Monday, May 2, 2016

As Far As I Can Tell, This Really Is An Article From The National Review, Not A Satire

The piece by Jim Geraghty is entitled Liberals Can’t Tell the Difference Between ‘Satire’ and News, and GOP Presidential Campaigns Are Paying the Price.

My -- my what? My Schadenfreude? -- begins with the title of the piece. Is Geraghty really trying to tell us that political satire is why the GOP Presidential campaigns are in trouble? As opposed to them being in trouble because they're so easy to satirize?

Onward. The first sentence of the article -- from June 2015 -- is:

"Have you noticed your liberal friends on Facebook spotlighting some unbelievably shocking comments from Republican presidential candidates lately?"

Does Geraghty really believe that a lot of his readers have liberal friends?

Onward. Geraghty goes on to decry the fact that liberals are posting things on Facebook which are not true. Quotes alleging to be from people like Ted Cruz and Ben Carson containing things which Cruz and Carson never said!

Mendacity!

Thank goodness Geraghty alerted us to this! Imagine -- things posted on Facebook which are inaccurate!?! ???

I gotta go back to the title of the article again: Liberals Can’t Tell the Difference Between ‘Satire’ and News, and GOP Presidential Campaigns Are Paying the Price.

It's true that some liberals can't. Some liberals, to borrow a phrase from liberal icon Hunter S Thompson, are too dumb to pour piss out of a boot. But some of us liberals can tell the difference between satire and news, and some of us, when we're not sure, actually go to the trouble of researching purported quote to find out whether or not they are genuine. You see, headlines like that, implying that either all liberals or liberals in general are either too dumb or too lazy or too intellectually dishonest to tell the difference, are one of the reasons -- just one! -- why I become skeptical of this talk about the "liberal friends" of Geraghty's readers.

It's true, conservatives are misquoted all the time. Just like everybody else. But that's not really the problem. My Schadenfreude ends where it began. The problem here, for conservatives, is that if the targets of satire don't resemble the satire to a great degree, the satire doesn't work, neither as misinformation nor as humor. It's true, just as Geraghty says in this article, that Sarah Palin never said that she could see Russia from her house. Tina Fey said it in a send-up of Palin in September 2008 on "Saturday Night Live." But Fey really isn't the problem here. If Palin hadn't already actually said enough idiotic things in her short period in the public spotlight before September 2008, not only would no-one have ever actually believed that she'd said she could see Russia from her house -- it never would have occurred to Fey to satirize Palin by portraying her as saying so.

Politicians and political journalists blaming satire for their problems is really sad. I hope Geraghty refocuses his righteous passion for truth, and returns to his usual headlines about how Obama was born in Hawaii and was a brilliant student in college and law school.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Philip Harland Says Early Christians were widely Considered To Be Atheists


Breaking news: Early Christians were impious atheists...in the eyes of some angry Greeks and Romans, that is.
So claims Harland.

Well, Professor Harland and I disagree. Harland says that Tacitus and Pliny the Younger "imply" that Christians are atheists. I disagree with him about that. It could be that Harland is much better at reading between the lines than I am. Or it could be that he pulls the charge of atheism in Tacitus and Pliny the Younger out of -- thin air, so to speak. The offense of the Christians in Tacitus and Pliny -- and Tacitus implies that Nero trumped up the charges -- is that they refused to go along with the public offerings to the gods which included deified Emperors. The concern is not so much with what the Christians believe as with whether or not they are loyal Roman subjects. Politics and religions were very much combined in pre-Christian Rome, and everyone was expected to go through the motions of making sacrifices to the deified Emperors, much the same way that everyone was expected to pay whatever taxes were levied on them. If people refused to go along with the public sacrifices, it was suspected that they might refuse to pay taxes also. (And this suspicion sometimes turned out to be right.)

The only texts Harland produces in which Christians are called atheists are the Martyrdom of Polycarp and the Acts of the Christian Martyrs -- hardly the most reliable historical sources. (See "The Myth of Persecution" by Candida Moss.)

And in any case, being an atheist was not an offense to pre-Christian Romans, not the way it became an offense under Christian rule. Many ancient Romans -- for example, Pliny the Younger's dad, Pliny the Elder, the celebrated author of an encyclopedic work we know as the Natural History -- made it quite plain that they didn't believe any of that religious stuff, and many more made ambiguous statements which certainly could be taken as implying that they didn't take any of religion's supernatural claims seriously, from Ovid pointing out in his Metamorphoses that since his subject in that work was deities, it was certainly practical to behave as if he believed they existed, to Suetonius' account of the Emperor Vespasian crying out on his deathbed, "Oh no, I think I'm becoming a god!" The general reaction to this passage in Suetonius -- respect for Vespasian's character, because it seemed he had a sense of humor about himself right up to the last, and not outrage because he was making light of the supernatural -- seems to indicate that among the Romans skepticism about the supernatural was widespread, and not a big deal. They just weren't in the habit of going out of their way to rub believers' noses in it, nor did they connect their atheism with a rebellious attitude against the Roman Republic or Empire. Occasionally a believing Roman got offended anyway, the way that Manilius was offended by Lucretius (deceased when Manilius wrote) and other Epicurians, but Manilius didn't get anyone killed over the issue, nor do I see any evidence that he would have wanted things to have been taken that far. He just felt that Epicurus and Lucretius and their followers were mistaken and that the gods existed, and he wanted to make that point very clear.

