Thursday, September 22, 2016

The stupidity of comparing refugees to Skittles

This is funny, but that whole 'Skittles tweet' was just unbelievably stupid. Even if you can ignore the poor math, you could say the same thing about every immigrant group.

Are you descended from English, Irish, or German immigrants? Guess what? Some English, Irish, and German immigrants murdered people. So what?

This was simply bigoted fear-mongering for political advantage. It's embarrassing that America has even come to this. How could anyone support Donald Trump? I just don't get it.

Edit: relates an earlier version of this kind of comparison, only about poisonous mushrooms. That's not surprising, is it?

Elizabeth Warren questions the Wells Fargo CEO

I love this woman. I can't feel too sorry for John Stumpf, either, since he's still got his job and his hundreds of millions of dollars to help dry his tears.

Donald Trump's secret terrorism plan

Funny, isn't it? After all this time claiming that he had a secret plan to defeat ISIS, Trump's plan turns out to be asking generals to come up with a plan (as if that hasn't been happening all along).

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Fox News and the creation of Donald Trump

Samantha Bee starts off with this: "Fortunately for [Roger] Ailes, the job of Trump's debate coach isn't that hard. He doesn't need to make Trump sound smart, because he's spent the past 20 years making voters dislike smart people."

And she doesn't let up after that. Samantha Bee just gets better and better, doesn't she?

PS. Note that this is a continuation (a "web bonus") of this segment of her show. It works fine on its own, but the first part is also great.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Welcome to Liemart

Seth Meyers does such a good job. And Donald Trump just gets loonier by the day - demonstrably loonier. But is any of this going to make any difference? What has happened to my country?

Note that this 'birther' crap was always about racism. There was never anything else to it. Racists simply would not accept that a black man was legitimately the President of the United States.

And Republican leaders encouraged it. Donald Trump certainly pushed this racist lie, though he was far from the only one. Even Republicans who are unhappy with Trump as a presidential candidate were still very eager to use racism for political advantage and very happy that Trump was keeping the issue alive.

But the fact that Trump can lie about this, just as he lies about opposing the Iraq War and lies about opposing the military effort in Libya - among many, many other things - and gets away with it, despite documented proof that he's lying,... that just blows my mind.

As Seth Meyers put it, "The bottom line is this: Trump built his career on a racist lie, because he's a racist and a liar. And instead of denouncing that lie, the GOP doubled down on it completely. And now Trump is trying to trick people once again by convincing them he was never really a birther at all, and that it was Hillary Clinton who started it."

Unfortunately, reality doesn't matter to the faith-based. The truth doesn't matter to Trump supporters, not even a little bit.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

"We got played"

As usual, con-man Donald Trump played the press yesterday. What's not so common is that they actually admitted it:
After Donald Trump spent a mere 30 seconds addressing President Obama's birthplace during a 30-minute event that started an hour late at his new hotel in Washington, D.C., the anchors at CNN tore into Trump and his attitude toward the press.

Throughout Trump's event and after he finally addressed his efforts to fuel the birther movement, the hosts and reporters at CNN called out the Trump campaign for misleading the press and using the event to promote his new hotel.

As Trump let several veterans and military officials express their support for him, CNN anchor Kate Bolduan lamented that the network had been waiting 20 minutes for Trump to make the big announcement that his campaign had been promising. Co-anchor John Berman chimed in to complain about the confusing signals the press had received from the Trump campaign about the event.

"To be clear, we have been told this event would be an event where Donald Trump would address his past trafficking in the birther issue, the notion that President Obama was not born in the United States," Berman said. "He opened the event making a plug for his hotel, it is a new hotel, so in a sense, you could say he was leveraging five years of birther conspiracy to promote his hotel." ...

CNN then brought on John King, who trashed the way Trump maneuvered the press.

"So I really don't quite know what to make of that except for that we got played again by the Trump campaign, which is what they do. He got a live event broadcast for, what, 20 something minutes," King said. "We just got played."

"There you got after, what, four or five years of leading a fraudulent, reckless campaign against the legitimacy of the United States President, you got about, what, six or seven words from Donald Trump saying he's decided it's over. I guess he gets to decide that," he added.

Note that Donald Trump clearly and demonstrably lied - twice - when he did finally speak (blaming Hillary Clinton for birtherism and then claiming that Trump himself had stopped spreading this crazy conspiracy theory after Obama released that 'long-form' birth certificate). And he avoided taking any questions from the press who might have pointed that out.
Ashleigh Banfield continued to bash Trump's event, drawing comparisons to the way foreign dictators treat the press. She noted that Trump's brief comments on his birtherism came just one day after he gloated that reporters on his press plane were delayed and unable to fully cover his rally.

