Category Archives: Philosophy

Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

It is the easiest thing in the world to belittle the weak, and the Texas Democratic party has been almost catatonic since J.J. Jake Pickle and Lyndon Baines Johnson’s Democratic force fell by the wayside. Texas Democrats had a brief resurgence in the 80’s and 90’s with Ann Richards as governor and with the Clinton’s in the White House; but truthfully, the Texas Democratic party of old died with Jake Pickle at about the turn of the century.

Which is probably a good thing, because the way the Democrats used to do business is mirrored in the way that the Texas Republicans currently do business. Gerrymandering. Stuffing ballot boxes. The outright purchase of votes and candidates by the wealthy class.

Media pundits know who holds the power now. It’s evident in every broadcast you listen to, every telecast you watch or any article you read. Oh, sure, they pay lip service to the notion that the Democrats are due for a comeback; but the corporate media, the corporation, that most feudal of all still existing human social structures, they make their money ass-kissing the powerful, just as their forebears did to kings and sultans, czars and sheiks. They ass-kiss the Republican party because the Republican party has shown their willingness to engage in a bit of the ol’ ultraviolence by letting a known money launderer and populist dictator wannabe take the reigns of power in the US.

As an example, here is the darling of the liberal press, NPR’s weekly politics podcast, talking about the first in the country primaries in Texas this Tuesday,


MARCH 7, 2018 Takeaways From Texas, As Midterms Kick Off

Even a casual listener of that podcast and the one that follows it can’t help but notice that the only voices heard aside from the hosts are conservative leaders. They even play the entire Ted Cruz ad, as if I haven’t heard it several times already on other liberal news organizations, as well as an interview with Ted Cruz! Free advertising and free airtime for the sitting Senator from Canada, er, Texas. Do we hear anything from his opponent in this race, Beto O’Rourke, aside from their making fun of his showing and his name, yucking it up right along with that son of a dominionist Cruz?

No, of course not. He’s never going to have any power, in their eyes. He’s just not pulling the interest of the news consumers, that skewed demographic that sits at home watching FOX news as if this was still the 1990’s or something. One might think the media would have learned a thing or two from the mess they made of the 2016 races, following the Orange Hate-Monkey (OHM) around like little puppies afraid they’ll miss the next tidbit of tasty gossip. All the while certain that their free advertising for this dangerously jingoist, nationalist, uninformed conspiracy fantasist wouldn’t help earn him the White House all on its own. Never consciously realizing that their dismissal of the favorite, a savvy, political insider who had been hounded by the press for nearly 40 years would end up creating a vacuum that something had to fill.

No, they just go on blithely doing the mindless reporting that they always do, looking to see what will get them the most viewer or listener numbers. Never really asking if these were the stories they should have spent their precious time talking and writing about. And so the numbers stack up in the conservative column, and the people follow the media who follow the assumed power, none of them ever asking if that leadership is a judas goat or not.

Let me break this down for you, the layman who doesn’t live and breath politics like I do. Republican primary turnout in Texas is high because in Texas you can only vote in one primary for one party. So if you are interested in selecting the leadership of your county or state (cities are generally non-partisan races by design)  you will go and vote in the primary of the party you think will carry statewide offices. And that party in Texas has been the Republican party. Democrats last won statewide office in 1994, the longest dry spell in recent US history. Only a fool votes in a primary for a party that will not control the state after the next election, or so the average voter thinks.

Ted Cruz was essentially unchallenged in his primary race, so Ted Cruz got every vote of every Texan who voted in the Republican primary unless they took the time to not vote for him. And since most Texans voted Republican he got more votes than the Democratic candidates did. Does this mean anything in the grand scheme of things? Only that most people want to be on the winning side in an election and will change their stances on subjects after the fact just to prove how right they always were.

If Texas had jungle primaries like California does, you would see something you’ve never seen in Texas before, cross-party voting on the primary ballot. You would see a lot less racism and persecution of the transgendered and homosexuals, because there would no target demographic that would vote on issues that arcane without partisan primary grandstanding. If Texas had districts that weren’t gerrymandered to a fraction of a percentage point on average party turn-out (like Pennsylvania) but were instead drawn by a non-partisan commission, you might see people voting for the other party just to get a change of government in their district. But we don’t have those things, and so the self-fulfilling prophecy of Republican victory is underscored by pundits who aren’t interested in how the opposition is hobbled in Texas, they just want to congratulate the victors no matter how rigged the races are at the outset.

Back in LBJ’s day, the Democrats did all this stuff too. It’s hard for them to criticize the Republicans for doing things that they did, that they will do again if we let them. The trick is to inform your leadership that you want a level playing field before you send them to office. That you want maximal voter turnout, sensible districting, wide-open primaries and real discussion of issues. Good luck on getting the media to stop following the easy story, the quick click reward. In the meantime you could just stop believing that pundits know what the future holds anymore than you do yourself right now. Then you might at least stop fulfilling the prophecies that they keep making.

Ballotpedia.org

The Blue Wave was real, and then it wasn’t, in the course of about a week. Stranger still, the made-up national story arc seemed to influence in-state coverage as well. Even though Democratic turnout was better than in any midterm primary since 2002, and more than than double 2014, commentators have consistently described the night as at least a mild disappointment, where the Democrats “fell short” of a goal that had been imagined for them.

Texas Observer


The thing is, the way the state goes on the electoral college map doesn’t mean very much at all for the way Texas is governed. And while it’s possible that the party jumps back to life with the shock of winning one or two statewide elections — that there will be a proof of concept, and then everyone suddenly gets serious — it’s more likely that things change slowly, over an extended period of time, and that small gains and positive signs feed bigger gambits. What’s most important in the long run is the overall composition and strength of the Texas Democratic Party at the local and state level.

In that light, the fact that Democratic turnout doubled in urban counties while Republican turnout stayed essentially flat is significant. There are quite a few winnable legislative districts around those cities. The whole ballgame for the party is getting people to vote and to make a habit of voting. Trump is helping them do that — the trick now is to get it to stick, which it most certainly did not after the elections of 2006 and 2008. – Christopher Hooks for the Texas Observer, The All-or-Nothing ‘Turning Texas Blue’ Narrative Needs to Be Retired

The interview with Christopher Hooks on the Texas Standard today spells out exactly what I’m talking about. The media, focused on national races and their outcomes, never even considers the fact that the truism all politics is local holds sway even in places as large as Texas,


Texas Standard, Is It Time To Stop Talking About ‘Turning Texas Blue’?

Progressives are making inroads in Texas, and there isn’t a damn thing that Republicans and conservatives can do about it. For Democrats to win they have to offer real improvement on what the Republicans are doing now. Funding schools. Improving safety. Protecting the environment and moving Texas into the the next century. Listening to the OHM and his canuck croney Cruz talk, you would think that there aren’t fields of windmills in West Texas providing essential electricity to the grid. That solar wasn’t the future and that the emergence of electric cars in the cities isn’t a thing that is happening. You would think that Texas lives and dies by coal, which was never true, and that we’re still in the wildcat days of the oil boom in Texas, which we aren’t.

It’s time to put the conservatives where they belong, in the past with their fear of the transgendered and the homosexual. Their need for their religion to be front and center in everything they do. We cannot afford to be side-tracked into meaningless crusades against the different and the strange. There is real work being left undone because of their fear-mongering and immigrant hating. Time to roll up the sleeves and get back to work. 

TL;DR? Maybe You Should Have Read It

StonekettleStation on Facebook

That is the most common response I get from people who think they disagree with me. “No links. Write your argument for me specifically. I don’t have time to read your articles.” I love the way they expect me to spend time they don’t have, as if I have their time and I’m hoarding it.

Many of the people that say this appear to have crafted this counter over years of dealing with disagreement. Having been confronted with a fact-based argument they couldn’t refute in the past, they simply insist on the facts being presented to them concurrently, probably knowing that most arguments are far too complex to be communicated succinctly in a comment thread. When their opponent becomes angry and ignores them, they feel vindicated. They never realize that their inability to accept facts in evidence is the real problem, not their opponent’s argument. That their opponent will not spend the time to hold their hand and lead them down the path to revelation somehow proves to them that they are right.

I have tried copying and pasting entire articles to comment threads in the past, and the resultant wall of text is then dismissed as Too Long; Didn’t Read (TL;DR) I dismiss long, rambling walls of text (like this one) as TL;DR myself, so I get it. But that doesn’t make them (or me) right. It means the reader isn’t interested in the subject or  interested in (even afraid of) changing their mind about whatever it is. I think this is the most common answer. They are bored. They really aren’t interested in the subject being discussed.

Now, imagine what the response would be if the bored person typing TL;DR really needed something, let’s say their air was poisoned and they didn’t believe it. They’d be dead before they figured it out. Or the other way ’round. What if they needed someone else to do a completely routine thing (like click a link and read a counter-argument) and the responsible person just couldn’t be bothered. “Why yes, I can see that you are bleeding out, and you need me to apply pressure to that wound. But I don’t want my hands to get all icky with your blood.”

If you are wasting time on the internet, reading a well-crafted counter-argument is probably the best use of your time. You learn what your opponent thinks. You learn what your arguments weaknesses are. The most frustrating thing is knowing you have the facts on your side, and the emotional believer of the contrary won’t even look at the facts for fear they might have to change their mind about something. It’s those kinds of people that make me despair for the future.

Politics and religion. A majority of people will not think critically about either one. Now that the Republican party has merged the two into one, becoming the party of Christianism, wanting to establish a christian nation, they think they’ve combined their strengths when they’ve actually multiplied their weaknesses. Like the person breathing poisoned air and doesn’t believe it, Republicans are blind to the threats they refuse to see. Here’s hoping they don’t take the rest of us down with them. 

The Myth of Bootstraps

There have been several podcasts in my feed over the last year dissecting and observing the subject of poverty. This is probably because of the over-hyped evidence that the majority of Trump (OHM) supporters were poor, rural whites. The podcasters in their turn feel they need to address the issues raised by these people. The issues that made these poor, rural whites feel so desperate that they would hazard the welfare of us all on a known liar and con artist.

I say over-hyped with no intention of belittling the plight of the poor, or the fact that poverty runs rampant in the modern United States. Poverty is more widespread and more painfully felt now than it has been at any point since the end of World War Two. The disparity between rich and poor today is comparative to 1929, in the time leading up to the crash and the Great Depression. People are poorer now and paid worse than at any point in modern American history.

But it isn’t trade deals that are causing this problem. It isn’t illegal aliens in the US taking our jobs. It isn’t any of the things the OHM says is causing poverty; and his solutions to fix poverty are solutions that not only have been tried before but failed to work previously. So why do them again?

No, I say over-hyped because the rural poor more than likely voted for Trump because the rural poor have been the largest viewing block for reality TV. The rural poor have little other entertainment they can access aside from television. The Apprentice was popular with the same people who voted for Trump. Why is it so hard to admit that these people thought that the character on that show was the guy they voted for in the election? That the lack of broadband access in the rural areas of the US have lead to an information gap that resulted in the election of a con artist to the presidency? That poverty is merely a factor in the larger problem of inequality in America?