So. Professor Harland says that the early Christians were widely regarded as impious atheists. I agree that they were widely regarded as impious, as were all monotheists, whether Jewish, Zoroastrian or Christian, because to the Romans piety meant respect toward all of the deities in the world. But atheism was not required in order to be impious, nor was it guaranteed, just because someone was an atheist, that he was impious as well. Lighthearted statements of disbelief in all supernatural things seems to have been widespread, and accepted. But grim attacks against the reality of this deity combined with the worship of that one -- that was impiety, to the pre-Christian Romans.

Frederick, William, Frederick William, Why?

From 1640 to 1918, every ruler of Prussia was named Frederick or William or Frederick William. Frederick William was the Duke of Prussia from 1640 to 1688. He was succeeded by Duke Frederick III of Prussia in 1688, who became King of Prussia in 1701. Then in 1713 came King Frederick William I; in 1740 Frederick II, the famous gay "Frederick the Great," renowned general, respected composer, patron of Voltaire; in 1786 Frederick William II; in 1797 Frederick William III; Frederick William IV; in 1861 William I, who remained King of Prussia even after becoming Emperor (Kaiser) William (Wilhelm) I of Germany in 1871; in 1888 Frederick III of Prussia and I of Germany; and later in 1888 William I of Prussia and Germany, the last monarch of Prussia (so far, ha ha), who abdicated in 1918.

Maybe it's just me but it seems strange that for 278 years they couldn't think of any names besides Frederick, William and Frederick William. Albert, George, John, Louis and a few others could've been chosen even without picking a name no ruler of Prussia or Brandenburg had ever had before.

At last, some of the pretenders to the Prussian and German thrones have had different names. for example, Louis Ferdinand, 1907-94, pretender from 1951 to his death. He seems to have been an alright guy. He was an opponent of the Nazis and didn't leave Germany while they were in charge, a gutsy combination even with the mighty protection of his lineage. He was imprisoned after the 20.July 1944 plot, although apparently he had not been involved in it. And it is said that he was a patron of the arts and had some other cool qualities, so there we have it. Also, the medals he had probably could not all have been carried at once by a horse, let alone a man. You want to get a lot of medals? Be born into royalty or a formerly royal family, that seems to be the easiest way.

I'm just sayin' s'all.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Dream Log: Wondrous Light

Last night I had one of those dreams where I think I've come across a huge breakthrough, and then when I wake up -- well, then it was just a dream. I think I know what caused me to dream on the theme of light: my next-door neighbor had some lights on all night. Apparently someone forgot to turn them off. Just a little bit of that light got through my window shade. Not enough to keep me awake, but enough to get into my dream.

I dreamed that -- well, what? That something wonderful had happened with light. It was going to completely change my economic situation for the better, and maybe the economics of the whole world too.

So maybe it is more than just a dream, because: solar power.

But in the dream the details were extremely vague. Something somewhere to do with light had caused some sort of huge scientific and/or technical breakthrough, and I was involved with all of it somehow (even though in waking life I have no great expertise in any science or technology directly related to light) and there were reproductions of spectrums on pieces of paper, and various people were looking at these pieces of paper, and some were very skeptical, and others were saying, hmm, yeah, that's a huge breakthrough.

It wasn't clear what sort of breakthrough it was, but it seemed that I, and possibly others, was going to get rich from it. Even though I didn't know what I had done to lead to the breakthrough and couldn't even read the spectrums the way the other people were doing.

The spectrums were printed vertically on the pieces of paper, not left to right like every spectrum I've seen in waking life. The verticality didn't seem important in the dream. It wasn't as if the breakthrough had to do with turning the paper 90 degrees from the way such things are usually looked at.

In retrospect, it seems strange how much we were looking at paper and how little we were looking at computer screens or laboratory equipment or blackboards or whiteboards, and also how the paper contained only those printouts of spectrums, and not, for example, mathematical equations. And also how I walked from office to office to speak to each person face to face, with no phone calls or emails or texts.

