1. Aaron Swartz
    Am I the last kid on the block to know who Aaron Swartz was?

    Aaron Swartz’s story was outside my radar entirely.  I know such names as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, of course, and could even name Mark Zuckerberg and Julian Assange, but the second and third tiers of computer nerds are largely unfamiliar to me.  I can’t recall now why I ordered Brian Knappenberger’s documentary, The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, from Netflix, but I’m very glad I did.

    Five stars.  No hesitation.  This is a seriously outdated review – the film came out in 2014 and has has broad distribution and has met with considerable acclaim. But the film has not lost an ounce of its considerable punch in the past three years.  If anything, the story has even more relevance today, as our freedoms seem to be slipping away before our eyes.   It has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 97% and even the negative reviews, if you take a closer look, are essentially positive. It tells the story of a young man who just wanted to make a better world and got eaten alive by the government’s obsessiveness with secrecy, which began as an overreaction to 9/11.

    Aaron was upset that private corporations had managed to assume ownershop of things in the public domain.  It’s analogous to the situation with the airwaves.  Originally they were considered public domain.  Today we have to pay billions to organizations who have taken control of them and politicized them entirely. Aaron directed his attention to those agencies, like Elsevier, who have managed to take control of academic research.  Science should be free, he insisted.  Science, after all, is knowledge, and the control of knowledge by money-making organizations is wrong.
    But try to get that message across in capitalist America.  Aaron Swartz did.  And it got him killed.  He was under indictment for having stolen ordinary information – not trade secrets, not secret formulas, which corporations were treating as proprietary information, and made it public.  Not because he wanted to make a profit from it.  He simply wanted to make the statement that this information belonged to the world and not a private corporation.  He was facing thirty-five years in prison.  There’s little doubt he would not have survived that.  He was not a saint; in fact, he could be quite self-centered.  But he was, from all reports, an idealistic soul.  An innocent.  Cynics and bullies make their way to the top.  Some even become president.  But the tender souls who show up now and again on this planet can easily get crushed and thrown to the wolves. This is the story of one of them.
    If you see parallels with Wikileaks, with Chelsea Manning, and with Edward Snowden and the work of Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras to back him up, that’s because the parallels are there.  Except that the good that has come from Wikileaks, the exposure of government malfeasance, is offset to some degree by the risk to national security.  At least an argument can be made that that’s the case.  With Aaron Swartz, the only harm done is the potential diminishment of corporate profits. 
    You might also want to argue that what Aaron did was the equivalent of pirating the work of composers and musicians by making their work available to people without asking them to pay for it.  Or publishing copyrighted material.  Or forwarding news articles without paying the source.
    Also arguments worth considering.  But Aaron didn’t abuse the rights of creative people to make a living.  He challenged the right of a corporation who wanted to appropriate information and then sit on it until you paid up.  The film makes clear that from this nerd’s perspective, this was intended as a prank.  To be sure, it had a political message, similar to the one made by folks protesting that the coastline should not be in the hands of private owners.  The film’s internet notables make the case for an open internet.  I simply can’t see any convincing argument for limiting the internet.
    What is missing from the film is the prosecuters side of the story.  But they were invited to present their side and chose not to.  What can one say?
    The specific charge was that he illegally downloaded five million scholarly texts from the JSTOR database.  He did that.  He was guilty of that.  In the end, JSTOR decided not to prosecute.  But the government went ahead anyway, in order to make an example of him and deter others from trying to inject themselves into the world of profit-making.  None of the material was sensitive, it is worth repeating.  And he earned not a penny for his efforts.
    Anyone following the fate of Edward Snowden and the trial of Chelsea Manning, anyone interested in the increasingly harsh treatment of whistleblowers in this country, should see this film by all means.  I’d take that even further and say anyone interested in getting us out of the dark hole we have fallen into should, as well.  It’s a big story, and includes surprising details, such as how MIT’s refusal to step in on Aaron’s behalf illustrates the maxim that all it takes for evil to happen is for good men and women to do nothing.  And a whole host of characters whose unabashed grief tells it all about the impact Aaron had on people and colleagues.  These include Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World-Wide Web, and Lawrence Lessig, the Stanford professor known for his brilliance, for once clerking for Antonin Scalia, and for being an outspoken defender of net neutrality. Watching Lessig cry over the loss of this young life brings home the importance of making sure we get justice back into our justice system.

    1 hour and 45 minutes.


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  2. When Trump won the 2016 election, many of us sat up and asked, “Did anyone get the number of that truck?”  Words came to mind like flummoxed and flabbergasted (to say nothing of shocked and devastated.)  A great moment in history for reminding us of the folly of getting too sure of ourselves.

    Great.  We learned our lesson.  Now can we go back to sanity?

    Unfortunately not.  We have to live with the consequences of a Trump presidency for what could be years.  And one of those consequences is the endless Monday morning quarterbacking over how it happened.  Chief among these is the claim that we deliberately ignored the signs.  The country had undergone a terrible financial crisis in 2008.  The Obama government bailed out the sons of bitches responsible.  The taxpayer watched it all happen and realized the government was working in tandem with the 1% and we were just going to go on getting screwed over and over again.

    So the manipulators of information simplified the message, making government the sole bad guy, and the Republicans were in like Flynn.  They liked to tell you that government was the problem and to get around government we needed to allow the business sector to run things.

    Never mind that this only led to continued control by the 1%.  Americans like their explanations in plain language.  No need for facts.  We leave those to the Pied Piper to make up as he goes along. We are into self-indulgence, into entertainment, and we don’t like things that don’t make us happy.  So we manufacture facts to suit us.  Evil in the world?  No problem.  God will answer your prayers.    Afraid of dark-skinned people?  No problem.  We’ll just throw more of them in jail.  Or keep them out, if they’re coming from foreign countries.

