Sunday, September 27, 2020

BREAKING NEWS! Trump Challenges Biden to Pissing Contest!!

Sources are reporting that Donald Trump has challenged fellow septuagenarian Joe Biden to a pissing contest. Trump who claims to have the peeing range of an 8 year old is reported to have requested the pissing contest as an alternative to this years presidential debates. Sources report Trump saying, "I talked about dongs in the Republican debates of 2016, lets ratchet things up a notch this time by whipping them out on live television."

That's not breaking news you say?

It's as factual as much of what you'll find if you happen to be a denizen of the right-wing media ecosystem or if you listen to Donald Trump talk for a few minutes.

If you have some attention to spare please watch the video below. 

You won't be able to save the victims enthralled by the right-wing media ecosystem but at least you'll have a better idea of how and why the United States got to where we are currently. Hopefully you can come up with some ideas for how you as an individual might save our democratic liberal society from a group of people that are being manipulated to the point where they inhabit a world that you, and and anyone else who inhabits the world of reality, would find very unfamiliar. 

Anyone who wants to get a better view of how the United States slipped into our current dystopian state and what we might do to start correcting our path should be interested in this video and, if you have time, read the associated book Network Propaganda - Manipulation, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Politics

If you are short on cash you don't have to buy the book since the authors have made a PDF copy available by clicking on the "open access" link at the top right corner of the book's page at Oxford University Press

The book isn't typical media criticism but rather data analysis of millions of stories, tweets and Facebook shares using MIT's Media Cloud Software. If you are curious you can sign up for an account and start doing your own research.

Sadly the book confirms that it would be as foolish to believe in the upcoming Biden/Trump pissing in the wind contest as it is to believe that "facts" and "journalism" and "reality" are going to sway people looking solely for information that is entertaining, self-affirming and non-threatening to their preconceived (and constantly reaffirmed) fantasies.

On the plus side you can stop beating your head against the wall wondering how so many people can be so ignorant. They aren't to blame, they have been trained very well over many years by the finest propaganda money can buy.

You can also stop fretting over all the negative but truthful coverage of the GOP and Trump in mainstream journalism and why that awfulness doesn't sink in with the current supporters of the GOP and Trump - because they aren't reading, watching or listening to any of that stuff. 

If you have a good mental core and can view emotional things dispassionately it might be better to listen to right wing hate radio, read Breitbart, RT, Daily Caller, Daily Pundit or the Washington Examiner and watch Fox and Friends in the morning and Hannity, Ingraham and Carlson at night - like the President and most other GOP politicians and their supporters do - to get a better idea of what that frightening world is like. 

Trump took over a media machine that the Republican party spent decades constructing and now this out of control giant robotic beast is roaming the country wreaking havoc on us puny humans. 

It seems unlikely but if you think an intervention - with some victim of the right-wing media ecosystem, who you know well and can talk with, would help - by all means try to help them. 

It's more likely that these beliefs are so ingrained and deeply personal that unless a person looks for reality of their own one else is going to convince them, or debate them, or shame them, into changing these deeply held personal beliefs. 

If over 100,000 excess deaths due to the Covid-19 pandemic don't convince Fox News watching and Facebook sharing, Uncle John or Aunt Sally that the GOP and our president are unfit - your debating, Facebooking, and twittering skills aren't going to help. I came up with 100,000 as a conservative figure. The US has about 4% of the world's population and 20% of the world's Covid-19 deaths. In other words we have five times as many fatalities as would be expected...which means with our current 200,000 plus deaths that Trump and his GOP enablers are responsible for 160,000 excess deaths in our country.


It's not all that surprising that this video was posted in March and only had 27 views when I  watched it this September since it isn't being promoted by "influencers."

It's not that hard to push content to the top of the Google search. I used to do that with this blog years ago when I still accepted advertisers.

Finally I'll leave you with this quote from the book that sums things up pretty well from my perspective -
"We think that fundamentally, anyone who insists on claiming that we cannot draw conclusions about which side is biased, and which side gravitates more closely to the truth, must explain how the media sources most trusted by consistently conservative survey respondents—Fox News, Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck—are the equivalent of the sites that occupy the same positions among consistently liberal respondents: NPR, PBS, the BBC, and the New York Times."

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Handmaiden Nominated for Supreme Court

Amy Coney Barrett, nominated to replace Justice Ruth Ginsberg, is a member of the group People of Praise. This ecumenical, but mostly Catholic, group subscribes to non-Catholic theology in their belief that husbands are the "head" of the family and wives "handmaidens". 

