Saturday, July 07, 2007

Saturday Rock Show

Our local paper is having a little contest. People are invited to send in their lists of the best summer songs. They will be put together for a story. I really don't have a list of "summer songs" myself, although there are individual songs that remind me of summer, or of specific events in summers past. Why don't you send in a song or two or three you might want to see highlighted.

In order to get the ball rolling, why not Joe Satriani's "Summer Song"?

Two things after watching the video all the way through. Yes, this song does remind me of summer, specifically the late summer of 1992.

Second, I feel sorry for the rhythm guitarist who has to play behind Satriani. Notice he isn't turned up very loud in the mix . . .

Blue Smoke & Mirrors - Changing the Subject In Order to Win

First, I never thought a quasi-philosophical post would attract the kind of attention it has. It's nice, though.

Second, I found Marshall's comments interesting. He throws up the idea, which I thought was implicit in what I wrote, that we all rely upon second-hand reports for those things for which we aren't present. Therefore, I think, our utilization of these facts is only as reliable as the sources of the facts. Fair enough. By tossing this out there, I do believe Marshall is attempting to call in to question the reliability of sources - again, implicit, I think is the idea that conservative sources are more reliable than liberal ones. Unfortunately, at least for Marshall, the reliability of sources is an easy matter to settle. There is enough information out there to test whether or not, to give just one example, the Bush Administration lied to get us in to war. Marshall, it seems, insists that this is not the case, when in fact it is easily shown to be factual. This is neither controversial nor even interesting (at least from a philosophical perspective; from a political point of view, it is profoundly important). What is interesting is continuing to ask questions - "were you present when this or that event occurred? do you have the information the President has?" - that would seem to get us trapped in long discussions over the reliability of various points in an argument. We could all go down these little alleys and by-ways, in order to point out how irrelevant they are. Or we could reiterate the main point, and insist that arguments about their reliability are nonsensical on their face.

I much prefer the latter. What is even more interesting is the way in which ad hominem attacks start to ooze through the edges. An example of something close to an ad hominem remark is Marshall's insistence that we liberals cherry-pick facts, because we have our conclusions firmly in mind. Fascinating, really, because the past six years has shown that it is conservatives who do this over and over and over. Yet, through the magic of rhetorical projection, it is we liberals who do this. Again, facts need not apply. It is a rhetorical strategy, and that is really all that matters. And, again, it is more important that these narrative elements make their appearance.

While I find the whole strategy fascinating on an intellectual level, as a political strategy it is irksome, to say the least. Lying behind it is the idea that by winning a rhetorical battle, one side or the other has "Truth" on its side, and therefore the opposition is not only politically erroneous but intellectually disingenuous and morally obtuse. Of course, as we all sit around trying to decide whether or not one side wins and the other loses, those in power go about doing what they wish, and neither winning an argument nor pointing out that the powerful aren't interested in facts changes this. I am not interested in winning an argument. I am not interested in being proved right, or even being proved wrong. The goal is not winning an argument, but pointing out a pattern of behavior that is harmful to our traditions, our security, our laws, and our liberties. The goal is action to stop these actions, and reverse our current course. While it is important to point out various errors of fact, it is far more important, once this is done, to move on and not get caught up in the rhetorical strategy used to keep the process from moving forward. It is best to just say, "You're wrong" and move on. This isn't avoiding the issue, because there is no issue. It is, rather, not allowing our opponents to keep us from doing what needs to be done. Once we surrender the idea that we are engaged in an argument it is necessary to win, we can be about the business of taking our country back. Let the right "win" their arguments. I would much prefer acting to keep our deep slide in to national oblivion from proceeding.

I took the title of this post from Jack Germond and Jules Whitcover's classic study of the 1988 Presidential election, Blue Smoke and Mirrors, in which they wrote about the rhetorical sleight of hand the Bush Campaign used to defeat Michael Dukakis.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Looking Out For The Whoppers

As a further follow-up to my previous posts, I shall just list a couple new talking points, sometimes reduced to a name, that have absolutely no relationship to anything in reality, yet are repeated over and over and over as if repeating falsehoods grants them the appearance of truth. The first one is something new I learned from FOXNews, and if I attempted to make it up and claim it was a new right-wing talking point, no one would believe me. That's how absurd it is. I won't refute these points, just present them, recognizing that they are, in fact, not true.

