Better than salt money

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Gerrymandering: Surprises lurk in the shadows

 

The House is, for all that every member is up for re-election every two years, not likely to flip to Democratic control any sooner than 2022, and probably not even then. The reason is simple, the party in power gets to stack the deck every time the census comes around. Gerrymandering doesn’t have to happen, the politicians do it that way to prevent random cases of democracy breaking out.

But there is no way to gerrymander the senate. Each state gets two senators, and they are elected at large. There is not way to rig the game to make sure one side isn’t given a fair chance to win.

The clearest example I know of is California.

 

Calif voting record

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

California is, by the numbers, a fairly blue state. 2/3rds of her voters voted for Obama.  What does her House delegation look like? These days it’s pretty close to those numbers; prior to the passage of Prop. 20, in 2008, that wasn’t the case.

What does that mean for the next president (who needs to have some support, somewhere, if anything productive is going to happen)?  That, as they say, depends. Incumbency is a pretty powerful thing. Lots of people say “turn the bums out”, but when pressed think their bum is ok.  I remember, some years back, being at a party. It was a party full of Quakers. Of liberal Quakers. Liberal Quakers who had David Dreier as their Representative.

The host of the party, a moderately liberal Quaker, had a David Dreier yard sign, in 2002. When asked why he said, “He’s done good things for Monrovia”.  That’s the power of incumbency.

But, lots of states have so gerrymandered their House districts that the Senate is at greater risk. Looking at the House Delegations (and remembering incumbency) seats look safer than they are.  But years of being disenfrachised, on the one hand, and the present level of disarray in the Republican Party had already put some Senate seats in moderate play.

Then Scalia died. The level of obdurate, obviously partisan, obstructionism the Senate got a huge spotlight.  The Senate, you see is supposed to be above that sort of thing (not that they have been for, at least 20 years) but before this they could appeal to the “Senate’s tradition of bipartisanship” and folks would believe it.  The real problem is there was a bout of this a few years ago, which was resolved with the “Gang of 14” who were supposed to see to it that, so long as no “extreme” judges were nominated, there would be “up or down votes” on nominees.

That failed. It very quickly became obvious that the definition of “Extreme” was anything to the left of Roberts.

But the public could ignore than when it was Federal judges being stymied. The crises at the district (and circuit) levels isn’t that visible to most people. The one time they pay attention to the recommendations of the Senate Judicial Committees is when there is a Supreme Court nominee.

Which couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Republican Party.

Because the question of who gets to appoint justices to the Supreme Court is usually theoretical. It’s something policy wonks worry about, but most people don’t watch the court closely enough to consider it. They see nominations as random. They don’t look at actuarial tables and wonder who is likely to die.  This year it’s right there, in the open.  And those blue states with Red Senators… suddenly have a big reminder of how much their vote matters.

 


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He’s not a dove, he’s not a hawk: Trump’s a thug

A couple of weeks ago Salon had a piece up saying we need to consider Trump’s foreign policy ideas because they were “better than Hillary’s”†

In the first place it’s not true. The keystone of this is the idea Trump opposed The Iraq War in 2003. He didn’t. He opposed the way it was run, but he didn’t think it was a bad idea. It was, in fact, perfectly in line with his way of thinking. Soup to nuts.  He never has had any grasp of how the world works. His ideas about diplomacy are little more developed than that of a mid-level mob-capo trying to keep three blocks of Little Italy paying his bag men every Friday.

Even earlier, when it was rumored he was thinking of trying to run against GHWB for the 1988 race, he ran an “open letter to the American People” he was willing to spent almost $100,000 (which was a lot more money back then) to say,

It’s time for us to end our vast deficits by making Japan, and other who can afford it, pay. Our world protection is worth hundreds of billions of billion of dollars to these countries and their stake in their protection is far greater than ours…

Make Japan, Saudi Arabia, and others pay for the protection we extend as allies. Let’s help our farmers, our sick, our homeless by taking from some of the greatest profit machines ever created — machines created and nutured by us.  ‘Tax’ these wealthy nations, not America. End our huge deficits, reduce our taxes, and let America’s economy grow unencumbered by the cost of defending those who can easily afford to pay us for the defense of their freedom.  Let’s not let our great country be laughed at anymore.

In 1988, two years before Desert Storm he said we should be squeezing Kuwait for 25 percent of their oil revenues because, they couldn’t sell any oil without us.  That’s, to be polite, a hegemonic imperialism. To use plain-language, over the circumlocutions of diplomacy… his view of foreign policy is, “nice little economy you got here, be a shame if anything was to happen to it”.

He’s talked about assassinating leaders he doesn’t like.

When it comes to domestic policy… The reason Putin likes him is Trump thinks China was too restrained when the machined-gunned students protesting in Tiananmen.

When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength.

This is in keeping with his rhetoric about protestors at his rallies, where he says things about how in the past they would have been leaving on stretchers.

This is not a person who is, in contrast to anyone the Democrats have entertained as a candidate can be called any sort of “less adventuresome”.  Trump doesn’t have a specific country he want’s to invade.  No, he thinks he can threaten our “enemies”, bully our neighbors (Mexico is not paying for a wall), and extort our “allies”.

He’s no dove. He’s not a hawk. He’s a toddler, who wants you to think it’s reasonable to give him a sawed-off shotgun, with a hair trigger.

†Salon is a confused mess; there are often good stories, but since it’s both a place of original content, and a content farm repackaging things from other places, married to a clickbait site recycling things with lurid/sensational headlines it’s impossible to say they have any coherent stand on things. The New Republic may be fetid swill, but at least they have a coherent band of thinking.

The best example I can think of to show this editorial instability is the way they deal with the Daily Show since Trevor Noah took over. It’s been a mix of “Noah is killing it” and “OMG the Daily Show has been ruined by this inept poser who doesn’t really understand politics, humor, nor the need to go for the throat, woe is us!”.  Often in the same sidebar.