I'm being a bit unfair with the "handmaiden" label. In 2017 when Ms. Barrett was nominated for her first judgeship on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals the leader of the group People of Praise, Mr. Lent, said the group’s system of heads and handmaids promotes “brotherhood,” not male dominance. He said the group recently dropped the term “handmaid” in favor of “woman leader.” 

Catholic doctrine does not teach "male headship", which is a belief held by some evangelical sects.

"Male headship" contradicts Catholic doctrine which states that in the mutual relationship of man and woman in marriage -

The woman cannot become the "object" of "domination" and male "possession".

The group People of Praise also believe in prophecy, speaking in tongues, divine healing and most troubling - discriminating against some of God's children, namely LGBTQ people.

This snippet from a South Bend Tribune article is illustrative of the groups treatment of LGBTQ people, specifically a young woman named Flannery who joined the group at 18 -

When she returned to South Bend after graduating, she was allowed to transfer to the South Bend branch. At that time, Flannery was realizing that she was lesbian or at least bisexual. During a women’s group meeting, she talked about her “big life change” and how she had met a woman she was interested in, and she was struggling with the fact that she no longer identified as straight, she said.

“I did not ask them to approve of what I did or to pat me on the back and say ‘good job,’” she said. “I just needed to tell somebody so I could talk about it.” 

Flannery said she was shocked to learn that the women then reported what she said to her leader, who, a few days later, called her to a meeting at her house and said the women “were very uncomfortable that you were talking about that.” 

“She said, ‘Either you never mention this again, or you leave.’ I said, ‘I’ll leave, I don’t want to live like that.’” 

Not commenting specifically on Flannery’s case, Lent said the group would end the membership of a person who admits to homosexual activity, or any other “ongoing, deliberate, unrepentant wrongdoing.” He said the group believes that only married people should have sex, and only men and women should marry. Homosexual attraction is not sinful, but acting on it is, Lent said. 

Aside from the group’s views on homosexuality, Flannery said she “absolutely” would have been concerned if Barrett had received the Supreme Court nomination.

I don't know anything about Amy Coney Barrett - she sounds like a good person from what I've read. Looking at a group like People of Praise as an outsider doesn't tell me what it's like to be in the group interacting with it's members. It has some aspects that sound appealing to me but there are other aspects that sound quite disturbing. I don't  have any issue with people joining non-traditional religious groups it's just that I'm not sure if being a member of a group like People of Praise should not be disqualifying for anyone wanting to be a judge in secular society or at least that a member of that group should be questioned and explain how her membership does not skew her ability to be an impartial judge.

Friday, September 25, 2020

One of The Golden Texts of Philosophy

The quoted text below is from volume I pages 667-669 of Will and Ariel Durant's series of books "The Story of Civilization" -

"The Confucian program is expressed pithily and profoundly in the famous paragraphs of The Great Learning: 

The ancients who wished to illustrate the highest virtue throughout the empire first ordered well their own states. Wishing to order well their states, they first regulated their families. Wishing to regulate their families, they first cultivated their own selves. Wishing to cultivate their own selves, they first rectified their hearts. Wishing to rectify their hearts, they first sought to be sincere in their thoughts. Wishing to be sincere in their thoughts, they first extended to the utmost their knowledge. Such extension of knowledge lay in the investigation of things.

Things being investigated, knowledge became complete. Their knowledge being complete, their thoughts were sincere. Their thoughts being sincere, their hearts were then rectified. Their hearts being rectified, their own selves were cultivated. Their own selves being cultivated, their families were regulated. Their families being regulated, their states were rightly governed. The states being rightly governed, the whole empire was made tranquil and happy."

Will Durant goes on to write -

"This is the keynote and substance of the Confucian philosophy; one might  forget all other words of the Master and his disciples, and yet carry away with these "the essence of the matter," and a complete guide to life. The world is at war, says Confucius, because its constituent states are improperly governed; these are improperly governed because no amount of legislation can take the place of the natural social order provided by the family; the family is in disorder, and fails to provide this natural social order, because men forget that they cannot regulate their families if they do not regulate themselves; they fail to regulate themselves because they have not rectified their hearts - i.e., they have not cleansed their own souls of disorderly desires; their hearts are not rectified because their thinking is insincere, doing scant justice to reality and concealing rather than revealing their own natures; their thinking is insincere because they let their wishes discolor the facts and determine their conclusions, instead of seeking to extend their knowledge to the utmost by impartially investigating the nature of things. Let men seek impartial knowledge, and their thinking will become sincere; let their thoughts be sincere and their hearts will be cleansed of disorderly desires; let their hearts be so cleansed, and their own selves will be regulated - not by virtuous sermonizing or passionate punishments, but by the silent power of example itself; let the family be so regulated with knowledge, sincerity and example, and it will give forth such spontaneous social order that successful government will once more be a feasible thing; let the state maintain internal justice and tranquility, and the world will be peaceful and happy.

