Thursday, August 29, 2013

Science cannot figure out if God exists or not--true, but does it matter?

"Science cannot figure out if God exists or not."

This is literally true but misses how the progression of our understanding of the natural world has gradually occupied space once occupied by supernatural explanations.

What's left is ethics. Religious people dislike atheists so much in part due to the fear that without a deity's carrot (heaven) and stick (hell), humans wouldn't behave, and chaos would ensue.

Or that, at best, we'd wind up with the tribal morality summarized by the Arab saying "Me against my brother. Me and my brother against my neighbor. Me, and my neighbor against the stranger."

This arena--the biology of good and evil--has been my particular interest for many decades. There's actually a fascinating book about it that I hope Jackie reads someday: The Moral Animal: Why We Are, the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology.

Sociobiologists aren't saying they've found the Ten Commandments coded in our DNA. Just that we're designed to care for others--at least others who are related to us, others in our gene pool (perceived as our tribe). The great contribution of Christianity was in expanding the notion of "our tribe" to all peoples everywhere.

To put it another way, morality has an amoral basis--the gene pool's need to grow and prosper--with moral results: marriage, good citizenship, the Golden Rule, rule of laws, not men--and the willingness to defend all that, even with deadly force (if all peaceful alternatives have failed).

Religion articulates, shapes, and reifies natural impulses. Science can tell you where those impulses come from. It can't deal with the "supernatural" but it can tell you where the notion that there is a "supernatural" came from.

I have no desire to replace religion with nothing. I want humanity to live by moral codes. But across the rich world in particular, the moral codes of religions are gradually being supplanted by secular moral codes. This has already happened in much of Western Europe, and is expanding in America, though still by a small minority.

The advantage of moral codes based on nature is that nature is the firmest foundation. The disadvantage is that it's harder to explain to the average person. I can say that, living in a very secular neck of the woods--Silicon Valley--I don't see the nonreligious people I know stealing from orphans and cheating on their mates any more than do the religious people I know (and I know many of these as well, via my spouse).

The nonreligious people I know don't picket churches with placards saying "Don't Believe!" They just go about their business, never thinking about religion one way or another. It's simply irrelevant to them.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Looks both the Republicans and Democrats are ignoring Von Clausewitz when they talk about Syria

GOP leaders are faulting the President for not being bold and decisive about Syria. I guess their model is Bush with Irag. Some model. Meanwhile the President is talking about a "measured response" to the Syrian dictatorship's ethnicidal efforts using war gases.

Republicans should remember that Von Clausewitz said never go to war until you get the people behind you. And the American people don't want us to get involved in Syria. I'm not saying they're right or wrong--just that if you do want to go to war, first you have to make sure of popular support. You don't have to make the argument after a Pearl Harbor or 9/11. You do when we haven't been attacked.

Democrats should remember that Von Clausewitz said if you do go to war, your first blow should be hard enough to flatten the enemy. War isn't a slap fight. That's why Bush's effort in Afghanistan was such a failure--he went in light, failed to get Bin Ladin, and while he decapitated the enemy regime in the capital, it had plenty of fight left, as the ensuing decade has shown.

I'm not saying a blow hard enough to impress Von Clausewitz would require a full invasion of Syria. But it would have to create "shock and awe" in the enemy.

Oh, and never make public threats you aren't willing to follow up on. Don't say something is unacceptable unless you mean it and act on that. Otherwise say something else.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

What's wrong with income redistribution?

The Republican Party and its talking heads on TV and radio denounce the Democrats daily for advocating "redistribution of wealth." Democrats want to steal money from the makers and hand it over to the takers (psst: especially Black and Brown "takers").

Next time you hear a friend or relative soapboxing about this, ask them a simple question:

How do they account for the fact that since 1979, the inflation-adjusted income of the richest 1% has soared at 26 times the rate of folks in the middle class?

Sure looks like wealth redistribution to me--only not by Democrats.

But Republicans tend to flatly deny statistics like the one I cited here, gotten from financial journalist Ali Velshi on his new AlJazeera news program. And if you say you got it from AlJazeera, well, that's like saying you got it from Sadam Hussein.

But how about the Congressional Budget Office (CBO)? The right wing quotes the CBO part of the time and then denies its validity the other part (when they don't like the figures).

But for what it's worth, check out the CBO's report "Trends in the Distribution of Household Income Between 1979 and 2007."

For example:

Shares of Income After Transfers and Federal Taxes, 1979 and 2007
The share of income going to higher-income households rose, while the share going to lower-income households fell.

"The rich get rich and the poor get poorer..."