While the breakthrough or discovery or technical innovation or whatever it was was being discussed by various people, I was walking around a quiet city downtown in the middle of the night, checking in with various experts who normally would be sleeping at this time of night, but the breakthrough was too important for them to be sleeping -- or, from the point of view of the skeptics, they had been woken up in the middle of the night for no good reason, which made them understandably grumpy, and I was sorry about that even though I disagreed with them about how important this was. I would go into an office or some other building where someone had come to discuss the pictures of the spectrums, and they would react however they reacted, positively or skeptically, and then I would move on to the next place. It was clear that by the early morning there would be some level of pandemonium in the city, and maybe sooner than that online, about the breakthrough.

There was a misunderstanding when I went to the wrong part of a building, a clothing-warehouse area, and a policeman thought I was a burglar. He handcuffed me to a rack of winter coats, but he didn't lock the cuffs right, and when he went away for a minute to do something I just took the cuffs off and walked away, continuing my consultations with the optics experts.

The sense of success was so powerful in the dream -- even though the details of just exactly what the success was, and just exactly how I was involved with it, were so vague -- that it took a while after I woke up to realize that it was just a dream, and that there weren't going to be any emails or voice mails related to it waiting for me.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Boehner Has Harsh Words For Cruz

In an interview published today on the website of the Stanford Daily, John Boehner was delightfully blunt about his opinion of Ted Cruz:

“Lucifer in the flesh. I have Democrat friends and Republican friends. I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.”

In the interview, Boehner says that he and Donald Trump are friends, that they play golf together and that he will vote for Trump if Trump is the Republican nominee. But not for Cruz.

The story suggests that the interviewer, David Kennedy, a history professor emeritus at Stanford, may have tricked Boehner into being especially candid by pointing out that the interview was not being broadcast. But how could Boehner have thought that the words of his I quoted above would not be quoted by about a bazillion people, including just about every political broadcast journalist in the US and a lot outside the US?

The Stanford Daily story does not mention whether or not Boehner was drunk at the time of the interview.

Well, we've got a lot of prominent Republicans saying they will not vote for Trump if he's the Republican nominee; and some saying they won't vote for Cruz, period. You may say that there is always a certain amount of rough-and-tumble during Presidential campaigns, and that party members tend to swallow whatever personal animosities they may have and come together for the sake of the party by November, and that's true. But this Republican Presidential campaign is different. It's very hard to walk back statements like “Lucifer in the flesh. I have Democrat friends and Republican friends. I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.”

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Is Cruz' Choice Of Fiorina As His Running Mate The Beginning Of His 3rd-Party Run?

Yesterday the Donald swept all 5 of the day's Republican primaries. Today Ted Cruz announced that Carly Fiorina is his running mate. Cruz is still steadfastly maintaining that the Republican nomination is undecided. But Trump is a lot closer to it than he was on Monday, and picking a running mate is something a Presidential candidate normally does after it's clear that he or she will be a party's nominee.

That's why I'm wondering if the Cruz' announcement about Fiorina is really, although not yet explicitly, the beginning of his 3rd-party run.

Am I really the only person wondering this? Surely not, although right now I'm not able to find anyone else saying it.

Cruz, of course, is not saying it. But by picking Fiorina now, when he loses the Republican nomination, a very important part of the groundwork for his 3rd-party campaign will already have been done.

Well, we'll see. You heard it here first, apparently: there will be a Cruz/Fiorina 3rd-party campaign. Am I a wizard? Am I a Democrat wallowing in wishful thinking, dreaming about what a huge landslide there could be with the Right wing vote split between the Donald and Ted?

We'll see.

How Many Of Bernie's Supporters Will Support Hillary?

Yes, I know that the news is full of Bernie supporters saying that Hillary is a Republican/a corporate stooge/a cannibal/whatever, but the question is: how many of Bernie's supporters are like the "Bernie or bust" nutbags in the news, and how many can see that Bernie and Hilllary aren't very far apart in their positions, which are way, way to the left of Cruz, let alone Donald? How many are the nuts, and how many have a clue? Well, I guess we'll find out.

I guess we'll find out too whether or not Bernie is a nut, and, if he's not, how much influence his has over those who love him but are irrationally anti-Hillary, however many of those there may turn out to be. It's about turnout now. It's over, Hillary will be nominated. It's been over for a while, but after yesterday's primaries -- Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware -- it has become obvious to a lot more people that it's over. Including Bernie? Some pundits think so. They're expecting a halt to Bernie's personal attacks against Hillary, and a return to him talking about issues, coaxing Hillary to the Left (Is there actually any more room to her Left for him to coax her before she's significantly to the Left of him?) and assuring everyone that he supports the Democratic candidate for President -- whoever that may be.

Will he clearly support Hillary -- as the far better choice than any and all Republicans, that is -- while remaining a candidate? And does that actually make sense at this point? It's not as if he's suddenly going to lose everyone's attention if he ends his campaign.

And will it actually matter that much whether, and to what extent, he supports Hillary? I guess we'll find out. Does he actually not grasp how important it is how many Democratic victories there are down ballet in November? I guess we'll find that out too.