Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Creating his own religion

I'm reading the long set of responses to a question posted by Rod Dreher, an orthodox Christian. He wants to know how people have lost their faith, and he wants to hear the individual stories.

One of the responses was so full of human truth. The writer, as a young child, pretended to be saved so a crazy lady preacher wouldn't hurt him. Then Grandpa (a deacon) made sure the crazy lady never preached there again. Even for a deacon, some of it is tooooo crazy!

This writer has developed his own set of simple religious beliefs:
Only One God. Only One Humanity. Only One Rule ('do unto others…') Only One Time (NOW is our only point of contact with Eternity...) Only One Destiny (either Everybody goes to heaven – after healing – or Nobody does.)

Then he wrote this:
I really don’t much care anymore what the Answer is. It doesn't make a difference on my behavior, or on the behavior of anyone I know. The good people keep on being good, regardless of their religion, and the selfish bastards keep on being selfish, regardless of Their religion.
I love this simplicity, and it feels more truthful than all the wild stories in many religions. Are we supposed to take those seriously? But that's what some people need--a  complex set of myths sold as the gospel truth that happened exactly that way.

Image: pinterest.com

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Short: Liberalism is respect, resistance, conflict, and hope

This is a review of a book that tries to tease out the basics of liberal democracy. I won't read the book because the review explains the ideas well enough, and I can already start applying them. So how do these four basic ideas work to undergird liberalism?

  • Out of respect for people, none are arbitrarily excluded from the rights and protections that others have.
  • Power tends to tyrannize, so it must be checked (resisted) through individual rights, checks and balances in government and society, and the right of the people to decide on laws.
  • Conflict is inevitable, since people desire conflicting goals. But the conflict is channeled through liberal practices of competition, discussion, debate, and voting.
  • Hope is the belief that change will generally be for the better, so the system shouldn't be frozen at a particular point, but should be allowed to adjust and change. (This is the least developed of the ideas in the review, so I've interpolated, or guessed.)
I was surprised at how well this list of four aspects explains liberal democracy. It really is a surprisingly full and satisfying explication. Who would have thought it would boil down so compactly? Amazing.

Image: milleniumpost.in

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Moderating forces and their opposites

I'm a moderate and I want a moderate political party. Why isn't there one I can join, goddammit?

I asked this question on a recent 'question day' that Jonathan Bernstein hosted. His answer is that forces within a political party are more often centrifugal (fleeing the center and moving toward one side). People get involved in parties because they really want a particular policy on an important issue. They are passionate, and they pull the party that way. The non-passionate aren't involved, don't vote in primaries, and show up only at the end--at the general election. Then the moderates are disappointed with the choices, but they weren't involved in earlier decision-making, so maybe they shouldn't be complaining.

It's true. I'm a member of a political party, but I'm not exerting myself in an attempt to pull the party in my direction. I suppose I shouldn't complain, but I still will. Maybe I'll start thinking about how to get involved in my party and push them in my direction.

Luckily, there are moderating forces that act on parties. Hooray!!! Nate Silver writes that parties become more moderate in their candidate selections after they've lost a few too many election. Yes, they wise up, stop listening to those passionate wackos, and choose someone less frightening to the center. Why does it take a bunch of losses? Why are the lessons unlearned after a few wins? I don't unlearn lessons.

Or maybe I do... Perhaps, when things are going well, I forget some of those humbling lessons, like not to be troll, or don't overestimate my value to my employer.

Perhaps I'm starting to understand why parties are the way they are. But I still object.

Image: apod.nl

Monday, September 8, 2014

Short: Concise summary of partisan polarization

This column in the Washington Post starts out slow, but then quickly covers why we have such a partisan divide, and why it's so likely to persist. Different and irreconcilable positions on the role government--check. Partisans on each side hate, despise, and completely distrust the other party--check.

Worst of all, the country has a schizophrenic split. The "country is philosophically conservative and operationally liberal." So we want those services, but despise the provider. Oh God, are we in trouble...

Yes, but we're not in a civil war, so we may muddle through well enough.

Image: thatwoman.wordpress.com

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Tiptoe around the War Powers Act

The US is bombing quite a bit of Iraq these days, targeting the forces of the Islamic State, or whichever name they're using today. (It used to be ISIS for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, then changed to ISIL, referring to Levant in place of Syria.)

Obama sent a letter to Congress on August 8 in compliance with the War Powers Act, which requires the president to notify Congress of military intervention, and conduct it for no more than 60 days without congressional authorization. So if the US continues bombing beyond Oct. 7, Congress needs to authorize it.

Oh no! Bad timing...

But wait! That's less than a month before the election. Will Congress be willing to take such a vote then? According to this article (and observations of this Congress), Republicans won't want to vote for anything the president requests. But they don't want to vote against military action either when it's action against murderous fundamentalist Muslim forces who are conducting mass shootings, terrifying minority religious groups, beheading high-profile prisoners, and threatening to take over the world. If you're a Republican, you hate Obama, but you hate Muslim extremists more. That still doesn't make it an easy vote, so Republicans will probably want to avoid it.