"I can tell you, having covered a couple of dictators in my life in other countries, covering those campaigns is a bummer, because they don't let you ask questions either. So that's why the American press, love them or hate them, are critical to this democracy," she said. "You have to be able to ask people questions if they're going to lead you, and if they're going to get your guns, your military, your nuclear codes. You have to be able to get to ask them questions."

"Either you have a media or you have what I witnessed in Saddam's era," she later added.

I have to admit that I'm surprised at how plainly the Associated Press described this event:
After five years as the chief promoter of a lie about Barack Obama's birthplace, Donald Trump abruptly reversed course Friday and acknowledged the fact that the president was born in America. He then immediately peddled another false conspiracy.

"President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period," Trump declared, enunciating each word in a brief statement at the end of a campaign appearance. "Now we all want to get back to making America strong and great again."

But as the GOP presidential nominee sought to put that false conspiracy theory to rest, he stoked another, claiming the "birther movement" was begun by his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. There is no evidence that is true.

"Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it," Trump said.

While the question of Obama's birthplace was raised by some backers of Clinton's primary campaign against Obama eight years ago, Clinton has long denounced it as a "racist lie."

"Trump has spent years peddling a racist conspiracy aimed at undermining the first African-American president," Clinton tweeted after his Friday event. "He can't just take it back." ...

Trump's allegation on Clinton starting the controversy is the latest example of his tendency to repeat statements that are patently false. However, that did not affect his ability to beat more than a dozen challengers in the GOP primaries and has yet to dissuade his loyal supporters. ...

Hours later, Trump's campaign spokesman Jason Miller issued a statement that suggested the question had been settled five years ago — by Trump.

"In 2011, Mr. Trump was finally able to bring this ugly incident to its conclusion by successfully compelling President Obama to release his birth certificate," Miller said.

"Mr. Trump did a great service to the president and the country by bringing closure to the issue that Hillary Clinton and her team first raised," he added.

The facts do not match Miller's description. Trump repeatedly continued to question Obama's birth in the years after the president released his birth certificate. In August 2012, for example, Trump was pushing the issue on Twitter.

"An 'extremely credible source' has called my office and told me that @BarackObama's birth certificate is a fraud," he wrote.

If this becomes a new trend, of the media actually doing its job, for a change, I'll certainly welcome that. But I suspect that it's too little, too late.

Typically, our for-profit media rely on a "he said, she said" dynamic, reporting equally (supposedly) what both sides say and criticizing both equally. But when one side is flat-out lying - repeatedly - that balancing act itself gives the wrong impression.

And given that Trump is sensationalist, and that our media are profit-driven, they end up giving his comments far more publicity, anyway. Free publicity and a refusal to call lies lies have led to Donald Trump - Donald Trump - being a serious threat to become our next president.

The media didn't do all of that, but they've certainly helped!

Note that I don't expect the media to be politically partisan (except on channels like Fox 'News,' of course), but they should be partisan when it comes to the truth. Demonstrable lies shouldn't be given the same credence as the truth, just because a political candidate says them. That's a very false idea of being 'balanced.'

Friday, September 16, 2016

A closer look at the Trump Foundation

I'll say it again. This election is going to be an IQ test. If you do anything but vote for Hillary Clinton, you fail the test.

If Donald Trump actually wins the election,... well, that will be even more depressing than when I discovered that America was torturing prisoners of war. How low can we go as a country?

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Keith Olbermann is back!

My thanks to Jeff for the link and the title of this post.

And here's the text version, with links backing up everything Olbermann says.

It's pretty shocking heard all at once, isn't it? Donald Trump has diarrhea of the mouth. Every day, there's something new - many somethings, often enough - which keeps any particular bit of crap from seeming noteworthy. After all, tomorrow there will be another bit, just as bad.

The media love it, because they're in business to make money. It's the same reason we see the most sensational crimes reported in the 'news.' It's the same reason gawkers crowd around accident scenes. It's human nature.

And a lot of us seem to have lost the ability to distinguish 'reality TV' from reality. But when it comes to our democracy, it's very frightening, isn't it?

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Two short clips from MSNBC

This is good stuff from MSNBC, and these clips are very short, too. So I thought I'd post them both.

That first clip demonstrates how enthusiastically that 'basket of deplorables' supports Donald Trump, but the second one, about the Trump Foundation, still astonishes me, even after everything else I've seen about Trump.

Either way, if you're in bed with these people, that was your choice. No one forced you into that basket. It's not your fault that someone else is a racist or a scam artist, but when you voluntarily get in bed with them, that is your fault.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Hillary Clinton: pneumonia no big deal

This is just so idiotic:
Hillary Clinton on Monday said that her campaign did not disclose her pneumonia diagnosis right away on Friday because she did not "think it was going to be that big of deal."

"It’s just the kind of thing that if it happens to you, and you’re a busy, active person, you keep moving forward," she told CNN's Anderson Cooper in a phone interview.

