29 January 2016

28 January 2016

Juxtaposing ideology and reality

Kristen Schaal

Schaal's an interesting comedian. Definitely worth seeing.

23 January 2016

Driving out the satanic game of chess

I hope ISIS and Saudi Arabia don't get into a competition over who can come up with the most barbaric ideas and cruel behavior.

NY Times: Saudi Arabia’s top cleric has declared the playing of chess “forbidden,” calling it a waste of time and money that creates hatred between players. In a fatwa, or religious decree, issued in response to a question from a caller to a Saudi television show, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Sheikh said that the game was “the work of Satan,” like alcohol and gambling...

This comes on the heels (a fitting metaphor if there ever was one) of the kingdom's sentencing a Palestinian poet to death on a trumped up charge of apostasy after he posted a video of religious police lashing a man in public.

19 January 2016

Selective memory

Rachel Maddow the other night had a good piece on the various versions of Reagan that the Republicans have chosen to remember and on how few of these have any link to the Reagan of history. Completely swept under the rug in the Republic psyche is the entire Iran-Contra scandal. By all accounts, Reagan was a lousy president. Even with scoundrels like Nixon, we can warmly remember his bold detente with China and aspects of his environmental policy. With Reagan, on the other hand, about all we can say is that he only shares some of the blame since he clearly had no idea what was going on half the time. This is Reagan's own words from p. 458 of Reagan: A Life in Letters:

During the course of our secret discussions, I authorized the transfer of small amounts of defensive weapons and spare parts for defensive systems in Iran. My purpose was to convince Tehran that our negotiators were acting on my authority, to send a signal that the United States was prepared to replace animosity with a new relationship...[I]t is in our national interest to watch for changes within Iran that might offer hope for an improved relationship... Our interests are clearly served by opening a dialogue with Iran...

And all of this willingness to talk and make peace just years after Iran held U.S. hostages. Reagan comes across as such a softy in contrast to our current cast of Republican manly men who will (we are told) magically bend the wills of the evil untermenschen throughout the globe who dare to oppose God-given American authority.

At the pump in Flint

18 January 2016

Reflections on the January 2016 Democratic Debate

Watching the debate, I get the feeling that there's an effort by NBC to favor Hillary. For example, they've selected clips that show Hillary in a positive light and show Sanders in a negative light during each of the breaks. Along similar lines, the Democratic Party has also done its best to limit Sanders' exposure by limiting debates and putting them all at bad times. Sanders did a great job of pointing out the key problem plague U.S. politics: money. Hillary threw out a bunch of red herrings. Her attack on Sanders' position on healthcare is especially idiotic, something about "throwing out Obamacare" in a move to single payer. As if changes to a government-run system would somehow eliminate the benefits of our current system. O'Malley isn't a contender so his current run is really more for gaining name recognition for future runs. With this in mind, he's doing very well. He appears to have some a decent record in office and puts forth some interesting proposals.

15 January 2016

The January 14th Republican debate

I just watched the January 14th Republican debate. Most of the candidates had a fairly good night. Rubio struck me as a bit shrill. Bush bested his previous performances (not hard to do). Cruz, always the polished orator, was as kooky as ever. Carson's solution to everything seems to be to talk to experts (which is actually very sensible but not the most exciting campaign blurb). The constant attacks on the Democrats (a favorite fallback strategy of Christie) got old since no Democrats were there to reply. Kasich, as always, seemed like the adult in the room--not that it'll help him with the rank and file. The Fox moderators did a fair job except toward the end of the debate when they started asking leading questions (with the desired response clearly embedded in the question's wording).

14 January 2016

Time Out of Mind

I just finished watching Time Out of Mind, starring Richard Gere as a homeless man. I love many of Gere's films and this one gets credit for its very gritty and realistic portrayal of homelessness. Unfortunately, the film isn't very entertaining. And perhaps that's why it seems so realistic. Homelessness itself, after all, isn't very entertaining. Visually, the film also chooses realism over appeal. With a few exceptions, the scenes tend to be shot in trash-filled streets and homeless shelters. If anyone is hoping for a Disneyesque film of bum makes good and all's well that ends well, this isn't the film for you.

Atavistic elephantine responses

Atheism 2.0

Alain de Botton has a very "spot-on" albeit scattered Ted talk about the need to incorporate elements associated with religion into our atheist lives.

12 January 2016

In tribute

"Who would wear the jackboot most vigorously"

It's interesting to note that the two leading Republican candidates (with Cruz clearly ranking as the most admired) are also the most vicious and callous. This is from a recent NY Times op-ed by David Brooks:

Cruz manufactures an atmosphere of menace in which there is no room for compassion, for moderation, for anything but dismantling and counterattack. And that is what he offers. Cruz’s programmatic agenda, to the extent that it exists in his speeches, is to destroy things: destroy the I.R.S., crush the “jackals” of the E.P.A., end funding for Planned Parenthood, reverse Obama’s executive orders, make the desert glow in Syria, destroy the Iran nuclear accord. Some of these positions I agree with, but the lack of any positive emphasis, any hint of reform conservatism, any aid for the working class, or even any humane gesture toward cooperation is striking. Ted Cruz is a champion college debater where success is determined by garnering points either defending or challenging a proposition. Ted Cruz didn’t come up with this hard, combative and gladiatorial campaign approach in isolation. He’s always demonstrated a tendency to bend his position — whether immigration or trade — to what suits him politically. This approach works because in the wake of the Obergefell v. Hodges court decision on same-sex marriage, many evangelicals feel they are being turned into pariahs in their own nation. Cruz exploits and exaggerates that fear. But he reacts to Obergefell in exactly the alienating and combative manner that is destined to further marginalize evangelicals, that is guaranteed to bring out fear-driven reactions and not the movement’s highest ideals. The best conservatism balances support for free markets with a Judeo-Christian spirit of charity, compassion and solidarity. Cruz replaces this spirit with Spartan belligerence. He sows bitterness, influences his followers to lose all sense of proportion and teaches them to answer hate with hate. This Trump-Cruz conservatism looks more like tribal, blood and soil European conservatism than the pluralistic American kind. Cruz manufactures an atmosphere of menace in which there is no room for compassion, for moderation, for anything but dismantling and counterattack. And that is what he offers.

10 January 2016

To be happy, think of your death

This is well-written and probably right on. Something I must try.

8 January 2016

Happy New Year!