Wednesday, September 30, 2015

SC may legalize pot, and this libertarian doesn't care.

Here's an odd thing. Here in SC there's a movement to legalize medical marijuana, and those of my friends who know I'm a libertarian are surprised to learn that I have no enthusiasm for this bill. How, they wonder, can I be libertarian if I'm not for drug legalization?

It's because I am a libertarian. I do not favor unnecessary laws that tell me what I can do any more than I favor unnecessary laws that tell me what I can't. I'd rather see the laws that limit my freedom repealed than laws that treat the government as a master that grants me leave to do only those things for which I'm granted permission.

Not my monkey - Not my circus
(via Wikimedia Commons)
In other words, I don't want to see drugs legalized. I want to see them decriminalized. I want to remove the bloody laws that shouldn't be there in the first place. Passing Yet Another Law is not a step toward Libertarianism, and as I don't personally a great desire to fire up a doobie, this ain't my monkey - ain't my circus.

The counter argument is that permissive laws at the State level counter restrictive laws at the Federal level. First... that just means we have too many laws at both State and Federal level. We can't dismantle them by piling more on. Those Federal laws clearly shouldn't exist, and are not authorized by the Constitution except through tortuous re-interpretation of the plain text. Second... it doesn't really work. State law doesn't trump a conflicting Federal law; and the only thing keeping marijuana users in permissive states from being arrested is a lack of initiative on the part of the Federal authorities. Decisions about prosecution are still left to the discretion of the federal government.

While a local law means that patients may be able to use medical marijuana if the Feds allow it, in my view, backing such a bill has nothing to do with being a Libertarian.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Doing Unto Others

I hope this comes across as intended: help others fearlessly, confidently, simply because it's right.

I made this meme in response to another one I saw (below). It expresses a statement that's technically correct... BUT, the correctness of it stems from a horribly incorrect mis-statement. I'd say it expresses a little truth by sacrificing a big one:

On the face of it, it's right. If you live your life expecting that good deeds will earn you rewards in equal measure from the people for whom you do them, then you will be disappointed.

That's because that's not what you're supposed to be doing. You can do it right instead.

So what's my problem with this meme? There are a few:

FIRST: It magnifies negativity. Everyone knows that feeling of disappointment when you expect the people around you to behave more kindly toward you than they do. It's important to acknowledge those feelings, and there's nothing wrong with that.

But this meme is basically a piece of advice, that's not what advice is for. Advice is for taking action to deal with the emotions after you've acknowledged them. This meme basically invites you to dwell on disappointment: to avoid future action due to the assumption that you'll always (or frequently) be disappointed. I think there's much better advice to be had.

SECOND: It expects payback. You're doing "FOR" others and expect them to do "FOR" you.  That's not the point of the Golden Rule... not at all. It's not even how it's properly phrased. Most often it's stated as "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Yes, it's a Biblical meme... even if you have little room for religion, it's still good advice whether it was given by Jesus, Shakespeare, or Oprah Winfrey. But since it's been around for thousands of years, out comes the Bible. Mostly people have problems with what they think is written there. So here we see what is:
"All things therefore whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye also unto them: for this is the law and the prophets."
See that? "Should do". Not "will do". In fact, there's not one thing that's actually said about what they will do to you. The entirety of it... 100%... is about how you treat others. And how should you do that? As you wish they should treat you. It's an instruction for you, not an expectation of them. It's neither servitude nor obligation, but simply doing what's right. Later on you're given the advice again, rephrased:
"Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."
Your disappointment comes from your expectation, and that's what needs to change, because you may be missing out on something much better. 

THIRD: No one has the same heart as yours. But most people have a heart like yours. They respond to kindness in kind. Someone has to go first, so why not you? Why not me?

And sure, not everybody responds in kind. Not every smile will get you a smile in return. Some people are just grumpy. Some are sad for reasons that have nothing to do with you. Some may have even listened to poor advice from Internet memes and have built walls. Some are suspicious because they, too, have listened to cynics and are looking for "the catch". Some were never taught the golden rule as it should be understood. Toss them the smile anyway and keep walking so you can toss a few more at others. They may not return your kindness today, or to you; but they will remember that it was given freely. There was no catch. The cynics were wrong about you. And somewhere, sometime, that grumpy person will be kind to someone... just because it's right and because they had your example.

Here's the funny bit about that heart. You feel disappointment only if you are willing to give kindness. And if the cynics are wrong about you, then they are wrong about a lot of people. Because contrary to what some big purple dinosaur may have told you as a child, there are a lot of ways in which you are not unique.
You are not unique in having feelings.
You are not unique in feeling gratitude.
You are not unique in being human.
When you stop to consider that we all share our humanity, it opens up an entire new world of realization. There are many people like you. And if you're willing to help, they are too. If there's one person who's willing to help, there are millions. But the only mind you know is your own. So the only way to ensure that there is one is by being that 'one'.

And here's something else to think about: if someone else just gave you that piece of advice, you know for a fact that you won't be alone. All you have to prove is that it's true for you.

So consider what's "in it for you"... a city, a town, a country, or even a world, in which people are taught to be charitable for the sake of it... freely, cheerfully. Even if not everyone is so inclined, this is still an infinitely better world than one where people are tolerable only out of fear of the law, not because it's right; where they do not support those in need of their own accord, but only because they are forced to contribute so that someone else will do it for pay; or because they desire the benefit.

FINALLY, the advice is just plain faulty. It's wrong because following it doesn't make you a better person; nor does it place you among better people.

The implicit advice given by this meme is that you shouldn't treat others as you would have yourself treated, because they wouldn't do it for you. As advice is ranked, perhaps it's slightly better than Jim Jones' invitation to "have some Kool-Aid." I'm not kidding. Taking this advice can screw up every relationship and personal interaction in your life, for the remainder of your life. It invites you to be selfish and standoffish at best, and others will respond in kind, because they do have hearts like yours, and will not take kindly to such poor treatment.

Wouldn't it be a comfort just to know for a fact that you live in a world where if someone truly needs help there is a person who will step up and give that help?

Be that person.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Still Did Their Jobs - Part 2

So. I've posted some very provocative images to criticize a very stupid meme... "Still Did Their Jobs". My point in doing so was to point out the utter lack of logic in the meme's very premise... that you should blindly follow authority. The images I posted show exactly what happens when you do that.

Of course, some people aren't going to be capable of separating that from the Kim Davis issue itself, so I'm clarifying my previously stated position, clearly and more concisely:

Mrs. Davis should issue the marriage licenses as directed. The reason is that this is NOT an issue that infringes on her religion, for the following reasons:
  1. These are not religious licenses. They are secular licenses, issued by a secular state which it forbidden by the Constitution from making any law regarding the establishment of religion. Therefore it is not constitutionally possible that the law is intended to support "Christian marriage" as opposed to merely "marriage",
  2. Even if the law were based in religion, Mrs. Davis has already violated her principles many times, as licenses have been issued to people of all faiths... and no faith. Some of them, such as Satanists, violate Christian principles, yet it has never been Mrs. Davis' practice to deny them a license.
  3. The argument that she promised to uphold the law as it existed when she was sworn in is simply invalid. That's neither what an oath of office says or means. Laws are made and revised all the time, and it is not the prerogative of a clerk to demand that the Law be frozen at the time of her taking office.
  4. If Mrs. Davis conscientiously objects to the new demands of her office, then she should do what any conscientious objector does: refuse to serve. That is, step down and allow someone else to serve in her place. 
If Kim Davis were to step down, I would be among the first to hail her for having the courage to live in accordance with her deeply-held religious convictions. I cannot laud her in the same fashion for continuing to take a paycheck for a job she doesn't intend to perform dispassionately, even-handedly, and in its entirety.

Now. All that said, while I'm fine with expressing an opinion, this isn't an issue for the American people to resolve. It's a matter for the courts and the people of Rowan County, Kentucky. Which of the several ways to solve this should be taken is no more my business than it would be the business of a California resident to lobby about the internal politics of Union, South Carolina. They have a population with more than a few adults who can govern their own affairs.

Still Did Their Jobs

I'm about sick of the "Still Did His Job" meme for several reasons: 
  1. It's applied without thought 
  2. It's an OBVIOUS logical fallacy
  3. It's not that clever to start with. 
So I decided to break it.

