Saturday, August 29, 2015

Truth, Justice, and the Only Way

I was just thinking about the comics I grew up reading.

Y'know, it used to be that you could draw a line of distinction between Marvel and DC. Marvel was focused on the "flawed hero" and misfits: Spider-Man, the X-Men, the bickering Fantastic Four, the alcoholic Iron Man, etc... the stories were interesting, but the battles and conflicts didn't seem to have any aim beyond surviving another day. The one character with the most clearly defined utopian goal seemed to be the villain Magneto.

On the other hand, DC was about the larger-than-life Role Model: Superman, The Flash. The Lanterns were cops. The Batman fought for Justice, not vengeance. Green Arrow was a full-on social justice warrior. They were clearly focused on a better Tomorrow, not just getting by.

I like to think of DC's classic approach to super-heroism as "Lifeguard stories". Yes, the heroes found it easy, but in the world they occupied there is nothing inherently difficult in choosing which lives to save: you save them all if you can, even the baddies. Then you let the Justice system, not vigilantism, decide the punishment. Even the Batman, traumatized as he was, never became The Punisher.

There is some merit to this approach. If your very life is in danger; if you need someone is to rescue you; should you care that he finds it easy? Wouldn't you rather have a lifeguard who can swim? One who can inspire you to learn to do the same to help others on whatever scale you can?

Now DC have revised their entire line-up in an apparent attempt to make themselves over as being more Marvel than Marvel. They've killed Batman; deprived Superman of his powers and cast him as a suspicious, duplicitous alien; cast Aquaman out of Atlantis; made a hero of Lex Luthor; de-legitimized and decimated the Lantern Corp; infantilized Batgirl as a selfie-snapping fashion-plate; and even torn Black Canary's fishnets. Wonder Woman is now the god of War.

Yeah, they went there. A bloody-nosed depowered
T-shirt-wearing "Superman" punching a cop.
Action Comics #43

They call this initiative "DC You". They feel it better reflects their current audience. They feel it represents you. If that's true, it makes me so very depressed to know that the goals for which you strive are so terribly low. Heroes are meant to inspire. "Inspiration" comes from a Latin word meaning "to breathe". Are your breaths truly so shallow?

Amazing Spider-Man #537
What's worse, the "Marvelization" of DC is simply poorly done. Marvel at its best uses their format for intelligent commentary on the human condition. You will not find much that is more inspiring than Captain America quoting of Mark Twain in Marvel's Civil War. I could explain it away by saying that Marvel have had a lot more practice at it, but that doesn't really explain it.

I'll give you just one example to compare:
  1. The early Spider-Man comics. Peter Parker, school-age kid, balancing science and getting bullied and his love and respect for his closely-connected Aunt May, cognizant of his abilities and accompanying responsibilities, trying to be a hero despite the impediments of life. Written by Stan Lee, whose goal was to depict Parker in a way that felt real.
  2. The early stages of the current Batgirl reboot. Barbara Gordon, (inexplicably regressed to) school-age kid, balancing uncanny computer skills and physical prowess with respect for her mostly-absent father, possessed of eidetic memory yet casually tossing aside the traumas of a viciously-inflicted spinal injury and sociopathic brother. Written by Brendan Fletcher and Cameron Stewart, whose goal is to be trendy.
Powers aside, DC have remade Batgirl into Spider-Man as closely as they could except where it counts. Except for the heart. Nevertheless, the attempt is there... visibly so.

I think it's a shame, not just that they did it poorly, but that they did it at all.

In a classic display of symbolism, Superman states that
if the villainous Lex Luthor ever wants to find him,
all he needs to do is "look up".
The difference between Marvel and what they termed the "Distinguished Competition" was important. It was a difference of approach, it was a difference of viewpoint, it offered readers a broader set of values and opinions than they currently get now that everybody's the same.

 Now, everybody has the same approach, the same solutions, the same questions, the same answers.

Now, all is relative, Right and Wrong are indistinguishable in practice and the heroes are villains and the villains are heroes.

You may as well flip a two-headed coin to choose between them.

On the other hand... if their intent is to accurately portray our current sociological and political landscape, perhaps they've just done exactly that.

Think about it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Direct Answers to Direct Questions

Chuck Dunning posted this to his Facebook page:

These are good questions, and I welcome the opportunity to respond. Of course, I speak only for myself and whosoever chooses to identify themselves as agreeing. And please understand that I'm not trying to shout you down or "refute" the questions... but you did ask.

So here are some direct answers, respectfully given to these good questions:


When you say "Black Lives Matter", I actually don't think you mean they matter more than others, not in the slightest... until and unless you shout down anyone who says "All Lives Matter". It's the shouting down that has created the misunderstanding by communicating that this is intended to mean that Black lives actually do mean more. 

If you really mean to say that they mean no less than others, you should try to be more understanding of those who express the very same message in a less confusing way. And if someone says "Hispanic Lives Matter", or "Asian Lives Matter", etc. then that should be OK, too, because you know what...? They do. 

Members of the Guiding Light Church of Birmingham, AL
Singing All Lives Matter.

I have little advice for the person using "All Lives Matter" other than they do it with respect, without stepping on somebody else's message, so it doesn't look like they're "correcting". But if they're using it in their own context, then they're perfectly fine, because it's not your message, it's theirs. They deserve respect, too.

And that's all that really needs to be done about that particular misunderstanding: just tolerate that not only do other lives matter, too, but that it's not wrong to say it.  AND, that they actually agree with you that Black lives matter! And if someone does defend himself against being dismissed for simply saying the truth, "All Lives Matter", then try to understand that the defense is not intended for you, but for the misguided critic who is using "Black Lives Matter" in a way that you are not. 

And in all of these topics, please remind yourself, just as I have to remind myself, that when someone reflexively answers defensively, they may not be responding directly to what you just said. These same topics of conversation come up often, and based on those previous conversations they may be anticipating a line of argument that you weren't going to offer.


I know White privilege is real. I'm going to spare you my life's story because it doesn't matter, except for this little bit, which does: my school's demographics. Today, W.J. Keenan is 96.6% Black. When I attended it wasn't that, for sure... we had some White students, but it was still overwhelmingly Black. At least three quarters, and I'm being conservative. This included some very accomplished people in my homeroom alone[1]. I was very often the only White kid in a class, and usually the only White kid in the locker room. Actually, this was pretty ironic, because my father was Native American and my mother was Jewish. But I look White, so as far as anybody's concerned I'm White. These are the sort of demographics commonplace among Blacks elsewhere in the country, with the colors reversed, Now these were High School demographics, but they were the same kids that I followed from grade school to middle school and on to graduation. This was my environment for twelve of the most formative years of my life. These were my friends. 

Most of my teachers were Black, too. And I saw in my school a far greater diversity among Black people than I have since learned that most White people expect. For instance, I know that Blacks are liberal and conservative on a broad spectrum. My friends liked Country and Rock and Funk. And Blacks are very conscious of skin color among Blacks. These friends and teachers, diverse and interesting people, never once used the phrase "White Privilege" because nobody had invented it. Nevertheless, I did, to some extent, feel it.

For instance, my stepfather was a bigot (and I'll save that talk for another time... it could take all day). And I was bussed to school, so my neighbors were White, although they were mostly old, too. And I never once was surprised when I turned on the television to see someone who looked like me. I was surprised now and again to walk into a classroom and see someone there who looked like me. I was undeniably in the minority there. So although I can't precisely share Whoopi Goldberg's delight at seeing Uhura in Star Trek, I can comprehend it. And I haven't to my knowledge been turned down for a job because of my skin color, but I have been turned down for everything else, so while I can't share that experience, I can comprehend it.

I can actually feel White Privilege when I'm in an unfamiliar White neighborhood and feel safer than in an unfamiliar Black neighborhood. I used to think that this feeling was racist until a Black friend I was with told me she felt safer in a White neighborhood, too. Turns out, fearing for your safety isn't racist, it's survival, and most Whites start off with the privilege of not living in constant fear. They have a hard time when placed in an environment that looks kind of like that to them, and they over-react. And you see that reaction and you say, "Hey, that's racist," except it's not. Racism is hate. This is fear. And getting up in their face isn't going to make it better. Fear is based in ignorance, and that's handled by the very thing you're looking for... better communication. The easiest way to create a racist is to justify someone's fear.

And I know that many of people feel that there can be no such thing as a Black racist, but we both know that there are many Blacks who are fearful of Whites, and just as many Whites who have justified those fears. I don't care what you want to call it. Call it whatever you like, it's still a rose. Some of those Black fears are justified through White privilege, and I started to list a bunch of ways that White Privilege is felt, and how I've felt it personally, but really, you already know them, so that's unnecessary.

