Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Sophistical Refutations and the Supreme Court

It's too early to predict the Court's ruling on gay marriage, of course, but it's tempting to look at what's been said so far. Perhaps it's impossible to resist it. 

Chief Justice John Roberts:

"You're not seeking to join the institution, you're seeking to change what the institution is. The fundamental core of the institution is the opposite-sex relationship and you want to introduce into it a same-sex relationship."

"If you prevail here, there will be no more debate. I mean, closing of debate can close minds, and it will have a consequence on how this new institution is accepted. People feel very differently about something if they have a chance to vote on it than if it's imposed on them by the courts."

"If Sue loves Joe and Tom loves Joe, Sue can marry him and Tom can't. And the difference is based upon their different sex. Why isn't that a straightforward question of sexual discrimination?"

(on the question of forcing states that ban same-sex marriage to recognize those unions formed in other states.)

 "It'd simply be a matter of time until they would in effect be recognizing that within the state, because we live in a very mobile society and people move all the time. In other words, one state would basically set the policy for the entire nation." 

Justice Samuel Alito:

"Suppose we rule in your favor in this case and then after that, a group consisting of two men and two women apply for a marriage license. Would there be any ground for denying them a license?"

Justice Elena Kagan:

"It's hard to see how permitting same-sex marriage discourages people from being bonded with their biological children."

Justice Anthony Kennedy:

"The word that keeps coming back to me in this case is millennia, plus time. ... This definition (of marriage) has been with us for millennia. And it's very difficult for the court to say 'Oh well, we know better.'"

"Same-sex couples say, of course, we understand the nobility and the sacredness of the marriage. We know we can't procreate, but we want the other attributes of it in order to show that we, too, have a dignity that can be fulfilled."

We have to allow that some questions that seem to show a negative attitude may simply be of the Devil's Advocate variety, challenging the proponents to present their case differently, but we have to suspect that the preponderance of the Argument from Tradition, generally classed as a fallacious one is being used as a cause to restrict what many if not most see as part of an assumed right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness as well as equal protection under the law.  "It's always been done that way for a long time and who are we to question it?"  

It doesn't take a wit or a historian to suggest the traditional practices of slavery and segregation or debtor's prisons (or worse if we want to look at the Western World of past millennia) persisted mostly because of such arguments.  The difficulty of ruling against tradition is hardly an excuse and in my opinion explains the need for an independent court: a court independent of politics as well as of tradition and religious bias.  "you're seeking change" is hardly an argument for the status quo.  

What about two men and two women?  Well what about it?  Is this the time-worn slippery slope fallacy?   

Roberts argues that recognition of marriages made in other states is likely if not inevitable, which is equally an argument for a positive ruling as a negative one.  Is it like claiming that because murder is on the decrease we don't need to forbid it. That's a fallacious argument and once was used to argue against the emancipation of slaves.  Nobility and sacredness? Are these matters for the courts or for preachers?  What about the nobility and sacredness of the "Rights of Man" that we once defined ourselves as defending?  God is not a citizen, has no Human Rights or rights as a legislator or judge allowed under our laws. God has as many opinions as people put in his mouth and cannot be relied on in questions of law and government. 

People don't like court rulings, says Roberts as though that were an excuse for not making them.  Indeed a constitutional amendment would be one possibility, but it's very difficult and has at least once required bloody war to bring about. But the case is being made on existing law and it would seem to some that the ball is in the other court - the Supreme Court. The question is "why not?" and perhaps the answer has to be better than "Tradition."  All the great advances in liberty have required unpopular, bold and difficult decisions; have involved all sorts of legalistic and casuistic debate, but if the manifest destiny of us all is to advance the cause of personal liberty against the bulwarks of ecclesiastical tradition -- and I think it is -- it's time to just do it.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Bonfire of the Vanities

Private morality does not seem to me to be the state’s business unless it compromises the public welfare.

-Bishop Shelby Spong-


It's not the sort of thing that demands a reasoned response, but a local Catholic priest has been buying a lot of ad space in the local papers to excoriate Humanists, Atheists and free thinkers for being the main reason for the world's wars, persecutions and acts of genocide. Heretics and unbelievers you see are attacking "freedom of religion."