- Socialized medicine breeds terrorists

- Bill Clinton was convicted of the same crime as Scooter Libby

- Mr. Rogers is to blame for many social ills (another FOXNews gem)

- Libby didn't lie

- Valerie Plame wasn't covert

- There was no underlying crime

- The pardon of Mark Rich was worse than the pardon of Scooter (who was Rich's attorney)

Should you be reading right-wing blogs, or listening to right-wing radio, or watching FOXNews, my guess is that, in the course of thirty minutes of programming, all of these various items will come up at least once. Again, they are part of the structuring of a right-wing narrative about recent events. It is the narrative that is important, not any connection between specific events in the narrative and actual events. My suggestion is we play some kind of right-wing talking point bingo, with the winner getting, I don't know, free health care for the rest of his or her life. The losers would be forced to listen to Glenn Beck for a month. Something like that.

Your PoMo Conservatives - Reality Is The Invention of a Narrative

I've been thinking a bit about what I said yesterday about my own decision not to engage in "debate" on issues where there is no debate. In reading and re-reading all the effluvia in our media over the Libby commutation, and the underlying history of the leak, the investigation, and the trial, I am led to the conclusion that the true Post-modernists in America aren't those wacky left-wing professors telling our kids that Toni Morrison is better than Shakespeare. The true pomos are right-wingers. Except, of course, they miss one crucial fact of post-modern theory, to which I shall come shortly.

Part of post-modern philosophy, and a part with which I strongly agree, is that much of the concern of western philosophy since the pre-Socratics has been aimed at answering a question we now know is the wrong question to ask. It isn't as if all those brilliant men and women were actually quite stupid people. They just asked the wrong question, over and over, expecting, someday, to find an answer. The unspoken premise in most of western philosophy is this - human beings are qualitatively distinct from all other things in the world because we are aware - of ourselves, of the world around us, and most of all, of our own awareness. This special trait, sometimes called consciousness, sometimes called the faculty of reason, is something mysterious, wonderful, ineffable. At its root, it must exist apart from any and all physical relations and causes. Our task, should we choose to accept it, is to figure out what "it" is that makes human beings so different. Metaphysics hinges on this question being the right question.

Since Darwin, one wonders how anyone could see anything substantive in this. It is one thing to maintain that human beings are conscious in a way that, as far as we know, no other creature in the Universe is. It is another thing to say that, therefore, consciousness must itself be something separate from all physical causal relations. The reasoning goes something like this: this thing we call "mind" cannot be the sum total of the synaptic actions of the human cerebral cortex; if it were, why we'd be no different from any other creature. Because we are, "mind" is not a part of the natural history of causal relations. QED. This argument, alas, is wrong because the unspoken major premise is still held despite all the evidence to the contrary.

Post-modernists for the most part see the whole realist-idealist divide in the philosophy of knowledge and metaphysics as two sides of the same East German coin; interesting as a historical artifact, but worthless for exchange. That human beings "know" things is an unremarkable by-product of evolution. How could it be otherwise? Reporting on factual matters is a necessary survival trait; the better we are at such reporting, and comprehending those reports, the more likely we and our offspring will survive. To see in this rather banal notion something deep, mysterious, even spooky - some ephemeral thing called "mind" - is, as I said, continuing to take the unspoken major premise of much of the history of western thought much too seriously.

Post-modernists are not Berekeley-style idealists, who claim in some solipsistic fashion that all reality is the creation of our minds. Post-modernists, rather, reject the idea that questions about "knowledge" and "existence" are either interesting or fruitful. These are questions best left to neurologists, neuropsychologists, and various biologists and bio-chemists. The idea that there is a hidden depth to reality, and that philosophers are uniquely qualified to search it out, define it, and be the final arbiters of such things is silly.