Now, you asked where the misunderstanding is coming from. It's not really the fact of White privilege. There are people who deny it exists, and there are plenty of White people who will set them straight. And it's not really that difficult to do. Here's a guy who does it right

What some people don't seem to know... or better, what some don't seem to put in practice, is that the genetics of an individual's privilege doesn't say anything about its environment. Many people, though they can't share the Black experience, can leverage their own experiences to comprehend it in principle. And a few comprehend it very well. But you don't know who these people are until you have a deeper conversation, so you can't just diss somebody off the bat because he says, "I know what you're going through."[2]

Of course he doesn't, not exactly. But I can tell you this: having been a poor minority White growing up among Blacks who were often more affluent than I and then having then gone out into the larger world, I have a perspective on White privilege that you probably don't have, and it would probably be informative. And this does not diminish what you say, but enhances it.

The Big Misunderstanding comes from insisting that people who do not share an experience can cannot understand it. They can. And even if they couldn't fully, when someone is trying to comprehend your point of view, it's a poor time to tear them down as though they were incapable of doing so.

For one thing, if that were true, then it would be completely and utterly pointless to bring up the subject at all except as a way of shaming. And since we know that's not what you mean to do, I'd suggest not approaching it in a belligerent or condescending way. Accept that when they say, "I understand", they're at least trying. And if you have to be condescending, then nod your head and smile at the 'idiot'. It'll move the conversation forward, he'll learn as he goes, and soon he won't be an 'idiot'.


While I know that you mean "the understandings" when you ask what to do about "them", I'm going to take a moment to offer at least a suggestion about privilege. It's not big; it doesn't change the world; but I think it can help. you might think it's condescending. That's not my intention. This is a suggestion, take it, leave it, or come back with something better.

First of all, it's by realizing that there are a lot of kinds of privilege, and they all boil down to one basic statement which is this:

"Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity"

People have been saying this to each other for 2,000 years, ever since the Roman, Seneca the Younger, wrote it down. In this sense White males are the luckiest m***f***s in the country, because there are a lot of opportunities for White males, and they happen to be naturally prepared for them. It ain't fair, it's not something they did or earned; but it's there. That is White privilege in a nutshell.

The proper response, I think, is what Mr. Winningham, my high school Chemistry teacher told us. "There are all kinds of opportunities. If they're not right for you, make yourself right for them." Of course, he meant education (teachers always do). But he was right. Hell, even with White privilege (and I'm working in a multinational corporation in IT dominated by Indians, so that's less of a thing than you might expect), I still have to learn several new programming languages every few years to make myself marketable. I still dress up for interviews, and I still act way more polite and formal in those interviews than I will six months into the job.

But if you're socially conscious it also means making opportunities that fit diverse people. This might mean creating minority businesses, but for a member of a minority often it has meant getting the haircut, putting on a suit, putting on or losing an accent, and doing what's necessary to succeed and be in a position to change the landscape. 

And it can mean accepting that sometimes privilege isn't White or Black; it's just opportunity; and being willing to accept it when it's offered; and accepting that someone else can meet opportunity with preparedness without being an "Uncle Tom" or an "Aunt Jemima". I'm not saying that you are saying this: but it does get said. 

None of this, of course, does anything about White privilege. But it could just possibly put someone in a position where White privilege doesn't matter.


On the third item, I don't think we have misunderstanding at all, because I think we DO have a problem with institutionalized racism in our legal system. AND, if I knew someone who thought everyone in our legal system is racist, I'd set him straight quick.

We have many problems with our legal system, but I'm going to limit myself here. A person could write for weeks describing problems with every stage of the system, as you well know. As you didn't list everything you could have, neither will I. Sadly, I won't be as brief, because I want my White friends who read this to understand it completely. Also, I want to make myself understood so that if we do have a misunderstanding, you know where it actually is.

To start with, we incarcerate more of our citizenry than any country in the world. We do so in large part using mandatory sentencing for "victimless crimes", drug charges and the like. One thing you have to understand about me is that I'm a Libertarian, and I'm a big fan of government keeping out of business that the government has no business being in. And just as commerce isn't the Federal government's business unless it crosses State lines, neither Federal nor State law has any business messing with you or me unless we are interacting with someone else. There can be no crime unless someone's rights have been violated... by which I mean that there should be no such thing as a "victimless crime". To my mind, what you think isn't rightly a crime, folks; and what you do is only criminal if it steps on someone else's rights. But we have people in both parties who don't believe that, and as a result, genuine differences of opinion on how to live your life can result in a prison sentence.

I bring this up because most of these convictions are of economically disadvantaged people, and most of them are people of color. Not only should they not have been arrested for their non-crimes; but they should never have been given mandatory sentences that can keep a man in jail for possession longer than for murder. This is institutional, and it could be changed tomorrow if our lawmakers just started repealing bad laws. This isn't about political parties, either. Our Congress has been changing hands back and forth for decades, and they could have done something about this at any time whatsoever. Instead they made it worse.

It is also institutional because the government has an economic interest in jailing people. It's a common myth that the 13th Amendment abolished slavery. It actually left a gigantic exception, and I'll highlight it for you:
Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation
There is a corporation named UNICOR (also known as "Federal Prison Industries" or "FPI") that is wholly owned by the United States Government. It engages in manufacturing of products for sale to the Government and to the general public, and it outsources labor to private companies. UNICOR was created in 1934 to produce goods and services. They claim that "the whole impetus behind UNICOR is not about business, but about inmate release preparation." In practice, they put inmates to work making products that often are made by no one else, and sold to no one else. Because of UNICOR, some prisons are actually profit centers for the government. They cost nothing to run, at least as far as a prison budget, because they get it from sales charged to the Defense budget. Not only that, but the Federal Government is required by law to purchase from UNICOR before seeking bids from private suppliers. And these are products that are made with labor that can cost anywhere from minimum wage down to as little as $0.23 per hour.  Twenty Three Cents.

Does that sound like slave labor yet? 

If you're not pissed off about this, I didn't explain it well enough.

What do you think would happen if three quarters of a million able-bodied prison laborers had their drug charges commuted tomorrow and they were sent home as free men and women? Would our current government even allow it? Perhaps there's a reason that so many people are put in jail for outrageously long sentences. I say that reason is institutional. I say it's the creation of arbitrary laws to lock up otherwise innocent people for profit. I say it's wrong, and that any White man should be as pissed off about it as any Black man.

My intent in choosing this example wasn't to minimize any problem that is uniquely Black, but to point out that some problems that seem uniquely Black, aren't.

Now... you asked what we can do about it. 

About the perceived misunderstanding... continue the conversation, because institutional racism is not only a White vs. Black problem. Starting with areas of common interest offers a wedge by means of which additional issues that are unique to Blacks are made clear.

About the problem itself... I think we can all start by not voting for the same jackasses we've been voting for year after year (and I address this to ALL readers, Black, White, Left, Right, and everybody else). And I'm talking about from County Council to State legislature, to Congress, to President. Everybody in there has had an opportunity to bring this stuff up, and with very few exceptions they've done nothing about it. And I'm not just talking about "legalize drugs"... that's just a tiny part of it. There are so many ways that the government has fucked you over, and me too, and if 40 years of doing the same shit hasn't worked, I think it's probably time to do some different shit.

And here's where I'm going to get chewed out, but I hope you understand that I have to be honest here: while we are addressing causes of actual institutional racism, we can't reflexively label as institutional racism things that are not. 

Why are there more cops and arrests in Black neighborhoods? Because there's more crime. To a certain extent, this is a "no win" for the police. If they patrol Black neighborhoods they're racist and profiling. If they patrol White neighborhoods, they're racist and looking out for the White man. If they don't patrol at all, they're racist and doing nothing. At the end of the day they have to put on their big-boy pants, ignore the criticism, and go where the crime is.

So we need less crime. And that's not an easy thing by any measure. And it's not something that somebody can impose. So I don't have a good answer for that, except to say that whatever the answer is, it will involve the people who live there being front and center. And here I am, some White guy speaking his mind, so what do I know? But I can tell you this: I firmly believe that no matter who you are or where you live, some ways of living are better and some are worse. And crime is worse. I think that Blacks must share that view. So even though we can't get rid of crime tomorrow, we can stop glorifying it today, and that would be a very good step. And people who are violent today because they care can become non-violent today because they care. And that would be a very good step, too.

And yes, we need to get rid of cops who abuse their authority, and those that commit crimes when they do it shouldn't be immune, they should be jailed. And yes, "Driving While Black" is a real thing, so we need to stop unfounded profiling. And yes, we need to make sure that people of all races (and that means all!) receive similar, fair penalties. And yes, we need to make sure that a "jury of your peers" means one in which the color of the defendant does not put him at an immediate disadvantage. And about a hundred other things. But we also need less Black-on-Black crime. Even if we eliminate all of those stupid things that shouldn't be crimes, we still have to address the fact that too many legitimate Black-on-Black crimes remain: homicide, robbery, assault, domestic violence... crimes with victims.