This was the tamest of the images I could have used to illustrate the point. Sometimes personal conviction must override orders from the State. We may not agree on when that is appropriate, but it is certain that blind obedience to authority is simply stupid. 99% of the meme-writers have lost sight of that.

Here's another image I could have used:

And no, this doesn't correspond one-to-one with Kim Davis' refusal to issue marriage licenses in Kentucky. I'm making a different point... a point about the meme itself, and the expectation that people should do their jobs simply because they're their jobs. When a job is morally abhorrent, you shouldn't do it. People know that. That's why Oskar Schindler was a hero.

You might argue that rank-and-file German soldiers followed the Nazis' orders because otherwise their lives were in danger. The problem is that Mrs. Davis might argue the same regarding her immortal soul, on which she may place a greater value than mere loss of life. Whether you and I disagree with her is irrelevant. [1] Disagreement doesn't make this an intelligent meme.

And we may disagree with Mrs. Davis over whether this rises to a level to where she should actively block her job as opposed to quitting it. That disagreement still doesn't make this an intelligent meme.

If Mrs. Davis has that deep-held conviction, she is morally justified in acting upon it. This is where it's appropriate for the courts to interpret the law and make a well-informed decision, which might result in her removal from the position. It's not time for half-baked ridicule from people who aren't even terribly good at it.

There are few worse ways to make your point, because it doesn't address the problem that resulted in dissent. It just confirms your willingness to blindly submit to authority. 

Do you still think that "doing your job" gives you the moral high ground?

All images used under Fair Use for the purpose of political commentary.

[1] Now, if you'd really like to know what I think on the Kim Davis subject, it's that she should do issue the licenses as directed by the court. I've explained it before, but I'll summarize it in my next post.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Explaining Libertarianism to the Right

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.
There, shallow Draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again. 
--Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism

I was once editor of a literary journal entitled The Pierian Spring, named for this bit of verse. The name and the verse allude to a bit of Greek mythology about the sacred spring of the Muses, which is identified as a metaphorical fountain of knowledge. The meaning of the verse is that, as we first gain knowledge of a subject we become heady with that knowledge. The "intoxication of the brain" is a certain bit of foolishness that results. But as we absorb more, that initial foolishness abates and we become "sober" once again.

Occasionally that happens when a conservative "discovers" that Libertarianism is what was once called "classical liberalism" and has an ignorant conniption fit. Having drunk a shallow draught he is giddy with the pittance of knowledge that has been gained. He needs another drink. I have a full cup.


Libertarianism IS, in fact, exactly classical liberalism. The name "Libertarianism" has been coined because modern-day "Liberals" have so corrupted the term as to render it unusable for its original purpose. This is the very first thing of which my more "conservative" friends should take note.

For a moment let's discuss that original purpose. "Classical liberalism" is that of the Age of Enlightenment, that age which led to the founding of the United States. In fact, every single one of America's founders was a Liberal in this sense, without any exception whatsoever. If you think of yourself as a Constitutionalist, you either agree with this philosophy... or you're not, and should start looking for a new label for yourself.  A classical liberal education, dominant in the Age of Enlightenment, was one that emphasized the liberal arts, those being:
  • Grammar
  • Dialectic
  • Rhetoric
  • Arts & Music
  • Natural Science
  • Mathematics
  • Geometry
You might simply call it a classical education now. It is the foundation of such principles as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom from government coercion, the right to property, the right to privacy, the right to a representative government, the right to self-ownership and self-determination (what was then termed the rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness)...

...a few of these should sound vaguely familiar.

Now, if you like all of those things, and you want your government to guarantee them and you aren't spouting opportunistic bullshit about when, who, and under what conditions they apply... if you're not engaged in situational ethics in which your freedoms are ok, but someone else's are "dangerous"... if you're ethically consistent... if you can grasp the concept that a guarantee of freedom means that some people are going to do things with which you fundamentally disagree... if you were honest about it when you said you wanted your government to guarantee all of those freedoms, then you might be a Libertarian.

I thought long and hard about all that before deciding I was a Libertarian.  Fortunately I have drunk deep, from the very same "deep end" as the Founding Fathers of this nation, without adultery, dilution, bastardization, or embarrassing compromise of either principle or morality.

It is true that in the principle of government, I support Liberty. It is my Liberty upon which this country was founded; not your ability to control my actions, whatever they may be. For in allowing that the actions of one human being may be regulated by another, you give permission for them to do the same to you according to their principles of what they want from you. This is something I find to be thoughtless and short-sighted.

It was my Liberty that was argued when the Bill of Rights was debated on both sides, with the only question being whether it was best protected by enumerating rights or relying on their lack of mention in the Constitution to identify them as being reserved to the People. A debate, by the way, still being played out today, and which seems to be proving Madison right, as Amendments intended to reign in and control the government are perverted to control the People instead. As an example, First Amendment was never intended to control the religious practices of any citizen. Its plain language meaning is to limit the government. That hasn't stopped any non-Libertarian from twisting its use. Hardly a record of which to be proud.


It was only after heavy consideration that I realized my championship of Liberty does not constitute an endorsement of what you do with it. This is the most common bit of simplistic ignorance leveled against Libertarians. Seeing through this allowed me to decide that it was not possible for me to identify as anything else.

Here is the platform of the Libertarian Party. Keep in mind that as in any huge group of people, there are differences of opinion. A party platform is a general guideline of agreement... sometimes the "agreement to disagree". Especially in the case of Libertarians, it is a grave mistake to believe it is some instruction as to what to believe. I certainly don't agree with all of the points, but that's OK... People who employ reason do not limit their discussions to only one side of an issue. Rather, they're open to frank discourse.