Cooper then pressed Clinton, "But doesn’t your handling of this, and your campaign’s refusal to acknowledge what happened until really after that video was circulated confirm the suspicion to some voters that you’re not transparent or trustworthy?"

"Oh my goodness, Anderson," Clinton replied. "Compare everything you know about me with my opponent. I think it's time he met the same level of disclosure that I have for years."

Is she trying to lose the election? This is what's so infuriating about Democrats in general and the Clintons in particular. How could they be this clueless?

Republicans have been spreading wild conspiracy stories about Hillary Clinton's health (which just demonstrates how little they have to work with in this election, don't you think?). Maybe that's why she didn't announce the pneumonia diagnosis immediately, I don't know. But it's exactly why she should have done so.

Well, she should have done it anyway. Being sick isn't a personal failing. It might even give you some sympathy. Certainly, it wouldn't lead to the impression - which is already widespread - that you're keeping secrets for a reason.

Anderson Cooper put it very well. Many voters think that Clinton isn't transparent or trustworthy. That's exactly why it's critical for her to be open. This would not have been a big deal if she'd been open about it. Now it is, precisely because she mishandled it. Her instinct seems to be to hide stuff, which is terrible for any politician, but especially for her.

Sure, I can compare anything about her and Donald Trump and see that Hillary Clinton is the only sane choice for president. But that's not an excuse for stupidity like this. It's maddening. It's infuriating. It's... how Democrats are, typically.

Oh, not all Democrats are so secretive, but they tend to be ineffectual, clueless about politics, and downright infuriating. If their opponents weren't idiotic, bigoted, faith-based lunatics, I'd have to wonder if I wanted to vote for them. As it is, there's no question about that. But I really hate having to grit my teeth when I do so.

I think Hillary Clinton will make a good president, but... Jesus Fucking Christ, what was she thinking?

There's more. Clinton has made the news recently with her "basket of deplorables" remark. She was right. Not every Trump supporter is "racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it," but those kinds of people are wild about Trump.

Whether it's "half" of his supporters or not, there are plenty of them, and she needs to keep hammering away on that point. Remember that Trump supporters put themselves in that basket. If you don't like it, do what the rest of us do. Get out of that damned basket you share with racists! Stop supporting the guy who deliberately woos such people.

It's your choice, after all. It's not your fault that other people are racist, but it is your fault when you willingly get in bed with them.

I thought it was great that Clinton spoke boldly about this. It was hard-hitting, like the speech she gave a few weeks ago. But then what? The Trump campaign complained about it (as they would have complained about anything she said), and the headlines the next day announced her "regret."

What in the hell is wrong with Democrats? Of course Republicans are going to complain about what you say. But when you're right, you're right. And it makes you seem weak when you apologize. Against Donald Trump in particular, that's a huge mistake. For chrissake, you're supposed to be a politician. Why can't you see that?

Now, true, she didn't back off entirely. Indeed, she only said that she regretted saying "half." But no one pays any attention to the details, and she should have known that they wouldn't. The headlines just say that she expressed "regret." And that's what people will remember.

How can Democrats be that clueless about politics? How can they be that clueless about the media? And in this particular election, how can they be that clueless about Donald Trump? Trump's whole campaign is about dominance, about strength, about what a 'winner' he is claims to be. When you back down to Trump - even when you just give the appearance of backing down - he wins. How can you not understand that by now?

This is just so infuriating! It's not just Hillary Clinton, either. It's what I've come to expect from Democrats in general. Occasionally, a Democrat will attack. But then she'll inevitably walk it back. (Well, not Elizabeth Warren, maybe. That's one of the reasons I like her.)

Hillary Clinton needs to use Donald Trump as a punching bag. She needs to attack and keep on attacking. He certainly gives her enough material, doesn't he? You don't lower yourself to his level, but you don't stop punching and you sure as hell don't back down.

And while she's doing that, she needs to be open and above-board about everything. Everything! Bore us with how much you tell us. That won't stop Republicans from attacking you, but they're going to attack you anyway. Nothing is going to stop them from attacking you, and nothing you say is going to make diehard Republicans like you.

Democrats are frustrating as hell, they really are. But they're not actively evil, which puts them a long way above Republicans in my book.

November's election, in particular, is going to be an IQ test. Luckily, it's pass/fail. If you don't vote for Hillary Clinton - if you do anything else but vote for Hillary Clinton - you fail.

Hillary Clinton's election requiring bloodshed?

This isn't just some random lunatic, this is the Republican governor of Kentucky, Matt Blevin. Yes, he's the current governor of the state, threatening America with terrorism if we elect Hillary Clinton as president.