Because these Black lives matter, too. 

Thanks for reading.

[1]  I hesitate to name anyone because I don't want you to think I'm exploiting them for the purpose of a blog post. And besides, I haven't asked permission.

[2] I actually have to be very careful in conversation not to use phrases and idioms that I grew up using among my friends, because people who don't know me and assume they know my background will think that I'm mocking Ebonics. (I'm not... that's just the way folks talked, and even then only in the most informal circumstances. Any one of my Black teachers would have slapped you crosseyed if you tried to speak that way in the classroom) Am I being treated with prejudice? Yes, I think I am. I'm OK with that, because your prejudice is based on what you know of most White people. It's not intentional, and it's not racist. It is an error, but it's one you'd correct yourself in the course of getting to know me.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


Answer these in your head. We'll come back to them:
  1. Maria is five months pregnant. She and her husband José are expecting a baby girl and they are very excited about it. On the way home she stops at the ATM, and is attacked. She begs the mugger not to harm her for the sake of her baby, but nevertheless she is assaulted and battered. As a direct result of the battery she loses the baby. Her attacker pleads guilty to the assault, battery, and robbery, but he is also charged with murder. Do you think he is guilty?
  2. Maria and José are excited to learn that they are expecting a baby. However, when a test is done, Maria learns that her baby will be severely deformed. She decides to abort the pregnancy. Do you think that's OK?
  3. Maria and José are excited to learn that they are expecting a baby. However, a new scientific test reveals that her child will be gay. She decides to abort the pregnancy. Do you think that's OK?
  4. Maria and José are excited to learn that they are expecting a baby. They visit the doctor and learn that the mother and unborn child are both perfectly healthy. However, they also learn that the baby will be a boy, and Maria had her heart set on a girl.
    1. Although José is just happy to be a father and is unconcerned with the sex of the child, Maria decides on her own to abort the pregnancy,  Do you think that's OK?
    2. José and Maria argue over the incident. She says it was her body and her choice; he says it was his son and that he has procreative rights, too. Jose requests applies for an annulment of their marriage. Who do you think is at fault?


What got me thinking along these lines was a video by Dennis Prager. In it, Prager deliberately sets aside those difficult and ambiguous areas such as rape, incest, and the health of the mother to focus on those things that should be clearest to you... a healthy mother with a healthy fetus, and he does so without any emotional charge. Now, whether you support abortion always, never, or some of the time, you might be surprised that this utmost clear-cut scenario is not as clear as you imagine.

I think Prager does a very good job examining whether or not the abortion of a healthy fetus is moral, and shows that his arguments follow from secular reasoning and not at all from religious dogma and emotionalism. So I have just a few thoughts.

One thing that Prager doesn't elaborate on is that the fetus is not the mother's body. His single clarification is pretty solid: "It's IN her body". But so is her liver, so something further is needed. I invite you to think on this proposed double-blind experiment:
  1. Take DNA samples from the fetus and from any other portion of the mother. 
  2. Send them to separate labs for sequencing (not revealing the source of the DNA). 
  3. Have a third lab compare the DNA sequences and tell you whether they came from the same person. 
What do you imagine the results would show? With nothing but physical evidence and no legalisms, emotionalism, or bias in the way, and excluding microchimerism (the exchange of a few cells due to a shared environment) would the lab pronounce these samples as having come from the same person? [1]

I would discuss personhood here, but it was Prager's specific intent to present his case without all those pesky grey areas. But in debating it with myself I found it not feasible to come up with a definition of personhood that simultaneously covered everyone we can all agree is a person except a fetus unless I specifically excluded the fetus.

Thoughts about Scenario 1

Scenario 1 isn't entirely hypothetical. Most states have fetal homicide laws, and a Federal law called the Unborn Victims of Violence Act treats the killing of an infant as a homicide in all 50 states if it occurs in conjunction with the commission of a Federal crime. Twelve states do not have such laws. This was highlighted in a recent case in Colorado where a woman, eight months pregnant, was stabbed in the belly, killing her unborn child. The assailant was not charged with murder.

Recall your own thoughts about Scenario 1. Should this be murder? Either the situation in Colorado is wrong and the assailant should have been charged, or the situation in the 38 remaining states is wrong, and no one should be charged with killing a fetus. Nevertheless, fetal homicide laws have passed with broad bipartisan support in 38 states, including California,

Where this gets dicey in regarding abortion is that, regarding the loss of the fetus, the major difference is that in an abortion the mother doesn't want the baby. In that case, abortion proponents say that the fetus "is the mother's body" and the its loss is no more traumatic than that of an appendix. However, in the case of an attack, many of these very same abortion proponents are in favor of calling the loss of the fetus "murder". This is despite the fact that, if the fetus is not a person, then we cannot logically call its death a homicide any than we could that of a hand or foot that's lost in an attack.

Many abortion proponents had the consistency to oppose the Unborn Victims of Violence Act using similar reasoning. However, you'll find that they weren't so concerned with the actual principle of whether it was a life as they were about how it might affect abortion. Then-Senator John Kerry provided a representative summation in a form letter to his constituents. In it he wrote, "I believe that an attack on a pregnant woman should carry increased penalties. However, legislation granting a fetus the same legal status in all stages of development as a human being is not the appropriate response. I have serious concerns about this legislation because the law cannot simultaneously provide that a fetus is a human being and protect the right of the mother to choose to terminate her pregnancy. Therefore, I do not support the Unborn Victims of Violence Act." While denying the personhood of the fetus, Kerry fails to provide any justification for increased penalties.

Here's what I think. I think he knows it's murder, and he cites increased penalties because he knows it, and to appease those of his constituents who vocally affirm it. However, he was motivated in great degree by concern that curtailing a malicious act might prevent others from performing the very same act dispassionately, and that calling it murder in one instance would reveal it to be murder in the other. Increased penalties cannot be logically justified because the attempt reveals the same thing.

Thoughts about Scenarios 2 and 3

As presented by me, these scenarios are intended to present the same situation: Maria aborts the child for some reason. Since abortion proponents I'm writing of are those who hold that she should be able to do so for any reason, the specifics shouldn't matter to them, ever.  And yet, I bet they do. At least, they have so far in conversation.
Let me take an aside and say that if you should write or comment saying that they did -- or more especially did not -- matter to you, I'm afraid I can't weigh it very strongly against my expectations, which are formed over years of personal interactions. The reason is (and I hope you can appreciate this as fact rather than insult) that I have no reason to believe that you're not lying about it, even to yourself. The only way I could have to check the validity of your statement is if I had asked the question and received answers first, before moving on with the rest of this discussion. Since that didn't happen, and you had the opportunity to read the whole post and consider a rebuttal, including retconning your answers to match your ideology, I just have to leave it to you as to whether your answers conflict with your stated views. I can't really accept as reliable testimony a claim that they weren't. Perhaps someday I or someone else will conduct the discussion in just that way and we can see.
If you're like most Liberals, you'll find one of these a lot easier to answer than the other. Many people would spare a severely handicapped child the difficulties of life with a disability. Still others try to reconcile their acceptance of the "differently abled" by stating that it shouldn't be allowed. Still others have an apparent logical meltdown and state that aborting a handicapped child should be allowed only if you would have aborted it if it were healthy (which completely dismantles the idea that a mother can choose and abortion for any reason or that you can have a reason for an exception based on the health of the child).

You'll find a much better answer to that dilemma here [LINK], which can be summed up in this paragraph:
If this moral precept were not true, all so-called moral dilemmas would be easily soluble by simply appealing to one's own relief from suffering. But in such a world the antidote would be worse than the poison, for people would then have a right to inflict suffering on another if it relieved them of their own. This would be morally intolerable.
Abortion proponents should have no discomfort with this scenario, as "any reason" means "any reason"... and yet many do have a problem with reasons other than those they themselves would sanction.

Scenario 3, aborting a gay baby, isn't discussed much except, oddly, among conservatives, but it's one that liberals really should ponder. Remember, I'm not asking whether it should be legal, but whether it's OK.

Remember, too, that it is not only the accepted view of many that homosexuality is determined at birth (see the video), but that it is determined by genetics. If there were a test for that gene, would you be OK with a mother who uses it to prevent the birth of gay children?

The intellectually consistent response is "any reason" means "any reason" and to have no reaction to this additional information. And yet, while searching through various forums I've found only a very few abortion proponents who respond in that consistent fashion. Mostly, the proposition is either handwaved away with "that would never happen", or manages to spark ire and heated debates deflected completely away from the actual question, I think it's clear that the idea that it could happen reveals an emotional response that belies an internal struggle. I think that those who feel that struggle should not only examine what they believe, but whether it's right.

Anti-abortionists have no moral dilemma, by contrast. They do not value one fetus preferentially over another, but apply their principles equally.

