Sunday, August 20, 2017

Scripture And Song For The Week: Genesis 28 And Diana Krall Edition

10 And Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran. 
11 And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep. 
12 And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. 
13 And, behold, the Lord stood above it, and said, I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; 
14 And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 
15 And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of. 
16 And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not. 
17 And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. 
18 And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. 
19 And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first. 
20 And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, 
21 So that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God: 
22 And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.

A Minor Musing About Comforting The Troubled And Troubling The Comfortable

Recently, Pat Powers used the famous aphorism "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. As first written, the phrase originally described the duty of the newspapers. It has been called "the purpose of all gospel ministry." If memory serves, I first heard the injunction in the early 1980s when now state senator James Bolin told me that it was one the prime duties of an educator.

In 2017 America, the phrase seems more than a bit problematic because apparently everyone is afflicted. If one is unable to buy any gun he wishes, he is afflicted. If a college student is assigned a text written by a dead white male, she is afflicted. Everyone reading this post may be afflicted because the previous sentences contain examples of gender stereotypes.

At the societal level it's nearly impossible to find a group that has not been afflicted: old, young, poor, rich, male, female, trans, straight, gay, Christians, Muslims, Wiccans, Atheists, teetotalers, whiskey connoisseurs, immigrants, and descendants of those who sailed on the Mayflower all claim to be a mistreated and misunderstood community. With all of this affliction being endured, it's doubtful enough people are available to offer comfort.

If being afflicted has become an epidemic, the idea of troubling the comfortable has morphed. In the past it involved speaking truth to power. The practice has distorted into deliberately pissing off people whom one disagrees with just for the hell of it.

It takes neither genius nor prophet to understand the current situation poses two distinct problems. First, all the false claims of affliction cause us to lose sight of who is truly afflicted, and, therefore, who truly needs comfort. Second, angry people seeking to trouble those who are looking for reasons to feel afflicted will produce a violently widening gyre.

Lincoln urged Americans to appeal to the better angels of our nature. Theodore Roosevelt exhorted Americans to channel that energy to stand at Armageddon and battle for the Lord. Our current political leadership lacks the vision and moral authority to do either. Even if that were not the case, too many people are too busy enjoying their imagined martyrdom to listen.

Friday, August 18, 2017

What About That One Time In 1972 When That One Guy Did Something I Didn't Like

The recent violence in Charlottesville and the responses and counter-responses have produced the worst public discussion I have witnessed since I was in middle school nearly fifty years ago.

My Twitter feed has been filled with suggestions, both serious and sardonic, that statues honoring any politician who had an affair be taken down because affairs offended that particular denizen of the Twitterverse. One tweet suggested demanded that Michelangelo's David be removed from public view because David was an an adulterer and murderer. In other words, "what about this one guy ....?"

The basic question in response to Charlottesville and the resulting demand to remove statues honoring Confederate leaders is simple: should those who rebelled against the United States of America in order to preserve the institution of racial slavery be honored?

Each state's articles of secession leave little room for doubt that slavery was the root cause for their voting to secede, so the idea that Southern states formed the Confederate States of America in order to protect states' rights is specious unless one wishes to affirm the existence of a state's right to keep slavery legal.

Some have argued that history will be erased as statues and monuments are removed. It's doubtful that the Civil War will disappear from an U.S. History books or that amateur and academic historians will stop writing about it. Those worried about students being unable to read in the future can still buy Ken Burns's excellent documentary.

The main arguments against removing the statues-- here the term "argument" is stretched to the point of being nearly unrecognizable--have been "what about this person's sin or transgression or moral failing or slave ownership or . . . "

When debate class starts in a few days, my young'uns will be taught that "what about" is a red herring. (I will stay away from the hot button issue of the day, but there are examples aplenty.) They will also be taught three responses. First, the "what about . . ." response doesn't answer the question under consideration. Second, the fact that two people committed the same act doesn't mean that both should be celebrated. Freshmen might simplify that to "two wrongs don't make a right." Third, "what about . . . " doesn't refute anything. In the current controversy, pointing out that Thomas Jefferson owned slaves doesn't assert that slavery is moral or that rebellion against the United States was justified. It's saying that both Robert E. Lee and Thomas Jefferson committed the same moral crime, slavery. The assertion, however, doesn't show that Jefferson led soldiers into Pennsylvania to wage war on the United States of America.

