Sicknick was beaten to death by a pro-Trump mob during the storming of the Capitol, Glenn Greenwald reported last night. 

This raises big questions about the credibility of reporting of the event and the justification for a “domestic war on terror.”

The report in the New York Times on Jan. 8, based on quotes from two anonymous law enforcement officials, and in a follow-up article.  It was cited as fact in the articles of impeachment against ex-President Donald Trump.

But on the same day, ProPublica published an article quoting Sicknick’s brother as having received a text from SIcknick after the riot saying he was okay, in spite of having been pepper-sprayed.  But then later they got word he had a blot clot and was on a ventilator.  He died that night.

Nobody has produced video evidence of the alleged beating of Sicknick.  Many of the rioters have been charged, but nobody has yet been charged with Sicknick’s murder. 

On Feb. 2, CNN published an article, noting in passing that the medical examiner’s report on Sicknick’s death has not been released, but quoting one investigator that there were no signs of head injuries and investigators no longer believe the fire extinguisher story.

I am not making excuses for Donald Trump or for the rioters.  It is clear to me that Trump intended the mob to storm the Capitol in order to intimidate Vice President Pence and the Senate into refusing to certify Joe Biden’s electoral victory.  This was wrong.  It was a symbolic and real attack on the democratic process.

Neither am I trying to trivialize the tragedy of Officer Sicknick’s death or deny that it was duty-related.

However, nothing is gained by false reporting or by believing false reporting.  You only weaken your cause.

I don’t fault the reporters of the initial NYT article.  When you’re reporting on deadline, you go with the information you’ve got.  But I do fault the NYT and the rest of the Washington press corps for not trying to check or verify the facts the next day. 

The great temptation for any reporter, as I know from my own experience, is to come across information that seems to confirm your biases and assumptions, and look no further.  This is the great fault of the so-called mainstream press in the Trump era.

The New York Times over many decades built a reputation as a reliable source of information by taking great care to be fair and accurate.  But it is much more easy to lose a good reputation than to gain one, and that is what is happening now.

Self-described liberals mock President Trump for talking about fake news.  They can’t understand why so many people believe things like the Q-Anon conspiracy.  But if respected institutions such as the NYT can’t be troubled to get things right, its editors and reporters shouldn’t be surprised if some people turn to disreputable sources.

LINKS

The False and Exaggerated Claims Being Spread About the Capitol Riot by Glenn Greenwald.  “Insisting on factual accuracy does not make one an apologist for the protestors.  False reporting is never justified, especially to inflate threat and fear levels.”

“This Political Climate Got My Brother Killed”: Officer Brian Sicknick Died Defending the Capitol; His Family Waits for Answers by J. David McSwane for ProPublica.

Investigators struggle to build murder case in death of US Capitol Police Officer Brian SIcknick by Evan Perez, David Shortell and Whitney Wild for CNN.

MAGA Blood Libel: Why Are They Hiding the Medical Report? on Revolver News  [Added 2/18/2021]

Mom of US Capitol police officer Brian Sickwick believes he died of a stroke by Laura Collins for The Daily Mail.  [Added 2/24/2021]

What we know about Capitol Police officer Brian Sickwick’s death by Bill McCarthy for PolitiFact.  [Added 2/24/2021]

Slate Star Codex vs. the New York Times

February 14, 2021

Last spring a New York Times reporter named Cade Metz interviewed a San Francisco-based psychiatrist who called himself Scott Alexander about his influential Slate Star Codex blog.

Alexander requested that the NYT article not reveal his real name, and the reporter said that was against NYT policy.  Alexander responded by taking down his blog.

A huge controversy ensued, involving journalistic ethics, Internet anonymity, “toxic ideas,” free speech, the culture of Silicon Valley, the clash between self-described rationalists and self-described progressives and much else.

Since then Alexander has started a new blog under his real name, Scott Siskind.

I find the whole debate highly interesting, but don’t have any particular wisdom of my own to add, except to say that I think Scott Siskind is in the right. 

Instead I have gathered links for anybody who’s interested in delving into it.

LINKS

Slate Star Codex and Silicon Valley’s War Against the Media by Gideon Lewis-Kraus for The New Yorker.  A reasonably impartial overview.

NYT Is Threatening My Safety by Revealing My Real Name, So I Am Deleting This Blog by “Scott Alexander” for Slate Star Codex.

Still Alive by Scott Siskind for Astral Codex Ten.

Silicon Valley’s Safe Space by Cade Metz for The New York Times.