Thoughts about Scenario 4

My purpose in presenting Scenario 4 was to get you thinking about whether José has any parental rights. In a legal sense, for males fatherhood has largely become all responsibility and no rights.

Certainly, if the baby were born, José would have responsibility of child support, even if he knew nothing of the child's existence. Even a private contract agreed to and proposed by the mother cannot give him assurance. He has no say whatsoever in aborting a baby that the mother wants but he does not, and will be forced to give up a large share of his income for the next 18 to 21 years despite his wishes, with no recourse. And if the mother does not want the child he has no recourse for compelling its birth, although the imposition upon her is a mere 9 months.

In Scenario 4.2, José and Maria's marriage is ended, and I ask who is at fault. This is of course a matter of opinion, but you may want to ponder why a man should remain in a relationship where it is clearly demonstrated that he has no place in decision-making authority; where his joy at expecting a son can be tossed aside as irrelevant with the callous disregard exemplified by the words, "It's her body." That may be her body, but only in a civil marriage does this deny a man rights.

Every responsibility has (or should have) accompanying rights. The American colonists fought an entire war of independence based on the idea that taxation without representation -- or in other words, responsibility without rights -- is tyrannical [2]. Why then should José not leave this tyrannical situation to find another woman... in his eyes, a better woman... who believes as he does that in a marriage a man and a woman are joined "as one flesh" and that as a result, all important decisions should be made jointly?

Personally, I say they share what "fault" there is to be had. They should have explicitly discussed exactly this sort of thing before they got married, and if either of them had detected attitudes in the other that would leave them as less than a full partner, they should have put the brakes on the marriage. "Love" has only a little to do with it. You can be infatuated with someone who isn't your proper mate. Marriage is a whole lot more than that. True love is caring for someone else more than you do yourself. So when it comes to the immediate cause of their dissolution, I think it's an easy choice. "It's my body" is an argument that could sway even the Catholic church to annul such a marriage on the grounds that Maria suffered from a "grave defect of discretion of judgment concerning the essential matrimonial rights and duties mutually to be handed over and accepted". A civil marriage would never end in divorce on such grounds, of course; but it wouldn't need to. Civil marriages are by comparison lightly undertaken and lightly cast aside. For instance, in South Carolina, just leaving will do it. Seeking annulment allows both he and Maria to be re-married within their Church, and is a compassionate solution, not a hateful one.

A personal struggle

I'm a little more vocal on this subject than I have been in the past, as the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced of the immorality of abortion. At one point I accepted the argument that as a male I have no credible say in this matter. That's untrue. As human beings we have equal say in the matter of procreation, and if you disagree with that, then it is you who are being oppressive, not I.

Then I accepted the argument that it should be left to the individual. That's also untrue. In matters of life and death, a just society has always favored the helpless. We don't allow the murder of adults, and we give special protection to children who are unable to fend for themselves. There is no one less capable of self-defense than a child in the womb. That child should be defended when the mother is attacked, and also when the mother attacks.

Part of this is surely to make sure that unwanted children are not conceived. So contraception, I think, is essential. But so are morals. So is the promotion of a decent family structure where children are born into welcoming families and fathers are not driven away as if they were irrelevant except for their utility as ATMs. And so is acceptance of responsibility. This means more than a man shouldn't lie with a woman unless he is prepared to "pay up" for failed contraception; it also means that a woman shouldn't lie with a man unless she is prepared to be intimately involved with him for very many years. Face-to-face, and not as a line item deduction on a paycheck stub. I think it is important that when we promote the value of Fatherhood that we not be limited to lip service, but we make that value achievable.

This isn't something that is or should be limited to religious individuals. Everyone should ask themselves if abortion and the casual disregard for life and family and community and cooperation that accompanies it is something they should be supporting. In those areas where we have needed improvement over the past, we should improve. People must be treated with equality across the board, which is, after all, simply putting our lofty rhetoric of the past into action. But in changing society we have thrown away many practices that were objectively better, and we should either return to them or find out where we went wrong in our attempt to improve them.

I'm going to leave you with this TED talk by Sam Harris. Whether you're religious or not, it will not be what you expect. Please set aside 20 minutes and watch.

(Sam Harris. Filmed Feb 2010.)

[1] You could hear the argument that a mother and fetus literally are a chimera (a single organism composed of genetically distinct cells.")  However, the constituent parts of a chimera do not spontaneously separate and become distinct organisms. Pregnancy is quite different.

[2] When I presented this argument to someone, he attempted to deflect the discussion into one of slavery. My response was as follows: "Slavery is wrong, and except for prison it has been abolished for 150 years. That said, why shouldn't José leave a situation that you yourself just equated with slavery?"

His response was very good: "Isn't Christian marriage slavery, where the wife is 'subjugated'?" 

He's referring to Ephesians 5:22-33 where a Christian marriage is described and the phrase "one flesh" is used. My response was to point out the context and language, both in the scripture and in what I said.
  • First, in a Christian marriage a wife is not "subjugated". She submits herself (willingly) to the husband, for reasons you can read for yourself in the link. Furthermore, a Christian husband is to love his wife "even as himself", and that precludes being dictatorial. He is to be the head of the family "as Christ is the head of the church," which indicates servant leadership (and do follow that link!). If he's a dictator, he's doing it wrong. So no, a Christian marriage is absolutely nothing like slavery.
  • Second, I used that phrase because in my example Maria and José happen to be Catholic. But the argument doesn't require a "Christian marriage" to hold water. If any man and woman do not agree on something so basic as whether and how they will have offspring, why should they not find more compatible partners who do agree on these basic things? 
You'll find that my argument relies in no measure on subjugation, but on an equal partnership.

Image credits:

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Progressives Bellyfeel Ingsoc

I used to not hesitate in saying that, except on the subject of socialism, postmodern progressives were "otherwise intelligent". I'm beginning to re-assess that opinion.

I got this from someone who reposted it from someone who says "I love this". All I can say, Bud, is if you love this you need to think about it some more.

Copyright as attributed. Reproduced in its entirety
under Title 17 Fair Use for the purpose of political commentary

This poster has the full flavor of postmodern progressivism. I'll explore that in detail below, and see where that takes me.

Although I'll use the word "progressives" for brevity, let me make clear that I'm not talking about the progressives of the early 20th century: Teddy Roosevelt and the like, or anyone who is wishing to hang on to that label to describe those same policies. I'm talking about the more recent movement that is moving the political Left beyond not just classical liberalism (which it long ago left behind to be re-branded as libertarianism), but also beyond that of modern liberalism. I'm talking about those who are operating outside of the boundaries of both the Constitution and intellectual reason. Whereas our Founding Fathers built a nation according to an architecture of pure Reason, postmodern progressives practice the politics of pure Emotion.
Charles Murray wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal that pretty much sums up how I'm using the term here. Please read it if you are still confused as to my usage and why I am distinguishing this group from liberals. If you need more detail you might try this article in American Thinker.  Otherwise, you should be able to work it out from context. If it makes things easier for you, just mentally replace "progressive" with "Ingsoc" knowing that if I had my way that's what we'd just call these folks and be done with it.

The very first thing I was struck with about this poster was the obvious Orwellian feel of it, It has been 66 years since George Orwell published 1984. In that time it has been disseminated, taught, and dissected in every school in the country. Most voters have never known a world without its example and warning. And yet, the astonishing fact is that there are people who still do not heed the warning, who do not learn the lesson; and who fall for the principles of Ingsoc (English Socialism)

Having read 1984, do you really believe that a society such as described could come about if it had been thrust upon the populace? No, such a society comes about by drips and drabs, incrementally as a result of tiny wrongs that add up. And contrary to the expectations of many, it is not something that happens behind your back, without the approval of the people. It is the people themselves who demand such a society and are complicit in bringing it about, having been convinced to do so with promises of security and an ease bestowed upon them by an all-caring, all-compassionate, all-powerful State.

Postmodern progressivism is Ingsoc in every respect. I do have friends who take exception to that and make weak protest that it is different because it is not thrust upon them, but it remains Ingsoc.

It starts with the language. 

Orwell was absolutely correct in his description of Newspeak, the tightly controlled language of Oceania that gave us the word "thoughtcrime" and 


And now this:


Even without the blatant oxymoron, the politics of this poster are clear from the inversion of the language that is pervasive in every thing said by a progressive.  A progressive's "love for humanity" is dominated by hate poorly masked by post facto rationalizations.

"I don't hate white people." But they do. Progressives hate white people so badly that they label conservative Black people as "white". White progressives hate themselves so much that it is now an accepted thing to pretend to be Black. #BlackLivesMatter, yes... but so do they all; yet those who point that out and who demand justice across the board are shouted down as ignorant fools who "miss the point" that Blacks are "not yet included" in "All lives". Their argument is patent bullshit. "All lives" means ALL lives, and their choice to ignore all lives except one group does absolutely nothing to further inclusiveness. It serves only to perpetuate divisions between that group and all others.