All of these podcasts have struck a chord with me. I have blogged both directly and tangentially about this subject in the past. It is not a subject I like writing about. The nerves are raw and the wounds are kept fresh in my current situation of disability and poverty. The series from On the Media, Busted: America’s Poverty Myths brought me to tears. I recognized so many tropes from my own childhood. Things family members and friends both have uttered in my hearing. Things that I have been guilty of believing in the past. In this article I will take a more purposeful walk down that  memory lane, painful as it is. I want to do this in the light of these discussions by scholars, writers and journalists.

…and I will start this journey of introspection with the writer/journalist Stephen Dubner and his podcast Freakonomics,

James Truslow Adams, born in 1878 to a wealthy New York family, became a financier and, later, an author. He won a Pulitzer Prize for a history of New England; and later he wrote a book called The Epic of America. Even though it was written during the Great Depression, Adams took a fundamentally bullish view of the United States. 

His book was hugely popular, and as best as we can tell, it introduced the phrase “The American Dream.” Adams defined this as “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”  The phrase caught on, and not just a little bit. Especially among our presidents…

…The Stanford economist Raj Chetty has been working with large data sets to try to understand why so many Americans are no longer living the American Dream. When it comes to economic opportunity, Chetty and his colleagues found huge regional and even local differences throughout the U.S.

As he told us, kids growing up in San Francisco have about twice the chance of living the American Dream as kids from just across the bridge, in Oakland. Why? One easy explanation would be that the people in those different areas are just different – they have different abilities, different cultures, different job opportunities. And that certainly has some explanatory power. But Chetty and his colleagues found the story isn’t that simple… 

…This is hardly a new idea – that growing up in a poor neighborhood isn’t the best launching ground for economic success. This idea, in fact, led the Clinton Administration to experiment in the mid-1990s with a program called Moving to Opportunity. 

Okay, so young kids who move out of a high-poverty neighborhood do much better later on. What, exactly, does this signify? What’s going on in the poor neighborhoods to depress income mobility and what’s going on in the better neighborhoods to increase it? Answering those questions has become a big part of Raj Chetty’s work. 

The above hits the high points without getting into the meat of the episode, which is excellent. The scholar Raj Chetty‘s five factors address my personal experiences of poverty directly. It was because of this episode that I felt the need to write more on this subject, but the title of the post comes from a segment of another podcast, which was introduced to me through this episode of Radiolab,

In a 5-part series called “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths,” On the Media picked apart numerous oft-repeated narratives about what it’s like to be poor in America. From Ben Franklin to a brutal eviction, Brooke gives us just a little taste of what she learned and shares a couple stories of the struggle to get ahead, or even just get by.

This episode features an excellent overview of the 5-part series; enough for the casually interested, but not enough for someone who remembers the shock of sudden poverty as a child. A now old man who lives in poverty due to illness, disability, a truly lackluster US economy, sexism/ageism in the workplace directed at the Wife, etc. But I don’t want to get ahead of the narrative, and discussing the particulars of my experience in poverty even in the general sense gets ahead of the introduction provided in the full five part series from On the Media.

“You had a population that wanted to cling to those things because it justified them not sharing.” – Jack Frech Athens County welfare director

As the Freakonomics episode mentioned, It is actually twice as easy to move up the income ladder in Canada as it is in the US. This is a travesty, an ongoing insult to America, this delusion we live under. What delusion is that? The delusion that the US is the best country in the world to live in, that we provide more access to social mobility than anyplace else in the world. It simply isn’t true. Hasn’t been true for a good, long time.

The first episode of the On the Media series is an introduction to the reality of poverty in America. It is the boxing glove on the fist of the next three episodes that drive home the fact that we Americans really don’t have a clue what it is to be desperately poor in the US. Even I only vaguely recognize the lives that the truly poverty stricken must live. The reason for this is; I profited from the status of my parents. My parents, in their turn, benefited from the status of their parents; white, working class, upwardly mobile christians with land. My paternal grandparents had enough property that they farmed at first, and then sold land to the city and to new families moving into the bustling township that Leoti, Kansas was after the dust bowl. They sold and profited as the town grew around them, just like the dreams of all Americans play out.

“Cultivation is at least one of the greatest natural improvements ever made by human invention. It has given to created earth a tenfold value. But the landed monopoly that began with it has produced the greatest evil. It has dispossessed more than half the inhabitants of every nation of their natural inheritance, without providing for them, as ought to have been done, an indemnification for that loss and has thereby created a species of poverty and wretchedness that did not exist before.” – Thomas Paine Agrarian Justice The Writings of Thomas Paine pg 331

The possession of land leads to wealth, if one is lucky enough to own the right piece of land at the right time. The Steele family in Wichita county, Kansas were those people. The fact of their ownership of land made them powerful within the township. The location near a then-growing town gave them a chance to sell off some of their property for cash, something that there is never enough of in any small town. People have to eat, after all. They have to have somewhere safe to sleep. All of this costs money in the modern economy, and the only way to get money is to work or be born into it. So I wasn’t born into poverty, at least.

I was born overseas to a father who was stationed there in the military, a mother who enjoyed being overseas for the first time but really didn’t enjoy the constraints of a military wife in the 60’s. She returned to the states not too long after my birth, and my father left the military as soon as his mandatory term of service was up. They returned to my father’s home on the high plains of Kansas as I mentioned. My father grew up in a little town named Leoti that would be so small you would miss it if you blinked, if only the main roads went anywhere near the place. My father’s family had settled there a few decades previously and Grampa had several thriving businesses in the town. One of those businesses was sold/given to my father when he left the military, and he settled down with my mother for the happily ever after that all young people believe in.

Did I say “happily ever after?” Yeah, that never showed up. Dad took to drinking a fifth of bourbon every single day as he struggled to deal with bringing in enough cash to support his growing family. Mother was unhappy because the family kept growing and her husband didn’t seem to be around much to help. The fighting got worse until it damaged the furnishings and frightened the children, and the divorce wasn’t long after that. Coming out of the 40’s and 50’s and the attitudes about women and families, the ridiculous notions of money and politics, wealth and poverty and the meaning of all these things all wrapped up together, the surprising part of this story is that some women put up with the way life was for them. They put up with it instead of leaving. Maybe they had better husbands?

The story of my pre-teen life was pretty common for the time. By the mid-70’s when the divorce happened fully half of all marriages went that way. Prior to World War Two women were expected to stay home, raise children and provide for the running of the household which encompassed pretty much everything you can imagine. Everything you can imagine, if you imagined a self-sufficient household operation that was a day’s horseback ride from the next nearest town, a train ride away from the nearest city with running retail businesses in it. A household without running water or electricity. That is what frontier life was like just two generations into the past for me, four generations now. My grandparents remembered towns without electricity, the introduction of indoor plumbing and the automobile.

Automobiles made the difference. This fact is spelled out in the heaps of rusted metal you can find dotting most older farmsteads. When the old car dies you leave it where it sits and buy another one, just as you did the tractor and the harvester. On the Wife’s family farm you can still see her dad’s first tractor, parked on the edge of the field where it died, rusting into nothing as the decades fly by. It still sits there even though the farm itself has changed hands twice since her mom sold it. Sold it because there just wasn’t any reason to keep it any longer.

We weren’t farmers. We were never going to sign up for that life. The automobile made city life bearable because you could live in the outskirts of the city and commute downtown for work. In the city you don’t need to make your own clothes, you can go to the store and buy them. You can go to the store and buy them, that is, if you have the money. Money has been the limiting factor imposed on the poor for longer than any of  the now living can remember. Longer than those who came before us can remember. Further back than even our great-grandparents and their parents time.

Brooke meets Carla Scott, a young woman in Cleveland forced to sell her plasma for bus fare after a series of events derailed her life, as well as Carla’s nonagenarian grandmother, Grace, a hard-line believer in “personal responsibility.” 

Personal responsibility or paying for every mistake you’ve made for your entire life. That would be costly, and hasn’t been my experience. This is the privilege of white skin in the United States. It certainly hasn’t been luck that has seen me through to now. I’ve told myself all my life I make my own luck. I make my own luck because 50/50 chances almost never fall my way.  Even so, there are many behaviors that I have engaged in that would have resulted in imprisonment and probably death, had I been caught doing them while black.

While I was near homeless for a few years living in friend’s spare rooms and sleeping on enclosed porches, I never had to sell plasma. I didn’t have children of my own to tend to before I was ready largely because I knew what a pain children could be. That was one of the many lessons I learned being raised by a single mom.

The benefit of city living masques the machinery of poverty creation. Having everything you want or need available at a store for purchase makes the delusion of self-sufficiency seem quite real. Self sufficient, if you have the money to buy these things. Self sufficient, if you have work that pays money. I have always had work because I would do just about any job offered to me. White, young, male, with no tattoos and no piercings. This was important above all things; maintain the illusion of a fine, upstanding middle class status. That illusion kept me working.

Poverty waits for those who fail to maintain the illusion. Jobs that go to others. Careless sex that leads to children. Drug addiction. Tattoos and piercings that announce your rejection of white bread America. That inner-city poverty of slums and ghettos? The tattooed and the peirced? The drug addicted and the ne’er-do-well? That poverty that has moved out into the country from the cities. The rebellion that motivated the election of the Orange Hate-Monkey (OHM) was generated in rural America, in the persons of the last victims of a grinding poverty that has plagued the poorer neighborhoods of cities since their creation. I noted the rural American bellyaching rang hollow to me in the essay I named after him,

Listening to the people who attempt to defend their affinity for the Orange Hate-Monkey in the podcast isn’t helping. Oh poor, misunderstood me whining by rural whites strikes me as just this side of pathetic. As if urban blacks don’t have problems, haven’t had worse problems for the better part of two hundred years. The fact that the researchers on this podcast are so divorced from the truth of the matter, that the reality-disconnected people they have been interviewing actually turned out to be the ones who had the last laugh, that they got their American Psycho candidate on a collision course with the White House, in the face of the researcher’s own blithe belief that Hillary Clinton was a shoe-in for the presidency, isn’t helping with the surreality of this moment in time.

I know what grinding poverty looks like even though my experience with it was mercifully brief. That time was right after my parent’s divorce. For a time my mom made the best of life in rural Kansas. We got to keep the house. Dad moved into a trailer parked behind his service station. He managed to wrangle down his child support to $300 which wasn’t enough to cover the cost of keeping a roof over our heads, even though that roof had been home for as long as we could remember. Mom took her first job outside the house since going to college, a job teaching Head Start to Leoti preschoolers, a job that was taken from her because she didn’t have a teaching certificate. She left college to get married and had no saleable skills aside from homemaking, a job she couldn’t do anymore without a husband.

So mom remarried. He was a nice enough guy when we met in Leoti. As soon as we left Kansas and moved to Texas, the trouble started. The poverty got worse. Dad stopped paying the child support and only restarted it after mom sued him to get it. The stepdad started drinking heavily, and he was a mean drunk. There were a number of times where my mouth got me in trouble and I ended up on the floor. The last time I saw him was the day he brought another woman to the house. After watching him abuse my mother wordlessly for months, after being the victim of his abuse during that time, having him show up and flaunt his girlfriend in my mother’s face was too much. When mom sent us into the house and told us to hide, I waited behind a door I knew he would come through if he did come in for his stuff. I waited with a high vantage point and a heavy blunt object. I wanted to make sure that if the opportunity presented itself, there would be a near guarantee of killing him. I hated him that much.