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Donald Trump and the politics of torture

I guess, like Arlo Guthrie, doing the chorus again in concert, it’s come ’round again on the guitar.

I ain’t proud.

Donald Trump is a moron. Not in the sense that he’s stupid. He’s not. He’s a canny bastard, and a pretty good politician (in an age where “politics” has long moved from The Art of the Possible” to the realm of the panderer; appealing to prejudice has always been a useful tool to the candidate,  but it’s rarely been required to keep the office, once gained. That’s a whole ‘nother topic).

This however is either ignorant; beyond belief, or evil.

Blitzer brought up Salah Abdeslam — a chief suspect in the Paris attack who was detained last week and who it has been speculated might have connections to the Brussels attackers — and asked Trump whether he would begin “torturing him right away,” since Belgian authorities have said Abdeslam was already talking to investigators.

“He may be talking, but he’ll talk faster with the torture,” Trump said, suggesting torture could have prevented Tuesday attacks which have left at least 30 people dead.

The amount of wrong in that sentence is massive. The errors are layered, from top to bottom, like sheets of pastry, and it only gets worse as he goes on. Extracting information is something I’m good at.  I did it for a few years as a journalist.  I did it for more years as an Army interrogator. On top of those skills I spent years teaching others how to do it.  I understand the theory, and practice, of interrogation a lot better than he does.

If Abdselam was talking, there wasn’t anything to do to “make him talk faster, and, contra Trump (and the Right Wing Wurlitzer) this is wrong too:

“I would be willing to bet that he knew about this bombing that took place today,” Trump said. “We have to be smart. It’s hard to believe we can’t waterboard which is — look, nothing’s nice about it but, it’s your minimal form of torture. We can’t waterboard and they can chop off heads. “

That is 100 percent what’s wrong with torture as a tool. Trump is sure Abdselam knew about Brussels. How is he sure?  Well Abdselam is Muslim, and he is supposed to have taken part in a different attack; hundreds of miles away, with people who had no connection to the attack on Brussels, but he’s a Muslim so…

Even if Abdselam were aware of the Brussels attack how would Trump get it out of him?  How would Trump know to ask? That’s the main problem, one can’t just say, “what do you know” and get the subject to vomit up the info you want. Assume, for the sake of argument, that Abdselam *did* know about the Brussels attacks. The interrogator doesn’t.

We can also assume, that if he knows, he doesn’t really want to give up the info. Hitting him will only remind him that the info is important. If he knew about them, he also knows there is a time limit. If he holds out long enough either his confederates can get away, or the plan will have been carried out. So where does The Donald start his line of investigation?

Seriously. Where does one start? “Tell us about the other plans!!!!”.

Weak. It tells the subject you don’t know.  He can spin yarns until the plans he does know about are immaterial to the investigation.

“Tell us about the people you know in…”  Where?  How does one choose where to start?  He was arrested for attacks on Paris. Logic implies that any information he is guaranteed to have is about things in Paris. Ok, he’s Belgian. Maybe he is involved in something happening in Belgium.  Maybe the five months he’s not been caught after Paris have convinced him it’s safe to go back to plotting.  But against whom?  His MO is to work some distance from home (which is not a bad MO, if one can bland into the local environment; there is less chance of being IDed by someone at the scene, which means other leads have to be followed. If one is careful one’s odds of avoiding capture go up, a lot).

So how does one choose what line of investigation to start?  Which is the answer the victim is refusing to yield? Which, “I don’t now about that” is the lie which justifies torture?  When the victim *is* ignorant, and honesty leads to pain, what will keep them to telling the truth when just giving in and confessing to the required crime will stop the pain?

Because that is what will happen. One of the principle part of SERE school, where pilots and aircrew are trained in what it’s like to be tortured, is that everyone breaks.  Everyone. Even when it’s known that the tortures are part of the drill, and one won’t be maimed, much less killed, they all break. So why do our politicians, and pundits, pretend that “bad guys” are different?

Because it sells. Because there aren’t enough people holding them to account. Because part of the narrative is comforting. The fable that we can be protected, if only we have the resolve to “do what must be done.” It’s a convenient lie, that safety can actually be created by force of will. It can’t. Bad actors will figure out how to do bad things.

If you don’t believe me just look at prisons. In environments where the state has total control, weapons are made, assaults; even to the point of murder, are committed. Conspiracies for revolt are made, and carried out. If we can’t stop it in places where the populace is constrained, contained, and enslaved, what makes us think torturing a small subset of those who are freely able to move will?

Fear sells. Torture advocates (you can’t call them apologists when they use the word, and say we need to do the deeds) are selling fear, and fear is like yeast, once you put it in the dough, it won’t stop so long as it is fed.

 

 

*though like him I’m tired, even if I’ve not been singing the song quite as long.


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On Roosh and PR

Before it fades to the usual background, I have some thoughts about Roosh. Roosh wasn’t new to me, nor was the Manosphere. I’ve been aware of it since the middle-80s when “Father’s Rights” started becoming a thing.¹ In the intervening years I spent some time in the bowels of the internet, bearding some of these idiots in their dens. Which is where I first encountered Roosh the Doosh.²

Roosh is a scammer. He’s of the grifter mindset. He wrote a number of tracts on how to “Bang *insert country*”. They were banal examples of “How to Pick Up Girls” which mostly boiled down to, “go to someplace where your money buys more than it does here, and pretend to be rich”. This trick works. But that’s all it is, a trick. I’ve seen it play out in Ukraine, where the hotel I was staying in was being used for a “bridal fair”. The Americans who were there, were (in a word) repulsive. Women were things to buy, and poor women were the best of the best, because, “they would be grateful, and obedient, for fear of going back to poverty”.