Here are my own positions on key issues:
  • Drugs: I am for ending the wasteful, useless, counterproductive "war on drugs", but I am not for drug use. I'm not for alcohol use, either, though it was made legal after a disastrous attempt at Prohibition that yielded exactly the same predictable, counterproductive results as the current "war on drugs". I am also against the institutionalized slavery made possible by unnecessary convictions for "victimless crimes". I describe the justification for this term in an earlier essay. Far from being a pejorative invention of mine, the Supreme Court of Virginia made the characterization while interpreting the Thirteenth Amendment. This is slavery which is monetized by UNICOR and financed by the United States Government. That would be you and me. I, for one, don't like being made an implicit slave owner through these practices, of which most ordinary citizens are completely unaware.
  • Church and State: I am for the separation of Church and State, but unlike statists on both the Right and Left, I know what that means. It means I get to pray in a school or courthouse, and if you don't like that, then you can say your own prayer or don't pray at all; and neither one of us will be in violation of anything. It means that the government is prohibited from making a law robbing me of my ability to choose my customers based on my religious beliefs. It does not mean they should "make it legal"... it means they can't make the law in the first place.
  • Abortion: Libertarians are not monolithically pro-choice. They are divided on the matter as are Republicans and Democrats. I, for instance, am pro-life and justify laws banning abortion by the fact that unborn innocents have a right to Life that would otherwise have no champion. The protection of the innocent is a legitimate role of government, and I believe these laws to be necessary. When weighing the literal life or death of children against the inconvenience of the adults that conceived them, I side with the children. Other Libertarians are just as bluntly pro-death, and the party platform basically just punts, because we're not going to agree today. Whatever their stance on personal choice, however, almost all Libertarians agree that the government has no business funding abortion through any means.
  • Border Security: Libertarians are also divided on the subject of open borders. I am among those who oppose it on consequentialist grounds (its impact on maintaining a free society). We have the means to immigrate to this country legally. This is necessary to ensure that those who become citizens at the very least will promise to uphold the basic liberties that drew them to this country and allowed them to become citizens. There is no need for insecure borders, and plenty of reasons to secure them.
  • Equality: I am consistently for equality before the law, because ALL men are created equal. And in accordance with common language usage, "men" means "mankind", as in "women", too. And there aren't any qualifications on which men or women this is talking about. Does anybody seriously want to argue against that? Prediction: you will lose.
  • Marriage: I am for the elimination of government controls on marriage, but I am not for gay marriage. I will neither perform nor enter into one. I jealously guard my religious freedom as a matter of self-interest, and government has no business in religious matters. That means your sacrament, my sacrament, theirs... all off limits. (See First Amendment). How that works is made crystal clear in my last essay
  • War: I oppose starting a war. I also oppose fighting someone else's war without invitation. I am in favor of an unassailable National Defense, in that I draw a sharp distinction between defense spending and military spending. I do support mutual defense pacts, and in those cases, an attack against one member is an attack against all. Like the porcupine that is the Libertarian mascot, we should make it very painful to attack the US. I supported retaliation for 9/11 and would again. But it would be focused, fierce, then finished. It is stupid to spend billions to engage an enemy on his home soil when he is content to simply wait you out. Furthermore, I support the intelligent use of our military; something that hasn't been tried in many decades. The military has one main purpose: to secure our borders and liberty. Why do we need a separate border patrol? Why do we not allow our military to do their job and secure our borders on our soil? Whatever the reason is, it is not the Third Amendment.
  • Privacy: I oppose impositions on Liberty enacted with the supposition that they "enhance my safety". How many terrorists have convicted under the Patriot Act? There is no useful answer, because under the Patriot Act there is no need for due process. The Act requires no charge, no warrant, no prosecution, no conviction, no sentence. This is applied to American citizens on American soil. And when due process is applied, it is often applied inappropriately, simply because it can be. Consider the case of Tamera Freeman, who was convicted under a felony charge of terrorism after swatting each of her children three times on the leg during a Frontier Airlines flight. She spent three months in jail before they forced a guilty plea out of her. Charged with terrorism? You are damned straight I opposed a law that made that possible, I have nothing but pity for the sheep who supported it unchanged rather than urge the construction and adoption of a better alternative that defends the rights of Americans. I know thinking is hard work, but sometimes it's a lot better than just continuing to go with the first thing you came up with out of some misguided sense of "support". The injustice of it should make your blood boil.
  • Economy: I absolutely support free market capitalism in what is universally touted to be a "Free Market Capitalist" economy. Why would I support anything else? Forty years ago when I first started paying attention to politics that was the conservative position. Maybe people have just gotten economically illiterate in the meantime. Which, on the average, they have. Take as an example the hypothetical failure of a lending institution. That could never happen, right? But it did, and both main parties threw trillions of dollars at it. In a free market, when "Bellyup Bank" goes belly-up, you're not off the hook for making your house payments. You still pay. That debt of yours represents the bank's assets. And those assets are what get sold off in either re-structuring or dissolution of the company. The end result is, you're still making payments. Only now it's to a stronger bank. And it's unlikely that those assets would all go to one place. Several banks would have gotten stronger as they purchased those assets. The people who worked for Bellyup Bank will be jobless only temporarily, as those stronger banks grow to fill the void left by Bellyup, and will seek experienced help. In other words, there's a temporary impact on the economy, which then recovers, just as with any recession and no worse... except not a single dime of bailout money need be spent. The "trillion dollar bailouts" of this last decade did basically nothing for the economy but keep a few familiar logos on some familiar buildings when they should have been replaced by new ones. A truly conservative economist would never endorse such a foolish waste. Libertarians are more conservative than Conservatives on this issue.
  • Education: There is no role for the Federal government in running our schools. The Constitution doesn't permit it, though overeager politicians have. I therefore support disbanding the Federal Department of Education. Education is best managed at as local a level as possible. In South Carolina, where I live, the state constitution (in Article XI) does mandate a public education system, so that's the appropriate place. I'm not opposed on pragmatic grounds to paying for it with taxation at the State level (which is moot because it is already).  However, Article XI Section 4 also prohibits state funding of private institutions, which could be interpreted as prohibiting the use of school vouchers at those schools. I favor educational choice, the advantages that come with competition, and using educational funds for the purpose for which they're intended, namely the education of all of the children in the state. I therefore favor vouchers and a constitutional amendment to Article XI Section 4 to explicitly allow parental choice and appropriate credits. But even without such an amendment, I favor parental choice among public schools. On a purely practical note, this happens anyway. Parents simply list some relative's address in the desired district. All parents should have that option. 

There's a lot left out, of course, but these are the ones that have come up in conversation with the Right... and I threw in Education for good measure. That having been said, of these issues, what's wrong with my positions? I don't want to know just whether you agree with the positions, but with the reasons they were taken.

And I mean it... tell me in the comments, or message me on Facebook.

Oh, and please don't bother with what you suppose I might say about topics I didn't mention. If you want, ask me about them and we'll talk about them at a future time.

My reasons for this are somewhat personal. There is plenty here for disagreement on both Left and Right. Few Democrats or Republicans will read these points without saying, "Yeah, that's good except...". As I've discussed politics over the years, most of my heaviest disagreements have been with Democrats. But the ones from Republicans, though less frequent, feel the worst, because Republicans are the ones who talk the most about freedoms and small government. Though the public record shows that government grows more intrusive no matter which party is in charge, I still hold this hope that rank and file Republicans actually want freedom and small government.

But I also want to know whether or not, Democrat or Republican, you can see a consistent and reasonable cause for my position, even if you don't agree with the position itself. Do you think I am your "enemy" as opposed to thinking that I merely disagree with you on a point of policy?

You see, in all my disagreements, today is the first time anyone has ever referred to me as "the enemy" in response to a reasoned discussion, much of which is included above. I want to know if that charge has merit. So if you would, please. drop me a line.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Bartlet's BS: How to Argue Mo' Better.

This is making the rounds again, with a new caption:

Before you get all self-congratulatory about what you perceive as the brilliance of this rebuttal, know that it's bullshit. It's intended to shame, not to convince; and it does so with a bogus interpretation of Christianity that is easily dismissed by Christians who recognize its flaws when Atheists do not. (And stick with me here, because whatever side you're on, I'm probably not going where you expect.)

Since the Atheists have decided to engage in a little Sunday School lesson, here's one[1]. I often find myself having say something like the following when speaking with not just Atheists, but Fundamentalists as well. A quote from Deuteronomy chapter 5:
"And Moses called unto all Israel, and said unto them, Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I speak in your ears this day, that ye may learn them, and observe to do them. The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. The LORD made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day.  The LORD talked with you face to face in the mount out of the midst of the fire, (I stood between the LORD and you at that time, to shew you the word of the LORD: for ye were afraid by reason of the fire, and went not up into the mount;) saying, I am the LORD thy God..." [followed by the "Ten Commandments"]
There were a few sequels. [2]
Pay attention, please: "In your ears". "This day". "With us". "Not... our fathers", "With us", "Even us". "Here". "Alive this day". "With you", "Face to face".

Who do you think that message is meant for? The Bible certainly has a lot of subtexts and allegorical messages with multiple meanings. THIS ISN'T ONE OF THEM. Moses bent over backwards to make this point so excruciatingly plain that I think you have to be either completely blind to the existence of the verse, or actually trying to fail in order to get it wrong.

This Covenant and the Law... of which there are 613 laws... are intended for the people present at that place and moment of time and their descendents. Uncle Yusuf's not here? He's out.

There is no stigma to being "out" of this deal. Jews don't think that Gentiles are horrible people for not keeping the Sabbath because they know that Gentiles don't have to. They don't think non-Jews can't get into Heaven. The LORD is the LORD, and he can take whoever he jolly well pleases without your permission or approval. This verse is why Jews don't proselytize. It's not for YOU.[3]

Pointing this out isn't confrontational; it's informational. If you think that Christians must follow a law simply because it's written in the Old Testament, you're mistaken. If you think that Christians are hypocrites simply because they don't follow this or that Old Testament law, then you're likewise mistaken, and every argument you make based on that presumption fails.

Jesus brought a different simpler message for the rest of us:
"...The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:29-31. Also stated in Matthew 22:36-40)
For sure, He does start with "Hear, O Israel", as He is following the formulation called Shema Yisrael... this is the heart of Judaism, and He was talking to a Jew. But that audience is expanded when He commands his followers to go out to all nations, "Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen." (Matthew 28:20). And that's what we should do. Teach, not enforce (Matthew 13).


The problem with the President's rebuttal in the clip is that it perpetuates the myth that any of the levitical laws are tenets of the Christian religion, simply ignored by hypocritical followers out of personal choice or convenience. To be sure, there are ignorant hypocrites out there. But the argument fails when applied to actual Christianity rather than the "straw man Christianity" of a Hollywood screenwriter. It is based on a false assumption. As all but a few Christians immediately see the false premise, the only thing it convincingly does is portray Bartlet as a braying jackass. The sound is quite appealing within that species, but to few other creatures.