Luckily for both of us, the opportunity never occurred. He left without his stuff. I was on a plane to stay with my father in Kansas within the week. Psychotherapy was part of that process. I was the lucky one. The luckiest of the four children who endured the stepfather. I had a room of my own in my father’s house. I had running hot water at the tap. I had a mother and father who were concerned for me. I never appreciated this fact, this blessing, until visiting my mother in Texas and seeing what hitching her cart to the stepfather’s wagon had wrought in the end.

The unlucky ones? They had one bed for the four of them to share. Mom went through another divorce, which means those three siblings went through it with her. The garage apartment they found in the tiny town they had ended up in didn’t have a reliable roof or much in the way of indoor plumbing. They had to heat water on the stove to fill the bathtub so that they all could bath each night. My mother had taken the next of dozens of jobs she would eventually hold, working the night shift running that blight of the American landscape, a convenience store. Virtually the only profitable business in yet another small town whose only claim to fame was being on the road to somewhere else.

When I saw how bad their living conditions were, I cried. We siblings then made the first of several pacts that followed over the years. After a few weeks of mutual badgering, our parents in their separate hostile camps were convinced to let the rest of the kids move back up with dad and his new wife. I didn’t appreciate having to share a bed with my brother again, but at least they had hot water to shower with. Television to watch. Decent schools to attend, back in the good old days, when Kansas still believed in investing in young people.

For the first time in my mother’s short life, she was free. No children to supervise. No husband to cook for or tend to. Free to try and advance her skills by returning to school. So she did that. She moved to a larger town in the area, a town called Sweetwater. It was a town with a school, a town big enough for a trade school, but not so big that it became expensive to live in. She took business classes and worked odd jobs. She was probably about as happy as she had ever been.

This happiness was short-lived. This is a section of the story that I wrote about at length here,

Dad had remarried, but found the chore of raising 5 unruly children too much to deal with so he sent us back to our mother in Texas to live. The 5 of us crammed ourselves into whatever housing she could afford on the wages for whatever jobs she could get.

…She just went back to working at fast food joints, bars and restaurants, the odd convenience store job as the demands for housing, clothes and food for her growing children required.

It was a point of pride to my mom that she never took food stamps. That she never had to go on welfare. Her memory is a bit more selective than mine. We may never have needed food stamps, but we certainly ate a lot of government bread and cheese. Drank a lot of government milk. I got a job as soon as I could after moving back in with mom. I knew even before she explained it to me, there was no way we’d survive if I wasn’t working. So I started sacking groceries and cleaning up at night at one of the two grocery stores in that mid-sized Texas town. I took a lot of food that the store was going to throw away home with me instead, one of the benefits of being the flunky who throws out the trash. We never went hungry, but that is just barely the truth.

I spent my senior year in high school as a stranger in a school I didn’t really want to attend. I preferred the Kansas schools of the time. Kansas’ investment in higher education (now abandoned) Kansas’ belief in better times ahead (ditto) Texas was meaner. Texas was harsher both in climate and attitude. That mythical Southern hospitality is the velvet glove over the iron fist of crony capitalism and repressive social structures designed to keep the poor in their place.

I attended the same trade school my mom had moved to Sweetwater to attend and I made the best of the illusions I had been fed as a child. That I could be whatever I wanted to be. That I had no limitations. That all I had to do was work hard and I would make the grade. That I could live happily ever after, too.

It’s not about IQ… it’s the context you inhabit

In the third installment of our series, “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths,” we take on one of our country’s most fundamental notions: that America is a land of equal opportunity and upward mobility for all. And we ask why, in spite of a wealth of evidence to the contrary, does this idea persist?

With the help of historian Jill Lepore, Brooke traces the history of the “rags to riches” narrative, beginning with Benjamin Franklin, whose 18th century paper manufacturing business literally turned rags into riches. We hear from Natasha Boyer, a young Ohio woman who was saved from eviction by a generous surprise from strangers… only for the miracle to prove fleeting. And we consider the efficacy of “random acts of kindness” and the fateful role of luck — where you’re born, and to whom — in determining success.

Much like Benjamin Franklin in reality, as detailed in this segment of the story, I moved away from the family that was a drag on my ability to succeed on my own. Their poverty making my poverty that much harder to ignore, that much harder to escape. After a brief, heartbreaking few months trying to establish myself in Kansas back living with my father, trying to make good on promises made to a girlfriend I had left in Kansas and failing at that rather spectacularly, I returned to Texas and moved up the road from Sweetwater to Abilene for a brief time, living on my own. Like everyone who transitions to life on their own, that was quite a shock. I think it was the month driving on a leaky tire because I couldn’t afford a new one that brought home just how hard it was going to be to make the grade. Just how remote the possibility that happily ever after might ever occur.

“It’s alright to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.” Martin Luther King Jr.

It was while living in Abilene that I noticed that I effectively had no boots and thusly no bootstraps to draw myself up by. I had limited education, most of which I provided for myself through voracious reading. I clearly had a problem producing work in my chosen profession, a barrier that I had never realized was mine alone until that time. There was no one with money in my immediate family. I knew no one in Abilene aside from co-workers at jobs I no longer had, and I wore out their welcomes in pretty short order. I even had to borrow mom’s pride and joy, the first new car she had ever bought for herself, just to get myself out of the rut I’d made in Abilene and move myself to a new, hopefully more promising locale, San Angelo.

It was in San Angelo that I met the Wife, working at one of the many odd jobs that came my way. It was there that I dragged the rest of my Texas family, after I finally found a job that paid money and had rented a house that would fit all of them. It was there that all of them eventually went to college. It was a long, hard struggle even getting to that level, the level where I felt I could attempt to repay a debt to my mother that I knew I still owed. But I was still poor, just not as poor as I had been. In order to not be poor I knew I was going to have to find a bigger city. Bigger cities require more architecture, more planning, more design, and I knew that was a demand that I could help satisfy if I could just get there.

In the fourth installment of our series “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths,” we examine the strengths and shortcomings of our nation’s safety net. Government assistance does help lift millions out of poverty each year — indeed, without it, poverty would be twice as high — but those in the most dire circumstances often slip through the cracks.

With the help of Linda Tirado, author of Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America, and Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, we consider how anti-poverty programs can actually keep people poor and offer little hope for a way out.

Also, Brooke meets Margaret Smith, a Columbus woman made homeless after a violent crime derailed the life she’d carefully built with her six children. And we visit an Athens County food pantry that provides not just meals to the community, but also school supplies, clothing, furniture, job training, home repairs, disaster relief…even burial plots.

In the city there is no illusion about the temporariness of prosperity, of hearth and home. If there is any real difference between city life and country life, it is the illusion of permanence that country life affords. In the city you pay by the month for everything including hearth and home. You never stop paying for anything, ever. New cars, bigger houses, longer commutes, more roads, taller buildings, denser usage. The city is a meatgrinder, and the meat it grinds is human. Best not to watch it happen if you have a weak stomach.

It’s true, there are more opportunities in the city if you can afford to go there and look for them. I took that leap almost thirty years ago now. Left what I see now as a quiet little town of a hundred thousand people; ten times the size, and more, of my hometown of Leoti at its peak. Austin boasts more than a million citizens now. if you incorporate its far-flung suburbs, there is something closer to two million people who work and live here because of Austin being here and pretty much for no other reason. It certainly isn’t for the weather, which is Texas hot nine months out of the year.

There is a little joke in Austin that if you move here and don’t have allergies, wait five years. You’ll have them, just wait. I had allergies before moving here and I never intended to stay here. Fate has kept me here, year after year in spite of my intentions to leave as soon as I was assured of an ability to provide for my family. I was ill before I got to Austin, and my illness has gotten worse every year I’ve been here. The symptoms which had no name eventually got so bad that I found a name for them, Meniere’s. Finding that my symptoms had a name is the only reason I’m alive to write this uplifting little post today. Having a name for what keeps me from working is what gets me disability payments that kept my now-grown children fed while they were still growing. The disability made me worth more alive than dead; so I’ve kept living, to the consternation of many.

Disability isn’t a carefree life of freedom and bliss. Ill health is generally hard to endure even without the grinding poverty that accompanies it in most cases. The poverty is inflicted on those of ill-health by the system itself, not as a function of their relative worth. The cost of treating illness is itself a function of building the wealth of countless millions of healthcare professionals, people who would be as poor as I am without people like me coming to them for treatment. Without Social Security and Medicare paying my bills, I’d have taken my own life years ago. All those thousands spent to educate my children, house, clothe and feed them, would never have existed. Their promising careers, the careers of my Texas family who went to college because I brought them somewhere that had a college, all of the people who benefitted in some way from the work that I’ve done if not by the simple existence of my health issues, none of them would be where they are now had I simply not existed. Had I been cast aside like the poster-waving homeless visible on every city street corner in the US.

Nothing hits so hard for me as being in my car pulling up to an intersection, and having someone come to me with their hand out. I can’t look because I know that if I give in to my desire to help everyone around me, I will soon be the one standing on the street corner holding a sign. See to your own needs first, as any properly trained triage attendant knows. You can’t help others if you end up needing help yourself. I have clung to the top edge of a vertical drop into non-existence for more than a decade now. Every single cent of every dollar spent in the last ten years having to be justified in some way. Kicking myself for ever frivolously spending anything in the years that I had money, not realizing that those years would be the briefest of all.

When reporting on poverty, the media fall into familiar traps and pundits make prescriptions that disregard the facts. So, in the fifth and final installment of our series, “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths,” we present a Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook: Poverty in America Edition. It’ll equip you with the tools to spot shoddy reporting and the knowledge to identify coverage with insight.

With help from Jack Frech, former Athens County welfare director; Kathryn Edin, co-author of $2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America; Greg Kaufmann, editor of TalkPoverty.org; Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City; and Linda Tirado, author of Hand To Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America.

This brings me full circle. From bootstraps to bootstraps. How can you lift yourself with your own bootstraps when you have no boots? Casey Gerald asks that very question in a TED talk that I favorited over a year ago. I love this talk. It makes me cry and laugh and cry.

“The gospel of doubt does not ask that you stop believing, it asks that you believe a new thing: that it is possible not to believe.”Casey Gerald

Like him I really don’t have any answers aside from the plain observation that what we have attempted so far in the realm of aid to the poor has failed, utterly.  We must begin again if we ever hope to improve the human condition. The only sane way is to approach the problem with the knowledge that we don’t know what will work before we try it. So it will profit all of us to make sure that what we are attempting can be tested for effectiveness before we embrace it as true and real. 

Why the Minimum Wage Isn’t Enough

I had this image thrown at me in a minimum wage argument recently. What about the cost of producing milk? What about tax rates? Hunh? How do you explain that? If I had real patience with the speaker, I might have explained it this way. A gallon of milk costs one gallon of milk. That is its actual value, because it is a gallon of milk. I didn’t, so that wasn’t my initial argument.

Without refrigeration, milk spoils quickly, which means milk has to be drank quickly.  This is why cheese was so popular before refrigeration, unless you lived on a dairy farm.  Before refrigeration most milk went to make cheese or it was fermented into an alcoholic beverage (try it, it is revolting) because even though you could die from drinking tainted raw milk, it was still an irreplaceable source of protein. What created the market for milk was pasteurization and the discovery of cheap refrigeration (Connections) both of which indirectly impacted farming techniques and allowed farmers to get milk to the stores so that you can enjoy it and the farmer can profit from selling it. No one pays for the knowledge that is utilized to make all this possible. It is gratis, free, part of being in the human community.