"I don't hate cops." But they do. They focus on the fact of police presence without addressing the cause, other than to blatantly and erroneously state that it must be racism. In fact, there's a greater police presence in Black neighborhoods and a greater incidence of interaction with the police there because there is a greater incidence of Black-on-Black crime, including murder. If #BlackLivesMatter to you, then this is the obvious place to start, not here.

"I don't hate soldiers." But they do. Most progressives have never seen "the horrors of war" in any form. What they allude to when they speak of the the politically and economically vulnerable is the budgeting of Federal dollars for defense rather than social programs. This is beyond a rational discussion of whether the military should be scaled back or where and how they should be deployed. Our soldiers should not be imposing our will on sovereign nations; but they should be defending our borders and trade routes. It is, after all, their only job. 

"I don't hate rich people." But they do. Progressivism is a culture of envy. Its purveyors would keep you ignorant of the fact that economics is not a zero-sum game where every dollar earned is aggressively ripped from the hands of some poor innocent. They perpetrate this myth even as their leaders generate fiat money without hesitation. They ignore the fact that all boats are rising to focus only on the rate at which some boats rise compared to others. They are ignorant of the realities of a fiat economy; of the differences between money and capital; of the causes and dangers of an inflationary economy. They would keep you ignorant of the fact that you, too can succeed except for the lies that have you demand rather than earn your way.  For instance:
  • You are told the lie that you have a right to a free education, as if it were a natural right. In fact, you have both the right and the responsibility to educate yourself. As Isaac Asimov famously observed, self-education is the only kind of education there is. No one can "educate" you. No one can "give" you an education. You can be given tools and information, but you and you alone must exercise your brain and become educated. Failure to understand this basic fact has resulted in the United States spending more on education and achieving less with each dollar than any industrialized country. If you want to know why foreign students do better, it's because they each recognize their personal stake in their own education. No education is free. It is paid for, at the barest minimum, with your own intellectual labor. It is the lack of that intellectual effort that leads American "students" to believe whatever they're taught without critical analysis, and which has turned Liberalism into Ingsoc.
  • You are told the lie that you have a right to free healthcare, as if it were a natural right. In fact, you have both the right and the responsibility to take care of yourself. It is your body: to demand that someone else care for it gratis is to declare them a slave to your needs. Many people give freely of their healing talents. It is an outrageous insult to demand it of them. Progressives have vilified Rand Paul for comparing a right to services with slavery, but if you watch the whole thing for context, you'll see plainly that he's talking about conscripting someone to do your bidding. And those same progressives who poo-poo this statement are more than happy to do exactly that, and they have done so [pdf]. And if you don't give them what they demand, they will gleefully ruin you.
These are aspects of the more general and more outrageous lie that privileges are rights. In point of fact, natural rights are only those that do not infringe upon someone else's liberty. Self-defense is is a natural right only invoked when your right to life is endangered. Privacy, self-ownership, and property are natural rights, in that no one has rightful claim to your labor unless willingly given or exchanged. Speech is a natural right because, unfettered, it is the natural expression of thought, and no person may rightly curtail your thought. Nevertheless, that is what Progressive thoughtcrimes do. Of course, progressives do not call them "thoughtcrimes"... rather they use the Newspeak term "hate crimes" to mean precisely the same thing. A hate crime is not a crime that can be differentiated in any way other than its motivation. If you assault someone, it is assault. If in the course of that assault you use a racial slur then it is now a "hate crime" and the penalties escalate. The fact of the assault is completely unchanged... the escalation exists solely to punish the thought.

Language controls thought. And the progressives seek to control the language through hyper-sensitive identity politics and nonsensical oxymorons, just like Ingsoc.

Dissolution of the family

One of the more blatant manipulations of the language involves the redefinition of the family, and the calls for complacency labeled as "the new normal". Stepping away from that graphic for a moment, 1984's Ingsoc discourages interpersonal relationships except as sanctioned by the State. The easiest way to do that is to control the public's perceptions of what is a healthy relationship.

Let's see how transparently this is done in just one aspect of popular culture. I could choose any of a number of television shows, but will pick something with a younger  and more malleable audience.

DC Comics re-vamped their entire 52-title lineup, applying to this overarching revamp the label "DC You". That doesn't apply just to the comics. It's a pointed message that this is to reflect the new you. Now DC has never exactly had an drought of gay characters, and the New 52 succeeded by the DC You brings them to the forefront. Characters like Midnighter, Constantine, Batwoman, and Alan Scott (Earth 2's Green Lantern), and Bunker have their sexuality spotlighted. Relationships between heterosexual couples like Superman and Lois Lane, Aquaman and Mera, Hawkman and Hawkgirl, were thrown under the bus. Given a plausible mix of healthy and problematic relationships of every type, this would be unremarkable. But DC's bias is so thoroughly consistent across all titles that it is now laughably predictable.

The Two-Minute Hate

Today a friend pointed out to me the parallel between the "Cecil the Lion" controversy and what Orwell describes in 1984 as the "Two Minutes Hate". The observation is dead-on. 

The Left picks a person to vilify. And then they do it, vehemently, with all the threats of violence and destruction they can. They don't even need to know the target's name. "That dentist who shot Cecil the Lion" works pretty easily. If you ask for details of his crime you get nothing. Never mind that there are legitimate questions surrounding the events. Never mind that Zimbabwe routinely issued hunting permits for endangered species. Never mind that in paying $50,000 to a professional guide Dr. Palmer expected the proper permits to be filed. Never mind that the lion was not shot on a reserve, but on private land. Never mind that the lion had a mane and it is plausible that his tracking collar wasn't visible. Never mind that the guide himself stated,  "Palmer is a totally innocent party to this whole thing, and he has conducted and bought a hunt from me that was legitimate."

Rational thoughts of fairness and due process do not even cross the minds of the haters. It is "shocking" to them that you'd even suggest such things. The people need their Two Minutes Hate. And they will have it, on Twitter and other social media; and by taking spray cans to write slurs on the doctor's homes, and by ruining his livelihood and depriving his patients of care and his employees of income. They will have their hate. And if you point out that their mindless hate is hate... why, they can hate you, too. It's what they do best.

But they don't do it merely for hate's sake. No. It's for distraction. Hatred and outrage is merely a political tool. How many of you can remember what Cecil the Lion distracted you from before I tell you in the next paragraph?


It was the release of multiple videos that demonstrated Planned Parenthood's questionable practices in harvesting human fetal tissue for alleged sale. Perhaps it's the progressives' vaunted "love for Humanity" that causes them to use trumped up umbrage at a lion's accidental death to distract you from their fervent support of the deliberate deaths of thousands of human embryos.  

And if you point out that those human embryos are overwhelmingly taken from Black parents by an organization that was founded by a white supremacist bent on eugenics, then you will find just how driven by politics their outrage is. All this can be overlooked. It is just fine for a darling of the progressives to be genocidal. It's is just fine for a darling of the progressives to be racist. It is just fine for the progressives to perpetuate an unjust system in which the oppressed suffer, and there will be not one voice lifted in protest unless they are told to do so. And as expected, there they are, remaining silent. Obviously they are "maladjusted to injustice".

The only thing that Orwell got wrong about the Two Minutes Hate is that he imagined the same villain over and over again, whereas in our densely populated society, there is no practical limit to the number of people who can be vilified and ruined. But invariably they are someone of "privilege", as proven in inimitable progressive fashion by having lives so easily and completely destroyed by those who are "oppressed".

But what the author of "Silence is Violence" neglects to mention is that the progressives want it both ways: speech is violence, too. But only your speech.

Big Brother demands your love.

In the progressive world of our currently-closeted Ingsoc, the seeds are well-germinated for one of Orwell's central themes, that of love of the State. With grounding in identity politics and "hate crimes" it is not enough that you tolerate or co-exist with people whose opinions differ from yours. No, in the name of "love" you must vilify them so that they are shamed (and if not shamed, cowered) into supporting the progressive view.

It is not merely "hate crimes" that are the target of progressive ire, but "hate speech". First, what exactly is the difference between the two...? To the progressive mind there is none, but they are often thwarted by that pesky Constitution. It remains that they would like to criminalize "hate speech", interpreting the Constitution in whatever convoluted fashion that allows them to implement this pre-determined goal. The preferred method is to take restrictions that are intended to be applied to the Federal government alone and inappropriately apply them to the citizenry, Thus, words that were intended to guarantee certain rights are used to rob the People of those very same rights.

Remember: speech (and its fixed form, writing) is the expression of thought. It was once commonplace to teach that sentences and paragraphs are units of thought. To criminalize certain speech is very literally to criminalize certain thoughts.

But what is "hate speech"? It is a very deliberately vague definition, which in one formulation is this: "Any speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display which is forbidden because it may incite violence or prejudicial action against or by a protected individual or group, or because it disparages or intimidates a protected individual or group. The law may identify a protected individual or a protected group by certain characteristics" (ref).