Statement on the New York Times article by Scott Siskind for Astral Codex Ten.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Democracy! Suite with Wynton Marsalis

February 13, 2021

Identity politics is what polarizes America

February 12, 2021

The great mystery of American politics is why American voters are so polarized when there is so little difference in the policies of the two major political parties?

Democrats and Republicans, when in power, both support the unending U.S. foreign wars.  In economic crises, they both prioritize bailing out Wall Street financiers over helping ordinary Americans.  They both balk at universal health care or free higher education.

As President Barack Obama once said, U.S. political conflicts take place “within the 40-yard line.”

So why is it that so many Democrats and Republicans hate, fear and despise each so intensely that there is serious talk of a possible civil war?

The answer is identity politics. I found a good explanation of how this works in a post by Scott Siskind about a new book by Ezra Klein.

Klein’s idea is that Republicans define themselves as the party of “modal Americans.”  There are more whites than non-whites, more Christians than non-Christians, more native-born than immigrants and more heterosexuals (so we think) than LGBTQ people.  So Republicans are the party of straight native-born Christian white people.

I would add that there are more voters without college degrees than with college degrees, and Republicans are also the party of the high school graduate.

Democrats define themselves as the party of everybody else—the African Americans, the Hispanics, the Muslims, the Jews, the atheists, the immigrants and the sexual minorities, but also the highly educated.

Unlike Republicans, they are diverse. “Modal” Americans have many values in common, but all that the Democratic groups have in common is not being Republicans. 

The basis of Democratic unity as a political coalition is to define “modal Americans” as the enemy.  This is what unites the Ivy League intellectual with the African-American school drop-out.  They both see the Republican coalition as a mob that’s out to get them. 

Many Democrats genuinely fear the a MAGA Republican mob will take away all their hard-won rights.  Many MAGA Republicans honestly fear that a Woke Democratic elite will force their “politically correct” values on them and their children.

Democrats say Republicans promote fear of minority groups—not just blacks, but minorities of all kinds—in order keep their straight white native-born Christian high school graduate coalition together.

Republicans say Democrats make false or exaggerated accusations of prejudice in order to hold their diverse coalition together.  There doesn’t seem to be any obvious end to this process.

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Trump really did try to instigate an insurrection

February 11, 2021

The video above, introduced as part of the prosecution’s impeachment case against Donald Trump, underlines that the violence in the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6 was more than just a riot.

I had some doubts before as to how big a threat it was.  I don’t have such doubts any more.

The insurrection was intended to intimidate the Senate, and in particular Vice President Mike Pence, into refusing to certify the vote of the Electoral College.  It failed.  Vice President Pence and a majority of the Senate did their constitutional duty.

I don’t think that there ever was any serious possibility that the election results would be overturned.  Pence’s refusal to certify would not have changed anything in the end.

The harm that was done was to convince tens of millions of Americans that they are living under a government to which they owe no allegiance, any more than Americans of 1776 owned allegiance to King George III.

What bothers me is the thought of now things might have played out if the White House had been occupied by an authoritarian leader a little bit more self-disciplined and a little bit more astute than Donald Trump.

Such a leader would not have waited until after the votes were counted to question the voting system.  He and his followers would have sought court injunctions a year ago to block the changes they’re objecting to now.

When the game is over, it’s too late to question the rule book, because there’s no way to know how the game would have come out under different rules.

Such a leader would have a way to convince the FBI, the Pentagon, the CIA and the rest of the Homeland Security complex that he was on their side.  Experience in other countries shows that the police, the military and the intelligence agencies get along perfectly well with authoritarian rulers.

Such a leader would have had a real para-military force at his disposal—something comparable to Mussolini’s Blackshirts or Hitler’s Brownshirts (SA).

Trump gave winks and nods to encourage the Proud Boys and other authoritarian right-wing groups to think he was on their side, but he never (thank goodness) gave them effective leadership.  He never arranged for his supporters to secretly give them funds for recruitment and military training.

What happened on Jan. 6 could be a dress rehearsal for a right-wing coup to come.  A more astute authoritarian right-wing leader might well see all the possibilities that Trump’s attempt revealed and not make the mistakes that Trump made.

LINKS

Emotive video dominates day one of Trump impeachment trial by Niall Stanage for The Hill.

Insurrection TImeline: First the Coup and Then the Coverup by Steven Harper for Moyers on Democracy.  A more detailed timeline.

The martyrdom of Mike Pence by Sidney Blumenthal for The Guardian.  [Hat tip to Steve from Texas]  In the end, Pence did his duty.

Read the rest of this entry »

Use and abuse of the doctrine of original sin

February 9, 2021

When I was a small boy, I used to dread the Easter sermons in the church my parents sent me to.