However, the cost of educating all these morons so they don’t poison themselves is not factored into the cost of the gallon of milk. Anyone care to guess what that cost would be? I’ll save you the trouble, it can’t be calculated. Why? Because the cost of education raises the cost of production, which in turn raises the cost of education, etc. This incalculable cost is what is known as an externality and people who count beans for a living would like to pretend that externalities don’t exist.

But externalities do exist.  Which is why the cost of a gallon of milk is… one gallon of milk.  Money is a variable that steps into the equation that allows you to get milk without having to raise and milk the cows yourself.  That is really all there is to it.

What we have to decide is, what is money? That is what we need to figure out. If it is a creation of society then we can say everyone gets some, not enough, but some, and if you want enough you have to work for it. That function right now is served (imperfectly) by the minimum wage.  It could easily be served by Universal Basic Income or some other kind of minimum income floor that would allow people to survive without requiring everyone to work all the time. Funds are distributed to everyone or just the poor at a set rate a month, a week or even daily. Not enough money to live lavishly or even easily, just some money for everyone in any given area. What would that do for the economy?

The bogeyman of income tax tacked on at the end of the meme is just that. A bogeyman placed there to scare you. Income tax is a bad vehicle to do what the government wants, and is as subject to change as the minimum wage is. The list of alternatives to progressive taxation is nearly as endless as the numbers of ways that progressive taxation can be calculated. Set dollar amounts should be done away with, in any case. A 99% confiscatory upper tax rate could be set on any income that exceeds 20 times the lowest income in the marketplace. See how fast lower pay increases when you tie upper pay to it. Can the wealthy get by on $160 an hour? That should be an interesting experiment to witness.

Personally I like negative interest rates imposed on money left uninvested. That forces money to be used in the marketplace or lost over time. Impose negative interest rates on all accounts which are not retirement accounts or money market accounts. Invest it, save for retirement, spend it or lose it, Pick one. In any case, the problem is not the minimum wage. The problem is the limits on the imagination of the image creator.

The image was found wild on the internet, and was used in an internet argument against me. Post content written and forgotten on November 13th 2016. I probably had other things on my mind that day.

Czar Putin Declares Pogrom Against Russian Love Story

That is the headline that The Guardian should have gone with when they wrote this story,

Christian State-Holy Rus, a radical Russian Orthodox movement, warned in February that “cinemas will burn” if Matilda was screened.

This month, another Orthodox Christian activist destroyed part of a cinema in Yekaterinburg, the central Russian city where the royal family was murdered, by driving into it in a minibus containing gas cylinders and a barrel of petrol.

Uchitel, whose film studio in St Petersburg was targeted in an attempted arson attack in August, says police have ignored his appeals for protection.

Natalia Poklonskaya, a prominent MP with Vladimir Putin’s ruling United Russia party, has said the film “insults the feelings of religious believers”, a criminal offence in Russia since 2013, and has called for it to be banned.

With the declaration by the Russian Orthodox Church that this film should not be seen held firmly in our view, with a member of Putin’s government calling for prosecution of the makers of this film, it becomes almost a human duty and definitively an American’s patriotic duty to take the time to watch this film. There is no more basic difference between Russia and the United States than the widely misunderstood notion of freedom of speech.


2017 Matilda Trailer It took me a bit to find a trailer with English subtitles.
I would love to see the film dubbed in English. Here’s hoping there is an English version.

The last Czar of Russia, Czar Nicholas, was the equivalent to the pope of the Russian Orthodox Church, and has been elevated to sainthood in the revived church. A church which has been in ascendancy along with Vladimir Putin, and not coincidentally by many accounts. What is left unsaid in this pogrom against the film is that Vladimir Putin should be seen as the current figurative head of the church (the Pope in Catholicism) or Czar of Russia; or would be seen that way if his hand was allowed to be seen initiating this persecution of free expression in his country. Vladimir Putin is far too canny to be seen so transparently manipulating his people.

When Jesus Christ Superstar was originally on Broadway, it was scandalous,

The Broadway show and subsequent productions were condemned by some religious groups. Tim Rice was quoted as saying “It happens that we don’t see Christ as God but simply the right man at the right time at the right place.” Some Christians considered such comments to be blasphemous, the character of Judas too sympathetic and some of his criticisms of Jesus offensive. At the same time, some Jews claimed that it bolstered the antisemitic belief that the Jews were responsible for Jesus’ death by showing most of the villains as Jewish (Caiaphas and the other priests, Herod) and showing the crowd in Jerusalem calling for the crucifixion. The musical was banned in South Africa for being “irreligious”. A 1972 production of the play was banned in the Hungarian People’s Republic for “distribution of religious propaganda”.

When The Last Temptation of Christ was first released on film, it was boycotted around the country and protested outside the headquarters of the film’s creators,

Because of these departures from the gospel narratives—and especially a brief scene wherein Jesus and Mary Magdalene consummate their marriage—several Christian groups organized vocal protests and boycotts of the film prior to and upon its release. One protest, organized by a religious Californian radio station, gathered 600 protesters to picket the headquarters of Universal Studios’ then parent company MCA. One of the protestors dressed up as MCA’s Chairman Lew Wasserman and pretended to drive nails through Jesus’ hands into a wooden cross. Evangelist Bill Bright offered to buy the film’s negative from Universal in order to destroy it. The protests were effective in convincing several theater chains not to screen the film. One of those chains, General Cinemas, later apologized to Scorsese for doing so.

The Calvert Journal

I attended a viewing of The Last Temptation of Christ on principle. I’ve actually seen it several times. I won’t sing its praises the way I will Jesus Christ Superstar, but then I’m not a christian and most of the issues that christians objected to in the film miss me by a mile. I think Jesus should have given up his hatred of family and settled down to raise one. He would have lived longer. The world might even have been a better place if he had. If that unexplained tangent confuses you, you probably should go watch The Last Temptation of Christ and retain your American Patriot status.

The creators of Matilda should be lauded for being willing to take on the subject of Czar Nicholas and the end of Czarist Russia, not persecuted for daring to tell a tale deemed to bawdy and uncivilized for a saint of the Roman Catholic Church. I will be paying to watch the movie in a real theater if I can find one showing the film in my area. It is the least I can do to support the arts and freedom of speech across the globe. Every America should go see it because it will piss off Vladimir Putin, if for no other reason. After giving us president Trump, it is the least we can do in return.

I originally titled this piece Pope Putin Declares Jihad Against Russian Love Story. I mixed the religious connotations on purpose; Jihad for the violence the label recalls to mind, Pope because most people don’t know that the Czar is the pope of  the Russian Orthodox church. As usual, my attempts at clever word play are too clever by half. Now revised to its current form, it stands in testament to the fact that clever headlines never again sound as clever as they did the moment you come up with them. Most of them just start sounding offensive and stupid. It still should be Czar Vladimir, not Putin. Czar Romanov wouldn’t tell you which one of the Romanovs was currently the Czar, and it is a duplication of terms since the house of Romanov was the Czar’s house for several hundred years. But Vladimir has too many syllables, and Vlad is somebody else in history. We’re not doing vampire stories on this blog, and Vlad the Impaler wasn’t Russian. 

Atheism is not a Belief System

“Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.” – Bertrand Russell, Is There a God?

Once upon a time there was a forum at Dan Carlin’s podcast website. The forum has since been deleted, and the posts only sporadically appear in the Wayback Machine now. It’s hit or miss to find any of the almost six thousand posts I logged there over the decade or more I haunted the forums. For a very long time I considered those forums the best place, the only place, to go to argue politics and philosophy. I was probably always wrong on that score, as I was wrong on so many other scores back then, but it felt almost like home for a period of a few years. Before it turned sour. Before it was dominated by the hateful few who had successfully driven off the thinkers there.

I discovered Dan Carlin’s podcasts, Common Sense and Hardcore History through an advertisement on Freetalk Live, back in the days when I was a hardcore Libertarian idealist. Back when I would show up to argue things I didn’t understand with people I didn’t understand and couldn’t figure out. I was lucky if I could extract a rebuttal from the cryptic lines of text they would type in reply to my (in my mind) clearly worded arguments. It took many years and lots of fumbling to realize that what I thought was clearly worded was generally the same mish-mash of disconnected and unconnectable personal anecdotes turned into text strings that I was presented with by other members of that and other forums. Groups of the blissfully unsuspecting that I would descend on like a vengeful wraith of anarchist freedom gone mad, sputtering coded gibberish that I’m sure most people couldn’t even wrap their heads around. At least, that is how it seems in hindsight.

Dan Carlin was one of the pioneers of what is now a burgeoning industry of informational and news podcasts, and I was an early listener of his starting with about the thirtieth podcast of Common Sense. I signed up for his community forum in January of 2007. I made enemies almost immediately and was driven off by old-timers there a few times. I was driven off only to return the next time Dan posted a Common Sense show that I wanted to argue about. I say driven off  because that is what was happening. Dan Carlin had and still has some quaint ideas about the value of input from those uninterested in conversation, what most of the world today labels as trolls. I wasn’t above trolling in my own way, but I never understood why clear attempts to end conversation were never stopped by the many moderators present on the forum. It was years later that I realized that they were never going to do anything about these trolls. Dan Carlin’s expressed opinion on the subject of freedom of speech was that everyone had a right to speak even when that speech was specifically intended to disrupt. As my willingness to be verbally assaulted waxed and waned, and as the membership in the group altered and new people appeared to take the place of old adversaries, I would come and go infrequently.

I would come and go infrequently that is until episode 172, an episode I retitled Texas SBOE Destroys Education; an essay that I posted to this blog at the time and also posted to the forum. In that podcast Dan appears to suggest that creationism could be successfully taught alongside modern scientific theories about the history and future of the universe, a point which he quickly denied on the forums and yet remains exactly as I stated in the podcast. When I protested that the last thing that should be done was to compromise the scientific method in such a fashion, I was immediately laid upon by a large section of the forum’s membership, an overwhelming number of which were christians (like the majority of American society itself) christians who wanted their views taught in school as if their beliefs were the unassailable truth. Truth with a capital T, better than the results of scientific inquiry.

After being badgered for days about how science is itself ultimately unprovable in a post-modernist sense, after being badgered for my atheism and how atheism also makes claims about reality which cannot be proven, I created a secondary thread with the title Atheism is Not a Belief System. I honestly thought I’d at least get the rest of the atheists on the forums on board with this subject line. I mean, not having a belief in a thing isn’t itself a belief, right?

It’s funny in hindsight, this naive belief that two people could agree about anything on the internet. What happened over the years, from June 2, 2010 to the day the boards went down late in 2016 can only be described as a cluster fuck. There really isn’t any other words that will cover the mess that resulted from the creation of that thread.

Part of the problem was mine. It took years for me to distinguish between those offering friendly criticism and those who were militantly convinced that all atheists were of the devil. The last group was pretty clearly demarcated because most of them were incoherent even though they offered walls of text as explanations. It was during the attempted shepherding of this rolling orgy in a cesspool that a lot of my current attitudes towards substandard attempts to troll, incoherent if firmly believed arguments, and just plain bad attempts to be funny were formed. Since the people trolling the thread to silence conversation were never going to be punished by the administrators of the forum, I was forced to simply block the trolls who could not be reasoned with. I blocked the dangerously deranged and mildly threatening alike, attempting to force the thread onto the course that the title implied, all to no avail. The militant christians of the forum made it a religion thread, until I finally gave them what they wanted. I changed the title to That Religion Thread. This was the first of several subject lines I gave to the thread. Every one of the new names I gave to the thread following that one were blatant attempts to murder it. I changed the title and the OP’s contents to reflect what the forum’s participants were saying at the other end of the (then 400 page) thread several times, over the course of years and it was largely ineffective, although I did get it to roll briefly off the front page of the forum once. Once.