That’s what Roosh sells. It’s why he struck out in Scandinavia and had to engage in rape in Iceland. Yes, rape. He not only admitted it, he said he knew it was rape when he did it, but, “having sex is what I do”.³ The problem for Roosh is that his business model is not great. He sells e-books about how to engage in power-tripping in places where Euros and Dollars go further. Not only is that a limited market, but it’s one with limited subjects. Unless you think the economic landscape in Poland, or Brazil has changed a lot, a new edition isn’t really going to sell.

It also costs money to do the “research”.

So a few years ago he decided to try converting to a different sort of guru. He started trying to sell social commentary. The problem was, that niche (telling angry white men how tough they have it because ANGRY FEMINISTS ARE DESTROYING THE WORLD) is full. AvFM is soaking up what money there is for that.

So Roosh went for shock. One of his tricks was to argue the problem with rape isn’t that it happens too much, but that women get to do something about it. He argued the way to “stop rape” was to make it too costly for women to be alone with men. He said that, on private property, rape should be legal. That way women would never allow themselves to be alone with men, so they would never get raped. Two birds with one stone. 1: Rape stats would fall. 2: the dread bogeyman of the PUA movement, “false rape” would disappear.

Non-PUAs noticed. That was when Roosh moved from annoying creep on the near fringes of the Manosphere, to What The Fuck, that Asshole is a Menace. He thought he’d hit the bigtime.

Because, for all they whine about Evil Feminists the MRM/PUA crowd don’t really think they matter. They think they feminism is a dead letter, because (like liberal) lots of people are afraid to self-identify as feminists (in part because assholes like Roosh gin-up hate mobs). They fail to take into account that a lot of the ideas of feminism are now seen as standards of decent behavior. This bit him in the ass when he decided to take his new schtick on the road for a series of seminars.

In Montréal he got hounded, pretty much shut down by people who didn’t like him telling his venues what sort of shit they were letting but space. Then he got seen in public, in a disguise. When he tried to put some moves on a woman in a bar, she tossed a beer in his face and he was chased out of the place.

He needed to regain some traction. Being shamed, by feminists (that some of the people chasing him out were male was even worse, this is a guy who thinks “do you even lift bro” is some sort of insult to other men. So he hit on the “Meet-ups”, and tried to riff on the Canada tour, which had some success before Montréal.

A lot of folks are talking about how either there was a great victory, because they were shut down, or a great failure because anyone paid attention. On the whole I think it’s a bit of both, but, in the short run, the pushback played into Roosh’s weaknesses, and he made lemonade. There was no way he was going to have more than 150 successful get togethers. He had four planned in NYC, and another one in Hoboken. There aren’t enough dyed in the wool MRA/PUAs to get more than 2-3 to show up to those. If he’d said he was having 20, and named 20 big cities, mostly in he the US, I might have thought it plausible.

Do I think he planned it all out? No. Honestly, I think he over reached. I’m guessing some 30-60 dudes said, “I’d be willing to host a meetup” and Roosh ran with it. Then he over-reached, assumed 1: all those dudes would actually do it (even with the best of intentions, and most willing of people, one needs redundancy to get that many disparate meet-ups going. Because people have lives). But he committed.

And got some pushback. I think that was a big part of the plan. I’m guessing he figured the pushback would be just enough to get the meet-ups talked about enough to spark interest. What he didn’t count on was how skittish MRA types (even more than PUA die-hards) are. I’m guessing the reaction started out well enough; with more dudes saying, “hell yeah! I’ll stick it to feminists!”, but then the volume of response, married to the ridiculous nature of, “Do you know where the pet shop is”, sooper-seekrit spy-shenanigans, caused even those few who had committed to it to waffle, or back out, and the flood of, “I’ll host in Topeka” types never showed.

So he got to save face, and gain some credibility with his base (because of the doxxing), rather than have to admit to an abject failure. I don’t think he planned that aspect of it. I think that was a fortuitos side effect of the years he’s spent being an offensive waste of carbon. In the long run, I don’t think he can last. His writing is getting more bitter. Less, “oh yeah, banging broads is easy” and more, “The world is shit and women are why”. Even if AvFM weren’t on the scene Roosh has neither the writing chops, nor the sort of backstory, which make converting that from a small base of angry fanboys to the sort of 30-60,000 dollars a year scam of AvFM.

He’s a one-trick pony, and this is pretty much his trick now. I don’t think he can keep racking up successful failures. So yeah, this could have gone a lot worse for him, but wasn’t a win.

¹Are there Men’s Issues that society needs to address? Yes. Are they what the Manosphere is talking about? Mostly no. For those that do matter are Men’s Rights Activists doing anything to improve things? No.

²I stopped needing to encounter them tertially when Dave Futrelle started his blog about the Manosphere, where I spent a fair bit of time, in the course of about five years. The nice thing about it was a pretty good commentariat, and a “honey-pot” aspect. LOTS of MRAs/PUAs/Bog Standard Misogynists/&c would show up to “teach the ladies” a thing or two. We had regulars, and intermittents, ad drive bys. Some, the NWOSlaves, and David Mellers, and Brandons were in turn ridiculous, terrifyingly comical, and depressing in their pathologies, and normalness. Others (the CrackMCees, and Peter-Nolan© types) were just ludicrous. Most were pathetically consistent in what, and how, they argued.

³He also seems to have engaged in rape in other places too. He admits to one in Poland, and has said he “can’t go back to Poland”. The implications are he left for fears someone reported him to the authorities for something.