I used to say the ability to feel shame was the first victim of  authoritarianism but the ability to see irony obviously rides the adjacent horse. Religious freedom is under attack from those who would extend it to all, he says, quoting the party line. Why put forth such fraudulent history and demented reasoning, why demand that we persecute good people for their thoughts and beliefs by stripping them of their guaranteed rights and protection under the law? Why now?

The Beast is running scared now that 36 states recognize the right to marry whomever we wish and the fear is that freedom of  worship will be broadened to protect those with any beliefs at all, including the belief in reason alone or a belief in the dignity and freedom of mankind.   It takes a certain kind of mind to see freedom as the enemy of freedom, but as I said, shame and irony, those two things that can lead one towards legitimate morality have left the building -- or left the Church if you prefer.

But here I am, leading up to the obviously useless argument from reason and fact.  As any  historian should know, it takes violence and threats of violence to convert us, there being no valid arguments for what they've been selling for so long. The appeal to the ignorant and tribal mob, to the tinhorn crusaders against the fulfillment of the promise of liberty is of course an attempt to bypass the Supreme Court, which is scheduled today to hear a case that could result in a decision to extend marriage rights to all, regardless of  one's State of residence. I can smell the desperation and fear and it smells like burning witches.

The argument that the Federal Government does not have the right to overturn state restrictions on personal choices would seem to have been rendered moot or at least Stare Decisis after the 1967 Loving V. Virginia ruling but the persistence of ugly, irrational and often vicious tyranny is the nature of churches as Thomas Jefferson and his friends often and emphatically noted. They will not give up if they have to cut a swath through the law and decency itself to get at the devils they see everywhere and the demand that states be able to nullify Federal Law ad libidum  or according to their Bibles will not disappear any time soon.

Religious leaders are urging "liberal" members of the court to recuse themselves from hearing today's arguments in a move that seems unique to me. Asking a judge to refrain from using the law as a basis for decision is arguably bizarre if not shameful and ironic, Demanding that the courts not be able to allow sin and heresy is illegal, shameful and ironic, but as I said. . .

The Restrain the Judges on Marriage Act of 2015 -- The Protect Marriage from the Courts Act: bills to forbid "Liberal" judges from ruling on cases that might lead to decisions unfavorable to the dictates of  certain Christian churches have been introduced in the Senate and the House by the usual religious wackadoodles like Ted Cruz.  Evidently it isn't only the job of President they wish to take over by fiat.

No, I'm not trying to argue with madness, it would be madness again to do so. I'm only begging you to write your senators and congressmen and demand they respect the letter and spirit of the US constitution and vote against turning over the reins of government to would-be tyrants, waving flags, carrying Gospels and shitting on Liberty.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Kings of the road

"Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask and he will tell you the truth"

-Oscar Wilde-

The world we all take to be true isn't the real world and you don't have to be a Taoist to know it.  The real world is what we see in advertising and it's hard to find anything we hear or see that isn't in part or wholly a marketing venture.  The things we least need but spend too much money on are the things we seek to define ourselves with because image is everything, what's under the hood means nothing.

That adventure movie where the action hero drives an Audi and nobody can catch him?  The whole movie is an advertisement produced, directed and  payed for by Audi AG.  Audi (German Engineering, innovation) and BMW (German Engineering, innovation) and Volkswagen (German Engineering, innovation) have their respective images mostly to do with quality and performance, in some ways deserved and in others profoundly not and at least since the late 1970's the first two have shed their economy car image and taken on the robes of holier than thou status symbols, to be parked with pride and hipster panache in front of South Beach clubs or where your neighbors can see it.  They're hardly the only ones to be emblems of arrogance, even now that the BigFuckingTruck era shows signs of fading, but the priesthood of aspirational sales at Audi (German Engineering, innovation) have big ears, as the name suggests. They're as aware as I am of how drivers of aspirational vehicles behave, harassing drivers and assuming their 150 or ohmygod 200 horsepower cars are so much faster than 750 hp racetrack dominating domestic offerings and need to demonstrate it to my amusement and annoyance. As with all problems in the world, the best and cheapest way to fix them is with advertising.  The car kills people?  Advertize the Star Safety System, but don't say what it is.

All those purchases we make, those we aspire to make. Aren't they like masks or costumes, props we use to buttress the walls we hide behind?  It isn't a car riding my bumper until it goes into the ditch at the first corner. It isn't a car trying to jump in front of me at the exit ramp only to slow down, who has to add 2 MPH toe any speed I am driving at no matter the danger.  It's you.