As I became more and more disillusioned with the concept of online arguments per se, I spent less and less time on the one board that I had ever managed to get a foothold in. In the end my cutting wit would get me banned from forum after forum. If I was not banned outright, I would simply submit to the pressure to leave. I’ve never been one to overstay my welcome. This eventually became true at Dan Carlin’s forum as well. The only time I came back was when someone would resurrect the zombie atheism thread specifically to get us old-timers (now I was one of them) to come back and argue about something. The orifice-plugging spectacle reached a staggering 608 pages in length before Dan pulled the plug on the forum itself, finally admitting what I had attempted to illustrate to him several times; that some form of authority is required for a productive conversation to occur. He has now moved his community to Facebook, where any user can remove anybody for any reason they please from a conversation. This also impedes productive conversations, but at least those threatening your life can be kept from seeing your activity online there.

That is the story so far, the history of the title of this piece without the meat of the argument for it. Congratulations if you’ve made it this far. I will now attempt to codify six hundred and eight pages of sporadic on-topic posts into one sound argument that I think will cover the ground intended. I’d like to hope that it turns out better than the time I told my mom I don’t want to talk about god anymore, I’d rather talk about something important, but please do not asphyxiate yourselves waiting to see if it will work.

Part of the problem of outlining this argument is that, for me, the argument has always been transparently easy to understand.  Ever since first discovering that belief in god wasn’t universal, way, way back when, back in the days of Sunday school religious indoctrination, grade school prayers and mandatory church attendance for the children while the parents stayed home and slept in. It was bound to happen eventually. As a voracious reader I was going to run across the fact that some people didn’t believe in god in some book somewhere.

Reading Bertrand Russell and Winston Churchill as a teenager was my introduction to disbelief. Black Velvet is what Winston Churchill called how he saw the afterlife. Rather than instantly converting me to atheism, the idea that there was an actual ending to existence scared the crap out of me. I doubled down and became a born-again christian, crawling to the front of the church in my desperation to believe the way everyone around me seemed to believe. The way my grandparents believed and were so happy with. I wanted to be like them.

But it was useless. I was never going to believe the way they did because I wasn’t them. I also wasn’t my parents who cheerfully packed us up and sent us to church with the grandparents while they went back to sleep. I had questions and I wanted answers to those questions, even if the answers to those questions scared the crap out of me. It wasn’t until I found a kindred spirit in the form of the Wife that I knew that it would be OK to simply admit that I didn’t believe the fairy tales written in the holy books that everyone took so seriously. Our children have never set foot in a church unless we went with them; which means they’ve been to several weddings and several funerals at churches and not much else. So I proved I was not like my parents or my grandparents to my children and to myself.

But what does it mean, Atheism? Is it different than Agnosticism? What about Freethought? The answer to that question is that every single person who takes on one of those labels has some different conceptualization of what the label means to them, exactly like any other descriptive term applied to any individual whether that term applies to sex, gender, race, religion, job function or area of study and thousands of other quantifying parameters that I can’t be bothered to mention. So if I tell you atheism means x I’ll get a majority of atheists who will probably disagree with me the moment I state it that concretely.

What my years of shepherding that thread proved to me is that the devil is in the details of the phrase Atheism is not a Belief System. Depending on how you define atheism, you will or won’t agree with it being a belief system, which itself has a definition that most people will argue with you about.

Christianity is a belief system. The system parameters involve accepting some basic tenets of the faith. Jesus Christ is the savior. He was born of a virgin. He is part of a triumvirate made up of the father, son and holy ghost. These rules were worked out in deep lines of blood over the course of centuries, and still there are those who want to be called christian and yet not believe in these three basic things.

Islam is a belief system. I don’t know it as well but it’s basic tenets are that Muhammad is the last prophet of god and that the Qu’ran is the word of god set down by him. What is in the book and the associated writings of historical mullahs makes up the system that constrains Islamic faith.

Every single religion has a book or philosophy associated with it that constrains it. Very few people before the enlightenment era in Europe (1800’s) knew what was written in the books that Catholics and Protestants venerated, and even today reading the Qu’ran in any language aside from Arabic is considered problematic by many islamic sects. So if you don’t speak and read Arabic, you won’t know what is in that book even now. That’s not to say that the books are not available, even to disbelievers, but that very few people actually read the books that contain the rules defining the religion they ascribe to. This leads to its own set of problems, but in the end even the hucksters who misuse tradition are constrained by the rules they invent to describe their variation of the religion they promote.

https://amazingjokes.com

This is not true of atheism. Even if I venture to define the word atheism there is no set of rules that an atheist can be punished with that constrains what an atheist believes or doesn’t believe about the universe. Other atheists will tell you that’s not atheism but they have no ability whatsoever to make you stop claiming you are an atheist. There is no rules committee that will kick you out, no authority that will seek to force you to conform, no structure of any kind aside from simply being willing to refer to yourself as an atheist and suffer the consequences. Consequences inflicted by believers everywhere. Here ends the discussion of belief systems.

Atheism, in a broad sense, is the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. Strong atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Most inclusively, atheism is simply the absence of belief that any deities exist. Atheism is contrasted with theism, which in its most general form is the belief that at least one deity exists. – Atheism entry on Wikipedia

That is a workable definition of atheism, theism being the root word and a- being added to denote the lack of. A lack of belief in gods. Even that broadest of definitions will get some atheists’ panties in a wad, and they will definitely squall at my insistence that a lack of belief is not itself a system of belief. There are many, many atheists out there which share nothing in common with me aside from the fact that neither of us believe in gods. There are even some who believe in things which aren’t gods and also aren’t demonstrable by science, but that is another discussion and an entirely different article.

Atheism is loosely congruent with skepticism. Skeptics and atheists both question things that the vast majority of humanity agrees to, but that is about as far as their agreement goes. There is far more agreement between humanists and atheists in general than there is between atheism and skepticism, the latter being quite capable of disbelieving things which are actually demonstrable. They simply dispute the findings of science. Groups like The Skeptics Guide to the Universe combat that kind of silliness, but it’s a never ending game of whack-a-mole trying to keep the disbelievers from using skepticism as a cover.

Humanism arose in the enlightenment era, along with the re-emergence of atheism from the hiding that a millennium of persecution by Catholic Europe had forced it into. Humanism quickly split into two factions; Religious Humanism and Rationalist Humanism. Religious Humanism became loosely affiliated with Deism, both of which have almost vanished into history. Rationalist Humanism rebranded itself as Secular Humanism, and if you were going to point to an atheist belief system, Secular Humanism is its standard bearer. But not all atheists are comfortable with the Humanist moniker, making humanism its own belief system, functionally different than the looser term atheist.

people who describe atheism as philosophy, ideology, or something analogous are trying to depict atheism as being much more complicated than it is. – ThoughtCoIs Atheism An Ism?

When pressed by believers to explain what atheists believe, I am frequently forced to reference other sources as a bulwark for the concepts I’m trying to relate. Believers rely on the sureness of the majority to justify the things they believe. The empirical nature of human experience justifies doing this right up to the point where we start talking about things we believe but cannot prove directly. A freethinker cannot rely on the comfort of the majority because a freethinker has none to fall back on. A freethinker must be able to tie what they think to concretes that are demonstrable so that the believer will be unable to disbelieve the thing being demonstrated. An agnostic will simply claim no knowledge on subjects they cannot demonstrate. Agnosticism is useful when conducting experiments, I’ve used it several times myself when running experiments that I really want to understand the outcomes of. But I am not agnostic about the subject of the existence of god. I have found no proof for the existence of god.

Test it yourself. The next time you are asked to pray, don’t close your eyes and bow your head. Notice anything? No sense of otherness? No sense of being in the presence of some greater power? Look around. Do you see those other unbowed heads? They too question the existence of god, but not enough to stop going to church. To synagogue. To the mosque. Why do we do this? Jesus said that we should do our praying in private. Why do we insist we must pray in public? Force others to pray in public? Enforced compliance? Discipline that forces the next generation to tread the exact same path we were forced to tread? Break that mold and see what is outside of it. You might like it.

When you observe the beauty of nature, realize that the beauty is anchored in naturally evolved healthy forms. That is why fungus and disease repulse us. Not because they are supernaturally evil, but because they are evolved systems just like the human form; co-evolutionary systems that our evolved brains recognizes on some subliminal level as harmful.


BBC, A Brief History of Disbelief presented by Jonathan Ross. 

The observation by Jonathan Ross in the video above (within the first ten minutes) that he was “reluctant to refer to himself as an atheist because he didn’t see the need to define himself by what he didn’t believe in or scarcely thought about” is offered as the same reason that I prefer to be tagged with the label freethinker these days. Freethinker describes my process for coming to accept facts that I encounter. Atheist merely relates my lack of belief in gods. We as humans do not all agree on the importance of faith, of having faith or of belief of any kind, and it becomes imperative that those of us who question the rampant religiosity of today’s political climate to stand up and object to it. To do that we have to not alienate the people we hope to persuade. Not adopting monikers that come pre-loaded with hatred is one of the basic things we can do to achieve this goal. Freethinker is more subtle. Freethinker is so subtle that I have encountered christians in Facebook Freethinking groups who are unaware that freethinkers in general are atheists. Are atheists because there is little rational reason to profess a belief in gods beyond a nod to the concerns raised by deists.

What is the purpose in life? Why are we alive? Here? Now? None of these questions are the kinds of things that atheism can offer answers for. Belief in a universal god, a natural god, does lend some quietude to those kinds of epistemological questions. Deism or Spinozism can be bedrock to anchor the unquiet mind upon, but most believers remain unsatisfied with a deity that they cannot ask favors of. A maker who doesn’t hate the same things the believer hates, love the same thing the believer loves. Spinoza was himself ejected from Jewish society for atheism. There wasn’t enough of god left for the believers to believe in, apparently.

This country, my country, the United States, was founded by people escaping religious persecution. Religious people who turned right around and persecuted their own people for not adhering to the doctrines that had been imported with them. The few who have stopped to question traditional beliefs, people like Thomas Jefferson or Thomas Paine, have been ridiculed down through history for their disbelief (in the case of Paine) or qualified belief (in the case of Jefferson) at the same time they are celebrated for the things that lead to the creation of the United States. A godless country founded on a godless constitution. Godless for good reason; because persecution of the people through authority not founded on demonstrable principles of justice is what lead them to leave the places they came from. The rich heritage of disbelief that is this country’s birthright is being forgotten, buried under mountains of false piety, demagoguery and self-righteousness.

The judicious application of Occam’s Razor to the mountains of bullshit we are confronted with on an hourly basis in this information age is a life-saving necessity. If we don’t learn how to find air in this ocean of data, we will drown for lack of sense. These observations bring me to the core of the argument. The argument that Atheism is not a Belief System.