"If Hillary Clinton were to win the election, do you think it's possible that we'll be able to survive? Would we ever be able to recover, as a nation? And while there are people who've stood on this stage [at the so-called Values Voter Summit of the Family Research Council, where Donald Trump also spoke] and said we would not, I'd beg to differ. ... I do think it would be possible. But at what price?

"At what price? The roots of the tree of liberty are watered by what? The blood. Of who? The tyrants, to be sure. But who else? The patriots."

So, in order to "recover as a nation" from a lost election, we need blood - the blood of "the tyrants" (which is clearly a call for assassinating Hillary Clinton, but is convenient for shooting policemen, government officials, or anyone else you find easier to target, don't you think?), but also the blood of whatever terrorists attempt to carry out that murder.

Have Republicans completely forgotten that this is a democracy, that we vote to settle our differences because bloody violence is the alternative to accepting majority vote? And have they somehow missed the fact that there's going to be another election four years from now - and then four years after that and four years after that (not to mention mid-term elections)?

Of course, remember how Barack Obama was never going to allow another election? Yeah, hysterics is nothing new in the GOP.

One of the strengths of America is that losing an election doesn't mean losing your life. If you lose one election, you just work harder to win the next one. You don't start killing people. You don't even start killing people whom you think are "tyrants." (And note that we have laws which even the President of the United States must obey.)

Matt Blevin is ISIS. Oh, he's probably not going to start killing people himself. I'm sure he's too much of a coward for that. But he has no problem encouraging other people to engage in terrorism. (The leaders of ISIS don't blow themselves up in suicide attacks. They use dumb people for that.)

Indeed, when some of their least stable supporters decide to start killing people (and why wait until after the election?), Matt Blevin - like every other Republican leader - will wash his hands of it. You know that. I know that. Matt Blevin knows that. Oh, he didn't mean like... blood blood, right?

This speech is incredible, isn't it? But not unbelievable, not these days. The Republican Party has gone completely off the rails. Still, I never expected a current Republican governor to so blatantly incite violence like this. Is there no limit to how low the Republican Party can go?

We had a Civil War once, which killed more American soldiers than World Wars I and II combined (620,000 to 750,000 dead, with countless more maimed). Who knows how many civilians died? That Civil War took place because slave-owning Southerners would not accept the results of a presidential election. Does Blevin really want us to go down that road again?

Or does he just want right-wing Christians to engage in ISIS-style terrorism as a more-or-less permanent part of American life, just random killings by disgruntled Republicans?

PS. Here's more about Blevin's speech from Right-Wing Watch, a project of the People for the American Way (an organization I highly recommend).

And FYI, here's the complete text of Thomas Jefferson's letter (written in France in 1987, before we even had a U.S. Constitution) about watering the 'tree of liberty' with blood. (Right-wing loons are very fond of a single sentence there. Note that Jefferson is talking about Shays' Rebellion, and given the current hysterics of the right-wing in America, I find it interesting that he also says, "The people cannot be all, & always well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive.")

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Seth Meyers: national security

A closer look, by comedian Seth Meyers, at Donald Trump's national security comments.

How can anyone be planning to vote for Trump this year? I just don't get it.

PS. And again, Vladimir Putin didn't call Trump "brilliant." He called him "flamboyant." It was translated as "brilliant" at first - brilliant in the sense of shiny or colorful - but that's a misleading translation in English.

It's like how a light bulb can be "bright." You're not saying that the light bulb is intelligent. Yes, Donald Trump is bragging about something that wasn't actually meant as a compliment. That's how clueless he is.

Tsunami of lies: the week In Donald Trump

I don't normally watch MSNBC, and these round-table discussions usually drive me nuts, but I thought this was the best discussion I've heard yet of the problems journalists are having when covering Donald Trump.

They really are facing a "tsunami of lies" from Trump, and a large percentage of the American people simply don't care. What do you do about that?

And on the other side,... emails. Hillary Clinton handled emails the same way previous Secretaries of State had handled them. Careless or not, nothing happened. How can you even compare that with what comes out of Donald Trump's mouth every single day?

Trump praises Vladimir Putin, because he thinks that Putin called him "brilliant." (The word, in Russian, should actually be translated as "flamboyant.") He thinks it's natural that women are being raped in the military. I mean, you can't have men and women working together, right? (Isn't that what Islamic radicals think?)

Trump praises Putin while criticizing America's military leaders. He's long claimed to have a plan to defeat ISIS almost instantaneously,... but it's a secret. Now he says he's going to fire America's generals, get new ones, and then have them create a plan. So what happened to Trump's plan, the best plan ever? Obviously, it's like everything else he says - just bombast, self-praise, and bold-faced lying.

One of these guys, Sam Stein, started to mention the ties that the Trump campaign has with Russia, but that got brushed aside. (Admittedly, there was so much else to talk about.) But why is that not a deal-breaker for the American people? Why is the Russian government's deliberate attempt to help elect Donald Trump (hacking the Democratic Party, pushing pro-Trump messages on social media, etc.) not a deal-breaker?