In public debates, there is perhaps a more important response: how does the "what about ...." argument help solve the problem? I'm old enough to remember riots being common occurrences during the late 60s and early 70s. "What about . . ." arguments are tools that seem destined to return us to that era not solve the issues that divide the nation into angry racial, economic, and political factions.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

When Things Get Weird Nostalgia May Be The Only Cure: Stranger In A Strange Land

When a sitting president of the United States says the following:
"George Washington was a slave owner. Was George Washington a slave owner? So will George Washington now lose his status? ...Are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? You like him? OK, good. Are we going to take down his statue, because he was a major slave owner. Now we're going to take down his statue. So you know what? It's fine. You're changing history, you're changing culture, and you had people — and I'm not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally — but you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists, OK? And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly."
I have no choice but to return to my youth and remember that I have always been a stranger in a strange land. When I was young, I just never anticipated the land would become so Kafkaesque.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Scripture And Song Of The Week: Numbers 13 and twenty one pilots edition

17 And Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, and said unto them, Get you up this way southward, and go up into the mountain: 
18 And see the land, what it is, and the people that dwelleth therein, whether they be strong or weak, few or many; 
19 And what the land is that they dwell in, whether it be good or bad; and what cities they be that they dwell in, whether in tents, or in strong holds; 
20 And what the land is, whether it be fat or lean, whether there be wood therein, or not. And be ye of good courage, and bring of the fruit of the land. Now the time was the time of the firstripe grapes. 
21 So they went up, and searched the land from the wilderness of Zin unto Rehob, as men come to Hamath. 
22 And they ascended by the south, and came unto Hebron; where Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the children of Anak, were. (Now Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.) 
23 And they came unto the brook of Eshcol, and cut down from thence a branch with one cluster of grapes, and they bare it between two upon a staff; and they brought of the pomegranates, and of the figs. 
24 The place was called the brook Eshcol, because of the cluster of grapes which the children of Israel cut down from thence. 
25 And they returned from searching of the land after forty days. 
26 And they went and came to Moses, and to Aaron, and to all the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the wilderness of Paran, to Kadesh; and brought back word unto them, and unto all the congregation, and shewed them the fruit of the land. 
27 And they told him, and said, We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it. 
28 Nevertheless the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great: and moreover we saw the children of Anak there. 
29 The Amalekites dwell in the land of the south: and the Hittites, and the Jebusites, and the Amorites, dwell in the mountains: and the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and by the coast of Jordan. 
30 And Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it. 
31 But the men that went up with him said, We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we. 
32 And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched unto the children of Israel, saying, The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature. 
33 And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.

Tone Deaf, Stupid, Or Deliberately Vile?

There's nothing like releasing a 2020 campaign ad labeling folks as enemies one day after after a day of violence.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

On Robert Jeffress And God's Authority For War

I first heard about Reverend Robert Jeffress's assertion that God has given Donald Trump the go ahead to take out Kim Jong-Un on Twitter on the evening of August 8. Mindful of the injunctions about blogging angry and, more importantly, those of Matthew 5:22, I got two nights of good sleep before hitting the keyboard.

There is no orthodox reading of the Bible that places the United States as a special nation on Earth. There's no American testament that sets up a special covenant between the United States and God Further, there is no historical evidence that the God of Abraham appeared in Independence Hall in Philadelphia in either 1776 or 1787 and added a covenant of invisible ink on the back of either the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution.

More importantly God numbers the hairs of the heads of both Americans and North Koreans. More importantly the God who sent his Son to save a lost world and does not want anyone to perish does not seem like the God who is going to authorize the untimely and horrific deaths by "fire and fury" of thousand if not millions of North Koreans.

Reverend Jeffress likely calls himself a disciple of Christ. The best advice Christ ever gave his disciples while on this earthly plane was to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. War is never harmless and President Trump's and Reverend Jeffress's statements have more in common with the braying of a mule than any form of wisdom.