If you don't read German, I'll tell you that the clip above says the most dangerous drivers in Germany are in BMWs (German Engineering, innovation) and that amongst all the colors offered, the black ones are the worst. But you knew that, even if you didn't know that you can use a Nissan 4 door sedan as a snowboard and that notoriously boring Toyotas are as thrilling to drive as a roller coaster. Hide behind the black mask and the real you comes out. You won't push and shove in the check-out line or on the sidewalk, but when we can't see your face? King of the road.

Have you seen the ad Audi (German Engineering, innovation) is running where the Audi (German Engineering, innovation) driver, without the traditional blacked out windows, offers the right of way to others and steers around the puddle so as not to splash the peasants on the sidewalk?  Yeah right. Sure, of course. And coincidentally he's followed by the black BMW (German Engineering, innovation) who overwhelms them with a wall of water.

Sure, it's the BMW, or anything else for that matter, not the AUDI  when it comes to aggressive, selfish, arrogant and obnoxious behavior. Sure. But of course Subaru drivers know how a Subaru means love and Nissan sedan drivers know their cars can easily make it on the NASCAR circuit, just like the Honda drivers feel like incredible hulks with their OMAGAWD 200 horsepower.  That's how you sell cars to the aspiring, striving, suffering servants of  the machine. Not by telling them one single thing about the real world, where Ferraris don't win races, and those "race inspired" vehicles aren't inspired in any way and those safetycars built with love are only as safe as the damned fools who drive them.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Obama makes voting mandatory!

Or not.

I'm waiting in line for a hot dog. To me, it's the best of times.  I'm at an annual event put on by Amateur Radio enthusiasts with seminars and a flea market selling all sorts of things only understood and desired by techno-nerds like me. But it's the worst of times too of course, and you can't go anywhere where people congregate without seeing people with pamphlets and bumper stickers, whispering and nudging about the bad news:  "Obama is going to" do this or that or has already done it.  Some of it is distorted truth, much of it, nearly all of it is unadulterated bullshit.

So this raggedy looking guy wearing a filthy Yaesu hat is chatting up the woman handling the cash box.
 "Did you hear that Obama is going to make voting compulsory? The next step is universal military service and. . ."
"Bullshit" I said.  "He doesn't have the authority or any reason to do either of those and he isn't running for office or starting any wars."
" Executive order!" he replied. Yaesu boy seemed taken aback to have anyone fail to answer, "yeah, that Obama. . ."  Not in these parts, not in rural America.
I seem to remember Rush once telling us that the president had arranged to allow only black people to vote in some town or other, but hey. . .

Last week a flatbed truck passed me on the Interstate and yes, I was doing just under 90.  It had a large plywood sign across the tailgate declaring that THE BIGGEST DANGER TO OUR FREEDOM IS THE WHITE HOUSE. The word 'white' was printed in red. Get it?  Red, 'cause ya see he's a Communist, hahaha. . .

Somehow the building at 1600 Pennsylvania seemed less immediately dangerous than a filthy truck full of angry and deranged rednecks weaving through traffic at nearly a hundred.  The quick eye could see the rear window bearing vinyl letters saying " Muslims killed 4 Americans and he went over there and apologized to them"

Of course he didn't nor did he seriously declare a mission to make us vote or to draft us into the military but facts never matter, do they?

Wednesday's paper had a political cartoon showing something that looks like Daffy Duck declaring that Obama's desire to force us to vote stemmed from the truth that the only people who would vote for him were lazy, shiftless parasites. I know what it would have said had the editor not balked at the n word.  Was he elected twice by a majoity of voters who DID turn out?  Bullshit heaped on bullshit, smeared with racism and served on a steaming bun of self-contradiction. Think Obama would want these people to vote? Get it? 'Cause they're psychotic idiots!

Want some Freedom Fries with that?

All Lives Matter

There was a thing called the Niagara Movement.  Founded over a hundred years ago to make a case for a confrontational approach to the problems of segregation and against the idea of negotiation, accommodation patience and compromise that the movement's leaders associated with Booker T. Washington.

In a way, it's typically American and we can look at the way we sing "Bomb Bomb Iran" on one day and try to negotiate a rational outcome on the other and seem not to be successful either way except to argue about what can be said, and how and by whom.