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On the politics of infallibility

A lot of Catholics are up in arms about the stances His Holiness the pope has recently taken.  They tell him he ought to stick to the “moral issues” which they aver are the sole province of The Church. They are hypocrites.  By and large they are massive hypocrites. Yes, the pope is a moral steward.  Yes, the prime focus of The Church’s magisterium (to borrow a concept from Stephen Jay Gould) is one of “morality”, but given both the scope of the text used to justify that claim, and the breadth of pronouncements they have accepted in the past, it’s ridiculous to the point of hubris to pretend the question of how we steward the Earth (which contains the part of God’s Creation given over to the Dominion of Man ) is outside His Holiness’ purview.

I could point to the parable of the talents; and argue that just as much as the question of broadcasting the good word (best done by example and not exhortation, were one to ask me; and it seems Pope Francis) so too is how we take care of what God has actually given unto our hands. Refusing to care for it could be said to be as bad as burying it in a field.

But more to the point, those same Catholics who now sing a song about how the pope isn’t as permanently infallible as all that*.  Which isn’t (though they have denied it) new for them.  They have been fond of bruiting papally inflexible infallibility on matter of the the US Culture Wars they favor (e.g. homosexuality, abortion, same sex marriage, birth control), but oddly contrary to Church teaching on things like capital punishment, and war.

Which is, at one level, fine.  There are some moral issues on which people of good will can disagree** but it’s offensive for those same people who berate, upbraid, and abuse those with whom they disagree by using one set of the Church’s teachings, while vehemently pursuing goals which are in complete opposition to Church teachings more forcefully expressed.

Take Birth Control.  The Church is ambivalent about it: Rhythm is completely sanctioned.  Hormonal is somewhat sanctioned (in that a doctor recommending it for reasons of health is completely acceptable; as a friend of mine found out when she was converting.  She’d been on the pill for… about eight years (at the age of 21) for debilitating periods.  She asked what she needed to do when she got married (she was still a virgin, though affianced).  He told her to keep taking it, until they wanted to have children, as her health trumped all.

The Church makes no exceptions for capital punishment; yet many of those who yell that The Pill = Abortion = sin unforgivable, not only look the other way at capital punishment but laud its application (yes, I am looking at Scalia, the Cafeteria Catholic).

So those self-same people telling me the Pope is WRONGER THAN WRONG CAN BE about climate change, while screaming blue murder about Abortion/Birth Control/Same-Sex Marriage and ignoring capital punishment are hypocrites, more worried about the motes in my eye, than the beam in theirs.

The Church does not demand I abandon reason. She says God gave it me for a purpose (though one could argue the tale of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil says it’s not necessarily a blessing), and not to use it is a sin.  It’s refusing a gift of God.  She also admits She has been in error (e.g. Gallileo, and the sophistic justifications of Inquisitional excess***), and even were a doctrine made Ex Cathedra, that doesn’t mean one can’t argue against it; merely that one can’t ACT as if it weren’t so.  A later pope might decide the previous one were in error.

For the Pope is a man, as other men; and is subject to all the foibles and weaknesses of men. Pretending he isn’t, when it suits one’s politics; and is when it doesn’t despoils all one’s arguments.



*which he never was. Ex cathedra says that certain type of papal declaration are; when Ex cathedra is invoked, are infallible matters of doctrine.  It has never said being raised to the papacy makes one superhuman, and incapable of philosophical error.

(though the question of what defines a person of good will is somewhat tricky. I, for one, don’t accord that status to either Scalia, or Alito; as things they have said, written, and done, lead me to believe they put their personal opinions ahead of more broad investigation of moral questions.  They accept injustice because it pleases them to use the law as a shield against preventing those injustices which serve their prejudice, but I digress)

*** the legal fiction that the Church didn’t condemn heretics to death; it was merely the choice of the temporal power


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On Kim Davis

What a shitshow.

It’s being touted, by her supporters, as a test of religious conscience.  Bollocks. She’s being compared (if one can believe it) to Martin Luther King Jr.  Bollocks.

What she did was break the law.  What she did was violate her oath of office.  What she did was hold the law, the people, and her religion in contempt.  Yes, her religion. She is a county clerk.  In Kentucky that requires taking an oath, this oath:

Kentucky Oath“…I will not knowingly or willingly commit any malfeasance of office, and will faithfully execute the duties of my office without favor affection, or partiality so help me God.

So, she had a legal duty to issue licenses.  She had a court order to issue licenses.  She was legally bound to issue them.  She refused.

 

Why did she refuse?  She claims her religious belief is so strong that she couldn’t violate it.  That it was so strong she not only couldn’t violate it herself, but that she couldn’t stand by while other people violated what she sees as God’s law.  She feels so strongly about this she is willing to break God’s law to defend God’s law.

Thou shalt not take the Name of The Lord, thy God, in vain

So there you go.  Just what is it she’s fighting for?  The right to treat one group of people differently under the law.  That’s it.  The law doesn’t demand marriage as a sacramental rite be extended to everyone.  It commands that marriage as a civic right be.  Nothing in that requires her to violate her conscience, unless her conscience requires everyone in the pruview of her office conform to her religious practice.

That’s not any form of democratic government.  That’s a theocratic tyranny, where Kim Davis is the tyrant.

So she’s in jail because she chooses to be. The judge offered her an out; all she had to do was let her junior clerks sign the forms.  She isn’t “approving” any icky same-sex marriages.  All the judge demanded was she stop standing in the way of her staff,  “faithfully execute the duties of my office without favor affection, or partiality”. She refused that.

She violated her oath, refused to carry out the job she is required to do by law.  She merits no sympathy. Even if I agreed with her argument, I can’t agree with her lack of principle.  She swore an oath.  If she can’t live up to her promise to God, that she would carry it out, an honest person would resign.

She didn’t.


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On JCW and heresy:

Teresa Neilsen Hayden asked me to elaborate on a comment I made that John C Wright has heretical views on the nature of the Eucharist, Free Will, and the nature of the divine.
This is what he said.