Finally, with the Matthew 5:22 injunction firmly in mind, I am reminded of the following verse from Proverbs 24, so I will just close with it because I have no desire to incur further risk of damnation or being like Reverend Jeffress.
Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Scripture And Song For The Week: I Thessalonians 5 And Lucinda Williams Edition

I Thessalonians 5:
14 Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.
15 See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.
16 Rejoice evermore.
17 Pray without ceasing.
18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
19 Quench not the Spirit.
20 Despise not prophesyings.
21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
22 Abstain from all appearance of evil.
23 And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
24 Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.
25 Brethren, pray for us.
26 Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss.
27 I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren.
28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

What Does It Mean To Be A Conservative? Part II

From my Twitter feed this afternoon, conservatives apparently want to become liberals. I am not making these up.

What The Heck Is A Conservative?

Following links off my Twitter feed, I came across this article about a class on the history of American conservatism. The fact that the class discussed Russel Kirk, William F. Buckley, F. A. Hayek, and Milton Friedman. The fact that Ayn Rand is not mentioned in the article is cause for joy. Actually, the young conservatives reactions to conservative history that the article describes are cause for a bit of hope.

This paragraph, however, illustrated that the word conservative has become so elastic that it's meaningless:
We ended our time together by discussing current splits in the right. The differences between foreign-policy neoconservatives and paleoconservatives became acute after victory in the Cold War. In 2017 the spectrum of conservative thought in America runs from libertarians to neos to paleos to traditionalists to nation-state populists all the way to the alt-right fringe. You have Senator Jeff Flake and his Conscience of a Conservative on one hand, and Steve Bannon and on the other. The various claimants to the conservative throne each have problems.[emphasis mine]
The only way this list could be more inclusive is if it contained "Appalachian snake handling glossolalians who are also members of Opus Dei."

More importantly, first the connotation of the word "fringe" implies that the author of the piece doesn't consider the "alt-right" conservative. Their populist rhetoric certainly indicates that the only thing that makes them conservative is that they consider the word "liberal" a pejorative. Given the current kerfuffle over National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, the alt-right seems more willing to break conservatives' bones than it does to break bread with them.

Further, the list left off social conservatives. Libertarians who want everything legal as long as no one is defrauded or physically harmed and the social conservatives who want legislation that clearly defines which toilet a person uses do not seem to share the same philosophical spaces.

In some ways, it's poetic justice. Elements of the conservative movement distorted the word liberal until it became an epithet. Now, conservatives can self-identify and the term can apply to those who want to extend the American empire and those who want to erect trade barriers can both be conservatives makes the word vacuous.

Friday, August 4, 2017

A Post Wherein I Make A Modest Proposal Guaranteed To Anger Political Purists

Bob Mercer tweeted the following yesterday.

The link will take readers to this quoted tweet.
Without context, it's unclear if Mercer used the appositive "Augustana University faculty member" to show that her statement should be taken as authoritative or if he used it to indicate that her statement causes him to wonder how Wanless maintains her employment with Augustana.

Wanless's statement that South Dakota's two-party system is "polarized" does deserve examination. Polarization is a problem; however, it is not the biggest threat to South Dakota's "2-party system." The lack of a competitive second party is far more concerning.

This series of electoral maps from Nate Silver's site illustrates an obvious point: South Dakota, like the rest of rural America is getting redder.

Original source

Earlier this summer Pat Powers ran posts featuring South Dakota Republican Party Chairperson Dan Lederman, state senator Jim Bolin,  and Mercer contending that Democrats were their own worst enemy. They cited a litany of problems, best summarized by Mercer: "The biggest is turnout. Democrats don’t show up. The second is candidates. Democrats leave more seats open than Republicans do."

I'm going to posit another problem. People lie when they register to vote. According to the South Dakota Secretary of State voter registration numbers, Aurora County should be the most purple county in the state. It has 802 registered Republicans and 799 registered Democrats. In 2016, Donald Trump won 69.2% of the vote. It's difficult to believe recognizable Democrats voted for Trump in those numbers.