Post-modernists, for the most part, are much more interested in the ways human beings actually live their lives. The conversations they have. The vocabularies they use to describe their lives. The relationship between and among various vocabularies and language-games and how these are negotiated, translated, mis-translated, and the like. One of the more interesting aspects of post-modern thought is the emphasis upon narrative. Recognizing that human beings are natural story-tellers - about themselves, the groups of which they are a part, etc. - many look to the idea of narrative as a way of illuminating how we understand ourselves. This is where our current crop of conservatives come in.

The creation of a narrative that explains who we are and how we came about is always an admixture of facts, myths, wild stories, and anecdotes blown way out of proportion or context. Part of the task of "figuring it all out" is looking at these narratives as a whole, and understanding how all these pieces fit together. As a post-modernist myself (although I hate the term), I am less interested in whether or not George Washington chopped down a cherry tree or Abe Lincoln walked five miles, uphill both ways, through the snow as a child to return two extra pennies he was given at a country store than I am in how these stories function in our understanding of ourselves as Americans. Historians are certainly welcome to debunk them, and should. I am more interested in what the invention of these stories, and their continued propagation after their debunking, says about who we think we are.

I shall reiterate here that facts, reports about events that occur, are not something special per se. They are simply part of the package of tools that human beings possess in order to survive. There is no spooky connection between our ability to perceive the lion crouching in shadow waiting to pounce upon us, and the lion itself. In the same way, there is nothing profound about our ability to make accurate reports on events such as the war in Iraq. Factual matters are, and should be, unspectacular. Of course there is a certain correspondence between some of the things we say, and events that occur in the world. How could it be otherwise? Human beings would never have survived as a species if we couldn't communicate with each other concerning events in the world.

Too many people misunderstand this crucial part of post-modern theory. The use of narrative as a device for understanding the world of necessity includes factual reports. To switch for a moment to scientific terms, for me at least, a factual report is a simple statement that can be plotted on a graph - object O was at co-ordinate x-5,y-7, at z-time 01:00. Simple trigonometry. The misunderstanding by too many, not just in the public at large, but even with some interlocutors who disagree with the kind of approach to philosophy that I have been explaining here, is that they do not understand this crucial part. As such, they complain that post-modernists are solipsists, are Berkeley-idealists, are radical skeptics. All of these charges are wrong, based as they are on a misunderstanding, or a neglect, of the point I am emphasizing here.

Our contemporary conservatives complain about post-modernists, yet they practice it endlessly. They invent countless narratives (sometimes connected by the words Bill Clinton, terrorism, 9/11 - choose your own) that attempt to explain the world. They defend these narratives through the assertion of various claims that they insist as "factual". Indeed, these "facts" are a crucial part of the argument they are attempting to make - Islam is a terrorist religion, Bill Clinton was convicted of perjury, Iraq had WMDs that were secretly shipped to Syria. That they are disproved over and over again is irrelevant; you see, these post-modernists are not concerned with such banal things as whether or not individual claims can be verified as accurate reports of events. They are narrative constructionists, telling a story about the world, and their role in it, and they insist and will continue to insist, that such things as "facts" are irrelevant because the larger narrative is what is important.

Pointing out errors of fact is important. It is also fruitless, because the narratives our pomo conservatives tell are based upon them. Narrative uber alles dictates that they get those points in. In the conflicting narratives of America, as they are currently practiced, facts are irrelevant. At least to our post-modern conservatives.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Let's Chat . . . Or Not

Over at Street Prophets, Pastor Dan has a piece on a group called AMOS. Here is a highlighted section:
"The promise has been broken" was the phrase religious leaders and lay people reiterated Sunday as members of AMOS - A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy - kicked off a campaign to spread the word about social justice issues to several thousand people over the next two months.

Roughly 200 people from two dozen of the 28 faith-based institutions that make up AMOS gathered at Our Lady of the Americas Parish, 618 E. 18th St., to discuss issues such as health-care accessibility and youth education, and to pledge commitments toward the AMOS campaign.

The various religious leaders committed to 468 conversations with 3,021 people in central Iowa over the next two months. Conversation totals for the handful of organizations not in attendance have yet to be added.

I took issue with the whole thing, because the idea of "having conversations" as part of an organizing strategy is, well, gee I don't know the word I'm looking for here.