See what sorts of mental gymnastics your right wing friends and acquaintances and relatives go through as they try to fit the facts into their anti-Democratic Party narrative.

Despite the simple fact that there is a class war going on all right, and you can see the results in that chart. It's the 1% against the 99%, and they've won and we've lost.

So far.


Saturday, August 17, 2013

The hidden contradiction in the GOP's denunciation of President Obama's response to the Egyptian coup

It's easy to say that the President is weak and waffling about the situation in Egypt. Just as it's easy to say that the Arab Spring has failed, and that its failure is somehow President Obama's fault.

The hidden contradiction stems from the fact that the people saying that are generally the people who want our foreign policy to be dictated by Israel's current right wing government headed by Benyamin Netanyahu.

And Israel's current government wants us to be doing exactly what President Obama is doing--not fully supporting anyone, not fully withdrawing from our current commitments to Egypt.

As for the Arab Spring failing--that's just shortsightedness. How long did our Colonial Spring take to succeed? From the first protests to becoming fully independent, it took us at least 35 years (to the end of the War of 1812). Giving the Arab Spring a couple of years to succeed makes no sense at all. And it should be obvious that things will never return to the old status quo there.

Interestingly, left wing ideologues are also very unhappy with President Obama's cautious approach. Ideologues Left and Right love the simple, bold approach based on principle, without taking consequences into account.

But the Leftists don't hate President Obama because he's black, while a majority of the Rightists do. And this provides a perfect example. Given their slavish devotion to Israel's Netanyahu government, they should be praising President Obama for--in this case--doing exactly what Netanyahu wants him to do.

Yet they just can't help themselves--they're compelled to denounce the President for whatever he does, even when he's carrying out conservative plans, such as the Affordable Care Act.

Another argument for supporting the Egyptian military's brutal crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood is the fact that in the last few days Brotherhood supporters responded to the Army crackdown, in part, by attacking a dozen Christian churches around Egypt. Right wingers talk about Muslim persecution of Christians, and they're factually correct. So shouldn't they support President Obama supporting the force in Egypt that's protecting Egyptian Christians from Muslim extremists?

Why is it called "ObamaCare" ?

When you're engineering propaganda campaigns in a democracy with laws you pretty much have to obey such laws as exist (political statements can be more slanderous and just plain false than slander of private citizens, businesses and institutions).

But for most statements you need plausible deniability while you're communicating with people in dogwhistle language.

"ObamaCare" is a perfect example. Who could complain? It is, after all, the signature legislation of the President's presidency.

But that's the thing about dogwhistles. You don't hear what the dogs hear.

"ObamaCare" serves several masters. Personalizing the huge omnibus bill that represents the first reform in America's healthcare system in over a century lets the Republicans avoid the issues involved. Making it about hating the person sidesteps all the benefits for ordinary Americans in the ACA and focuses voters' minds on just hating the person of the President.

Enormously wealthy special interests and demagogues have spend hundreds of millions of dollars since 2007 stoking personal hatred for the President--to a degree that's striking even in America's highly adversarial political system.

So calling the Affordable Care Act "ObamaCare" piggybacks on all the propaganda of aggrievance and scapegoating put out by the special interests that have profited so enormously from the old healthcare system.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Al Quedatalk--a perfect example of Republican lying about what the President is saying

The Republican leadership desperately needs President Obama to be weak and feckless when it comes to Al Qaeda.

The GOP brand has depended for many decades on the narrative "Conservatives strong, Liberals weak." In addition, the Party's deeply racist Southern core has depended for 250 years on imagining that all Negroes--in particular Negro men--are incompetent in positions of responsibility.

Problem is, President Obama nailed Osama bin Ladin and has been pursuing Al Qaeda diligently around the world.

But the GOP leadership realizes that for many if not most people, an emotionally compelling narrative trumps mere facts.

And so we have the spectacle of the Republican leadership consistently misrepresenting what President Obama has said and done regarding Al Qaeda.

The President says we've busted up Al Qaeda HQ, greatly hampering their ability to mount the kind of spectacular attack on us that 9/11 exemplified. He also says that their ideology has metastasized, such that there are many regional Al Qaedas now in existence--in part courtesy of the last Republican President attacking the wrong country and thus validating Al Qaeda's own narrative to Muslims that America is at war with Islam, and also courtesy of the incendiary things so many Republican leaders have said about that religion in toto, to be quoted endlessly by Islamists.

The Republicans say the President said Al Qaeda is finished and there's nothing to worry about now. He never said that, he never implied that, and his actions belie that. But this baldfaced lie is consistent with both the emotional anti-Liberal narrative and the White Southern anti-Negro narrative, and so it's believed by the GOP's more thoughtless voters.