It is vague because it is almost entirely subjective, and it is heavily weighted against free speech. Any speech, gesture, or conduct... which may incite. In practice, any group can invoke charge of "hate speech" if they merely choose to take offence at anything whatsoever you might happen to say, reading into it convoluted levels of nuance never intended. And then they take it upon themselves to "educate" you as to what you really meant when you said that innocuous thing in passing. This is no joke, and no exaggeration... quite literally anything you say or do can be twisted in this way. Thus, you are guilty of "microaggressions" for merely being polite. And though your motivations may be purely innocent, there is always someone who will assign motivations to you. As there is a natural human tendency to desire not to offend, then the inevitable result is that people constantly, fearfully censor even casual conversations lest they bring down social or legal repercussions.

The Museum of Tolerance defines "tolerance" as "A fair and objective attitude toward those whose opinions and practices differ from one’s own." To progressives, those differences are a problem. It is never enough to merely be tolerant. You must wholeheartedly embrace the progressive's opinions and practices, or you are defective. Thus, undesirable opinions are punishable, and the refusal to take part in certain practices is as well. Your own practices are of no consequence whatsoever, unless you are progressive. Rather than embracing a philosophy of "live and let live", progressives push the doctrine of "live as we do or be ruined." That is their definition of tolerance.

"We've always been at war with __________."

I said above that progressivism is Ingsoc in every respect; yet there remains one area of the book 1984 that I haven't spoken of: constant military action, which are used to both justify the assaults on their liberties that they suffer at home and to distract them from other abuses.

The United States has not formally declared war on another country since World War II. That sounds incredible, but it's true. The Korean War, the Vietnam War, the invasion of Grenada, the Libyan Campaigns, the Gulf War, the "War on Terror" in Iraq and Afghanistan... all were done without any declaration of war, and they've been carried on in much the same way despite the rhetoric of the political party in office.

The United Nations by agreement have effectively outlawed declarations of war, except for self defense. Thus, it has politically important to not appear to be the aggressor, even if you're the aggressor. Instead, military action is taken under Congressional "authorizations for use of military force".

Of course, this has some ramifications, one of which is that we have slid into a de facto constant state of war. Certain actions which should only be allowable in wartime, such as calling up the Guard and Reserves for active duty, happen routinely. The War is continuous... but The Enemy is not.

In the time it takes you to say "we've always been at war with Eurasia" we can change enemies. For example:
  • In 1953 The US backed the overthrow of the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran Mohammad Mosaddegh and re-instate its monarch, the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (our friend). This temporarily stabilized the region until the Shah's excesses led to a popular revolt.
  • In the 1970s the US took a more active role in Middle East politics, brokering an historic accord between Egypt (our friend) and Israel (our friend)
  • In 1979, the Iranian revolution saw the detention of 52 American hostages in the US Embassy in Teheran by Islamic students who were protesting the reign of the Shah (our friend). The Shah was deposed and replaced with the Ayatollah Khomenei (our enemy)
  • So when Saddam Hussein (our friend) invaded Iran (our enemy), he did so with American backing. But as our policy was to maintain balance, we also armed the enemy of our friend, Iran, who was our enemy, having overthrown the Shah. 
  • Since we could not do this overtly, and needed the money to fight Noriega (our enemy) in Nicaragua, we sold Iran arms under the table. We then fought against Saddam (our enemy) in the first Gulf War when he invaded Kuwait (our friend).
  • Meanwhile, the US backed Afghani insurgents against an invasion by the Soviets (our enemy). Reagan praised these rebels (our friends) as the equivalent of our Founding Fathers. Some of these same rebels became became Al-Qaeda (our enemies), who flew planes into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon building. This they did with the backing of other former Afghani rebels (our friends) who became the Taliban (our enemy) who had taken power in that country.
  • We fought against the Taliban in Afghanistan (our enemies), but took that war to Iraq (our enemy), which we saw as a training ground for Al-Qaeda terrorists, and using the opportunity to finish off Saddam Hussein (our enemy)
  • Multi-party elections saw the implementation of democracy in Iraq (our friend) except for the Sunnis, who refused to vote. 
  • Meanwhile... a fellow named Muammar al-Gaddafi (which can be spelled however you like) rose to prominence in Libya by overthrowing King Idris in 1969. Gaddafi declared the state a socialist republic and proceeded to rule as dictator. He gained international attention by funding "revolutionary militants" (who we would today call "terrorists"), including those who blew up Pan Am flight 103 as it flew over Lockerbie, Scotland. The bombastic Gaddafi stepped too far when he ordered the bombing of a disco in West Berlin (our friend). The US responded by bombing Libya (our enemy) at Tripoli and Benghazi. 
  • In later years Gaddafi repudiated terrorism and embraced Pan-Africanism, rejecting Arab nationalism and encouraging privatization (our friend). Nevertheless when the Arab Spring erupted in Tunisia, this series of revolutions originally sparked by economics was quickly turned to the favor of Islamic ideologues, and spread to neighboring countries, one of which was  Egypt (our friend), with the overthrow of Hasni Mubarak (our friend) by the Muslim Brotherhood (our friend enemy  fuck it) being hailed by the US media who condemned it. The replacement government of Egypt  was then itself replaced by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (our acquaintance).
  • As part of this Arab Spring, Gaddafi (our frenemy) was deposed in large part by the Al-Qaeda-organized Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (our enemy) which maintains a stronghold in Libya (it's complicated) today in an effort to establish an Islamic State (our enemy).
  • This same Arab Spring destabilized Syria, allowing new organizations to rise, including one which was formed from US-backed Al-Qaeda operatives (our enemies) and Sunni Syrian rebels (our friends) and which now calls itself the ISIS, ISIL, or Daesch (our enemies) and which has taken advantage of the destabilization of Iraq (remember the Sunnis who wouldn't vote?) to establish their own "Islamic State" (our enemies), expanding from Syria into large tracts of Iraq using weapons we provided to do so.
The list of our friends has included Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and ISIS; whereas the list of our enemies has included Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and ISIS. Note the difference.

Since the Eisenhower administration, we have applied more and more interference to a region that has become more and more destabilized the more we interfere. We back insurgents against our enemies and as soon as they gain power they become our enemies themselves, time and again. We have switched friendships and enmities so many times I don't think our leadership is quite sure who is who anymore, and we do it with seamless aplomb. Yet the fact remains: We've always been at war with Eastasia.

And what is demanded of us in the wake of constant conflicts? We are asked to surrender our privacy, allow our travel to be restricted by the State for reasons that they need not disclose, and suffer other abuses in the name of "Homeland Security". In a far more abstract endless "War on Drugs" we allow the State to simply steal from us without proof or due process, on the basis of mere unfounded allegation, and we euphemistically call this institutionalized robbery "civil forfeiture". We suffer escalating indignities and in the name of "security" are made fearful of speech, travel, and private commerce.

Note that none of this is unique to progressives... however, progressives do nothing to prevent it either. If anything, the reckless destabilization of the Middle East and the abuses at home have not only been continued, but escalated under Obama, with constant wars, interventions, deployments, surveillance, and forfeitures. And as we enter the Lame Duck season we should stop kidding ourselves and just say it:

Postmodern progressivism is Ingsoc in every respect.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Junk Science: Astronomy is a Conspiracy!

Normally I get a bit peeved when I run into junk science. That's because I tend to prefer sources that are at least accredited, even if they are not competent. And it's the accredited sources that I get most peeved at.

I always have a softer spot for amateur scientists, and am most lenient about any religious theories from people who are plainly non-scientists. From a scientific perspective, these fall into my "mostly harmless" bucket.

Occasionally, though, I run into somebody who's just too entertaining for words... whose "theories" are so completely defective that they're "not even wrong". The entertainment factor completely outshines the excremental science. And it becomes the most entertaining when said amateur is educated in great detail about everything except the basic foundation of the discipline he aspires to study.

And while I'm tempted to just start throwing ad hominems around as I might with a highly educated professional, I'm inclined not to do that here, for the same reason that you don't shout names at the children who are waiting for the short bus. (Except for that one there.)

Today's target for discussion is a gentleman who goes by the handle of Crrow777 on YouTube, who started posting about a year ago, and whose site I learned of from the Exposing Pseudoastronomy blog of Stuart Robbins. And while Crrow777 styles himself as a researcher, he's so obviously not -- and by this I mean that he's an armchair adventurer in the mold of Caracticus Potts -- that I'm giving him the amateur pass (and that's the last one for now).

Oh, and while I'm thinking about it... I have been asked why I don't do a lot more debunking. There are two basic reasons: 1. As it's sometimes quite tedious and painful to watch someone be so astonishingly wrong, I literally have more interesting things to do; and 2. there are so many other people doing it that I don't have to. A lot of the things that I would debunk have been by sites such as Exposing Pseudoastronomy


Crrow777 has some interesting views to say the least. Robbins was responding to Crrow777's contention that there is no New Horizons spacecraft near Pluto and all the images of Pluto and its moons are fake. I'll let you read up on it there.