How about "silly". "Ineffectual". "Nonsensical". "Doomed to failure". I suppose the list is endless.

The truth is, as I point out in the discussion thread, there are all sorts of resources available to do the work AMOS wants done. They are called the various mainline denominations. Rather than use all those resources, all those people, all that potential and actual capital, it is so much more interesting to think we are actually engaged in something productive by "listening".


One does not "build community". It hasn't succeeded yet. Communities exist. They should be utilized, exploited, not so much listened to as heeded. This is the kind of thing that makes me absolutely stark raving crazy, to be honest. This is the kind of political masturbation the left engages in as a substitute for real action. What makes it all the more galling is the simple truth that there are structures available to do the work, to get the word out, to organize. They aren't used because "activists" would rather "lead" (of course, they insist they are "servant-leaders"; you know what, I've met too many ego-laden servant-leaders in my time to be jazzed about them now). Of course, "organized religion" is declasse now, so why use the structures of the mainline churches?

I realize it is something akin to heresy to disparage Jim Wallis and Sojourners and all that. I realize it is something akin to heresy to point out that all his work has failed, so it might behoove us to consider the possibility that following his lead isn't necessarily a good idea. But you know what? I really don't care.

Factually Challenged

For several days, I have been involved in various discussions in various places over the whole Scooter Libby commutation. What amazes me, while it shouldn't, is the lack of any real knowledge of the facts behind the case, the trial itself, or the evidence involved. It isn't like there weren't reams and reams of it available. Yet, too many discussions just seem to skip over the facts and get on with whatever talking points best suit them. Somehow, it is enough to just keep tossing out all sorts of nonsequiturs and irrelevancies to create the illusion that debate on the question of Libby's guilt is a matter of controversy, rather than an established fact of our legal system. An established fact, by the way, through a thoroughly transparent process wherein two sides confronted one another, each presenting the evidence each possessed, and a jury weighed the evidence and testimony and decided the prosecution's case was clear.

It is impossible to discuss this issue with those who wish to "debate" it. In the same way there is no reason to "debate" evolution or global warming, there is no reason at all to "debate" Libby's guilt or innocence. He was found guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt (which is a very high standard indeed), and that is that. Everything else is mere smoke and nonsense. Should we be confronted by those who insist otherwise, I would just say that we repeat the above sentences, and ignore any special pleading, said special pleading usually beginning with the words, "But what about . . ." Once we grant that non-facts trump facts, we have already lost. Once we start playing by their rules, we have already lost.

I suppose it is theoretically possible for reasonable people to disagree over the question of Libby's commutation, given the facts of the matter. Let us, however, discuss the commutation within those parameters. Let us not get dragged into conversations where, through some magical process, all the facts become irrelevant to that eternally unanswerable "but".

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

For Tomorrow

As tomorrow is a holiday, I want to just remind us why we celebrate the Fourth of July as holiday. In light of current events, I think we all need to remind ourselves why we aren't members of the British Commonwealth of Nations:
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

In college, I took an American History survey class in preparation for a minor concentration in American history. On an exam, I quoted a long passage from memory. In the margin of my Blue Book, the professor wrote, "Stop showing off". I went to his office and asked him what he thought he was doing, if teaching was important to him. He got pissy with me, and I reminded him that as a teacher, he should be commending students who knew things like this, rather than telling them to stop showing off. He continued being belligerent with me, and I told him that I thought the Dean might want to hear about this. He backed down. Afterwards, we became close, and he was one of my mentors as an undergraduate, encouraging me to apply history to all sorts of questions, something I continue to this day. For the life of me, however, I cannot imagine why any professor of American History would discourage a student who showed not just a knowledge of but an understanding of one of the two founding documents of our nation.

I am proud to be an American. I believe that this is the greatest country on the face of the earth. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I believe this is the greatest country that ever has been, or will be, ever. I also am ashamed to be an American right now. Our leaders have betrayed every word of this document. They have made liars of the men who swore their lives and sacred honor to make these words become a reality. They have made a mockery of the sacrifices of all who have gone before us. This Declaration is the best evidence yet that our current Executive Branch does not deserve the offices to which they have been entrusted. This Declaration should be read tomorrow, aloud. We must all remember that we are who we are because there were some who came before us who believed in sacrifice, in honor, in dignity. We need to rescue our nation from those who would rip this Declaration up and toss its pieces to the four winds.