Now, if the President wanted to actually make his point and not just make an enemy, then he'd have pointed to Leviticus 5 as I just did, AND to Mark or Matthew. Then he might say something like this:

"Although you may view homosexuality as a sin, nowhere did Jesus give you the right to persecute those that commit that sin. You are, in fact, commanded to love those people anyway. God will judge them Himself when the time comes, and He will be merciful or not as He desires. But you're wasting your time worrying about their sins and not your own. Read Matthew 7:5, because it speaks to all of us on this subject:
"You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." 


Personally, I see it as this: the Christian institute of marriage is between men and women. Jesus confirms it. As such, marriages are performed before God for His blessing. But a secular marriage, even one between a man and woman, isn't a marriage in that sense. My church will consecrate those marriages that are marriages conforming to our beliefs. But my church is not in the habit of denouncing marriages that are performed in other churches, in accordance with other beliefs.[4] If their license may be denied on one point of faith, why not any other? Why not to a Hindu who has many gods? Why not to an Atheist, who has none? On what basis should we selectively pick and choose which Biblical precepts to apply? And if those who do the picking and choosing are not me, then why should they not deny that license to me? This is the argument which President Bartlet so ineptly attempts to make.

We cannot prevent the marriage of those outside our religion, nor should we be allowed to in a country that recognizes our natural right to freedom of religion. The County Courthouse is not my church. The Clerk of Court is not my priest. The licenses that are issued there are now and always have been for secular contracts called marriage, not marriage as defined by any particular religion.

And while we as individuals are free to exercise our religion, our GOVERNMENT is not. In the pursuit of her duties, a Clerk of Court is not acting on her own behalf in accordance with her own beliefs. She is acting as an agent of that government, which is stringently prohibited from interfering in religious matters. Thus, even if one does not accept the valid argument that government-issued marriage licenses represent secular contracts; one must allow that as a religious matter, agents of the government cannot interfere. Remember, we're not talking about just you... If I were in the position where my religion prevented me from acting as a properly impartial agent of the government; if the the free exercise of my religion denied the very same freedom for many, many applicants; then it would be obvious to me that the only ethical resolution between my conflicting responsibilities to God and the State would require that I remove myself from the State and devote myself to God.


By the way, this is why I think that the government shouldn't be in the business of marriage at all. "License" means "permission", and I see no reason on this green Earth why as a free human being I should have to beg for the permission of the State to marry. I do not seek the legalization of gay marriage for the same reason that I do not favor the legalization of any marriage. In defense of my own religious freedom, I do not recognize the right of the government to "define" what marriage is or is not. I believe the very concept is prohibited by the First Amendment, and that the practice represents one of the first of many erosions of our liberty. Further, it presumes that a thing should be illegal unless permitted, and that is a grave error of judgement, contrary to the concept of a Free Society. I want the State out of marriage completely.

[1] Obviously my theology may differ from yours. Even among Christians, views vary widely. But when faced with a conundrum I've found it most useful to go with a plain reading of the text. Edicts, canons, councils, and interpretations have often done as much to confuse a topic as to explain it, and often creates dogma where none exists in the Biblical text. If, for instance, you are a Christian who argues that you are still bound by Mosaic law, I believe you are at an argumentative disadvantage, as you are now required to explain why you hold that view when the scripture explicitly states that you are not.

[2] Illustration of Moses from More Good Foundation via Flickr

[3] Acts 15:19-29 expresses the minimum requirements for Christians: "that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.." Clearly, the whole of Mosaic law is not contained in that short sentence, which limits itself to those things which not only honor God and do not exceed the teaching they were commissioned to spread, but which make it possible for those Jewish believers in the early Church to interact with them

[4] Indeed, as a matter of course, Christians honor the validity of marriages outside their faith. Law or no, it's not OK to covet a pagan's wife. Despite it not being a "Christian marriage" it is always treated as a valid one. If you choose to think this attitude is demeaning rather than respectful, I invite you to imagine a world in which the contrary is true; where someone of another faith does not recognize your marriage and deems it OK to rape the women of infidels. You really don't have to imagine it, as this is expressly allowed in Islam. Here's the verseHere's the clerical rulingHere's the hadith (historical context). And do make sure you check several translation boxes for that verse. Muslims often chide Christians for having multiple translations, but so do they, and some of them are quite deliberately obscure. The clerical ruling, however, never is. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Cultural Climate Change Has Deniers, Too.

The Independent reports the following:
Yi-Fen Chou: White author under fire after using Asian pen name to be published more often

Synopsis: Michael Derrick Hudson's poem, 'The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve,' was rejected 40 times. So he sent it out under the pen name Yi-Fen Chou where it was rejected nine times before being accepted. It now appears in a collection entitled The Best American Poetry 2015.

The article takes the slant that this is reprehensible cultural appropriation, and quotes numerous sources that claim this is the case.

I can't help but comment on the "under fire" aspect of this (and I'm afraid I'm not going to be able to avoid conflating this with some similar recent publishing "scandals"). Over decades and generations, I cannot count the number of female authors who have used male nom de plumes for exactly the same reason as Hudson: that is, discriminatory practices have prevented their works from being read otherwise. This article in The Independent contains admissions of ethnic writers that they themselves have done the same. Well, folks, Hudson's case is no different. In fact, if you can't see that this is a straight apples-to-apples comparison, you don't know your fruit.

Is it cultural appropriation? If true then it was equally so when an Asian author Jeong Min adopted a Western name in order to be published. It is equally so when Alice Bradley Sheldon adopted the name James Tiptree, Jr. for publication. But in truth it's not cultural appropriation in the slightest. It's cultural disguise. It is that when non-white males do it, and it's the same for Hudson. The poem he wrote was the very same as when he submitted it under his own name. His editor specifically called attention to the fact. Hudson appropriated absolutely nothing. He simply responded in a very limited way to the discriminatory practices currently prevalent among book editors.

That the discriminatory practices exist is definitively demonstrated by the fact that the strategy worked. If anyone should be under fire, it should be the editors who ascribe more value to a work when it carries one ethnic or gender label over another, no matter what that label may be.

To Hudson's credit, he didn't allow his editor (Sherman Alexie) to publish the work under false pretenses. As soon as he was informed that his work was selected, and before it was published, Hudson revealed his true identity. And to Alexie's credit, he had the ethical backbone to publish it anyway, knowing that if he failed to do so it could only be because he was ethnically biased. He recognized his own bias and ultimately considered the work to be worthy regardless of the ethnicity of the author. And he explained this inner debate in great detail and candor.

Author Danez Smith labeled Hudson's act "racism", and frankly that's bullshit. 


Read Alexie's post. He acknowledges that the hard reality he had to face: "I did exactly what that pseudonym-user feared other editors had done to him in the past: I paid more initial attention to his poem because of my perception and misperception of the poet's identity. Bluntly stated, I was more amenable to the poem because I thought the author was Chinese American."  And while Alexie ultimately acted in rigid accord with his ethics, he also acknowledges that he could have flatly rejected Hudson's work, and would have been hailed for it.


It is precisely this sort of bigotry that the Sad Puppies (and "Rabid Puppies") objected to in recent years regarding selections of the Hugo Awards. It is a historical fact that the cultural climate changes. The Mongols no longer command the largest empire in the world. Neither do the Romans, nor the Greeks. One constant, though, is that it remains fashionable to beat horses long after they have bled out on the ground. Thus the pendulum swings from one extreme to another, always achieving maximum speed at that fleeting moment of fairness in the center. Animal Farm isn't just a cute barnyard story.

This was the objection of the Sad Puppies. Their response was to nominate works that they felt had literary merit rather than merely cultural approbation. For this they were labeled "racist" and "misogynist". Though it does lean in that direction because they did not nominate works that were already nominated, their list is not exclusive. However, the opposition most certainly was, voting "No Award" rather than allow any Puppies' nominees to win, regardless of merit. In fact, one of the actual winners didn't appear on the Rabid Puppies' slate merely because it was published after the slate. Had it been included, it would have been voted "No Award". Still, it is the Puppies who are called racist by those who apparently do not understand the word. It is a fact that the Puppies are not motivated because they oppose women and minorities winning awards. They are, rather, motivated because not only are many of these awards are given because the writer is female or a member of a minority, but that they are are a politically connected member of such a group. 