Suffice to say that Robbins points out the very basic math errors that Crrow777 makes in his assertions. This is pretty typical of all of his "theories", including this showpiece:

Not only is the Moon a hologram, but it's not a sphere, according to Crrow777.

That's even though we can see mountains an shadows and foreshortening with a telescope.

That's even though we plainly see the libration (wobble) of the spherical Moon.

That's even though humans and robot spacecraft have flown around and landed on the thing. (Of course, Crrow777 is a Moon Landing Hoaxer who thinks the landings never happened.)

That's even though it exerts the gravitational tugs that contribute most to the tides.

That's even though it is lit precisely as it should be if it were a spherical, rocky astronomical body in orbit around the Earth and lit by the distant Sun.

Crrow777 has a far more compelling (to him) theory: that the Moon is a hologram (as he puts it, "for lack of a better term", whatever that may mean. Until he comes up with a better term we'll use "hologram" to mean hologram). He bases this in part on accepting as credible sources pretty much anyone except a credible source [1]. For instance, ancient references that report a "star" passing in front of the Moon should present an opportunity to ask whether it was actually a star and question what legitimately interesting phenomenon the person may have been observing... but Crrow777 takes it as evidence that the Moon is translucent (at least sometimes), although the chance is infinitesimal that you will personally catch starlight streaming through it. With a strong pair of binoculars you can see for yourself that the Moon is still dimly lit by reflected Earthlight and quite solid even on the "dark side". It would seem obvious that we should ask whether a light near the Moon might be refracted or simply reported to be closer than it actually was. Crrow777, however, preferentially accepts anecdotes, even from Victorian era Flat Earthers.


Figure 1: A Sphere
The one really solidly correct thing he says is to not believe him at face value, and to check everything out yourself. That's sound advice, so let's begin by doing that on one of those odd claims that he seems to think is so compelling. Now, remember, as you look at the Moon (refresh your memory on the video above), the day/night terminator is curved, denoting a spherical surface. However, Crrow777 has claimed that it can't be a sphere because it's improperly lit. If the full Moon were a sphere, he claims, there would be a "dropping off" of intensity toward the edges.  It should look like Figure 1.

However, he seems to have overlooked a thing or two about why the spheres he's familiar with look like that, and some ways in which the Moon differs, and also that straightforward observations refute his claims.

First up is his assertion that there is no dimming at the Moon's edges. This is refuted by looking at the Moon. There is dimming at the Moon's terminator, and you can see it for yourself in the video above. This is mostly caused by the angle of incidence of the sun's rays striking the curved surface of the Moon. Fewer rays strike the oblique surface, and it appears dimmer. This is most obvious when we can see the gradation at a half-Moon. Look again at the "Moon wobble" video.

But it's not as pronounced at a full Moon for several reasons. One is the inverse-square law: the closer something is to the source of illumination, the brighter it will be, and this varies inversely with the square of the distance. Something twice as far away will be 1/4th as bright. Assuming it is fully lit, the center of the apparent disk is closer, therefore brighter. However, this becomes less pronounced the farther your sphere is from the light source. A moment's reflection (no pun intended) should tell you why.

If your light source is very close, as in our model, then the difference between the apparent center and edges of the sphere are very pronounced, expressed as percentages. The edge is relatively much farther from the source than the center. Furthermore, as the light spreads out from the source of illumination, it strikes the sphere at a sharp angle on the apparent edge. Less light is striking the surface there, and we see it as dimmer. The sphere in Figure 1 is lit by a bright source of light that is very close... only a few diameters from the sphere.

Figure 2: Mars as seen through
the Hubble Space Telescope
Note it's apparent flatness
However, the Moon is lit by the Sun, and it's very far away. The difference in distance is extremely slight between the closest and farthest points of the Moon's hemisphere facing the Sun. When we look at other solid bodies that are far from the Sun, such as Mars or Earth itself, then we see that they look much "flatter". See Figure 2. The proximity to the illumination is pretty much eliminated as a cause of the dimming.

This leaves the angle of incidence as the primary reason for the dimming, and this is what we notice when the Moon is lit from one side. It's a different story, though, when the Moon is full. When the Moon is directly opposite the Sun, such as during a full Moon, its albedo (brightness) increases greatly. There are two more factors at play:

Coherent backscatter is a phenomenon in which coherent light shining into a diffuse substance preferentially reflects back the way it came. The Moon has practically no atmosphere to scatter the light; however, the Moon is covered in a great deal of fine dust which comprises just such a diffuse substance. Though sunlight isn't truly coherent (in the sense of a laser), it is so far away and so large that we can treat its parallel rays as such. Sunlight is preferentially reflected back the way it came, and since we're between the Sun and Moon, that means that a full Moon looks brighter than usual, even at the edges. The sunlight at the edges is spread over a greater area, yes, but so much is reflected directly back that we see it at near-full intensity.

This brightening is also partly due to shadow hiding, in which the shadows are there, but we don't see them because they are all hidden behind the objects that are reflecting the Sun's rays directly back at us. Thus, most of the visible surface is brightly illuminated rather than being mottled with shadows. If you want to look into the phenomenon further, check your favorite references for the terms albedo, coherent backscatter, and Seeliger effect.

In short, the Moon  is illuminated exactly as it would be if it were an actual rocky body orbiting the Earth and Sun.


Crrow777's flagship argument is that there is video of a "lunar wave" that washes across the surface of the Moon, looking not unlike the sort of distortion that can wash across an old VHS videotape. This is much like the video effects added to the Emperor's holograms in the Star Wars movies. The phenomenon is not "in camera", and therefore the Moon is some sort of technological projection.

Not Photoshopped.
Image by Christiaan Triebert (cc-by)

While I'd like to praise this as some sort of "out of the box" thinking, it's precisely the opposite. People are so accustomed to technology and computers that we are, more and more, witnessing them jumping to technology based conclusions. These leaps of faith jump right over the correct naturalistic explanations and into the comfortable box of their everyday techno-coddled experience. We see this sort of thing often in forums where "PHOTOSHOPPED!" is the knee-jerk reaction to even genuinely extraordinary photos. In this case it appears that Crrow777 is assigning this comfortable modern worldview to ages in which it never existed.

Crrow777 is correct in stating that the "lunar wave"effect is not produced in the camera. But he errs in failing to account for the whole of the environment. He has no "control".

In science, it's pretty sloppy to say that we're "observing the Moon" when we're making detailed observations. Rather, we are observing sunlight reflected from the Moon, across space, through the atmosphere, into our equipment. We must therefore account for the Sun, the light, the Moon, the atmosphere, and the equipment. Unfortunately, Crrow777 makes such a big deal over the equipment and jumped directly from that to unwarranted conclusions about the Moon that he forgot to adequately control for the atmosphere. And that's where the explanation for the "lunar wave" lies.

Figure 3: A distorted moonrise due to atmospheric refraction
Again, it's simple middle-school physics and optics. When light passes from a material of one density into one of a different density, it is refracted. That's how prisms and eyeglasses work. The light is bent at the boundaries of air and glass.

It's the same when that light passes through layers of air having different densities. Figure 3 shows an egregious example of a moonrise through layers of the atmosphere. You may see these described as temperature layers. Temperature, pressure, and density are all interconnected, but it's the density that is of interest optically.

Now, these do not only occur on the horizon. Such boundaries between high- and low-density air are so commonplace that we track them on weather maps and report them on the morning news. We call the major ones "fronts", and they signal changing weather. However, any pressure wave will produce the effect. It can be a natural source or an artificial source such as a jet wake. I think you can fairly easily reproduce a similar effect in your own basement with a simple heat gun of the sort used to remove wallpaper, a camera, and a picture of the Moon.

In short, the "lunar wave" looks just like it would if it were created by a pressure wave moving between the Moon and the camera.


One other matter remains. Crrow777 has posted a video "proving" that the effect of the "lunar wave" is a phenomenon limited to the Moon itself, and not to the atmosphere. He attempts to do this by blocking out the bright central image and concentrating on the edges of the video. Sadly, this technique proves nothing.

Pressure waves aren't visible except in the direct line of a bright source of illumination. This is because the refraction is pretty slight. At a great distance it will not refract the available light enough to be visible. Move more than a small fraction of an arc away and the pressure wave becomes undetectable. The only thing shown on the edges of Crrow777's video is the electronic noise produced by the camera itself. It's unsurprising that the effect isn't seen there. It is, rather, as expected.