Some Food for Thought For Me

While I actually managed to find something other than the Libby commutation to write about, is there really anything else out there? I thought not. By the way, I want to make it clear to commenters here, that on this issue, I will not respond to comments that deny the facts of the case, or fall back on Republican talking points. I refuse to grant them the credibility they crave so dearly. I am not dodging the issue; far from it. I just refuse to engage with people who want to pretend the world is different from the way it really is.

I work in a quintessentially blue-collar place. Those with whom I work are a diverse lot, but they share certain class similarities. I differ from them in many ways, but I tend to be mum about much of my life, because I do not wish to appear either haughty. Far from it. This is one reason why, when political discussions take place in the break room, I tend to be quiet. I know I have a penchant for pendancy, and so rather than bore people, I sit and listen. Sitting and listening is always a good thing, especially for those who think they know everything - you learn you don't know as much as you think.

Last night, the Libby commutation came up. The person who brought this up is a good, hard working person upon whom the label "redneck" not only fits, but would be worn with pride. A high school dropout, he has worked hard all his life to just keep afloat. His concerns are cars, NASCAR, cars, and beer, with the last sometimes going to the front of the line. When he broached the subject of Libby, he spoke for about two minutes, revealing that he was knowledgeable about the case, down to fine points of law. It was clear he knew exactly what the score was - and he was, to put it mildly, in high dudgeon over what Bush had done. As someone with a criminal record himself (a youthful indiscretion that forced him to spend time in a high school with bars on the windows, if you know what I mean), he understood that the phrase "you do the crime, you do the time" was a reality that should apply to everyone. He understood, also, that Bush did what he did not just out of a sense of class loyalty - his kind just don't go to prison - but out of fear. When this person mentioned "obstruction of justice", he did so clearly, without hyperbole, and showed an understanding of the depth of the charge that was surprising.

I write this not to show my own surprise at someone with less education than me being intelligent. I write this, rather, to point out that, despite much blathering all over the media that "most people don't care", it is clear to me that people not only care, they care enough to pay attention and have informed opinions about this and other issues. Being informed, they are mad as hell, not to put too fine a point on it.

This reminded me that too much of the elite commentary assumes that we here in fly-over country don't pay attention. We do, though. There may yet be hell to pay for this.

My Temper Is Short Today, So This Fool Is Not Suffered Gladly

Over at Faith in Public Life is a link to this column in the Cleveland Plains Dealer. The gist of the column can be summed up as follows: The First Amendment is nice, but it is bothersome at times.

All the crap about religion being necessary for morality is just that - crap. All that crap about religion being necessary for social cohesion is just that - crap. All that crap about religion as a necessary part of everyone's lives whether they acknowledge it or not is just that - crap.

Remember back in the dim, dark 1990's, when there was so much weeping and gnashing of teeth over Bill Clinton's badly completed oral adventures? "This just sends the message that this kind of thing is OK". One heard that ad nauseum. Now that we have an Administration that considers the Constitution to be irrelevant, is it any wonder we have pundits who can write garbage like this and ask that it be taken seriously? After all, the President is ignoring the Constitution, why can't the rest of us?

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Libby Commutation and Impeachment: The Best Argument Yet

So it happened. While outrageous, it isn't exactly surprising. Commutation lets it look like Libby is being punished without there being any real punishment. No jail time; the enablers of this crooked gang that work for the major media outlets can crow about real justice being done to poor wittle Scooter.

With this single act, Bush has demonstrated that impeachment proceedings need to begin tomorrow in the House of Representatives. Bush & Cheney both need to go. Now. They have shown nothing but contempt for this country, its security, its laws, and its constitution. It is time to get them out of office. Now. They were never deserving of the high offices entrusted to them. They have repeatedly shown their ineptitude at simple governance. They have repeatedly shown their disdain for democracy, for republican virtues and mores, and for the people of this country. Now, they have shown that they do not care about the rule of law in the most transparent way possible. There is no more reason to equivocate, argue, discuss, debate, or defer. Don't call the White House to register your outrage. They shut the phones off; not because they care what anyone thinks, but because all those calls are such a bother, and irrelevant in any case.