There is another thing called the Niagara Principle, according to which a single episode implies widespread occurrence. Movements of all sorts use it, to cherry pick examples and make them the paradigm and usually without statistical support. Having become cynical in this age of warring movements, I'm tempted to distrust them all and see a nest full of baby birds, mouths open and competing for attention.

So it is with war, revolution, genocide and the proliferation of nuclear weapons in a world shuffling toward armageddon, the question of which puppets and patsies and spokesmen for which warring movements will be selected to be our next president?  -- we're not going to hear about it for another period of time.  A black man was shot in the back by a South Carolina cop and the national passion play will begin anew. Entropy increases and in America, so does partisanship. When those things increase, so does the power and influence of those who profit by it.

We'll be told the call and response  is a "conversation" but anyone attempting to make it one may well be called a racist and have to tearfully retract such an eminently Humanist statement as "all lives matter" because it does not fit the mandated terminology of some movement dedicated to promote one problem and one view of it over another. Stick to the slogan. That's all, and it's not a subset of a greater, nobler and more enlightened principle.

I'll be blunt. We have a problem with over-armed, under-trained and fearful police. It's compounded by the fact that the police have to deal with a high percentage of poor and minority criminals and that leads to prejudice. We have a problem with indigent populations having inadequate opportunity for advancement or even the will to hope for it.   But it isn't enough to recognize this or to attempt to improve it, we have to use prescribed language, we have to ignore, forgive or explain away crime insurrection, rioting and violence and we have to stress that any picture must have a prescribed frame.  We can't call it prejudice, it has to be racism and we can't call it that unless we dictate who the target is. Shut up  -- we're having a conversation here.

We have a problem with every moral and legal and political principle and the language we use to describe it being hijacked by self-appointed authority. We have a problem with honesty and zeal and distortion and hyperbole and tunnel vision and  partisanship and  most of all, we have a problem separating the cause from the leaders and the institutions. Stating the case isn't making the case and the case we state isn't always more than a small part of a great Niagara washing us all to hell and oblivion and chaos.

If all lives don't matter, then life doesn't matter, yours or mine.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

To the Flag

Adam Crapser is an American but like John McCain or Ted Cruze, he wasn't born within our borders. But he's had a rough life, unlike those men who consider themselves legal and potential Presidents.  An abandoned child, he was adopted from Korea by American parents who apparently were abusive and neglectful and failed to fill out the citizenship papers.

I pledge allegiance to the flag. . .

The reason I can't force myself to regurgitate that fulsome and illegal oath of allegiance I'm prompted to do at every turn these days isn't just the "God" bit but the Liberty and Justice for All. Today may be April Fools day, but we're a nation of fools all year. 

The damn government wants to send him back after 36 years of living here, marrying and trying to support a family -- to deport him  to a country he doesn't know or belong to or speak the language thereof because he's "illegal."  Because he's "illegal" he's found it very hard to find employment in the land of Freedom and Justice and when they send him back to an alien country, his wife and children will find out the hard way, what a sham American Liberty is.

Small minded, bigoted, petty, afraid -- perhaps. All too willing to hide behind walls and punish people who say a word in some language other than English or Starbucks. The free and brave have no compunctions about tossing anyone on the trash heap because of some paperwork he was too young to fill out.

And it's likely to stay this way because of the mean-spirited bastards who call themselves a political party, call themselves "Christian" and demand protection for morality and decency and humanity because of their "faith" and "family values."  By mean-spirited bastards I mean, for the most part, the Republican Party, but their opposition has to share some blame for the bickering, parochial, short-sighted behavior. We're against this or that, but only after you agree it's only our subset, our group who is the victim of this or that, that our particular problem is the one and only and most important, or that our most dire and pressing issue is this or that or the other thing to the exclusion of all else and we won't support candidates who don't agree, who aren't obsessed with our obsessions.

When someone comes here involuntarily as an infant, is educated here, speaks English as a first or only language and is part of our culture, what does it cost us to treat him better than a dog - to allow him to work, pay taxes, start a business, educate his kids and contribute to our society?  What do we gain by sending an American to Mexico or Korea to perish there?  Nothing at all is the answer and God might as well damn any country that acts this way, for we've damned ourselves.