“I was unaware that he [Nielsen Hayden] was a Roman Catholic. This is cause for immense hope. He could go tomorrow, nay, today, to a confessional booth, receive the sacrament, and save his darkened soul from damnation. He could take the host tomorrow, nay, today, and the evil spirit of malice, greed, stupidity and sloth which had been darkening his intellect and casting such a shadow of malodorous corruption across our whole genre could be fumigated, or, to use a more accurate word, exorcised. It could happen in a moment, in a miracle. All of the last twenty years of crap that has been given awards, and all of the careers stifled or ruined by this man, all the promising books that never saw the light of day because they were shouldered aside by poorly-written uber-Leftist propaganda penned by freaks who hate our genre and despise our founding members — all that could be forgiven by heaven and not held against Mr. Hayden’s account on Judgement Day.”

There is a lot to unpack in this: and a lot of it has to do with (I think) Wright’s late conversion to Catholicism. It’s got nothing to do with his having been an atheist prior to his conversion to Christianity (at the age of 42). I think it has more to do with 1: the general nature of Christianity we see in the press. 2: that he converted to a non RC form of Christianity some five years before he joined The Church*.

Roman Catholics do not believe in pro-forma, magical, salvation. There is no certainty for any of us. In fact the baseline assumption is none of us, not laity, nor clergy, no, not even the pope, is guaranteed a place in heaven; most of us, even the most devout and observant, will still be short of the purity of spirit to get into heaven directly, and today’s sanctity is no guarantee of tomorrow.

This is at odds with much protestant (esp. Born Again) doctrine. As a general rule protestants believe those who have been “saved” go straight to heaven. Everyone else goes straight to Hell. Grace, and grace alone, is all you need. Among many of the Born Again sects, once you have that grace, it’s yours forever. Get “saved” at eight, commit mass murder at 30, go to heaven when you die.

Which brings me to the magical thinking of Wright.

“I was unaware that he {Nielson Hayden] was a Roman Catholic. This is cause for immense hope. He could go tomorrow, nay, today, to a confessional booth, receive the sacrament, and save his darkened soul from damnation. He could take the host tomorrow, nay, today, and the evil spirit of malice, greed, stupidity and sloth which had been darkening his intellect and casting such a shadow of malodorous corruption across our whole genre could be fumigated, or, to use a more accurate word, exorcised.”

What rubbish. Earlier Wright averred that Patrick was a “Christ hater”. Why? Because Patrick is not a reactionary zealot on social issues which Wright sees as horrible (things like the equality of women, and homosexuals; the use of contraceptives, choice, etc.). So Wright seems to think that if one comes to the Sacrament of the Eucharist with a clear mind. and an open heart, the mere act of taking the wafer will cause one to suddenly become a reactionary Catholic.

I can’t tell you how offensive that is to me, as a Catholic. It strips us of the thing which most shows how we are made in God’s image. We have reason. We have free will. At the risk of grave oversimplification the entirety of Doctrinal Argument, over some 2,000 years is how to reconcile those two things with the idea of a just and loving God.

At the risk of excessive digression, every time someone who is anti-religion whips out some “gotcha” question I have to laugh. I’ve yet to hear one that hasn’t been asked before. There is nothing new under the sun. If Augustine didn’t grapple with it, Aquinas did. What they glossed, Francis, and Ignatius, and Benedict, and any number of parish priests have grappled with, from the least of problems (my husband snores, my wife always undersalts the soup) to the great and terrible (why do good things happen to bad people, why to bad things happen to the good).

Some of the answers are facile. Some are subtle. Some bring cold comfort; and some uplift the soul. All of them, are the fruit of reason (filtered by belief, dogma, and doctrine). Over time those have all changed. The world is not static, and no one gets to put God on retainer†. Not only that, but Wright is arguing that if one takes the Eucharist with a properly pure heart one will suddenly be changed in a John C Wright sort of Roman Catholic.

Which is interesting, because many of John C Wright’s beliefs are in direct contravention of Church Doctrine. He has argued:

Since sex is ordered toward reproduction, anything that hinders it is an imperfection. Prudence, if nothing else, would warn potential mother and potential fathers not to do the act which makes you a mother or a father until you have a household and loving union ready to rear children.

This is not what the Church teaches. 1: Birth Control is not forbidden. Contraceptive devices (in which I include hormonal BC) is a venial sin. But using rhythm isn’t prohibited (and using tools to make one’s use of rhythm more effective doesn’t count as a “device”). 2: The Church thinks sex, just for the sake of sex, is just fine. Yes, it needs to be in the context of marriage to not be a venial sin, but that’s it. Venial sin. Married people are enjoined to have sex, just for the sake of sex, because it’s good for them.

Venial sins are minor.∞ The Church divides sins into two categories. Venial, and Mortal. Mortal sins will lead one to Hell. To avoid that we have to confess our sins. We don’t need a priest (though it makes things easier). Even a Mortal sin, confessed to God, with a sincere heart, can be absolved without anyone else being involved (though the conditions in which that happens are the sort where screwing up, and not getting the confessing done are more likely, it’s a deathbed realisation one has really screwed up. Most of us have time between something like bearing false witness and our dying day, to admit we did it, and pursue making formal amends).

Moreover, what Wright is railing about are not personal actions; they are the attitudes of lots of Catholics to matters of public (as opposed to private) life. My religion prohibits all sorts of things (e.g. praying to other gods). It doesn’t prohibit other things (e.g. mixing linen and wool§). What it also doesn’t do is demand that I make my faith the law of the land. Really, it doesn’t. It abjures me to look for the divine in everyone. It enjoins me to be compassionate and merciful. It enjoins me to obey the laws of the nation in which I live. It might be taken that it commands me to be publicly opposed to some things. Even in that, the things Wright rails against, e.g. “sodomy”, aren’t things I am enjoined to persecute; even if I am expected to abjure them for myself.