I would prefer a call to the members of the House Judiciary Committee. Get the ball rolling. End this charade once and for all.

Music Monday

I refuse to get into discussions over whether or not a particular musician is a strict adherent to one or another musical style. When musicians cross genre's people get all upset. Is Bill Bruford a jazz drummer or a rock drummer? Is Lyle Lovett a country musician? These are really stupid, pointless arguments.

One artist who defies categorization, although usually considered a jazz performer, is Pat Metheney. Because of the often lush orchestration that accompanies his recordings, provided by long-time collaborator Lyle Mayes, it is often difficult to hear the down-and-dirty roots of jazz in his music. The fact that he is an electric guitarist, and usually performs with an all-electric outfit also offends many jazz purists. In the end, I just love to listen to him, so who cares what we call him?

This is fairly representative stuff. Try to dislike this. I dare you.

For the doubters and haters, here he is with a quartet including Jack deJohnette and Herbie Hancock.

I'm a Christian Who Doesn't Believe in Truth

This is one of those "deep" posts that I have been thinking about for a while. If it bores you, or is incoherent, all I can do is apologize.

"Truth" is one of those words that, were I ruler of the free world and most everywhere else, I would discard. It has too many uses, too much baggage, and people toss it around as a way of appearing superior. It can be used to mean "correct". It can mean "factual". It can mean "transcendentally authoritative". It can mean "faithful". The first two meanings are trivial, but too often mistaken for the third. The fourth is an antiquated way of speaking of human relationships that is actually based upon the third. I would, out of consideration to the way the world is, replace the first two and fourth uses with their synonyms. In order to clear up confusion, I would discard the third reason as incoherent and meaningless. There are a variety of reasons as to why I have discarded the entire idea of "truth" as having any meaning whatsoever, and discarded as well the idea that human beings are inherently "truth-seeking" creatures; for me, the central argument is this - how is it possible that something as contingent, time-bound, limited, and error-prone as language could capture something timeless, correct in all situations in all times and places for all people? The entire idea of propositional truth as singular, universal, univocal, necessary, and absolute is absurd on its face.

Propositional truth is one of those ideas whose time is long past. I much prefer Richard Rorty's affirmation of William James' assertion that most of our beliefs are true for us most of the time. This is not an argument for relativism, irrationalism, or nihilism. Rather is is an argument for understanding the way beliefs actually function in human lives rather than attempting to find some transcendental proofs for one's assertion that one or another belief is True. One can say that two people assert opposite propositions as truthful, but the test is not an analysis of the coherence or correspondence assertions, but the way these assertions function in the lives of those who assert them. For example, I could claim that the sentence "All human life is sacred" is transcendentally true; yet, if I acted in such a way that showed that I actually disregarded the lives of others, the assertion would be false, because it had no actual effect upon the way I live my life.

Too many Christians get confused because of the claim put in Jesus' mouth by the author of The Fourth Gospel, "I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." While it might be interesting to do some serious exegesis on this one little sentence - one could write multiple volumes unpacking all that is loaded in those nine words - let me just say that it is important to remember that, for the writer of this Gospel, Jesus is not saying that he has the truth, or speaks the truth. Rather, he is discarding any metaphysics; by asserting that he is the embodiment of Truth, he is banishing the notion that we can capture Truth in any sentence about him. The Truth is a person, in his totality, and this defies any logical, epistemological, or ontological parsing or defense. We are confronted by the Truth as a human life, not as a series of sentences in an argument. In my not-very-humble-at-all opinion, this wipes away any attempts by Christians to assert "Truth" as something they possess, or that is vouchsafed to them in whatever religious message they may carry. Rather, the Truth is something that calls them, captures them, and moves them - but is always separate from them, never to be fully understood or even summarized. When confronting the Truth in the person of Jesus we are confronted with the enigma, and ultimate impossibility, of any human claim to having the Truth.

Virtual Tin Cup

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