Cultural climate change deniers eschew this charge. They ignore mountains of evidence in order to do so, including their myriad "No Award" block voting (the Puppies, btw, did not vote in blocks); the blatant practices that gave birth to the Sad Puppies; and the very backlash to Mr. Hudson, above. They somehow do not recognize what pure reason demands: that having a work selected because your ethnicity is [pick one] is not conceptually different from selecting it because your ethnicity is [white male American]. 

And I have heard their arguments to the contrary. They all distill down to "you hit me, so I get to hit you back". It is an appeal to violence begat from violence. The problem is that the premise is completely bogus. Their targets may belong to a group whose members abused minorities in the past, but that does not mean that the target did so, or contributed to doing so. "Social justice", in the form that it is practice, often results in personal injustice.

Remember, Michael Derrick Hudson didn't hurt or mislead anybody regarding the publication of his poem. Rather, he anonymized his identity so the work could be fairly judged and immediately identified himself on selection. Cultural disguise is a personal act. Hudson didn't change his name because "white men" are rejected: he did it because he was rejected. Forty times. For a poem that's now in a collection called the best of 2015. And his editor was faced with publishing it as an affirmation that he selects based on merit; or rejecting it after the fact, thus endorsing the bias that he admits exists.

Kudos to Sherman Alexie for coming down on the side of ethical fairness, and kudos to Michael Derrick Hudson for giving him that opportunity. 


To be honest, I don't think that "fairness" is called for in every situation. There is nothing wrong, in my opinion, with stating outright that you favor writers of a particular gender or ethnicity. It's perfectly OK to celebrate Black authors, Asian authors, Incan transgendered dyslexic herpetophobic authors, or any other category you wish to celebrate. There's nothing wrong with giving any particular group a special platform. Just say so and all is well.  And this includes Scottish, Swedish, or. In no wise should someone be excluded from celebrating his or her ethnicity simply because it happens to be White Anglo-Saxon Protestant.

Favored demographics are not the problem. By saying "this is my favored demographic," you've given your audience information that they can use to their benefit. They may seek it out or seek to avoid it, and that's their choice to make. The problem comes when you pretend to fairness when you are in reality favoring or disfavoring particular groups... when your claim to address injustice is effected by injustices of your own creation. It's impossible to credibly claim that this does not happen today. The big challenge is how to judge all authors fairly in a bizarre world where dispassionate calls for objective fairness are treated as bigotry.


What if a publisher said that they would only accept anonymous submissions? 

Consider it seriously. What if a publisher said "our submission guidelines require that you attach no name and no personally identifiable information to your submission... only a P.O. Box to which acceptance or rejection letters may be sent, with identities to be confirmed only after selection is firmly locked by policy"? It's called "blind submission", not to be confused with unsolicited submissions or those that have been submitted without an agent. I'm describing a publisher that only accepts submissions that are anonymous, as a matter of policy.

It does exist. It's often used in the review of technical papers or as a criteria for submitting to specific contests to keep them objective. Sometimes it's used to combat "the cult of celebrity" and give unknown authors a fair shake, so that works are judged solely on literary merit. Now, what constitutes "literary merit" is arguable, but that moves the discussion away from culture and into genre, for which there's always room for one more. At the moment and within a genre, blind submission is the closest thing we have to a guarantee of a bigotry-free selection process.

Nevertheless, some people still don't favor it, sometimes for the very reasons that make it an excellent idea. Established authors may be opposed for obvious reasons... after all, what one person may call "the cult of celebrity", another person may call "reputation"... and it does sell even mediocre works. And some oppose it because they value their bias. Like I said, there's nothing wrong with that if you're honest about it.

Now, of course this doesn't work for an award such as the Hugos, in which the nominees are gleaned from previously published works, fully identified... but blind submissions do tell you that you're dealing with a publisher for for whom the quality of work genuinely supersedes identity politics.

That's gotta be worth something.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Vigilante Tech

They are getting a little better about this; in Marvel, Reed Richards has made a fortune licensing tech. But not the good stuff. Nope. You're not ready for that.

It's not just the "too dangerous" aspect either... here's a sample line of heroic thinking:
"I could sell this tech and become a billionaire, because... damn! Look at this stuff!"
"I would rather help people than personally profit from this. I'm going to wear tights."
Never mind that you would have only become a billionaire because you helped a fat lot of people in ways far more profound than if you rescued their wallet or cat. And never mind that if you felt the slightest bit of guilt at being karmically enriched by all the good that you're doing, you could buy your way out of it by donating the money back to a shit-ton of other people who would similarly be helped. Nah, the short term "socially conscious" thought wins out. Style over substance. Self-promotion in the form of bright colors and instant gratification.

Of course, this attitude is all too prevalent here on Earth-Prime as well, both in regard to "dangerous tech" and in the approach to helping society.

The Cyborg character is copyrighted by DC Comics. Used under Fair Use for political commentary and parody.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Nome, IDIC, and the Future That Could Still Be

In my last post I outed myself as a longtime Trekkie, something that's no secret to any of my close friends. In fact, the Star Trek original series (ST:TOS) has guided quite a lot of my life. It's the reason I work in technology... I want a hand, however slight, in bringing that sort of world about. And in this post I'm assuming you know quite a bit about the series, but I'll go back through it and add hyperlinks for those who haven't caught up. BTW, all of the referenced episodes are available on

And I'm sticking with the original series because the Next Generation and its successors had very little to do with the ideals of the Star Trek of the 1960s, but I'll invite you to read this explanation of that.

Now, that doesn't mean I'm blind to certain illogicalities and shortcomings of the scripts. But those who criticize these often forget that, for all its social commentary and forward thinking, it was still a product of its time, as well as the product of a limited budget. So for every 'Amok Time' or 'Journey to Babel' you're bound to have a 'Spock's Brain' or 'Turnabout Intruder'. And sometimes, it's deliberate. In order to comment on a thing, you have to portray that thing. And they didn't always hit it.

But one of the things that was done right was the Vulcan philosophy of Nome, meaning "All", symbolized by the stylized triangle-in-a-circle called the IDIC. Infinite Diversity, Infinite Combinations. Despite the fact that Gene Roddenberry did want to introduce an item as something to sell through his mail-order business, there is a well-thought-out philosophy behind it.

The IDIC as it appeared on Spock's dress uniform

The IDIC was introduced in the 3rd season episode, 'Is There in Truth No Beauty?', and it is the concept more than the design that is worth noting. The infinite combinations found in the universe being more valuable than the sum of their individual parts.

Later, in 'The Savage Curtain', we're treated to this dialogue between the crew of the Enterprise and a faux "Abraham Lincoln":
Uhura: Excuse me, Captain Kirk
Kirk: Yes, Lieutenant?
Uhura: Mr. Scott...
Lincoln [interrupting]: What a charming negress. Oh. Forgive me, my dear. I know that in my time some used that term as a description of property.
Uhura: But why should I object to that term, sir? You see, in our century we've learned not to fear words.
Kirk: May I present our communications officer, Lt. Uhura.
Lincoln: The foolishness of my century had me apologizing where no offense was given.
Kirk: We've each learned to be delighted with what we are. The Vulcans learned that centuries before we did.
Spock: It is basic to the Vulcan philosophy, sir. The combination of a number of things to make existence worthwhile.
Uhura meets Lincoln
There are so very many things to like in that exchange; chief among them, Uhura's perfectly frank and innocent explanation that "in our century we've learned not to fear words". I wish that subsequent generations had even an infinitesimal fraction of the wisdom behind that statement. Keep in mind that this was filmed in the midst of the civil rights movement, by people who believed in it vehemently, and it portrays a deliberate statement of their ideals for a utopian future... in which words have lost their negative connotations as people embrace their diversity and take ownership of their lives and future.

Got that?

A Vulcan "kiss"
It's one-half of the salute.
Surak's Construct explains
But it was fandom that really ran with the idea. An entire subculture of fan fiction sprang up to explore the concepts. One such exploration is Jacqueline Lichtenberg's monograph "Surak's Construct". I introduce it here because it is chronologically very close to the source material and very accurately reflects the expectations for the future that were held at that time. From a few sparse symbols depicted in the show -- the IDIC, the Vulcan salute, the Vulcan "kiss", and identification of "the philosophy of 'Nome', meaning 'all'" -- Lichtenberg deduces a robust history and philosophy of the Vulcan culture, and explored it in an "alternate universe" of fan fiction called Kraith.