Dems have their own reasons for wanting to avoid it. They don't like reminders of how many Democrats voted for Bush's Iraq war resolution. If that was a mistake, wouldn't this be a mistake too? That's the easiest way to look at it. They can try to lessen the unease by putting limits on the military actions, but it's unclear that will satisfy wary Dems who'll have to take that vote.

So both Dems and GOP fear making a mistake on this vote. Will Obama force them to take a vote? If history is a guide, he won't. He never forced a vote on Libya. He got a lot of pushback against a vote authorizing bombing of Syria, and the vote never materialized. There's a very good chance that this vote won't happen either.

A Law is a Law

That's not good. We don't need yet another military action where the Congress was too divided to discuss and vote on it. We don't want to add to the precedent of a president and a Congress being too cowardly to follow a perfectly reasonable law... do we?

Maybe we don't mind it. Skirting laws probably happens all the time. The president and Congress don't follow the law, but they get away with it because ... the law is a pain in the ass, and no one that important is going to complain about the breach. Breaking the law is less embarrassing than having to decide which way to vote, so it's tough noogies to the law. Hey, maybe we shouldn't bother having laws at all.

Well, on second thought, laws are generally good, and it's best to abide by them for the most part. The War Powers Act is a reasonable law, and should be followed. Obama shouldn't be such a wuss--he should go to Congress and ask for authorization, a definite yes or a definite no. Then it's on Congress to act. They can authorize, vote against the authorization, or they can wimp out and not vote at all. If the members of Congress can't get a vote, they are the ones who failed to express their will, and Obama should do what he thinks needs to be done. That's still not in compliance with the law, but at least he gave it a chance.

Shoulda, woulda, coulda, but didn't.
Image: cagle.com

Update 4/6/15. We now know how Congress will respond, and it's by wimping out. Obama sent a request to Congress on 2/11/15. For some, it's too limited a request, for some too much, and for some, it's the hated prez asking for something, so the answer is easy.

Friday, September 5, 2014

How big an issue is Obamacare?

Is Obamacare (more properly called ACA) a major issue in this election? Is it a major issue for most folks?

It's hard to tell. The comment boards are still stuffed with vociferous supporters and detractors. Conservatives are still predicting a train wreck, which was supposed to materialize for two years now. Liberals are counting up the successes, and recounting how conservatives' worst predictions haven't panned out.

It's still too early to call ACA a success. We don't know the effect of the health systems or what the costs will be in terms of the federal budget within a few years. The Medicare program costs almost double its projected expense: the program needs a yearly infusion of over 45% of its expenditure beyond the payroll tax that are collected.


ACA really should be a big issue. It's a major piece of legislation affecting a lot of medical care and health insurance, particularly in terms of cost. However, if it's not a big issue, it's because the GOP don't know how to talk rationally about it, and don't know how to criticize it rationally. Most of all, they don't know how to replace it.

The usual conservative meme is that Obamacare is a takeover of the healthcare system, which is about 17% of our economy, maybe higher. This is an exaggeration, of course. You don't have to check in with some government department to see your doctor, as you would have to, say, register a car. The government has a monopoly on car registration, but nothing like that with doctors. Most of the other conservative claims are also wild exaggerations.

This irrational talk can't help too much with swing voters, so I wonder why the GOP does it. Perhaps a party really has to energize the base and the haters in the run-up to an election. Maybe it's just habitual for the GOP, who never stopped hating on the Clintons. But it definitely doesn't help with voters who are trying to make rational choices. On the other hand, that group of voters (the rational swing voters) may be so tiny that it doesn't matter. That's a really sad thought.

Repeal and ... um ... um

I'm not sure which is worse: the irrational critique or that the GOP haven't settled on a replacement. They should have had one for the 2012 election. Maybe they lost partly because of that gap in their agenda. I certainly wasn't going to vote for them with a gaping hole like that.

This vagueness was a problem for them in 2012, and continues to be a problem. Dems can run on the status quo--"don't let the GOP undo what we've accomplished." The GOP can't run on that, but they haven't figured out what they will run on, other than irrational exaggerations about how bad the status quo is. What a stupid party the GOP is, and what a shame for voters who deserve a choice.

Sure, that passes the reality test.
Image: thelastgreatstand.com

Short: The Keystone pipeline and freight transport

Here's an interesting article, particularly if you think about ramifications beyond oil, pollution, and political hot potatoes.

Oil can be (and is) shipped by rail and truck, not just by pipeline. Pipelines can leak and/or explode, as can freight vehicles, such as this deadly one in Canada in 2013. Since I'm in the vicinity of Albany, I regularly hear about the potential dangers of their substantial traffic of oil tanker cars.

But it's not just the dangers from shipping oil in moving vehicles. There's also the issue of other freight being priced out of the market, including farm products.

Is everything connected to everything else? I'm terrified that it's true. Now I'm going to either 1) decompress, or 2) clean up the mess from my head exploding.

 Which derailment is this? Lynchburg, maybe?
Image: markosun.wordpress.com