There's a YouTube user, dazzathecameraman,  who has published a number of videos "debunking" Crrow's "lunar wave". In the off-chance that you, dear Reader, are of a similar mindset as the unconvinced commenters of those videos, let me spell it out:

It is not the intention of Dazza to reproduce the phenomenon in these videos (and we'll talk about burden of proof in a moment). Rather, they exist to address Crrow77's claims by providing a controlled test of each claim. In one, the type of distortion is shown. In another, the fact that it is normal for a pressure wave to remain undetectable except when very close to the source is shown. In this second video a known source of distortion is used as a control, as we know that the pressure waves of the jet exhaust extend beyond where it's detectable by a camera. Remember, Crrow777 claims that the "lunar wave" cannot extend beyond the Moon. This is proven false.

In short, a pressure wave is not detectable by camera unless in close proximity to a light source, so the results of Crrow777's experiment prove nothing.


Note that it is not the job of a critic to prove that the Moon is not a hologram. Nor is it their job to reproduce the phenomenon. It is clearly the job of the theorist to show that no other explanation is more credible, and he's required to do his own homework. He has to eliminate not just commonplace and well known natural phenomena, but also any known phenomena that might be rare, but are known to occur. He must, in short, leave his speculation of a centuries-old high-tech holographic construct as the best remaining explanation. This is called the burden of proof, and Crrow777 clearly fails to meet it here.

Crrow777's videos are useful, though, as a cautionary example of what happens when you start building complicated theories without first understanding the basics. When we say that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, it is almost always because they are at odds with these basics, and must explain away far more than just atmospheric diffraction (the source of his "lunar wave") and technological camera glitches like rolling shutters and digital buffering. Those things are relatively easy to detect. But when you ignore, misunderstand, or require a revision of the basic behavior of light, you've got a LOT of 'splainin' to do, Lucy.

If you're not into basic physics, there are still a number of questions you might want to ask of someone who thinks the Moon is a hologram, such as:
  • Why does the Moon look exactly like a natural moon? 
  • Why is it illuminated exactly like a natural moon in all respects? 
  • If you don't agree that it is illuminated like a natural moon in all respects, then how do you falsify that claim? In other words, where is a credible example that controls and eliminates all well-understood natural explanations?
  • If it's a translucent hologram as claimed (through which light as faint as starlight is transmitted), how does the New Moon occlude the much brighter sunlight and cause eclipses? 
  • Why is its motion precisely in sync with the tides?
  • What produces its gravity if not an actual lunar mass?
  • Why are we not able to reproduce any instance of starlight shining through the Moon as reported (i.e. are these credible reports)?
And while the following aren't necessary to show that it is a hologram, they do speak directly to the credibility of the supposition. Even if the holographic hypothesis is every bit as explanatory as "it's a moon", then these are questions that must be addressed to make the holographic hypothesis more credible than a natural one:
  • Do we know of any civilization or species possessed of the ability and the motive to put it there? 
  • If it didn't exist in historical times, where is the record of its appearance?  Surely it was an event of supreme significance to all civilizations.
  • What is known to be capable of powering such technology over the many centuries? The conventional explanation is that it is "powered" entirely by gravity associated with an actual rocky mass, and that all of its light is reflected sunlight, not generated. Thus far both of which fully explain our observations. Why is further technology needed?
Bottom line: despite Crrow777's fanciful suppositions, the Moon is illuminated exactly as it should be if it were a rocky body in orbit around the Earth and a distant Sun. It possesses the gravity of such a body, It blocks sunlight as we expect of such a body. We have sent astronauts and robots to actually orbit it and land upon it.

We can therefore employ Occam's razor and conclude that the best available explanation is that the Moon is exactly what mainstream astronomers claim it is. The Moon is the Moon... a rocky body orbiting the Earth, and not a technological construct such as a hologram.

Nevertheless, the audacity of Crrow777's claims and the mental gymnastics he performs in his "proofs" are vastly entertaining, at least to me. I have on occasion said that not all opinions are created equal; science exists to enable us to sort out the good ones from the bad.

And this is the point where I have to just roll up my sleeves and treat this guy honestly, without the fake respect (which was clearly for you, dear Reader). This guy is not a scientist. He rejects science and is vocal about his rejection of it. Yet he finds it necessary to insist that his sloppy, shoddy work is proper application of the scientific method. He's a conspiracy theorist who believes that everything up to and including the Dreamworks film intro is an encoded message from our secret masters. He doesn't really articulate a good reason why the conspirators would go around encoding secret messages in pure fiction and then putting them in plain sight, but that doesn't stop him from believing that they do. He quotes Flat Earth dogma over a hundred years old as evidence that the Moon is translucent. Meanwhile, he thinks that all the information, photos, data, collected by all space researchers is a pack of lies. He specifies NASA, but this must necessarily include the European Space Agency, the Russian Federal Space Agency, the preceding Soviet space program, that of the Chinese, that of India (which is currently conducting a successful Mars orbiter mission) in a vast worldwide conspiracy to hoodwink and bamboozle you into believing that we have a rock in orbit. He believes that all of this information, including an elaborate fake Moon actually hanging in the sky for the last several thousand years, is "part of the control system under which we live." This "control system", he claims, is hidden in plain sight right there in the sky behind that fake Moon. And of course, HE is the genius who has sussed this all out, yadda, yadda, yadda. I'm not a psychiatrist. I'm not an ornithologist, either, but I do know a loon when I hear one.

(and THAT is the last ad hominem in this post, I swear!)

[1] Among the sources cited by Crrow777 is Samuel Rowbotham, aka Parallax, who in 1864 did indeed publish the claim that the Moon is a translucent crystalline substance (read it here). He also claimed that the Earth is flat, that the North Pole is at the center of the Earth disc, and that the Earth is encircled by a wall of ice; and that the stars are only three thousand miles away. Perhaps Crrow777 wasn't completely forthcoming with the reason for Dr. Rowbotham's defamation.

All of the classical sources listed in the link have been cited by others. They are collected here on a page called "The Earth Without the Moon", which is precisely the reference used by Crrow777 in "A Time Before The Moon - How Did The Moon Get Here?". Despite his attempt to sound off-the-cuff, he certainly did not do any of that research himself. We know this because of the uniquely inaccurate translations that he repeats. They are distinct and act as a "fingerprint".

For instance, Psalm 72:5 is quoted as  “Thou wast feared since [the time of] the sun and before [the time of] the moon, a generation of generations.” That is not was the verse says, as you can see for yourself by picking up a Bible or going to a free site like BibleGateway or BibleHub, which is where Google will route you if you just type in a verse. Say what you want about Christians, they do NOT make Bible research hard. Psalm 72:5 actually reads, "They shall fear thee while the sun endureth, and so long as the moon, throughout all generations." -- KJV, but feel free to click through and check it against any other translation, or the Hebrew itself.
Job 25:5 is mis-quoted as follows: "In Job 25:5 the grandeur of the Lord who “Makes peace in the heights” is praised and the time is mentioned “before [there was] a moon and it did not shine.”" Again, that's not what it says. The author is saying that in God's eyes even the moon has no brightness, so how can a man be worthy? Again, click through and check any translation you like. No "time before the moon" is mentioned. 

As for all of those ancient Greek authors who supposedly reference "Proselenes", I happen to have all of the extant works of Aristotle in digital form, but a search came up empty. A search for "moon" found quite a lot, but nothing relating to Proselenes. So I went to the New Agers' references... try it yourself. Search Google for "Aristotle" and "Proselene". You'd think you'd get at least one prominent link to Aristotle mentioning Proselenes. Instead you get page after page of New Agers all referencing each other. But they do all eventually point to the same reference, which is the same one alluded to by Crrow777 above:
Aristotle, fr. 591 (ed. V. Rose [Teubner:Tuebingen, 1886] ). Cf. Pauly’s Realencyclopaedie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, article “Mond” ; H. Roscher, Lexicon d. griech. und roemisch. Mythologie, article “Proselenes.” 
As German is one of the languages I read, I figured this was the jackpot... I'd look it up in Roscher's Lexicon of Greek and Roman Mythology, and it would point me to the proper passage in Aristotle as promised. So I tracked down a copy of the original in the Internet Archive. Do you know what it says on page 3138?
That Proselenos was the proper name of a king of the Arcadians, and they became known as Proselenes after him.
Get it? NOT because they came before the Moon, but after this famous king, who quite frankly could have had that name bestowed upon him simply because he was born before a full or new moon. To put this in perspective, to this day we call that big country between Mongolia and Japan "China" after the emperor Qin (Chin), not because they make good pottery. Yeah. It's just like that.

As for the other references, they mention the Arcadians, who were a real people, but they're not mentioned in the context of existing prior to the Moon. You're just supposed to take it for granted that because they mention Arcadia that they are passing on the legend that someone presumed by inappropriately breaking down a proper name. It's a bit like saying that anyone who mentions England is passing on the legend of King Arthur as fact. And all this noise and nonsense came from people never once bothering to check an obscure reference in a foreign language.