Monday, August 5, 2013

What makes journalism balanced?

The Republican Party's nominal leader--Reince Priebus--has declared that the Republicans should boycott any future presidential debates that occur on CNN or MSNBC, if both do their planned documentaries on Secretary of State Clinton. Because they're so biased against all things Republican.

For proof there's the Pew survey of the three news networks' coverage on the eve of the last election:

>>Numbers on the eve of the 2012 election from the Pew Research Center showed CNN and NBC’s cable network, MSNBC, spent more time on stories that painted GOP nominee Mitt Romney in a negative light than any other network.

While 36 percent of CNN’s stories about Romney were negative, by Pew’s count, just 11 percent were positive.

And while 71 percent of MSNBC’s coverage of Romney was negative, just 3 percent was positive.

Pew shows CNN was much more evenly split when it came to President Obama, while MSNBC’s coverage of Obama tilted very favorably in the president’s direction.

(On the flip side, Fox’s coverage tilted heavily in Romney’s favor and was very critical of Obama.)<<

But there's a logical fallacy here. Why should coverage be 50-50? Or positive? Or negative? Doesn't the truth count?

For example, after Timothy McVeigh was convicted of the Oklahoma bombing, MSNBC's coverage of him was all negative. But nobody accused MSNBC of bias because of that. The current mayor of San Diego--a Democrat--has gotten 99% negative coverage on MSNBC recently, because he's a sexual harasser of epic scope. By the RNC's logic they should ding MSNBC on not giving that mayor 50-50 coverage. Note, by the way, that MSNBC comes down hard on Democratic politicians who prove to have feet of clay, while FOX is far gentler on wayward pols if they're Republican.

How about the idea that politicians don't deserve positive--or negative--coverage just because they're elected officials or wannabes? They have to earn our respect with good political words and actions.

So maybe the less-positive coverage of Romney and more-positive coverage of Obama on MSNBC was because Obama was a better candidate.

You don't have to agree with that. I'm not proving it here. Just that the implicit 50-50 rule for coverage of politicians is complete hogwash--worse, I'd propose that it's mostly invoked by and for the inferior candidate--at least as far as the mainstream press is concerned.

I expect MSNBC and FOX News to have an editorial slant, even though FOX News constantly claims it's "fair and balanced" which is laughable--as it would be if MSNBC made a similar claim (only it doesn't). But I expect the major broadcast networks and CNN to be actually fair and balanced.

Which they aren't if they prop up the inferior candidate with equal and equally positive coverage.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Most Republicans insist that their judgments are color blind. True?

A recent AP poll found that 79% of registered Republicans expressed overtly racist beliefs. Of course if you believe that blacks actually are inferior, you won't believe you're PRE-judiced. You'll believe you're POST-judiced.

That is, if blacks really are inferior, a person who believes blacks are inferior isn't racist, and those who claim he is are just prejudiced against whites and/or "playing the race card."

I bring this up because I was just reading down the comment thread on the U.S News website about the 2nd Zimmerman juror who said he "Got away with murder."

If you skim down it a ways you'll see a lot more than the fact that nearly all who see themselves as conservative believe that George Zimmerman was totally justified in every single thing he did the night he shot Trayvon Martin dead. You'll see innumerable expressions of racist beliefs so hate-filled that I'd have thought I was on a Ku Klux Klan website.

These expressions were not needed to argue the facts of the case or how Florida's Stand Your Ground law exonerated Zimmerman. Or even simple self defense, though it should be obvious from the judge's instructions and the jurors' interviews that Stand Your Ground was integral to the case despite the defense team not citing it (because they knew the state of Florida would do it for them).

So these expressions were gratuitous expressions of hatred and contempt for blacks, not much different from what Southerners have been saying for hundreds of years in order to justify what they did to blacks.

Of course nobody said "I think blacks are inferior to whites." But..I don't even want to repeat what they said here. Just skim down the thread.

And after skimming down the thread, you should also understand why 95% of blacks vote Democrat.

Along with the vast majority of Americans who object to racism.

And you should also see why today's Republican Party is seen as primarily a regional party representing the Southern states along with their rural Midwestern and Southwestern satellites.

I was just reading a comment on another article--one in the NY Times--by a professional woman who with her husband moved to the Raleigh-Durham Research Triangle in North Carolina. Both had gotten great, well-paid jobs. They settled in and planned to make their careers there. But within a year or so the lady reported that they pulled up stakes and left the South despite the great jobs they had there, because both we so disgusted at the pervasive racism and misogyny.

Many Northerners just don't realize just how bad it is down there.