And it's not just one thing, but a million of them. Any one of them would end a Democrat's campaign immediately, just no question. Any one of them. Can you imagine the howls of outrage if Trump were a Democrat? But since Trump is running as a Republican, that doesn't happen. As Mika Brzezinski asked, how can Republicans live with themselves?

Anyway, as I said, I thought the discussion about how difficult it is for journalists (starting about ten minutes in) was especially interesting. I get frustrated with Trump interviewers and debate moderators - I mean, really disgusted. But I don't suppose that it's easy to pin down a politician who simply refuses to answer their questions.

And it's especially hard when a huge number of Americans don't care that he's lying, don't care that he won't reply to questions, and don't even care about his ties to Russia. (Why doesn't he release his tax returns?)

Yeah, this election is an IQ test for American citizens. If you don't vote for Hillary Clinton, you fail.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Non-Belief, Pt. 17: Proving the Negative

I don't believe in leprechauns, because I've seen no good evidence that leprechauns exist. I can't prove that leprechauns don't exist - you can't prove a negative, right? - but if you do believe that leprechauns exist, you have the burden of proof to demonstrate that.

Let me say right from the start that "prove" and "proof" are misleading here. Personally, I don't think that we can "prove" anything about the real world, such that we couldn't possibly be wrong. No matter what evidence we have, it still could be wrong. It might be ridiculous to think so, but that's not "proof."

Maybe we're living in the Matrix or in a computer simulation where nothing is as it seems. Maybe there's an all-powerful deity who could do anything, by definition. (Why would he? Well, "God works in mysterious ways," right?) Maybe we're God, gone mad from loneliness and just hallucinating all this. I could go on and on.

But in casual terms, we tend to say "prove" when we mean "demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt." I prefer the word "demonstrate," so as to avoid misunderstandings. "Proofs" are for mathematics and logic. In the real world, we have evidence.

And without good evidence that leprechauns exist, there's no good reason to believe that they do. It's not my responsibility to demonstrate that leprechauns don't exist. I can't prove demonstrate the negative, but I don't need to. It's the person who does believe that leprechauns exist who has the burden of demonstrating that.

That's simple enough, isn't it? You're all with me so far, I hope. Obviously, we could disagree about any particular bit of evidence, but we're in agreement on the principle of the thing, right?

Now, I don't believe in gods, either - for the same reason that I don't believe in leprechauns. In both cases, I haven't seen any good evidence that they exist. In both cases, the burden of demonstrating otherwise lies with the person who thinks that they do exist.

In the absence of such evidence, non-belief is the default. I'm an atheist because I don't believe that a god or gods exist, and I don't believe that a god or gods exist because no believer has ever demonstrated otherwise.

I could claim that no god exists, but why would I? If I did that, I would have to define "god" (which seems foolish, given that I don't believe in them) and I would have the burden of demonstrating evidence that gods don't exist. Not only does that seem foolish, it also seems impossible.

But it's not so impossible if we're talking about a particular god.

In his book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, Carl Sagan talked about "The Dragon in My Garage" (the full text is here). You can't demonstrate that there isn't a dragon in a garage, if believers can imagine whatever they want to imagine about that dragon.

But suppose we begin by agreeing on the characteristics of a dragon. In that case, we'd expect to find certain evidence in that garage - not only the dragon itself, but footprints, dragon droppings, food scraps, scorch marks, etc.  And in that case, the absence of evidence would demonstrate evidence of absence.

So let me demonstrate that the Christian God doesn't exist. Remember, again, that I do not have the burden of proof here. I'm perfectly fine with my non-belief, my atheism, as a consequence of no theist - and certainly no Christian - demonstrating that his god does exist.

But just for fun, let me demonstrate a negative.

First, I have to define "God," so how about this? God is an all-powerful (or "maximally powerful"), all-knowing being who wants human beings to obey him (or, if you prefer, to do some things and not do others). Obviously, God wants us to believe that he exists. That's clearly a prerequisite for obeying, loving, or whatever else you think God wants from us.

(I'm talking about the Christian god right now, but that's a broad enough definition to match other gods as well. Certainly, this argument would work just as well for the Jewish and the Muslim gods.)

Like the dragon in the garage, if this particular god exists, we should expect to see certain things. But what do we see? Christianity is the world's largest religion, which is pretty good for a man-made faith, but still, less than one-third of all human beings even believe that the Christian God exists.

How could an all-powerful, all-knowing deity want human beings to know that he exists, yet be that bad at convincing us? And this is just existence, note. Christians can't agree even among themselves about what that god wants and doesn't want from us - even today's Christians, let alone the Christians of the past.