There is a specific piece of baggage that believers want to saddle all non-believers with. That is the baggage of revealed knowledge. Atheists are equally in the dark because they cannot know the things they claim to know. There is an intellectually rigorous approach to knowledge which questions the basis of that knowledge. This is commonly referred to in professional circles as performing your due diligence; researching your precepts to make certain they are valid. Insofar as atheism resembles agnosticism (no knowledge of) on the subject of the existence or nonexistence of a generic god, a Deist or Spinozan god, one can say with a respectable level of certainty I know this. Consequently non-believers are not in the same boat as believers. Even the average religious believing person can escape that boat, the boat of claiming certainty for things they don’t actually know, if they simply adopt this intellectual rigor for themselves. As a recent news article summarized, be willing to adopt and use the phrase I don’t know.

This argument about atheism is at its root a legal argument. Can you prove the things you believe? Can you demonstrate the existence of god beyond a shadow of a doubt? Believe whatever crazy thing you want to believe, just don’t tell me I have to believe like you, or believe anything at all without providing some kind of proof to back up the claims that are made. Why would I take a different stand? I pick my battles carefully. I created that thread on Dan Carlin’s BBS forum all those years ago with this specific argument in mind. Never mind that the SNAFU (Situation Normal: All Fucked Up) continued around me beyond my ability to control for year after year. It was the attempt to place the onus of revealed knowledge as a shared burden on the shoulders of all humanity that I initially rebelled against. You, dear reader, may disagree with me, but I think I can finally say I’m happy with the argument I’ve laid out here. The defense rests, your honor.


It is a testament to how many times I’ve rehearsed this argument in my head that this post comes pre-equipped with an addendum. Many of the arguments thrown at me in the past have been incorporated in the longer post that appears today on my blog. Much longer and much better thought out than my stumbling attempts to communicate what I thought were simple ideas all those years ago.

Still, I know what kinds of arguments I didn’t incorporate, and what kinds of objections I’ve seen in the past and already have rebuttals for. I’m going to take a few extra paragraphs to deflate a few counter-arguments in advance. Saves time this way.

I’m going to start at the beginning. There is a segment of the human population who are simply afraid of atheists. Atheophobia is a thing. I’ve met quite a few of them over the years. When I run into new ones these days I can almost be bored while hitting the block button. Almost. Fear of atheists is very real and predominates a lot of political rhetoric in the world today. There is no group more targeted than the disbeliever; other than the sects of the majorities own religion that are considered threatening to those in power. Once those troublemakers are out of the way, the atheists are the main targets of hostility. We dare to say the emperor wears no clothes, and believers cannot produce the emperor’s garments or even the emperor himself in order to disprove the assertion. Fear of atheists is the basis for most of the arguments that follow.

The more determined philosophy majors decided early on to make a career out of repeating specific arguments, relying on the casual reader’s ignorance of a specific subject, philosophy and its arcane word usage and definitions, to allow their falsities to go unchallenged. If you really want to know something about fallacies and what constitutes one, here’s a list. Specifically, the Argument from Ignorance was oft-cited, so I feel that it warrants specific mention.

Argument from ignorance, also known as argumentum ad ignorantiam or “appeal to ignorance” (where “ignorance” stands for: “lack of evidence to the contrary”), is a fallacy in informal logic. It asserts that a proposition is true because it has not yet been proven false, it is “generally accepted” (or vice versa). This represents a type of false dichotomy in that it excludes a third option, which is that there is insufficient investigation and therefore insufficient information to prove the proposition satisfactorily to be either true or false. 

Argument from Ignorance is an informal fallacy; which means, the argument could also be true and still be fallacious. Life is a series of imperfect decisions based on partial knowledge; and that’s when things are most certain. The least certain involves a coin flip and deciding whether you want to believe the coin’s conclusion or doubt it. One can possess good reasons for thinking that something does not exist, an idea captured by Bertrand Russell’s teapot, the analogy I started this article with. However, the existence of a creator god, much more a specific religious conception of the creator god, would fall more duly under the arena of pragmatism (Occam’s Razor, the law of parsimony) wherein a position must be demonstrated or proven in order to be upheld, and therefore the burden of proof is on the argument’s proponent. That is, the person who wants you to believe in a thing. In this case, a god.

Believers will frequently fall back to Pascal’s wager next. “Ah,” they’ll say, “but if you believe in god you get to go to heaven. So it’s safer to believe in god and not go to hell.” In a side note about my personal journey to freethought, Hell was one of the first concepts that I discarded, and I did this for my own sanity. Which version of god is the god I need to believe in? This is important because if you postulate that avoidance of hell is the goal, you need to be sure to observe the right rules and not the wrong ones. Since religious texts are generally self-contradictory given enough time and permutation of belief, you really can’t know from them which laws to follow and which ones not to. How can you possibly know how not to end up in hell?

As for that, I deemed that if god was love then hell had to be of our own creation; literally, if you are living in hell you had a hand in making it, in its continuance. I can understand why suffering people don’t just kill themselves. I’ve been disabled and stricken with vertigo and migraines on a regular basis for ten years and more. But if you experience hell, you are the one that can change that experience. No one else will be as capable as you are of correcting your personal dilemma. You don’t go to hell when you die. That would not be the actions of a loving god. You would find perfection hellish if what you value is not the values of the inhabitants of the afterlife.

It was a close place. I took . . . up [the letter I’d written to Miss Watson], and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: “All right then, I’ll go to hell”—and tore it up. It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming.Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn

After discarding the human-made construct of hell, I could breath a lot easier and it made the rest of the argument that much easier to deal with. A believer might well object “you can’t just get rid of hell,” but the truth is that you can. In the christian religion everyone has a personal god. You take god into your heart and if you listen to him he tells you the truth. Listen to your heart. You’ll hear it say “there is no hell” unless you need to punish others so much that you cannot let the concept go. If you can’t then I really do feel sorry for you.

The next target in the argument for god varies radically based on the personal experience of the believer. A favorite argument of my past tormentors was the concept that evidence proves something. They would call evidentialism into question, as if the requiring of evidence before ascribing to a certain belief is somehow suspect or disqualifying. Contrary to the hand waving excuses I’ve heard repeatedly, requiring evidence before believing something is a generally accepted practice for anything not involving high-browed philosophy and religion.

While no sensible epistemologists generally urge people to disregard their evidence when forming beliefs… – Wikipedia entry on Evidentialism

An oft-retyped summation of my willingness to accept evidence as proof runs as follows; while gravity may only be a theory, I wouldn’t suggest jumping off a tall building and expecting to float. Evidence dictates you will fall to the earth at a pretty predictable rate and cease to exist in a living state pretty shortly after contact with a hard surface. Please note that not only are all the concepts in this summation open to question if you start questioning evidentialism, but I could just as easily be describing how to bake a cake as I am trying to communicate a crucial fundamental understanding of the universe. Gravity exists whether you believe in it or not.

“Correlation is not causation but it sure is a hint.” Edward Tufte

I think this came up in relation to an argument about the Big Bang origin of the universe and whether or not all the stuff in the bang existed before the bang. Physics will tell you it had to exist before time/space existed or else there wouldn’t be a universe to exist now. So there was a before before space/time. What that might be is a matter of the highest speculation, but then we are talking about the suggested existence or non-existence of a creator god here. Hard to beat the infinite regress of creator gods to explain the previous creator god, much more likely is the infinite string of universes coalescing and dispersing in their own little space/time bubbles. Turtles all the way down as the saying goes.

Finally, the last argument worth mentioning is “Granted you can’t prove god exists; but then how do you prove love exists?” I always assumed the believer was wanting me to capitulate in a sobbing mess and swear my everlasting love for god almighty in light of this observation. I mean, you have to grant that love exists without proof, right? Except that you really don’t. This is one of the oldest problems in human existence, the foundation of what is responsible for more killing than every war in history. Does she love me? Does he love me? Luckily, science has an answer for that,

Frontiers in Human Neuroscience

The researchers said that their study, entitled Love-related changes in the brain: a resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging study, had successfully obtained the “first empirical evidence of love-related alterations in brain functional architecture”.

There you have it, proof that love really exists. Yes, I know. I’ve just destroyed all of romanticism.

As an atheist or freethinker or agnostic or skeptic or whatever disbelieving label I choose to adopt later, I don’t have to prove the infinite nature of the universe, or the non-existence of an intelligent hand in it’s creation. I don’t have to prove these things any more than any believer is capable of proving that the opposite is true. That is the nature of a belief, as opposed to a fact or knowledge. I can freely believe in the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) I can even refer to you that group’s website, venganza.org. I don’t have to provide one shred of evidence for the FSM’s existence to have a belief in him; or for that matter, to have him represented at any event in which participation by varying beliefs is encouraged. That was the purpose for which the FSM was created. A religion based on eating pasta, drinking beer and love for everyone. In the FSM, disbelievers finally came up with a god worth believing in.

The FSM is just the latest in a series of fanciful creations presented in an attempt to prove to believers that they were pretending that they could know things that can’t be known. A host of previous creatures that include the original satanism church, pink unicorns and the floating teapot mentioned previously all leading up to the FSM and Pastafarianism. May the blessings of his noodly appendages be upon you. All of these creations purposefully misunderstood by the believers who encounter them and refuse to understand. Believers who protest “you’re just being silly.” Yes. We aren’t the only ones that observation can be applied to.

Edit history: General wordsmithing throughout and the addition of the atheophobia section 03/24/2018

Voter Fraud? No, Voter Suppression.

I generally find the Decode DC podcast to be very informative, at least. Generally worth my time to listen. I remember Jimmy Williams from my days of watching MSNBC. He was a favorite on The Dylan Ratigan Show and while I didn’t always appreciate his take on the issues at hand, I generally had to admit that he had a point he was trying to make. This episode?

President Trump believes he would have won the popular vote — if it weren’t for the 3 million people that voted illegally. Even though there’s no evidence to support his claim, he put together a commission to look into the issue, and their first meeting is today. They’ve already been pretty active, asking for voter data from all 50 states. But what exactly is going on with this commission, and what can we expect?

I didn’t need to listen to thirty minutes of in-depth analysis to know what to expect from the Orange Hate-Monkey‘s (OHM) farcical Voter Fraud Commission. Even Republicans agree that the commission will not uncover any real issues with voter fraud. Republicans have never been shy about their goals when it comes to voters; they want to suppress votes that are cast against them.


Pennsylvania state rep. Mike Turzai in a rare moment of sincerity. Getting Romney elected was the goal, suppressing the vote was the tool they were going to use.

If Kris Kobach‘s term as the Secretary of State (SoS) for Kansas is any measure, the commission is going to work tirelessly to suppress the votes of liberals and progressives across the nation. These groups are the illegal voters in the minds of conservatives, it is just a measure of how they are going to keep them from voting in enough numbers to unseat them from their thrones of power. What Downsize DC took thirty minutes to say, I can spell out in very few sentences.

There are excuses that the commission will use to purge voter rolls, as Kobach did in Kansas and as Conservative/Republican SoS’s did in a number of states. But in the end these are all excuses to do the thing they want done. Suppress enough votes to keep Republicans in power. Every person who understands what happens when you keep a large enough fraction of a population from participating in government should be recoiling in horror at this point. They will be recoiling in horror because this course is a recipe for a violent response, what always happens when frustrated people are kept from even the appearance of a having a voice in government.