If you read "Surak's Construct", you see that Lichtenberg basically nailed it. This is perfectly consistent with the original series, which offers Vulcan society as a utopian Way. This Way is one that is, in the words of Spock's mother Amanda in 'Amok Time', "Better than ours". As we progress in the series we learn that far from being "unemotional", Vulcans are very deeply emotional. But they reserve their emotions for those things that matter. I dare you to watch 'Journey to Babel' and conclude that Sarek does not love Amanda. I double dare you.

The concepts are simple and clear:
  • Respect logic. That is, employ reason, as passion has no regard for consequences. But understand passion, so that reason doesn't result in oppression. When reason is employed, use it well, without fallacy. When passion is employed, use it constructively.
  • Respect life. It is not possible to demand respect for your own life if you are not willing to reciprocate. Your life has only the value you place upon others. 
  • Respect commonality. "All". Recognize yourself in others. People are fundamentally similar. What you think of yourself is true of almost everyone. One of the themes of Star Trek is the utter sameness of our needs, masked by our apparent differences. Even something as totally alien as a Horta was found to share our basic values. The upshot is that if you search yourself with complete honesty, you already know what those values are. You should learn to recognize those points of commonality and value them without demanding complete accord. Furthermore, what we expect of others is largely a projection of what we think of ourselves. Thus, "there is no honor among thieves." You may never learn more about yourself than when you realize that your expectations of strangers tell you nothing about them and everything about you
  • Respect individuality. Love yourself. In so doing, treasure your privacy, and spend your emotional capital on that which does not destroy and denigrate. Do not take offense lightly; for to do so is to deny that the views of others have value, and in so doing validate that others are justified in holding your views in similar low regard.
  • Respect diversity. Love others as you love yourself. In so doing, allow them their unique opinions, especially when they are in opposition to your own. It is not only easy, but meaningless to be "tolerant" of people who are only superficially different from you; the only true test of tolerance is for those with whom you deeply disagree. Allow others their dignity, so that you may require the same from them. Do not take offense lightly, as this is a license to cause offense just as easily. 
Where Kirk offers a counter-balance of Human emotionality, it must balance these basic principles. You have to have some pretty damned good reason for violating the Prime Directive... not liking a culture just doesn't cut it. And in 'The City at the Edge of Forever', to preserve history Edith Keeler had to die. Sometimes love doesn't conquer all. Sometimes love must be sacrificed. But you'll see in the original series that Vulcans make valuable advisors and poor leaders. When Spock is in a position of command by himself, he is not so effective as his Captain. Kirk brings with him a moral objectivism and certainty that is largely lacking from the Vulcan's philosophy. Spock's philosophy is relativistic, and renders him inactive. While he and Kirk would likely not disagree on any particular point of the IDIC, Kirk's own philosophy (should he ever utter it) raises respect for individual liberty above all other points. For Kirk, the needs of the many do not outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one.

And while Vulcans are an ancient race with much experience, it is Humans who built and maintain the Federation. The Vulcans contribute an ideal; Humanity makes it work.

--==//FREE SPEECH ZONE\\==--

Now think of how badly our present society mishandles these concepts. And yes, this is about to get political, because like it or not, while being non-partisan, Star Trek has always been political. It has always been a commentary on the human condition. I would be shirking a duty if I didn't point out the very real historical and current problems that this philosophy of Nome addresses.

It was created in the 1960s: a time when laws were imposed upon people to segregate them and degrade them. In that time IDIC was offered as a pretty straightforward message that we can acknowledge and embrace the differences of others without erasing those differences. We can discard the bad and choose the good, and that -- significantly -- as this is a philosophy, not a law, it can be done individually, by acceptance. In the real world the path to acceptance has been slow. But parallel to that, attempts were made to impose acceptance. We instituted more laws to correct the bad laws, and are now seeing the limits of those laws, which unavoidably preserve and extend those same divisions while creating entirely new problems.

An actual "Free Speech Zone"
Today, people have not only learned to fear words, but our universities deliberately pander to and promote such fears. They sift innocent actions in search of new fears, and label them "microagressions". They actively train people to search for and take offense at these innocent actions while simultaneously claiming that they are better qualified than you to expound on what heinous insult you really meant by a polite act. They issue trigger warnings so you know when to be fearful. They provide safe spaces in which you can fear and engage in retaliatory hate from afar. They designate free speech zone ghettos where students must go to express opinions that should properly be expressed and discussed intelligently in classrooms; so that other students do not have to exercise the tolerance that is a duty of citizenship. They foment division by celebrating and amplifying negative emotion that they themselves have created through the fear of words. They have utterly wasted the time and effort of a generation on that which does not, will not, and can not work.

In the bright future of Star Trek, James Kirk explains, "We've each learned to be delighted with what we are." 

But in today's society, built by the children of the people who first dreamed of that utopia, people have been taught to hate what they are. On the one hand, people who are bright and capable now firmly believe that they need lower standards to compensate for the inadequacies they have been told they have. So we admit people into universities for which they are not prepared on the basis of superficialities and use the unsurprising drop-out rates of these unprepared people to justify a further lowering of the standards. All the while we ignore the plain fact that anybody of any race or class who was admitted with similar lack of preparation would also fail. We blame "racism" for these failures while simultaneously insisting that race does not exist, and denouncing those who agree.

On the other hand, some others are taught to blame themselves for past injustices in which they had no hand. They are held to be guilty for the sins of previous generations. They are taught that they are the undeserving recipients of privilege while at the same time being held to objectively higher standards. This results in a higher success rate for those relative few who meet the higher standards, ironically caused by the fundamentally bigoted nature of the selection process. Meanwhile, the fact of their numerical majority masks the vast quantity who have been excluded. Our attention is drawn from the fact that they not only succeed, but fail in greater numbers. We encourage adults to live as children well past the age where their parents themselves became parents. To a great degree this is due to our failure as a society to value diversity in occupation. Though there is genuine value and dignity in an honest trade, the sellers of education have consistently insisted that "success" must be measured "by degree". Of course, this success is achieved by buying their product.

We have been taught to weigh ourselves against the value of others rather than search for the intrinsic value within ourselves.

We have flushed Logic down the toilet.

--==\\FREE SPEECH ZONE//==--

In the bright future of Star Trek, the IDIC is a celebration of diversity.

IDIC is a celebration of those combinations that you would not have chosen for yourself. It is also a celebration of those combinations that you would have chosen. It's not just your "right to be weird", but equally someone else's right not to be. Regarding diversity, if you can't be content with the knowledge that someone else does not want to embrace your way of life then you are doing it wrong.

Let that sink in. It's not about them accepting you. That's not within your control; thus it's completely useless as a practical philosophy. Rather, it's about you accepting you, and allowing that others have the right to accept you or not, as they desire. It's about knowing that whatever their desire may be, it does not affect what you are. Your rights are unchanged. IDIC means that no matter who you are, others are not required to like what you like, think what you think, or feel what you feel.  It is the not-you-ness that makes it IDIC,

Likewise, you are free to follow your own principles. It is a personal philosophy over which you have control. You don't have to convince anyone else to do this. The philosophy can be shared, but the practice can not. It cannot be imposed, only accepted. It is this completeness of personal control that makes it Nome.
Kirk recalls to the Spock-clone the philosophy of the Vulcan IDIC and what it means. He also asks if an army of Spocks could impose peace on the galaxy and make other beings accept the Phylosian philosophy in defiance of the Vulcan IDIC concept.  The Spock-clone decides that it cannot be done. ("The Infinite Vulcan")  -- from The Star Trek Concordance by Bjo Trimble
Despite being uniquely individual, IDIC is objectively better than what we've been doing. Its application at the individual level provides a means of finding contentment that is not dependent on others. And as more practice it, that contentment can only grow exponentially, even among those who do not yet practice it. It is not dependent upon any established religion or culture... nor is contrary to the same, except those cultures that do not respect logic, life, commonality, individuality, and diversity. In such situations, where a relativist might sit back and observe injustice, we take the Human course of action and oppose that injustice.