Heck, the Catholic Church spent a thousand years rooting out heresy with fire and sword or today's Christians wouldn't even be this much in agreement. (Early Christians couldn't even agree on how many gods there were.)

And just look at the issue of slavery if you want to see how inept - or non-existent - the Christian god has really been. Or witches, perhaps. Modern Christians would have been burned at the stake as heretics for most of their own religion's existence.

All of this demonstrates that the Christian 'God' does not exist, don't you think? After all, if there were an all-powerful, all-knowing god who wanted human beings to know that he exists, then we'd all - or nearly all - agree about that. If there were an all-powerful, all-knowing deity who wanted human beings to do some things and not do others, we'd all - or nearly all - agree on what those things were. That's obvious.

Of course, maybe you believe in a weak, ineffectual god, a half-wit god, a bumbling idiot god. Or maybe your god doesn't want human beings to know that he exists. Maybe he likes to torture people in hell, so he wants the excuse that we don't believe in him. Hey, just like Sagan's dragon, you can always make excuses, if you really, really want to make excuses.

And I can't demonstrate that all gods don't exist. If your god is different from this, fine. Remember, I don't have the burden of proof anyway. You do. I think I've shown that 'God' does not exist, but I didn't have to. My atheism is fully justified by the fact that you can't demonstrate that he does exist - that no believer can demonstrate that his god exists.

You don't, after all, believe in leprechauns because no one can prove that they don't exist, do you? But I wanted to show that it is, indeed, possible to prove demonstrate a negative. The absence of evidence where there should be evidence is evidence for the negative.

PS. You can find the rest of my Non-Belief series here.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Mr. Deity: Luck

As a political philosophy, this isn't half bad, is it?

The dark history behind Donald Trump's nativist speech

Here's an experiment: Take Donald Trump's speech and everywhere he says "illegal immigrant," replace that with "Jew." How does it sound to you then?

It's the same thing, after all. Jews do commit crimes, sometimes - just like every other group of people. If he wanted, Trump could pick out and highlight horrific crimes from any group, including native-born white men like himself.

What Trump is saying is basically the same thing the Nazis said about the Jews in the 1930s. It's the same thing American bigots said about my Irish ancestors in the 1800's, not to mention about the Chinese, the Italians, the Eastern Europeans and, yes, the Jews. It's the same thing lynch mobs said about black people in the South.

As usual, Rachel Maddow does a great job here. We Americans are notoriously ignorant of history. In fact, all the right-wing cares about history is how they can distort it. But World War II wasn't that long ago, was it? Yes, it's history, but relatively recent history.

This isn't the first time we've seen such bigotry. We are a nation of immigrants, full of people who hate immigrants. Hell, Donald Trump's mother was an immigrant. It's almost funny.

Republican leaders brought Donald Trump on themselves with their notorious 'Southern strategy' of deliberately wooing white racists. For decades, they've been using bigotry for political advantage. And this has brought slime crawling out from under various dark, smelly rocks.

But I never thought I'd see one of our two main political parties nominate that slime as our next President of the United States.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Making America great again

These are just an assortment of political cartoons on the same theme. You might call them the greatest hits of the Trump campaign, but they're in no particular order.

The miracle of Mother Teresa

Pope Francis made Mother Teresa a saint yesterday, on the basis of two miracles. But the real miracle is that people actually buy that bunk, here in the 21st Century.

Here's one of those 'miracles':
[Monica] Besra, who is from a tribal community in eastern India, was so sick she could barely walk when nuns from the Missionaries of Charity, the order founded by Mother Teresa, helped her to a small prayer room one day in 1998.

She paused by a photo of the nun and suddenly felt a “blinding light” emanating from the portrait, and it passed through her body. Later, other nuns pressed a religious medal on her belly, swollen from a tumor, and prayed over Besra as she lay in bed.

She says she awoke at 1 a.m., her body feeling lighter, the tumor seemingly gone.

“I was so happy at that moment I wanted to tell everyone: I am cured,” Besra recalled Wednesday during an interview at her home. ...

Mother Teresa was considered a living saint by many believers during her lifetime, but Besra’s story has always been treated with skepticism in India because doctors and the state health minister debunked it at the time.

They have long maintained that Besra had been suffering from a cyst, not a cancerous tumor. The doctors have said she recovered after she received tuberculosis treatment for several months at a government hospital in Balurghat, about 270 miles north of the city where Mother Teresa spent decades ministering to the destitute and dying.

“I’ve said several times that she was cured by the treatment, and nothing has happened,” one of the doctors involved, Ranjan Mustafi, said in a brief telephone interview.

But saints are big business for the Catholic Church - and very popular with their customer base. 'Mother Theresa' is also very popular, although she shouldn't be. But that popularity made it inevitable that they'd make her a saint.