The Church has some fucked up ideas on homosexuality. Not gonna argue. I think them more subtle than most outside it do; and while I understand (and sympathise with) those who, having suffered as a result are furious with Her for what She has done; and for what She has failed to do, I also know that Pope Francis has said things which should make Wright feel shame for his failure to be a dutiful son of The Church.

So, looking at Actual Doctrine, and at what Patrick has said publicly (I cannot speak to his private thoughts. I have no window to his soul**) I don’t see one damned thing to assume he is not taking communion with a pure and open heart. I have no way to know what conversations he has with his confessor. I do know that I have not seen the level of vitriolic hatred toward others of God’s creation as I have seen Wright spewing.

And the idea that God would, to make any one person happy, force the conversion of belief to some other template, that is heresy. It denies the action of free will. It tosses all of the bible out the window. It makes a mockery of thousands of years of thinking, arguing, reasoning, by tens of thousands, yea millions of people of good will.

All because Mr. Wright got his feelings hurt when he tried to rig an election. He might want to think about that, the next time he attempts an Examination of Conscience.

*I am a Roman Catholic, Forgive me my use of “The Church”, but I think it adds some context. As to my religious belief… I am a Catholic of heterodox practice. I am Quaker adjacent, an adherent of Liberation Theology, went to parish schools for portions of my primary education, considered taking orders with the Society of Jesus. Ultimately the things about my personal faith which make it useful to me, also led to my realising I have some significant differences about Doctrine, which meant I couldn’t have taken vows in good conscience. I wish John Paul I had not died so soon, that John Paul II had not been pope for so long, that Benedict has been the worst pope in modern memory (and that his effect on the Church in his role as Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has done more harm to the body of the church than will be undone without great effort, perhaps taking lifetimes). I have great hope for Francis.

†That is the crux of my doctrinal difference with The Church. Ex cathedra (i.e. the Doctrine of Papal Infallibility on matter of doctrine). I don’t buy it. At a fundamental level I can’t. If it were true then the pope gets to tell God what to do or the pope loses at least some of his free will. Neither is consonant with my faith.

∞There is an argument to be made that the continued practice of a venial sin may rise to the level of Mortal Sin, but that’s a much longer issue; the fundamental question seems to boil down to, “does this harm another person”.

§NB, those are the only fibers one may not mix, per the OT. Wool/poly, not a problem. Linen/cotton, not a problem. every time that list about, “what do I tell my friend when they say” goes around to make fun of the “Fundamentalists” I cringe. I cringe for more than just that, but the thing about that line is it makes it clear it was written by someone who was mining the OT for talking points, and ignoring both the context of the Leviticus/Deuteronomy, and that some 2,000+ years of evolving doctrine have taken place on the Christian side. More than that on the Jewish side (where that restriction still applies).

**Though Mr. Wright pretends to have one into the souls of all who disagree with him: “Support for contraception tempts the weakminded to support the sexual revolution hence to support abortion; support for the sexual revolution require the normalization of divorce, then fornication, then perversion; support for abortion tempts the weakminded to support euthanasia, because human life is no longer sacrosanct, but instead merely an adjunct to human bodily pleasure. Once an otherwise intelligent and decent man is convinced all these abominations and horrors are moral, he has a visceral hatred of morality, of decency, and of honest, and he soon learns to hate decent and honest people.”


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A thousand words

That’s what we say a picture tells. This one does more than that.  It reveals the ugly stain of racism, which like the blood on Macbeth’s hands, cannot come off.  That’s a grim outlook, and one I’d like to think is wrong.  One that, twenty years ago I did think was wrong.  But then I see this picture.

Cop on Stone Mountain

That dude has two weapons.  Some sort of AR-15, and some sort of 9mm pistol.  It’s the pistol I’m looking at, because it’s the weapon he’s threatening people with.

Yes, threatening.  He’s not drawn it, but he’s ready to.  His thumb looks to have cleared the restraint. The guy behind the cop is scared, the cop’s body language is that of someone agitated.  I can’t read the body language of the other cop, but I’d be surprised if he didn’t have a pretty strong focus on this guy.

This guy has put his feet flat, his fingers are around the butt and his index finger is extended; his head is up.  That’s a tell.  He’s braced it which helps draw, and indexed it, so that it will slip to the trigger accurately and he’s put his eyes on target.  He is just short of committing assault with a deadly weapon.  In Florida what he’s doing would justify a “stand your ground” shooting.

The cops “talked him down”.  They had every right to arrest him.  He was posing a menace to public safety (even when one has the right to carry, it doesn’t grant the privilege of using that weapon to threaten: that’s a prerogative we do grant police, and why they need to be held to scrutiny.  Engaging that level of threat leads to escalation, so it needs strong justification).

Then I look back at the past year.  Eric Garner, dead for selling cigarettes. John Crawford, dead for picking up a toy gun in a store.  Mike Brown, dead for… I don’t know, so far as I can tell it’s for mouthing off, and then managing to tear himself away from an abusive cop.  Sam Dubose dead for… driving while black.

The list… is long.  Too long.  It’s more than just the people the cops kill, it’s the way they don’t kill some people, and the ways they abuse others.  The deaths are easy (and the gun deaths easier to list, but the chokeholds, the tasers, the strange frequency people like Sandra Bland end up dead in custody… all of them need to be accounted for), but there are all the other things; the beatings (Rodney King was one of many, the LA Sheriff’s Dept. pays a lot of money for abuse settlements), the framings (Rampart Division of the LAPD ain’t unique).  The petty harassment of Stop and Frisk; well, petty if it only happens once in a while, but when it’s repeated, day after day, month after month, year after; for lifetimes…

I like to think I’m more attuned to it than most.  My second step-father was black, and that caused me to be treated differently on occasion.  But that doesn’t change the fact that I was only ever not-white when in his company (and not always then).  I don’t trust cops, but I don’t expect them to treat me with more than casual disrespect.  I know I am not seen by them as a perp; by default.