What this all means is that we must resist. We must keep the pressure on our separate state governments. We must keep the local politicians aware that we are watching them and they had better not attempt to keep us from exercising our rights as Americans. We liberals, progressives and conservatives, Democrats, Republicans and Independents, we will all vote in 2018 and we will replace them if they even make noise about resisting us. About suppressing our rights, denying us our voice. This needs to be made very clear to them now, so that there are no violent surprises later.

Voting is not a privilege, it is a duty. In my opinion it should be a requirement, mandatorily enforced with fines for failure to participate. Election day should be a paid holiday, a national festival. Everyone should be encouraged to participate in anyway that they can, not driven from the field with acrimony and mudslinging. It is an embarrassing failure of communication, one of the biggest embarrassments of this nation, that we cannot look our opponents in the eye and contend with their differing viewpoints without casting them as enemies. As other. May I live to see the day this changes.


The first post of mine to ever get an addendum that wasn’t pre-written, but still appears the first time the article was published. I have no idea (No. Idea.) why this wasn’t published to the blog. No clue. I just didn’t hit publish, apparently. Which is fine it turns out because just yesterday a new episode on this subject dropped that I really should add to this blog post that will be back-dated on the blog to July but really isn’t being published until November 10th.

“Twenty-three thousand people who were prevented from voting in two counties alone because of this law, and Donald Trump only won [Wisconsin] by twenty-two thousand votes.”Ari Berman 

Let me translate that for you. The OHM is president (in part) because Republicans and conservatives denied people the right to vote in Wisconsin and several other states. They violated our rights and gave the OHM the office he now holds. He didn’t win it, he doesn’t deserve it.

The definition of Secure and Insecure

When I walked up to these public terminals  a few minutes ago, the couple next to me helpfully offered the advice “that one is broken”. A few quick keystrokes later I discovered that the problem was the touchscreen interface was registering false touches. Probably the result of previous abuse.

While I was amusing myself with the interface, attempting to see if it was hackable in the context of my rudimentary knowledge, the couple next to me got up and left, having completed their search. These are pay terminals. They require a credit card to access. This was the second thing I learned. I also learned that the people who set these terminals up were pretty good at their job. Physical plugs all behind lock and key, drives and ports in another part of the building. Hardware essentially out of reach without damaging the wiring.

The software is a version of Windows 7. Most of the known bypasses from within the OS (known by me) are locked off, and you can only get to the Windows interface by paying in advance or convincing the system you have paid. This knowledge I gained by accessing the broken system that the couple had paid for previously. Paid for and then couldn’t use and paid for a second system.

Some people apparently just pay for things without ever even asking why; a willingness to be defrauded that I’ve never understood. This couple had paid twice for information their phones could have given them for free. They had also walked away from the area leaving their information available on two different public terminals. Accessible to any nefarious person who wandered by. I did them a favor and logged them off both systems. I’m apparently not as big an asshole as I thought.

Bullshit is Bullshit.

Since January 20th I’ve been keeping a passing eye and ear on the news. Not really paying attention, just waiting for the talking heads and pundits to start clueing in on the new reality. Waiting for the former gatekeepers and news creators to understand the landscape in front of them. I’m beginning to think I am wasting my time. Every newscast, every podcast, every article I run across with few exceptions falls for the tasty bullshit offered rather than dig into the fabrication that they are being asked to consume and regurgitate for the public’s consumption.

The Muslim ban was one of the first things out of the gate 6 months ago, and it’s still being discussed. Removed, reissued, struck down again, and now the Supreme Court will be asked to weigh in on this xenophobic floating turd in the public drinking water. They’ll couch the destruction of Trump’s attempt to institute an unconstitutional ban on a specific religion in flowery rhetoric, or they’ll debase themselves before the power of the mob that His Electoral Highness is assembling to inflict his will on the unsuspecting public, but in the end the Muslim ban is bullshit just like everything that has been said about it is bullshit. Six months of bullshit about a policy that never had a chance of being real American law. It is a religious test. A muslim ban imposed by christians and their anti-christ Trump, just more of the christian persecution complex that has been on display since Reagan invited them into politics in 1980.

This is how demagogues rule. This is how democracies and republics dissolve. Listening to His Electoral Highness’ bullshit and reporting on it as fact is facilitating the dissolution of the country we have known and, from the perspective of the doddering old fool of the religious right agenda we should know so well by now, ushering in the theocratic government they are convinced will secure god’s blessing for America. But that is just one facet on the polished turd of Trump’s bullshit.

The border wall he announced after descending the flowing golden escalator to proclaim his candidacy, the border wall that will keep out the brown-skinned menace to the South of the US? That bullshit still isn’t a thing, either. It isn’t a thing because it can’t be done and the people along the border don’t even want it done. The Republicans in Texas, ever anxious to keep Tejanos subjected and divided, have embraced the xenophobic fear of the brown-skinned other that Trump embraced as a candidate, only to be stabbed in the back by the rogue force they got elected to the presidency. Texas cities aren’t even sanctuaries according to the Trump justice department. So the sanctuary cities fearmongering that the governor and the legislature spent months on and will spend millions defending amounts to exactly bullshit. Meaningless bullshit clogging up the airwaves, obscuring the real news.

For six years, six years, the Republicans have campaigned on repealing Obamacare, the moniker they hung on the ACA that Obama in one of his moments of wisdom embraced. Trump said they’d fix that day one. It didn’t happen day one, hasn’t happened yet six months later. The Republicans can’t agree on just how to hang themselves with their own rhetoric, so they fidget and hesitate and refuse to do much of anything of measureable impact. They passed a bill through the House that they know won’t pass the Senate, and the Bullshitter-in-Chief threw them a party on the White House lawn to celebrate their victory in doing absolutely nothing at all. Just the kind of thing a lover of bullshit like Trump would celebrate, of course. It doesn’t even matter that the non-plan doesn’t do any of the things he’s forgotten he promised on the campaign trail. It’s the celebration that counts.

Trump promised jobs? How is that lying, cheating scumbag going to create jobs? The only people who stay with him and make money are family and household staff. The only business partners that make money are the criminals who give him money to launder; and they only make money because he knows they’ll kill him if they don’t. Every single word I’ve heard him utter since he declared his intention to build casinos in Atlantic City and then shafted every single person who dared believe anything he said about the project has been bullshit. Look at them, the scattered carcases in his wake. The thousands of people he trickled down on as he was being golden showered himself. The people who are afraid to admit they fell for his bullshit all these years. The people who thought they’d get rich as part of the scheme only to be left holding the bag, paying the bill, after all the important people have checked out. Look at them, the wannabes still following him even now just hoping for a droplet of his time so that they too might be as lucky as he is, to be apparently worth billions all while truthfully being in hock to the eyeballs, afraid of his own shadow and spied on by his Russian bride. Risking everything on this one big final scam, running for president, hoping against hope that it just might turn out alright.

Every single media personality who reports on Trump secretly wants to be Trump. That is the thing they only admit to themselves when they are alone with their thoughts at three am wondering what they did wrong in their lives to end up where they are. They want to be famous like Trump. Charismatic like Trump. Able to pull crap out of their asses like Trump and have total strangers eat it up like cake. The lure of fame so commonly mistaken for infamy, especially in the world of reality television. It is a mark of pride for me, never having seen a single episode of the Apprentice. Never listening to Howard Stern or any of his thousands of imitators and so never consequently being trapped listening to Trump talk about himself. Never being a fan of David Letterman and so also missing him there. It was a blessing, when I could tune out the bullshit so easily.


Inequality Media, Know Your Trump Syndrome

So it goes, round and round and round with no end in sight. This is the goal of the bullshitter. They want to keep people distracted, try to wear out their attention so that when they finally look away in exhaustion the real goals can be pursued. Those goals vary from one bullshitter to the next. Most of them are selling something, and His Electoral Highness was one of those when he was a real estate developer. His bullshit serves a different purpose these days, but bullshit remains bullshit, and anything coming out of that mouth is bullshit, has always been bullshit. The mistake is in listening to what he says in the first place. Listening beyond the necessity to realize he needs to be removed from office and gathering the evidence to achieve that goal. All the reporting and amusement and outrage and even the disaffection and denial all serve the greater purpose that the bullshitter wants achieved so long as the media and his future prosecutors do not realize that ending his bullshit career is the only goal of merit. As long as he remains in play, in office and free to manipulate and profit, his bullshit serves the purpose he creates it for.

Stonekettle Station

Yesterday Robert Reich posted yet another in a series of posts detailing how the president is clearly unhinged and needs to be removed. Today Jim Wright over at Stonekettle Station brilliantly detailed how Trump’s Twitter bullshit remains without substance. I understand that it’s important to convince the people who support him to stop, but I really don’t think that his supporters are vulnerable to reasoned arguments from any quarter. It is far, far too late for that to be effective. We have white power being motivated to violence in the streets across the country, and no one is prosecuting them as we did the Black Panthers and Malcolm X in the 60’s . White supremacists are more powerful and more visible than they’ve ever been in my lifetime and I’ve been paying attention to politics from the inside and the outside since the mid-seventies. We are in a crisis point and I doubt there are very many people reading this that don’t already know this.

When His Electoral Highness intoned “The Media is the Enemy of the People” anyone with an understanding of history and the manipulation of society should have perked up and taken notice. This is a well-known tactic of demagogues and dictators. Discredit the press, make people uncertain of the truthfulness of what they read and hear,

“Part of his purpose there (attacking the press) is to make sure the news source they (his base) accept about Trump is Trump. If the press can’t find a way into that circle, then it really doesn’t matter what a ball they are having as they report on this playground of a White House.” – Jay Rosen, On The Media, Shiny Objects, May 11, 2017  (press think blog)

He is still speaking directly to his supporters, what the media calls his base and what I would refer to as preaching to the choir. He doesn’t care what anyone else thinks as long as his alt-right people stay loyal to him, his brownshirts in waiting. The equivalent to the Reichstag fire hasn’t occurred yet, but His Electoral Highness, the demagogue who serves as a stand-in for Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mussolini, etc, etc, etc, ad nauseum has been inducted into a leadership position he isn’t capable of executing in a legal fashion. His troops are marshalling now and it only remains for the catalyst to be introduced for the violence in his name and defense to start.

None of this comes as a surprise to me. I recognized the patterns if not the person quite some time ago. Wanting to avoid a Trump presidency is why I voted for Hillary Clinton, not that it did much good since everyone else appears to have stayed home.  Avoiding a Trump presidency is also why I warned everyone who read my blog at the end of last October about Trump and his backer’s true threat level. Apparently I wasn’t clear enough about the kind of violent, uninformed malcontents backing the con artist that was running against Hillary and the system itself, so I explained it more succinctly in a post and with a moniker I gave to Trump when he didn’t burn out as I (and he also) expected to – The Orange Hate-Monkey. Following that I explained the job of the electoral college, to the electoral college and then compared the GOP to their historical predecessors and then, when all else had failed, I explained why we as the owners of this entire mess should act to clean it up as quickly as possible, summed up in the archaic phrase Caveat Emptor. Caveat Emptor, a phrase everyone should be required to understand in this day and age.

I haven’t written much since then because, frankly, I’m waiting for everyone else to catch up. I’m beginning to get tired of waiting. The media still report on every bit of bullshit that passes his lips. They follow his Twitter feed slavishly. Parse his every utterance as if they contain pearls of wisdom. Why do they report these things as news? Surely after years of having to correct what he says, then he says differently, and then changes again, a journalist trained to verify facts would realize that the source is not reliable and find another source. But they don’t. They can’t stop themselves.