It is a counsel of perfection, and forgets that man is a beast of prey; but like Christianity it offers us a goal to strike at, and a ladder to climb. It is one of the golden texts of philosophy."


Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Buy The Ticket Take the Ride

B and I went to see Hunter S. Thompson "speak" at the old Gallatin Gateway Inn four decades ago or so. He was with Jerry Jeff Walker and his band. Lots of drinking and laughing. We had a blast as usual.  

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Smoke (1995) - Auggie's Photo Album

I think the 1995 movie Smoke has some subtle wisdom about paying attention to beautiful things around us.

On the topic of philosophically interesting movies, the 1986 movie "The Mission" is another film that touches on philosophical questions. In the case of "The Mission" the philosophical questions include civilization, religion and choosing between violence and non-violence. 

Monday, September 14, 2020

Ophelia (The Band cover) - With Tuba - Reina Del Cid

Reina Del Cid and the musicians around her don't seem to take themselves all that seriously but I think they are seriously talented.

Friday, September 11, 2020

In Praise of Doubt

Half a century ago or so my Mother made a comment about an engineer she'd met playing bridge. That comment has stuck in my porous brain all these years because as I've thought about it I realize that it speaks to a fundamental truth about modernity, mankind and expertise.

My mother was not formally educated. She didn't graduate from high school. She was funny, a good piano player, and as good a mother as anyone could wish for.

So what was the comment about the engineer that has stuck with me over the decades? She told me the engineer knew a lot about some things but mistakenly thought his specialized knowledge meant that he knew a lot about all things.

As an engineer who knows some things I see the truth in that tendency in myself constantly. I know that there's a lot that I don't know and yet I regularly demonstrate my "expertise" in medical, financial, sociological, psychological, legal, and other areas where my knowledge is lacking. Allow me to demonstrate ;-)

Rene Descartes told us we exist because we think - "I think therefore I am." The Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset in his 1930 book "The Revolt of the Masses" changed that statement to be, "I doubt therefore I am." Why is that important?

It's because of paradox of the engineer - he thinks he knows way more than he actually knows. We could explore what it means to "think" or to "know" if we had time - but time is short. Suffice it to say that much of what people call "thinking" is nothing of the sort, but rather repeating some thing they read, or were told or some thought they came to after a 5 minute web search. Thinking is hard - people like me are lazy. You see the terrible truth is this line of thought?

I don't think therefore I do not exist as a human - I am a tool to be molded and used. The best we can hope for as non-thinking automatons is that those doing our molding are people of good faith...but that hope is dashed against the rocks of reality throughout history. Teach your children well.


This thinking we know things we don't isn't an ailment unique to engineers - it's the human condition of our scientific technical age.

It's not that we don't trust experts (often for good reason) but that we don't need experts - we've got the internet, Facebook, WebMd, Wikipedia and thousands (millions) of like-minded souls we can tap into via our social safe spaces to agree man-made climate change isn't real, our current president is a hero and that unicorns exist.

I'd change Jose Ortega's formulation a bit to say, "I doubt therefore I am a philosopher." We all are philosophers, to some degree, in that we want to know answers to fundamental questions - why am I here? why does the universe exist? what is a good life? 

We philosophers don't need to bound the questions - we want to know the universe and everything in it. The crucial point is that we know we can't know many many many we are left to doubt, learn a little and muddle through as best we can. What we end up with is a philosophy that concludes that to philosophize is to live life as best we can. By recognizing that to live is to experience life in all it's messy, ugly, beautiful, maddening aspects we become (and remain) human. In essence by knowing that we don't know, recognizing that there are no simple answers, people to bless or people to blame - we are what God made us to be - human...beautiful, puny, often helpless...humans.

Recognizing the beauty and sadness of the full catastrophe we are here for an instant to love laugh and help those suffering when we can...but most of all to lighten and soften our hearts on this worldly stage in order to live the singular miraculous life God blessed us with in all it's glory. 


Tuesday, September 01, 2020

All Day Long

This scene with Jack Nicholson from the 1978 movie "Goin South" seems classic to me. You would have to watch the whole movie to understand the context; but I think there's something touching, brave, human and humorous about this character working in a dusty mine saying "I can do this all day long". It's not clear if he's trying to convince himself or his partner that he can persevere - which seems like a common human condition.