I know that, push come to shove, they will treat me more like the asshole on Stone Mountain than they will treat me like Walter Scott.

And that is shameful.


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An Open Letter to the Democratic National Committee

Stop sending me e-mails.

The substance of your emails is such that they insult me. On any given day I get desperate pleas for 2, or 3, or 5, or 10 dollars. Often more than one, sometimes as many as a dozen.

If I were to respond to one in ten (for three dollars each), I’d be looking at not less than $21 a week, or $1,092 a year. If I were to respond to all of them, it would be $210 a week, or 10,920 a year.

That’s about half my annual income.

I get it. Believe me, as a vet: as a disabled vet who has to have a part-time job to have more than $18,000 a year after a career in the Army, I get it. As someone who sees the people he works with who are working harder than that to have as much as that, I get it.

As someone who cares about women’s rights, and civil rights, and economic equality, I get it.

As someone who cares about the environment, I get it.

As someone who cares about the effects of our foreign policy, I get it.

And I see that you don’t get it.  You have caved in on things like reforming Wall Street. You’ve caved in on things like holding the people who committed torture accountable (as a career interrogator that pisses me off more than you can imagine).

You’ve caved in on women’s rights (both economic, and reproductive).

And still you come to me asking for a substantial piece of my income, so you can continue caving in.

Stop. Stop caving in. Listen to Sen. Warren. Listen to Sen. Sanders. Listen to the people who are out working to get unions in Wal-mart and MacDonald’s.  Listen to Warren Buffet when he says we need to fix the tax code so secretaries aren’t paying a bigger share than CEOs. Listen to The People.

Stop listening to Big Business.

Stand for something other than being not the Republicans. Do that, and I might be willing to let you beg for my money again.


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The ACLU has let us down on The Rule of Law

I’m angry.

This isn’t new. I’ve been angry for about 11 years now. It ebbs and flows, depending on the news, but it’s always there. I wish I had some handy object to be angry about, instead of an ever present sense that the thing which pissed me off wasn’t miasmic.

The proximate cause of this round of more present anger isn’t, actually, the report which the senate released about the torture the US engages in. Nah. There isn’t anything new in that; not to me, nor to anyone who has been paying attention for the past 10 years. No, what angers (and saddens) me is larger than that. It’s about the rot at the soul of the country.

I am not a naif. I know (and knew long before Khandahar and Abu Ghraib) that the US allowed people to get away with torture, and that some branches of the gov’t were sanctioning it; even if they weren’t doing it themselves.

Pinochet, and Pahlavi, and Samoza, and Marcos, weren’t just people we put up with being bastards. They weren’t just bastards we supported and encouraged: they were all bastards we put into power (which wasn’t true of Hussein and Noriega; not that I think that would have helped either of them when the Bush family decided it was no longer useful to pretend they were of service as bogeymen, after they stopped being sufficiently subservient to “our” ends).

Nope. Governments are large and scandal is worse than failure. Who cares that someone broke the law (and some skulls), so long as it can be covered up, and plausibly denied?

It’s not that I am surprised to learn that torture became an essential part of the proccess, nor that it corrupted the stream of information. I’m not surprised to learn that thigns which didn’t have torture to, “verify” them weren’t believed, nor that people were tortured to confirm things which then had to be reconfirmed by the expedient of simple follow up up in the field (which could have been done first, and so would have obviated the rationale for torture. It’s what I said would happen, because it’s what always happens when torture becomes a run of the mill tool.

So that’s par for the course. What shouldn’t be is that when such a thing breaks out of it’s box of plausible deniablity that we decide to sanction it.

I’m not much of one for the, “broken windows” school of policiing (esp. because the policies which walk abroad under that rubric are 1: fundamentally racist, and 2: anti-thetical to a nation ruled by laws*). I do, however, think that when a flagrant violation of the law takes place, then something needs to be done.
Sadly, not everyone agrees. Some of this is base hypocrisy. When someone tells you they have no problem with “stop and frisk” (or some other “broken windows” based idea) ask them if Bush, Cheney, et. alia, ought to be charged.

Not convicted, but haled into court and made to stand trial for crimes they admit to having committed (sometimes you can put their hypocrisy into plainer light if you get them to say, “yes, it’s illegal, but sometimes you have to; then you admit it and face the music, at which point they tap dance to explain why it’s different this time. If you have a yen for making people look like complete fools ask those same people how they feel about Clinton’s impeachment; then ask why that situation (a non-criminal fib, is so much more important than breaking laws against torture).

It’s better if this person is one of the “St. Ronnie” crowd. Becuse it’s not just the Geneva Conventions which were violated, but a law against torture which Reagan sponsored; which he touted as being a bedrock of our moral values. It’s not that we’ve always ignored them (nor that we’ve never had fools and idiots who didn’t care whom we tortured, so long as it was never someone who looked like them; and they are usually white). We even sent cops to jail for waterboarding people (in Texas of all places).

But none of this is new to me. I’ve been saying some form of this, in print, and at conferences, for ten years.
What saddens me is how deep the rot has gone. We’ve come to the point where no one thinks we really have a nation of laws, despite Obama saying, “First and foremost, we are a nation built on the rule of law, and so we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make,” when Darren Wilson being legally exculpated for murder. As a result the cops in Berkeley are shooting tear gas and rubber bullets at people when they choose to “peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

But a nation of laws is only a nation of laws if they are applied. If we truly are a nation of laws, we need to put the architects of this systematic violation of several of our laws on trial. We could, I suppose, just accept that we have a class of criminal which is above the law, polticians.