Look, this is a made-up philosophy. They all are. It may seem to you to be quite silly for a person to seriously hold out the fictional culture of a fictional race and ask you to look at it seriously... not to adopt it, but to adapt it. But I'm doing that because a concept may be found to have value no matter where it originates. And this is not faddish or superficial. It requires thought to balance respect for the five points, and a complex morality emerges. 
  • My thoughts and feelings are mine to control
  • I can choose to not take offense at our differences
  • I can choose to treat others with dignity
  • I can choose to allow others their privacy
  • I can maintain my own privacy about things that are no one else's business
Do I do all of these things?  Usually... by which I mean the great majority of the time. Sometimes I choose not to. Not only do I deem it prudent at times, but it validates that these things are choices. But I must admit that I am dismayed by people who honestly believe that they are "liberal" and wish to impose on others, silence others, compel others to their bidding, spy on others, punish others for differing opinions, and demand "acceptance" where a reverence for diversity requires tolerance. I am equally dismayed by people who honestly believe they are "conservative" and wish to do the very same, who violate privacy and property, and who practice exclusion in the name of freedom. They are both so very far removed from the ideals that we dreamed of. And if they do not abandon their present delusions, we will never, ever achieve that society.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

In Which I'm Exposed as a Rabid Trekkie

In Which I'm Exposed as a Rabid Trekkie.

This infographic appeared on Facebook having been posted by RevolutionSF.

I thought, "nice".  Then I started looking at it. 'He's dead, Jim' was said 22 times...? Having made my own "He's dead, Jim" t-shirt in the the 1970s, I know that one is wrong.

Trouble This Side of Paradise

In Star Trek, "He's dead, Jim" is said four (4) times. The rest are some variation of [S|He|This man]'s dead [sir|captain]. Even then the grand total of individual death pronouncements is something like 17. The only way you get to 22 is if you count the times that somebody other than McCoy pronounces someone dead. Uhura, Kirk, and Chapel all said "he's dead", and McCoy himself was pronounced dead by Yeoman Barrows in 'Shore Leave'.

Here are the episodes in which McCoy says, "He's dead, Jim":
  • 'The Enemy Within'
  • 'The Changeling'
  • 'Wolf in the Fold'
  • 'Is There in Truth No Beauty'

Where No Clone Has Gone Before

Now I became skeptical about the rest of it and decided to explore it a bit to confirm or dispel my suspicions. Unfortunately, they were confirmed.

For instance, Kirk being cloned requires a very broad definition of "clone" that doesn't involve any cloning.
  • He was duplicated by an android in 'What are Little Girls Made Of?' 
  • In 'Mirror, Mirror', the alternate universe version of him that was Kirk, not a clone. 
  • A transporter accident split Kirk into two beings in 'The Enemy Within'... I'd let that one go, except that they were both imperfect halves of one whole. 
  • In 'Whom Gods Destroy', Garth of Izar was a shape-changer, but there's no evidence that his DNA was altered as he changed shape.

Assignment: Time Travel

Next, the graphic states that the Enterprise traveled back in time on five separate occasions.

Not in the original series, it didn't. The Enterprise only traveled back in time 3 times in the original series, excluding movies: in 'The Naked Time', 'Tomorrow is Yesterday', and 'Assignment: Earth'. Not five.

I assume the other two times they're thinking of must be 'The City at the Edge of Forever' and 'All Our Yesterdays', but the ship didn't go back those times... just select members of the crew. On both occasions it was the same members: Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.
(As an aside, the librarian in 'All Our Yesterdays' had the best librarian name evah... "Mr. Atoz" (A to Z)

The Lights of Studio

You don't have to take my word for it.
Belatedly I turned my attention to the prominent graph. Surely that is OK!

Nope. "Gold Shirts".

In the original series the shirts were actually more green than gold, but the lighting and film processing altered the color on-screen. Some shirts (like Kirk's wrap-around tunic) were made of a different material and showed up on-screen as the original green.

Yes, "gold" may have been made canon in later media (i.e. the Animated Series), but we're talking about Original Series Fandom here... no retcons and revisionist history allowed.

Speaking of green, I think I'm going to need a jolt of Scotty's Aldebaran whiskey to get through the rest of the infographic.

Is There In Truth No Accuracy?

Not Triskelion
Beside what's already mentioned, several of the species under "Kirk's Love Story" are inaccurate. "Skallosian", "Triskelion", and "Kelvan" are all mis-spelled. Kirk has never romanced a Triskelion native: the natives of Triskelion are disembodied brains.... Shahna was not a native.

Also, Kirk never romanced a Vulcan. You can fudge that if you allow that he loved his best friend, Spock. (I'm talking love, not romance; though I'm sure some will score this one as a win for slash fiction.)

I must admit I'm wracking my brain about the "Zeta" thing... there was an episode called 'The Lights of Zetar', but the romance there was Scotty's, and lettuce all agree that Mira Romaine was decidedly human. (See what I did there?)

Dagger of the Meld

As for mind melds, I count nine in the following episodes: 'Dagger of the Mind'; 'The Devil in the Dark'; 'The Changeling'; 'Mirror, Mirror'; 'Turnabout Intruder'; 'Is There In Truth No Beauty?', and 'Spectre of the Gun'. A whopping three of them were in 'Spectre of the Gun' alone. Why only four are counted in the infographic is a mystery.

Operation: Annihilate the Crew!

Hell, I'll even challenge the number of crew. That's the standard complement of a Constitution class starship, but they either killed or left behind crew members so often that it was unlikely that this number was accurate within hours of leaving spacedock.

Patterns of Farce

It's not the end of the world.
'Mirror Mirror' depicted an entire
universe where every detail about
Star Trek was messed up, but it still
had its good points. Yup.
So far, everything I've bothered to fact-check prior to breaking off to write this post has been inaccurate in some way. This severely affects the probability that these errors were inadvertent. After all, the author did spend some time on this. Why be so publicly wrong in so many ways for such a high-profile property with such an attentive fanbase... unless it was your intent to be wrong?

Therefore, I choose to believe that this is deliberately constructed as a "busy box" for genuine TOS fans. The object isn't to accept the "facts" as given, nor even to find out whether they're right... it's to determine how they're wrong.

It's devious, it's ingenious, it's clever... and if you're the person who put that infographic together, I suggest you adopt it as your official story and stick to it.

With that in mind, I'll turn my attention to the remainder of this puzzle in private and allow you to do the same, dear Reader.


Turnabout Intentions

OK, I was going to finish it in private. I changed my mind. So... "Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more; or close up the wall with our redshirt dead!" (That's so much better in Klingon, don't you think? Short and to the point:"Heghlu'meH QaQ jajvam")

The infographic pegs the number of Vulcan nerve pinches at 34. Now, that's a lot of nerve pinches. But it's certainly plausible, given that the technique first appeared in 'The Enemy Within', which was only the fifth episode that aired. So I started counting.

I count 37 or 38 Vulcan Nerve Pinches in the original series, though some are difficult to detect on screen and not all of which are successful. In any event, it's more than 34.

Here's what I think the infographic misses:
  • In 'Whom Gods Destroy': there's a double nerve pinch, showing off Spock's ambidexterity.
  • In 'I, Mudd' it was unsuccessful attempted against an android 
  • In 'Friday's Child' Spock uses it on a guard In Eleen's tent. As the guard is already swinging with forward momentum, it's difficult to see that Spock's hand is indeed on his neck, applying the grip.
  • In 'The Apple', Spock uses it against a native who has already overextended his reach in a clumsy attempt to use a club. Nevertheless, it's the pinch that puts him out.
dgmpepper8 has collected them all in a YouTube compilation. Don't let this throw you, though... several of them are depicted several times, some from different angles. You should count each distinct grip.

The Enterprise Incidents

Now, flying a starship is a dangerous business, but I think it strains credibility to say that the Enterprise was actually captured sixteen times in the original series!

I think it's fifteen, and keep in mind that I mean captured. It's possible that a looser definition might get more numbers, but I'm no more in favor of loosening the language here than I was for the clones. By "capture" I mean that the ship (not crew... this has to be the hardware) has been seized or overcome by some external entity, excluding internal strife... mutinies and like. Within that stricture I'm going to be pretty lenient, as I want to get to 16. So, these are the voyages....