To go a step further, fifteen (15) South Dakota Counties have more registered Democrats that Republicans. Trump carried ten (10) of them. Two, Charles Mix and Miner, gave him over 65% of the vote.

Maybe these counties were a hotbed of Bernie Bro activists who voted for Trump's populism to protest what they saw as Clinton's betrayal of their cause, but that's not realistic. I'll take the odds of Franklin Graham converting to Islam in the next year over that possibility. It's more likely that they these registered Democrats don't identify with the Democratic Party and are part of the rural red tidal wave.

Let's get on to the proposal indicated in the post's title. For the purposes of a thought experiment, let's accept three things as true. First, South Dakota Democrats have been woefully inept during the last few election cycles. Second, Republicans have unfairly gerrymandered. Third, as a pair, Trump and Hillary Clinton were the worst major party candidates since Herbert Hoover and Al Smith.

Given those three stipulations, is it rational for anyone to run for the state legislature or any statewide office as a Democrat even if that person is politically moderate, financially well-off, and respected locally or statewide?

The fact is vitriol is often confused with political discourse. Further, a large number of South Dakota's self-identified Democrats voted for Donald Trump.  In fact, flying one's extended family to Disney World for a week seems to make more financial sense than running for a South Dakota political office as a Democrat. It will certainly produce less stress. The odds that such a decision would alter for the worse the number of Democrats in the state legislature are negligible.

The 2016 presidential results and voting trends in rural areas since 1992 indicate a the better option may be for moderate voters to disabuse themselves of the notion that South Dakota has a two-party system and register as Republicans, get active, and attempt to pull that party to the center or, at the very least, prevent it from going over the populist precipice. In areas where Democrats can field quality candidates, moderate voters should swing to Democratic party in the general election.

Currently South Dakota doesn't have a true two party-system. It's unlikely to develop one in the upcoming decade. As it stands, trusting one's neighbors, even those who are registered Democrats, to actually vote for Democrats seems a suckers's bet, so changing the party dynamics seems to be a first step to restoring a small bit of political balance.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

A Few Minor Musings About "The Death of Expertise"

Dashiell Hammett's con man Casper Gutman says, "Talking's something you can't do judiciously unless you keep in practice." Blogging and reading also require practice, and this summer has shown me how woefully out of practice I am at both activities. In an effort to regain some form, I'm going to post a few observations about Tom Nichols's The Death of Expertise.

First, Nichols gives a thorough overview explaining how we have gotten to this point where all opinions, no matter how ludicrous, are treated as equal; he illustrates how schools, talk radio, the Internet, and experts' hubris all share in the blame. Nichols's clear exposition of how each entity produced voters who are both angry and misinformed makes the book a must read. 

Second, Nichols buries the lede. The problem of  "the most disturbing aspect of the American march toward ignorance is 'not lack of knowledge per se but arrogance about that lack of knowledge'" is first mentioned on page 216. To be fair, I'm not sure anyone knows how to solve the problems caused by that particular arrogance, and any attempt to do so would have required a far different book.

Third, Nichols has written an eminently readable book. (I will probably assign it to a couple of my Debate II students.) The book's readability, however, points to a larger problem that Nichols alludes to several times: can experts and the public, even with the intervention of "public intellectuals" communicate? Nichols quotes several public intellectuals in his book. One, James Poulos, is so comfortably esoteric that he is likely unable to communicate most ideas to an average person on the street. Nichols also quotes Dan Drezner, one of my favorite denizens of the Twitterverse. Drezner, like Nichols, is eminently readable. That said, Drezer's column today refers to a "Bulworth-like jeremiad." I may be selling my friends and neighbors short, but I'm not sure I know 10 people who can both recognize the allusion and define the word. Bubbles exist and experts get comfortable talking to other experts and we common folk get comfortable talking to other common folk. Communicating across bubbles is far more difficult.

Finally, Nichols does an excellent job of mentioning the need for humility. I think this scene encapsulates what Nichols is saying, (The most relevant part starts at 7:20)