Economist: “Beyond that, it’s OK if the tax plan increases the deficit?”
Trump: “It is OK, because it won’t increase it for long. You may have two years where you’ll . . . you understand the expression ‘‘prime the pump”?”
Economist: “Yes.”
Trump: “We have to prime the pump.”
Economist: “It’s very Keynesian.”
Trump: “Have you heard that expression before, for this type of an event?”
Economist: “Priming the pump?”
Trump: “Yeah, have you heard it?”
Economist: “Yes.”
Trump: “Have you heard that expression used before? Because I haven’t heard it. I mean, I just . . . I came up with it a couple of days ago and I thought it was good. It’s what you have to do.”
Earth to Trump: The expression “priming the pump” has been used to refer to government spending that stimulates the economy since at least 1933. If you never heard it before your grasp of economics is below that of most Americans. If you think you made it up, your narcissism is fabulous. “Fabulous” is a word that has been used since 1658. You didn’t make that up, either.

Robert Reich, Facebook, May 12 at 3:41am

Stonekettle Station

He knows these things didn’t come from him. If he doesn’t then he really is as unhinged as most people think these days. It is bullshit; and all of the reporting on what he says simply promotes it. Dr. Reich is flabbergasted that Trump would admit he fired FBI Director Comey because he refused to end the Russia probes. Of course he fired Comey because of Russia. I didn’t believe he’d admit it himself initially, but why shouldn’t he? His base doesn’t believe the Russian conspiracy is real (and it may not be) but why should he care what he admits or what anyone reports? He knows he isn’t going to be hindered by what the media says or doesn’t say. He rules with the support of the mob at his back. The ever more violent white supremacists and malcontents, what we would call terrorists if we were being honest with ourselves. They put him in office and they intend to keep him there.


Waking Up With Sam Harris #79 -The Road to Tyranny
With Timothy Snyder and his book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

Life is political, not because the world cares about how you feel, but because the world reacts to what you do” 

This is why the media needs to go cold turkey on their Trump addiction. This binge they’ve been on since almost two years ago now. They need to report facts instead of the touchy-feely bullshit that Trump spews every morning. Facts like his demonstrable theft of service business practices, just waiting to be revealed to the researcher willing to dig deep enough. Where are his tax returns? Now he’s going to release them after he leaves office? Who believes this bullshit? Show of hands? Nobody. He’s never going to release them, they will incriminate him and he knows this. Someone please produce them, so we can get on with the prosecution.

Facts like his complete allegiance to Putin and Russia. He dropped missiles on a Syrian airbase? Where is the outrage? Where are the official state protests? Where is Russia and Syria holding us to account for his act of war? What you hear instead is the sound of crickets chirping. Has the media grown so fatigued they don’t even notice the echoing chasm of a lack of quid pro quo, tit for tat, the kind of behavior that has historically always followed a strike like that? You won’t see it, because it was bullshit executed by the military at Trump’s request. No real effect, planes took off the next day from that base to strike the same targets they’d been striking the day before. In the end, the missile strike simply proved that even the things he does are bullshit, which is quite a feat in and of itself. To be ineffectual even when blowing things up and killing people. You have to be a world-class bullshitter to be able to pull off that level of bullshit.

On June twentieth we’ll have officially hit the six month mark in the Trump presidency. He has already gone on more vacations in 6 months than Obama did in 6 years. He’s produced less work than any other president at this point in his presidency, and his only successful acts have been to undo most of the progress made by President Obama in his last 6 months in office. His congress is on the path to produce less legislation than the last congress, which was the least productive congress in the history of the nation. This is what a constant stream of bullshit earns you. Lots of effort simply to lose ground. He’s made a lot of money over this past six months, though. That I can guarantee you without having to look at his ledger sheets, all of it at the expense of US citizenry and US international standing. Forfeiture of the American hegemony, the end of US international leadership.

I’m going back to Netflix now. I have House of Cards to catch up on. Yes, it’s tame by comparison to His Electoral Highness’ court intrigues, possibly even more believable, but I prefer distraction to watching the slow torture of the American spirit into something that I’d rather not be associated with. Someone wake me when the impeachment hearings start.

“Not even being president could give you any class.” – Spoken by the character Elizabeth Hale in House of Cards Season 4 Ep. “Chapter 40”

If It Bleeds, It Leads. Same as It Ever Was

For the last year and a half the media have fawned all over His Electoral Highness Donald J. Trump. They can’t stop talking about him. They can’t be kept from giving him airtime to talk about himself. Aside from Trump himself, his biggest fans are the media who think that what this lame duck of a leader says means anything at all. Because of the media’s fawning, I have been forced to spend the last two years ignoring everything Donald Trump says with their generous gift of free airtime. I ignore everything he says because listening to him is what he wants us to do. I ignore him because attempting to make sense of what he says makes me feel ill. I ignore him because listening to him demonstrably makes you dumber; the media being a prime example of people made stupid by the sound of Donald Trump’s voice.

The media’s free gift of airtime helped give him the momentum to take the electoral college if not the popular vote; and now they ask, why is America so divided? If anyone should know the answer to this question it should be the media, but I wouldn’t look to them to give you a truthful answer. Division is what they want. It sells. Conflict and violence always lead the news. The division they are trying to illustrate here is largely a matter of perception. The division is almost entirely of the media’s making, their policy of going with taglines that hype the separation, the division, the conflict,

There’s nothing new about simmering hostility between a President and the press. As Richard Nixon once stated, “The President should treat the press just as fairly as the press treats him.” 

In March of 1974, the Nixon presidency was lurching toward destruction by Watergate, and there was an ongoing tension between the President and the CBS White House correspondent:

President Nixon: “Are you running for something?”Dan Rather: “No, sir, Mr. President, are you?”

Norm Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, was then, and remains now, a student of our political system and our media:

“We would watch network news shows and we would sit there and we would have basically a common set of facts that would emerge from them,” he said. “As we’ve moved to the new media world, the more you’ve got this cacophony of voices, the more you cut through it by, basically, shock value. And that’s why people now are driven not by their own attachment to their own parties; they’re driven by a hatred for those on the other side.” 

CBS News, The great divide: Politics in the Age of Trump

Much like Nixon ushered in the end of the Republican party that elected him, Trump signals the ultimate end of Reaganism and Reaganomics. There will be no possibility of doubt remaining as to the bankruptcy of Reagan’s policies by the time Trump is drummed out of office; policies which have held sway since Reagan was president. The question the media should be asking is, will the Democrats find themselves and their new direction, or will they waste their resurgence as they did with the Carter years? Let me unpack these observations for you.

The eight years of Clinton were not liberal years. The most damning thing to be said about Clinton is that he was and is Republican lite, conservative-ish. He ended welfare in the US because the conservatives demanded that he do it. Because it was something that Reagan promised and compromising with Reagan Democrats was how Bill Clinton got into office. Over and over again he proved that he wasn’t liberal in any real sense of the word. He was a conservative from the old Southern wing of Democratic conservatives who just happened to have married well. Without Hillary’s influence I am convinced he would have been even harder on the poor, even more militaristic than he was. Weirdly, I doubt that would have kept Republicans from manufacturing a scandal in their attempts to remove him.

Barack Obama was pretty close to liberal but still enacted conservative policies because conservative policies were the only ones that the conservatives in the congress he was saddled with would vaguely go for. Obamacare was and is Romneycare. That is why Romney had such a hard time dissing the ACA, because it was his idea offered by a Democratic president and he knew it. Obama was the deporter-in-Chief because, again, that is what conservatives wanted him to do. He was tough on immigration because he hoped it would win points with the other side of the aisle. Only in his last two years did he realize that Republicans would never work with him and so he spent those years ruling by executive order. The Republicans didn’t refuse to work for him because he was black if we are to take them at their word. they didn’t refuse because he was liberal because his policies prove otherwise. They refused to work with him because he was a Democrat.

The sin that Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are all guilty of is the sin of being members of the Democratic party. If they had been Republicans they would have been deemed typical centrists willing to make deals in order to get the government’s work done. It is deal making that the new conservatives hate. They are convinced that there is a true conservative ideology and all they have to do is adhere to it. Never mind that no two conservatives can agree on what conservatism is aside from prosperity gospel Jesus, a completely different kind of Jesus than that socialist hippy Jesus of the seventies. That is religion masquerading as ideology which is all conservatism has left to appeal to, the shadow of religion that Reagan rode to power on.

None of this has anything to do with real ideology beyond the ghost of Reagan that even Reaganite priests can’t quote because Reagan was more liberal than the country is now. The ghost of Reagan and his trickle-down Reaganomics is why the tax rates on the wealthiest people in the US remain low. Anyone making more than a million dollars a year should be taxed at the confiscatory rate of 99% just as the progressive tax rates did during the post-war era. During the times when the middle class grew and the poor were not quite so desperate. Back when Jesus was a socialist hippy. They should be taxed at this extreme rate because they don’t spend more when they have more, so it benefits society not one bit to allow them to keep their incredible wealth.

The subject of monetary policy is too lengthy to get into here, but in the end upper income tax rates were lowered because the increased wealth was supposed to generate more benefits for the rest of us, and the reality we live in has demonstrably proven that the opposite is true. Ergo, some form of income cap has to be reinstituted. Either a scale requiring all boats be raised when the wealthy get paid more, or confiscatory taxes on pay greater than the scale would dictate.

So here we are at the tail-end of the Reagan era, just waiting for the Reagan Democrats to bleep their last heartbeat on the heart monitor they are strapped to before we can get on with progress. It has to be those people because they are the only ones left watching TV, getting their news from TV and from radio. Those are the people who went out and voted for Trump. Those are the people who in their political ignorance voted Republican not realizing that Republicans and conservatives ran everything in the country aside from the presidency already. Politically ignorant people who don’t understand that the president’s job isn’t to fix the country, that is the job of the congress. A job the congress is supposed to achieve through legislation and funding and programs to keep the myriad systems this country depends on running.

Unfortunately for the rest of us, conservatives have swallowed the anarchist notion that government doesn’t work. Republicans have echoed this falsehood because their base believes it, never questioning why they want to elect people to do jobs that they believe don’t need to be done. So it falls to the Democrats to make proposals for government that will work. It falls to them to prove that the poor can get a fair shake in this new America, that the wealthy don’t always get their way. Falls to the Democrats to propose the kinds of changes that populists on both sides of the aisle wanted and would get behind, because the Republicans and conservatives are too scared of socialism to even go someplace where government just might work. If the Democrats can do this, it will be the end of the Republicans for at least a generation.

What I don’t understand is how the media can’t see this happening? Why do they see fractiousness and faction rather than seeing what is really going on? The politically informed vs. the politically ignorant that gave us the current administration? Why can’t they see that they are Donald Trump’s biggest fans? Perhaps they can’t see it because they too are caught in a previous age. The age of the gate keeper and the top-down adminstrator. The feudal society of corporate America, what is fast becoming a corporate globalism. The history of dictators and their five year plans that never worked out. They are soon to be as irrelevant as the Reagan Democrats who will be cashing their last Social Security checks soon. Checking out as movers and shakers and left behind as the world starts dancing to a different beat.

The media and Reagan Democrats will be as baffled by the next election as they were by the last one, because they think the narrative is one they set, and not one that we the people decide.