Which isn’t true. It could also be argued, from recent history that we’ve still got the category of institutional fraudster/thief whom we absent from prosecution: viz Wall Street and the serial collapse of the economy by means of playing fast and loose with the law. It’s actually a larger category than that, given the disproportionate treatment of Enron’s Lay and Skillig [and the utter non-punishment of their lackeys] compared to the death of Eric Garner, or Michael Brown, or Tamir Rice or Amadou Diallo lest we forget this isn’t some recent problem. None of the dead people on that list were ever charged with anything; so far none of their killers has been either

Of course all the killers were cops. The cop who killed Garner was exculpated by a grand jury, they seemed to feel the homicide was justified; even though the cop was using a chokehold which was outlawed 30 years ago because (wait for it), it’s often fatal.

But the rest of us… we face the risk of ungodly sentences if we go to trial, because prosecutors pad the charge sheet to extort a plea bargain. We run the risk of years in jail even if we aren’t guilty.

All of which destroys the Rule of Law. It’s from such petty injustices that revolution spreads. It’s from the over-reaction to peaceable assembly that more serious injustice becomes festering grievance.

All of which has been on my mind in the past couple of months.

Brought to a head when I saw that the Anthony Romero,head of the ACLU, said the idea of the Rule of Law demands that we pardon Bush, Cheney, and all the people who committed the tortures they not only sanctioned, not only admitted to sanctioning, but boast of having overseen.

I am croggled at the double-think.

with the impending release of the report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I have come to think that President Obama should issue pardons, after all — because it may be the only way to establish, once and for all, that torture is illegal.

Got that… to show that torture is illegal… we need to pardon the people who did it. Those laws… they don’t mean anything, but saying, “hey, you committed a crime, and we forgive you, and all the guys who helped you…”
Yeah, I can see how helpful that is. I’ll bet that if we did the same for all the mobsters everyone would admit the Mafia was full of hoodlums. (/sarcasm) I get that Romero is frustrated that no one seems to have the stomach to punish the people who shredded the laws. I’m pretty chapped about it to. But there is no way in hell I am going to say that if we aren’t going to charge them we need to pardon them.

We tried that once before, with Nixon. What we got for our pains was the Cheney/Bush Administration, peopled with all the hacks who were still around from that mess. What they learned was two-fold, 1: hide everything, 2: if you commit big enough crimes no one will dare to hold you to account. To offer them a pardon (not that I think they’d take it, as that would mean admitting legal culpability and morally deficiency) would be to cement that idea. Married to the other ills we have from a lack of prosecutions the idea terrifies me, because he’s deluding himself if he thinks, Prosecutions would be preferable, but pardons may be the only viable and lasting way to close the Pandora’s box of torture once and for all.

They acted in the full knowledge that what they were doing was against the law. They didn’t care. Bush, more than once, casually admitted he was (and had been) breaking laws, and had no intent of stopping.

Which is is what makes me angry. We have become so jaded that we accept the idea that there is something reasonable about saying, “oh yeah, you broke US laws, violated treaties, killed innocent people; by torturing them to death (when they weren’t “merely” driven mad. Read the released summary, if you have the stomach, and remember that it’s only a summary. The entire thing is worse). But hey, because torture is SO FUCKING HORRIBLE, we aren’t going to put your ass in jail for the rest of your life, we’re going to forgive you, without going through the effort of having a trial and saying you are guilty, and ought to be punished, so we are going to pre-emptively pardon you; so everyone will know how serious we are about hating torture.

Fuck that noise. At this point I wish there was some sort of tribunal with the moral rectitude, and money/power to enforce the Noriega Doctrine, and haul them to the ICC by force.

Because we are fast forfieting any right to deny the international community the right to extradite them. Rumsfeld will probably never go to France again, and it wouldn’t disturb my sleep to know that Bush and Cheney, Rice and Wolfowitz, Woo and Bybee, were looking nervously over their shoulders, wondering when the tipstaff is going to show up behind them

But, for the sake of the nation as a whole, we dare not pardon them, even if that means they die without being prosecuted: because it’s possible a later age will take it up (as some of them are still young enough that there are decades in which this consummation [devoutly to be wished] may come to pass).

Moreover, the why won’t matter. What will be seen is that torture is an offense for which one can be given carte blanche ex post facto.

Bullshit. And we can’t extend the idea that of, “for the good of the state the bearer has been pardoned for what has been done”. It’s not so. It’s specious. There are dogs which ought not be let lie.

*“There are individuals whose propensity to crime is so high that no set of incentives that it is feasible to offer to the whole population would influence their behavior,” Banfield wrote. The most effective way to prevent violent crime in cities, Banfield theorized, would therefore be to pre-emptively abridge the freedom of the “mostly young, lower-class males” who were likely to commit crimes in the future. What’s that? You say that “abridging the freedom of persons who have not committed crimes is incompatible with the principles of free society”? Well, said Banfield, “so, also, is the presence in free society of persons who, if their freedom is not abridged, would use it to inflict serious injuries on others.”

If you read the original think piece about Broken Windows you see the authors praising cops who use, step outside the law to enforce, “order”: Sometimes what “Kelly” did could be described as “enforcing the law,” but just as often it involved taking informal or extralegal steps to help protect what the neighborhood had decided was the appropriate level of public order. Some of the things he did probably would not withstand a legal challenge…the police in this earlier period assisted in that reassertion of authority by acting, sometimes violently, on behalf of the community. Young toughs were roughed up, people were arrested “on suspicion” or for vagrancy, and prostitutes and petty thieves were routed. “Rights” were something enjoyed by decent folk, and perhaps also by the serious professional criminal, who avoided violence and could afford a lawyer… That’s the message of “broken windows”: Rich people have rights, the rest of us, not so much.