The pastor, who was a fine man, would preach about how Jesus suffered and died on the cross for our sake.

Jesus, literally the best person who ever lived, a man who loved everyone and harmed no-one, had his hands pierced with nails and his side with a sword, and was given vinegar to drink.

And why did he have to suffer and die in this horrible fashion?  Because of people like me.  Because we were so sinful.  Because that was the only way to save us from the consequences of the sins we had committed.

My feelings of guilt did not make me a better person.  I was selfish, lazy and weak, and at the same time self-righteous.

I felt I was better than irreligious boys my age because I at least was aware of how much of a sinner I was. But then I thought that having pride in a sense of guilt was just as bad as any other form of pride.

Adults did not understand me. They thought I was a nice boy because I was obedient, agreeable and an “A” student in school.

Mary McCarthy, in Memories of a Catholic Girlhood, remarked that religion is good for good people and bad for bad people.   I guess this applies in my case.

Bertrand Russell, in The Conquest of Happiness, wrote that people eaten up with guilt are egotistical.  We are preoccupied with ourselves.  We would be happier if we had objective interests and if we thought more about other people and less about ourselves.  This applies in my case, too.

I thought I might get rid of my feelings of guilt if I had sufficient faith, as great Christian figures of the past had done.   But I lacked faith.  I doubted everything.

I shared my doubts with my Sunday school teachers.  My doubts did not bother them.  They were, if anything, pleased that I took religion seriously, which so few boys my age did.

They did not take my doubts seriously. They told me that my doubts would resolve themselves when I became a mature adult.  However, neither of these things happened.

So far as I know, I was the only person in the church congregation, young or old, who felt as I did. 

My guess is that a large number were not bothered because they did not absorb the message Dr. Norment was trying to convey.  My guess is that the rest understood it through a filter of common sense.

The common sense way to hear Christian message would be to think: Yes, I am imperfect.  I try to be a good person and very often fail.  I repent of my failure, and try again, and, in the meantime, I do not judge others harshly for their failures.  That wpuld be a healthy way to respond.

As for myself, I resolved my problem by ceasing to fight my doubts about Christian doctrine.

I joined a small Unitarian fellowship in my native city as a young adult, just before the Unitarians merged with the Universalists to form the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA)

The Unitarians and Universalists are two small sects that originated in the 19th century USA and were noted for not having any binding religious creed.  We committed to living by living by certain principles rather than believing in certain doctrines.

Interestingly, Unitarianism and Universalism had their roots in early Christian heretics that St. Augustine regarded as his enemies—Arius, who taught that God was a unity, not a trinity; Origen, who taught universal salvation; and Pelagius, who taught that people were not inherently sinful, but capable of choosing between good and bad.

For me, they provided a moral community to which I could belong while being open about my thoughts and doubts.  I am a Unitarian-Universalist to this day.

I’m bothered by the readiness of some contemporary UUs to accept the idea of white guilt, which is very like the doctrine of original sin.  Feelings of guilt are not the best motivation for striving for justice, because your focus is on yourself and not the needs or wishes of the people who are actually suffering from injustice.

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Journalists who are enemies of free speech

February 8, 2021

The Journalistic Tattletale and Censorship Industry Suffers Several Well-Deserved Blows by Glenn Greenwald on Substack.  “The NYT’s Taylor Lorenz falsely accuses a tech investor of using a slur after spending several months trying to infiltrate and monitor a new app that allows free conversation.”

Dogs with a sense of sin

February 6, 2021

Saint Augustine and original sin

February 5, 2021

In his Confessions, St. Augustine sought the truth about himself and his motives, and the truth about the nature of God and His creation. 

What’s interesting to me is that he didn’t see his investigation of subjective truth, about himself, and of objective truth, about the nature of time and free will, as two separate things.  He saw them as different sides of the same thing.

What’s also interesting is that he didn’t see religious revelation as opposed to philosophical reason.  He saw them as mutually reinforcing.

I recently read The Confessions of St. Augustine for a couple of reasons.  One is that I just got finished reading Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer, which said fanatic mass movements such as fascism and Bolshevism were imitation religions, and I thought it worthwhile to read an account of actual religious belief.

Another is that there is a move afoot to abolish the teaching of the ancient classics on the grounds that they are irrelevant, and I thought it worthwhile to read an ancient classic to see whether it is relevant or not.

What follows is not a summary of the Confessions, but my personal reaction to it.