Monica Besra probably believes what she says (although she's getting a lot of attention for this, and lying for attention certainly isn't unknown). Presumably, those really are her memories of 18 years ago (not that memories are reliable either, of course).

For what it's worth, her husband doesn't believe it:
All this irritates Monica's husband Seiku. "It is much ado about nothing," he says. "My wife was cured by the doctors and not by any miracle." He is peeved at his wife's fame, in part because the press is constantly at his doorstep. "I want to stop this jamboree, people coming with cameras every few hours or so." He concedes that the locket is part of the story of Monica's ordeal but says no one should suppose there was a cause-and-effect relationship between it and the cure. "My wife did feel less pain one night when she used the locket, but her pain had been coming and going. Then she went to the doctors, and they cured her." Monica still believes in the miracle but admits that she did go to see doctors at the state-run Balurghat Hospital. "I took the medicines they gave me, but," she insists, "the locket gave me complete relief from the pain."

Well, we all know faith-based people, don't we? Nothing will stop them from believing what they want to believe. And nothing will stop the Catholic Church from taking advantage of that.

The second 'miracle' accepted by the Catholic Church was that of a man who recovered from a brain infection after his wife supposedly prayed to Mother Teresa. (I've heard it called "multiple brain tumors," but it was apparently an infection that caused abscesses in his brain. That's how doctors diagnosed it, at least. There's always a question of how accurate any diagnosis might be.)

It was a serious condition, certainly. But the man was being treated for it in a hospital. Was the man's recovery remarkable? Perhaps. But was it miraculous? Why would you think so?

Think about this. When Catholics get sick, how many of them don't pray to get well? How many of their family members don't pray for them? And Mother Teresa has been very popular among Catholics for a long time.

Yet, given all this, the Catholic Church can only come up with two miracles (at least one of them extraordinarily dubious)? What about all of those people who prayed and their loved ones still died? What about all of those people of other religions - or no religion at all - who also had remarkable recoveries? Remarkable recoveries might be uncommon - since, otherwise, we wouldn't consider them to be remarkable - but they're perfectly normal.

There are seven and a half billion people in the world. Occasional remarkable recoveries - especially when under modern medical care - are exactly what we should expect naturally. There's absolutely nothing that points to a god here. Indeed, I'd say it's just the reverse. If praying to Mother Teresa - or anyone else - actually made a difference, it should be far more obvious than this!

After her death, we learned that even Mother Teresa doubted God:
Although she publicly proclaimed that her heart belonged "entirely to the Heart of Jesus", she wrote to the Rev Michael Van Der Peet, a spiritual confidant, in September 1979 that "Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear. The tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak."

This is supposed to be a saint. How could she pray and find nothing but "silence and emptiness" if her god - this saint's god - really did exist? And yet, none of this makes any difference to true believers. Rev. Richard McBrien of the University of Notre Dame, for example, actually said, "This can only enhance her reputation as a saintly person..."

When even your saints can find nothing through prayer, and even that doesn't cause you to doubt your beliefs,... what would? Well, again, the faith-based tend to believe what they really, really want to believe.

And the Catholic Church will always use that (just as they use the Shroud of Turin, despite knowing for centuries that it's simply a medieval forgery, just as 'saints' don't even have to be real people).

I don't know. Maybe the celibate old men who run the church actually believe this stuff (being faith-based, themselves). Maybe they'll just cynically use whatever is popular with their customer base. I suspect that it's some of both.

But the real miracle of Mother Teresa is that people are still gullible enough to buy this bullshit. Even in our modern world, where scientific and technological advancements do cure people, there's still widespread superstition and just... astonishing levels of gullibility.

Well, it's easy to fool someone who really, really wants to be fooled.

Edit: I added the cartoon a few days after posting this. It was just too fitting.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The quack Miranda and weasel words

Supplements and other quack medicine is big business. But another reason why it's hard to protect people from such scams is that the scammed will eagerly fight for the people who are taking advantage of them.

We need smarter, better educated, and more skeptical citizens. We should be teaching our children the scientific method. Once you know how to think, what to think won't be such a difficult problem.

Hillary for President

So, I bought a Hillary Clinton yard sign the other day. It was vandalized less than two days later.

Heck, even the Barack Obama sign I had four years ago lasted longer than that. Not much longer, admittedly. But I figured I might get a week out of it, at least.

Speaking of Obama, I finally decided to remove the Barack Obama bumper sticker I've had on my truck the past eight years. I replaced it with "Friendly Neighborhood Atheist." It's been a month or so, but no vandalism yet. :)

Admittedly, my truck stays in the garage most of the time. I don't know if I'd want to park it on the street overnight...

Friday, September 2, 2016

Donald Trump's 'blood libel' hate speech

Well, after all this - the big buildup about 'softening' - Donald Trump finally gave his promised immigration speech and... he hasn't changed a thing about his blood soaked white nationalist politics, as Josh Marshall at TPM describes it.