  1. 'The Squire of Gothos'. This one's debatable, but I'm going with it. Trelane never leaves his world, but that's really not a condition of "capture". The escape of the Enterprise is clearly thwarted as Trelane plays with it as a cat would a mouse. It has only the freedom he allows.
  2. 'Arena'. Yup. Gotta go with this one, too. The Metron has captured and disabled both the Enterprise and the Gorn vessel, and would have destroyed one of them if the humans had not declined the "favor".
  3. 'Space Seed'. Hell yes. Khan subjugated the crew and gained the firm upper hand. He didn't keep it, but them's the breaks.
  4. 'Who Mourns for Adonis?' This is a solid capture, by a giant space-hand wielded by a Greek god, no less.
  5. 'Catspaw'. Using technology that's indistinguishable from sympathetic magic, Sylvia and Korob encase the Enterprise in an impenetrable force field, forcing Kirk to surrender his ship.
  6. 'I, Mudd'. Yeah... this was a solid capture as well. The android Norman infiltrated the ship and returned it to his homeworld. Now in captivity, the crew eventually defeat the androids by posing the Liar Paradox, which works because computers in the future are utter shit.
  7. 'Wolf in the Fold'. I'm going with this one, as Redjac clearly does get the capture. Of course he doesn't hang on to it long, as he's the only entity on board who doesn't know that Starfleet computers are not only total shit; but that Starfleet programmers never bother with bounds-checking. Redjac is thereby defeated by a high-school math problem.
  8. 'The Gamesters of Triskelion'. Yup. Captured. Probably wouldn't have been if Spock weren't so clever as to track down the abduction of Kirk, Uhura, and Chekov. I bet 100 quatloos he won't make that mistake again!
  9. 'By Any Other Name'. A solid capture by the Kelvans of the Andromeda galaxy. If they could have held their temper and their liquor they might have also held the ship.
  10. 'And the Children Shall Lead'. Yeah, but I admit this one reluctantly, as it was a terrible episode. The Gorgan, through the children, does manage to control and manipulate the ship. But kids being kids, they're defeated by some home videos of Mom and Dad.
  11. 'Day of the Dove'. Yes, the Enterprise was once captured by a reflection of light on toilet water and turned into an arena for an endless Human/Klingon grudge match. It's a wonder that the Organians allowed it.
  12. 'Wink of an Eye'. I'd have to say yes on this one, though briefly (smirk). The time-accelerated coup didn't last long because... physics... but it was real while it lasted. 
  13. 'Let That Be Your Last Battlefield'. OK, sure, though I'd argue that "hijacked" is more descriptive, as there was never an intent to keep the ship. But I'm trying to get to sixteen, and this is already pretty late in the third season.
  14. 'Requiem for Methuselah'.  Miniaturizing the ship and displaying it on a tabletop has surely got to count.
  15. 'The Way to Eden'.  A well-executed coup by space-hippies that pre-sages the events of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.  

So what's missing? Probably 'The Enterprise Incident', in which our dauntless Starfleet crew are held in the Neutral Zone by three suddenly uncloaked Romulan ships of Klingon manufacture.

I know what you're thinking... am I mad? Well, maybe I am, but that's not relevant. Though this superficially appears to be a classic military capture, it is revealed to be a highly classified mission. Kirk deliberately places his ship in enemy hands and Spock deliberately surrenders himself to their authority so that Kirk (having been thought killed by Spock) might steal a cloaking device. This wasn't a capture, it was the mission.  There are already a few hijackings on the list, so I'm just not letting this one through. If my arm were twisted to put it on, I'd drop Gothos and Battlefield from the list at the same time.

In case this wasn't what was left out, I've prepared a list of all the episodes you could possibly offer as depicting the capture of the ship, and my reasons why they don't:

  1. 'Charlie X'. Close but no cigar. Charlie never really had control of the ship.
  2. 'Where No Man Has Gone Before'. Nope. What Gary Mitchell attempted was a mutiny.
  3. 'The Naked Time' No again. Kevin Riley's lockout of the controls was no capture.
  4. ' The Corbomite Maneuver'. No again. It was a stand-off.
  5. 'Court Martial'. Nah. For most of the episode it was judicial due process; then it was sabotaged by Finney
  6. 'Return of the Archons'. No way. The Enterprise was embattled, but not captured. And the crew won, too.
  7. 'This Side of Paradise'. No capture here, though the ship was almost entirely abandoned.
  8. 'Errand of Mercy'. The Organians incapacitated both the Klingon and Federation fleets, but they captured nothing... and indeed, would have no use for the ships had they done so. It amounted to a firm spanking.
  9. 'Operation:Annihilate!' While under the control of a flying amoeboid, Spock attempts to seize control of the Enterprise. Key word: attempts. Nurse Chapel thwarts the attempt with a dose of sedative.
  10. 'The Changeling'. Nomad never captures the ship. It's brought on board, studied, found to be dangerous, in part because it is obedient to a fault. It is then destroyed. It does attempt to improve engine efficiency and does a few other things without prior permission, but un-does what it can when ordered.
  11. 'The Apple'. The computer named Vaal drained some power from the Enterprise, but never captured it.
  12. 'The Deadly Years'. Oh, puh-leez. Starfleet chain of command.
  13. 'Return to Tomorrow'. I'm saying no on this one, though it's arguable. Three of the crews' bodies are willingly donated, an at one point Sargon's consciousness takes refuge in the ship itself; but "capture" signifies a certain intent that is absent with regard to the ship. And if you look at it fairly, the very purpose of a starship is to provide refuge.
  14. 'The Ultimate Computer'. Hardly. Engineering incompetence and Starfleet mismanagement do not count as a capture. By the way, regarding the M-5... I might have already mentioned that computers in the future are utter shit.
  15. 'Is There in Truth No Beauty?' Jealous and deranged, an engineer named Marvick diddles with the controls and sends the Enterprise off course. This is a capture only if you feel that batting a baseball is the same as catching it.
  16. 'Spectre of the Gun'. Crew members are captured by the Melkotians... but not the ship.
  17. 'The Tholian Web'. No cigar. The Enterprise just sat there trying to get Kirk back from a dimensional rift while the Tholians set about attempting a capture. In the end the Enterprise simply flew away through the unfinished web. Getting "webbed" by the Tholians is a bit like being attacked by sloths.
  18. 'The Savage Curtain'. The ship was threatened, but not captured.

That Which Salutes

Hmm... how about something easier to check... the number of Vulcan salutes in the show. Can it be only be seven? I'm understanding this to mean salutes in the Vulcan style; not those that are given by Vulcans. So we're looking for seven salutes. We'll start with the easy ones... the "Vulcan episodes":
'Amok Time' - 4
  • The salute is given by T'Pau and returned by Spock. T'Pau then appears to briefly mind meld with Spock. 
  • After the koon-ut-kal-if-fee it is given by Spock and returned by T'Pau.
'Journey to Babel' - 4
  • Spock demonstrates the salute to McCoy as the Vulcan delegation exits the shuttlecraft. McCoy tries and fails to return it. 
  • Sarek presents the salute to Kirk, who gives a slight bow in return. 
  • Spock presents the salute to Sarek, who ignores it. 
  • Sarek returns McCoy's verbal greeting with the salute.
     Uh-oh. Myth busted already. But let's keep going, shall we?
'Is There in Truth No Beauty?' - 4
  • Upon beaming aboard, Dr. Miranda Jones gives the salute to Spock, who returns it. That's two more.
  • On leaving the Enterprise the same exchange is made, in the same order.
'The Savage Curtain' - 2
  • Upon their first meeting the construct representing Surak presented the salute to both Kirk and Spock. Spock initially pontificates until Surak prompts, "Whatever I am, would it harm you to give respons?" Spock responds with the salute and, "Live long and prosper, image of Surak, father of all we now hold true."
I've counted fourteen salutes in four episodes. Furthermore, as you can see, I've grouped them in exchanges, of which we see there are nine. So even counting greeting-and-response as one "salute" there are not seven salutes.

At least they're consistent.

The Alternative Factoids

There are a number of facts that the graphic doesn't include, but could have. I'm not sticking with just numerical "facts", because as we've seen they can be pretty boring.

  • How many episodes took place entirely on the Enterprise? 
  • Who played James T, Kirk's brother Sam? 
  • Where is Gary Seven's "cat" Isis right now?  
  • How many of Kirk's relatives appeared on-camera in the original series?

You take a shot at answering them in the comments, and I'll post answers in this same spot later.