The main thing I got out of it was an understanding of how fundamental the doctrine of Original Sin is to Christianity.  This is the idea that sin is something baked into your nature that you can’t get rid of, no matter what you do.

Augustine condemned himself because, as a little baby, he didn’t care about anything except his selfish hunger for his mother’s milk. 

He condemned himself for what most people today would regard a normal desire for career success and for the approval of his peers.

He even criticized himself for being excessive in mourning the death of good friends.  It meant that he may have loved them more than he loved God.

He criticized himself for taking pleasure in the beauties of nature, or of art, unless it was combined with gratitude to God.

One act that particularly tore at him happened when he was a teenage boy.  He was part of a gang that invaded a walled orchard and stole pears.  He thought it was particularly evil because he didn’t need the pears.  He committed the theft because it was forbidden and because of peer pressure, not for the sake of pleasure or benefit to himself.

I have to say there is something to his last point.  I do think there is such a thing as evil, which is hatred of the good.  I think is different from mere badness, which is the inability to resist temptation.  But if this minor act of juvenile delinquency were the worst thing I myself had ever done, I would be well pleased with myself.

I do not see Augustine’s attitude toward sin as a distortion of Christianity.  Just the opposite!

Jesus taught that the great commandment is to love God with your whole heart, soul and mind.  He also taught a second commandment, to love your fellow human beings as yourself.

If you take these commandments literally, they are almost impossible to fulfill, even by people who are extremely spiritual and compassionate.  Who can say that the only thing they care about is God and his love?  Who can say they give other people’s needs the same priority as their own?  By this standard, who can escape sin?

All religions teach the need for atonement for wrongdoing and the need to make restitution to those you have wronged.  But none of them make repentance for sin the center of their religion in the way that Christianity does.

Only a Christian would say sin is inescapable.  Only a Christian would say that there is more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents than ninety and nine just persons who need no repentance.

One thing wrong with many people today, especially secular liberals, is that they no longer believe in God, except in a vague, metaphorical sense, but they still have a sense of sin. 

Not being Christians, they don’t know how to get rid of it, and this can shape their beliefs in strange ways.

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‘Going easy on these people will not work’

February 4, 2021

Mike Lofgren, an anti-Trump former Republican insider, said in an interview for Salon that pro-Trump zealots need to be crushed, banished and ostracized.

It is necessary to see the historical analogies that tell us what works and what doesn’t work.  The thing that pops into everyone’s mind is the Civil War.

People tend to get all misty-eyed about Lincoln’s statement, “With malice toward none, and charity for all.”   That was his second inaugural address in March of 1865.

What were the results?  A couple of weeks later, what he got out of it was a bullet in the head.  What Blacks got out of it was Jim Crow.  What Confederates got was pardons, amnesties, dropped charges and the ability to rewrite history.

The rest of us were saddled with them, and now we have a large portion of the country — a single region that is basically a Third World state.

Source: Mike Lofgren | Salon.com

Okay, let’s look at historical analogies.  Abraham Lincoln bore no animosity toward the white people of the South.  But he was willing to wage a war that resulted in the greatest killing of white people of any war of the 19th century.  More Americans died in our Civil War than in all the wars of the 20th century.

General William Tecumseh Sherman in his march through Georgia burned crops, slaughtered livestock and destroyed farmhouses and workshops.   General Phil Sheridan did the same in the Shenandoah Valley.

Not only the Confederates, but much of the world at large regarded them as moral monsters.  All this was done with Lincoln’s approval, but not out of malice.

In his speeches, Lincoln never said anything to inflame hatred.  But this did not make him weak.  It did not stop him from doing what he thought had to be done.

The Union government for a decade made a good-faith effort to guarantee equal rights to the slaves, with some success.

This came to an end in 1876 not through an excess of Christian charity and forgiveness, but through a corrupt bargain of the leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties.

In that year, the results of the Presidential election were disputed.  Republicans agreed to allow the Democrats, then the party of white supremacy, to control the South in return for allowing the Republican candidate to occupy the White House.

Even though the two parties worked together at the top level, leaders both kept the memories and hatreds of the Civil War alive.  This diverted attention from their underlying agreement to support corporate monopoly and oppose labor rights.

Today, so-called “red America” and “blue America” are so polarized that there is talk of a new Civil War.  Top-level leaders of both parties keep these antagonisms alive.

This diverts attention from their underlying agreement to support unending war and corporate monopoly and oppose labor rights.

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Some really awful (that is, good) puns

February 2, 2021

Riddles of the Sphinx II: Sustained Release Riddlin’ by Scott Siskind for Astral Codex Ten

A short tale of road rage

January 31, 2021