Incredible, isn't it? Either this was a bamboozle from start to finish, or no one in the Trump campaign knows what's going to come out of his mouth, including Trump himself!

But that's not the part I want to talk about here. I want to point out this post, also by Josh Marshall, about Donald Trump's 'blood libel' hate speech, using victims as political props to ramp up anger and hatred. An excerpt:
If we went out and found victims who'd suffered grievously at the hands of Jews or blacks and paraded them around the country before angry crowds the wrongness and danger of doing so would be obvious. Now, you might say, that's not fair. American Jews and African-Americans are citizens, with as much right to be here as anyone else. But that's just a dodge. There's no evidence that undocumented immigrants commit more crimes than documented or naturalized immigrants. Indeed, there is solid evidence that immigrants commit fewer crimes than the native born. Simple logic tells us that undocumented immigrants face greater consequences for being apprehended by police and thus likely are more careful to avoid it. They're likely more apt to avoid contact with authorities than the rest of us.

There is a legitimate public policy question about how aggressive we should be in deporting those who our laws say should not be in the country in the first place. But the fact that some of them commit crimes is not relevant to the discussion. This is simply a way of whipping up irrational fear and hatred. Though I wouldn't use the word 'demonize', one could fairly argue that groups like MADD spent decades demonizing drunk drivers. But of course this is demonizing a specific activity which has caused thousands of deaths. The action itself is the cause of death and suffering. There is no comparable argument to be made about immigration status. It is simply blood libel and incitement.

Indeed, my hypothetical about Jews and African-Americans is no hypothetical. Anyone who is familiar with the history of the Jim Crow South or 1930s Germany and the centuries of anti-Semitism that preceded it will tell you that the celebration and valorization of victims was always a central part of sustaining bigotry, fear and oppression. We know now that many victims of lynching or blood libel were in fact wholly innocent. But of course not all of them were. The specific idea of ritual killing behind the phrase 'blood libel' was an anti-Semitic fantasy. But being members of an oppressed group is no exemption from human nature. There were blacks who raped and killed whites and Jews who raped and killed Christians. The valorization of victims was and is a way of provoking vicarious horror, rage, hate and finally violence whether specific individuals were guilty or not.

I must return to the point: the suffering of these exploited victims is real. Indeed, I'm no stranger to that pain. When I was a child I lost a beloved relative in an auto accident. I know from my experience the intense desire to find a scapegoat or someone to blame. I don't begrudge any of these families not only their agony but even their a desire to blame whole groups. Grief warps the mind. But there's no excuse for those who have themselves suffered nothing but exploit this suffering to propagate hate. That fact that we've become inured to this, that we now find it normal to see these cattle calls of grief and incitement as part of a political campaign is shocking and sickening. There's no other word for this but incitement and blood libel.

Watch Trump's speeches, with the yelling, the reddened face, the demand for vengeance and you see there's little to distinguish them from what we see at Aryan Nations or other white hate rallies that we all immediately recognize as reprehensible, wrong and frankly terrifying. This isn't 'rough' language or 'hard edged' rhetoric. It's hate speech. Precisely what policy solution Trump is calling for is almost beside the point. Indeed, it wouldn't be hate speech any less if Trump specified no policy solution at all.

This isn't normal. It was normal in the Jim Crow South, as it was in Eastern Europe for centuries. It's not normal in America in the 21st century. And yet it's become normalized. It's a mammoth failure of our political press. But it's not just theirs, ours. It's a collective failure that we're all responsible for. By any reasonable standard, Donald Trump's speech on Wednesday night should have ended the campaign, as should numerous other rallies where Trump has done more or less the same thing for months. There's a reason why the worst of the worst, the organized and avowed racists, were thrilled and almost giddy watching the spectacle. But it has become normalized. We do not even see it for what it is. It's like we've all been cast under a spell. That normalization will be with us long after this particular demagogue, Donald Trump, has left the stage. Call this what it is: it is hate speech, in its deepest and most dangerous form.

Sinclair Lewis once said, "When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." That's what we're seeing in Donald Trump's Republican Party.

Indeed, it's even worse than that. We're seeing the rise of the American Nazi party, in all but name. We're seeing deliberate hate speech used to ramp up fear, bigotry, and hysterical anger. We saw the results of that in 1930s Germany. Heck, we saw the results of that in the American South for generations.

Donald Trump's hate speech will be a danger to America whether he wins or loses the election. We can only hope that sane Americans will get off their couches and actually vote - and thoroughly repudiate his campaign and his rhetoric. Hillary Clinton needs to win this in a landslide.

But whether she does or not, Trump's hate speech has already damaged our country. It's likely to incite violence. This isn't just a crazy white supremacist ranting to his fellow bigots. This is the Republican Party's candidate for President of the United States!