    Simple-mindedness is the way to go.  Allows time to watch Netflix.

    I remember Robert Reich warning, long before we thought Hillary could possibly lose to Trump, that we had made a mistake not taking care of the folks in America who were out of a job because of globalization.  We needed a better safety net, better social protections for people thrown out on unemployment, better retraining for new jobs.  Better social welfare generally.

    But we are Americans.  Strong individuals who can take care of ourselves.  Don’t need no damn government handouts.  So we didn’t do anything about the globalization safety net.  We just let the marketplace do its thing.  Got screwed, did you?  Tough.  Sorry.  Shit happens. Unions?  A minimum wage?  Universal education?  What are you, a socialist?

    Enter the Pied Piper with an easy explanation and easy solutions.  He’s going to build a wall to keep Mexicans out so they can’t come in and take your jobs.  And you, my fellow Americans – not all of you, obviously, but a critical mass of you, believed that shit.  And were too stupid to realize that Mexicans can fly in as tourists and then just not go back, the way most illegals have always come in.  And the ones crawling through the desert are probably not taking your automobile manufacturing jobs, anyway.  And if you look at the actual statistics, you’d see that Mexicans are going home to Mexico more than they are coming in these days.  And unemployment is at a new low.  And the stock market at a new high.  Just more facts.  We're not into fact; we're into fears.  Don't care that it's robots, not Mexicans.  Can't stop the robots, so let's do what we can and stop the Mexicans.

    Reminds me of the battle in 1978 over the Briggs Initiative. Orange County California State Senator John Briggs wanted to prevent gay men from becoming teachers because, Briggs insisted, gay men were child molesters.  Even after Harvey Milk demonstrated that most child molesters were heterosexual, Briggs persisted.  There are too many heterosexuals to go after, he said, so let's go after the gays.

    If you don’t read, you don’t know that it’s not foreign labor threatening your jobs; it’s technology.  Robots, not Mexicans.  I think most people know that now.  But Trump's wall idea still resonates with his supporters.  And with all the Republican legislators who obviously know better.

    I became a Bernie Sanders supporter early on because he was the one focusing on economic inequality as the real source of American discontent.  I thought he was right about that, and I thought that Hillary was too much part of the rich democratic establishment – Wall Street, for short – to be in a position to fix things.  When Debbie Wasserman Schulz and the New York Times and others put all their support behind Hillary, I went along.  What’s not to love about the idea of having a female president? Sure is time, don’t you think?

    We got our priorities all wrong.  We didn’t address the national discontent, and the result is Trump.  We didn’t build the wall high enough to protect against a tsunami, and now we’re going to spend years bewailing the water in the carpets and drapes, the broken furniture, the stains and the smell.  A long, very painful, very tiring clean-up.  No way around it.

    Because I feel a responsibility to stay in touch with the world outside my door, I watch the news on a daily basis.  That means a steady barrage of bad news – the roll-back of civil rights, the risk of nuclear war, the Great Lie that is Trump who, instead of cleaning the swamp, is reinfesting it with alligators.  And that means I need to supply myself with a steady diet of Mozart, dog and cat videos, good food and wine, a good long soak in the bathtub as often as possible.  And lots of good writing about all the other things going on in the world.  (I’d like to add diet and exercise, but so far that’s been a total bust.)

    *                      *                      *
    I try to keep abreast of what's going on in the German political scene.  Partly because, while America has clearly gone off the rails, Germany seems to be, so far, at least, humming along quite nicely, thank you.  One of the benefits of the information age is that I can watch all the political talk shows from German television, as well as news from Germany.  I’m still living out my “history of things that never happened,” the decision I almost took, but didn’t, to emigrate to Germany back in the 60s, before I got distracted by Japan.  For about four decades, I pretty much neglected Germany for Japan.  Now in retirement, I’m balancing the scales.  Japan is fading.  Germany is becoming more central to my life.

    It’s not replacing my American identity, but it’s enlightening it.  I am currently struck first with how very similar Germany’s social and political problems are to our own. That’s true for most of Europe as well, of course – I just happen to be focusing on Germany.  And second, I’m struck with how often Germany seems to be getting right what we are getting wrong.  Why, I wonder.  Is it that they have figured out how to do things better?  Or is it that we have lost what we once had?  Complex questions, obviously, and simple generalizations are worthless.  But those questions at least guide the topics I take on these days.

    I’m struck with the impact Trump has had on German political life.  It’s front and center, and Germans are all over the issues, asking themselves things like how close they are to a similar breakdown of democracy.  There’s Marine Le Pen in France, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, Viktor Orban in Hungary.  And the AfD in Germany.  Is Germany at risk of falling to their own Trump-like Pied Piper?

    I'm developing some enthusiasm for the new SPD (social democrat) candidate who seems to have half a chance against Merkel in the September election for chancellor.  Martin Schulz, his name is. Sort of like electing "Marty Jones" for president.  Despite the "socialist" name, in Germany, they are actually a centrist party.

    Then there's the new president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier.  Also a socialist.  Not sure whether his election today will get in the way of Schulz's candidacy for chancellor in September.  Hope not. 

    The socialists have been in coalition with the conservatives, Merkel's party - which is actually two parties in one, the Christian Democrats in the country at large and its sister party the Christian Socialists in Bavaria.  They are referred together as "The Union" and are center-right.

    Mirroring them on the center-left are the Greens, and the SPD.

    Then there is a party called simply "The Left," which kind of fills the slot where the former East German Communist Party used to be (and don't say that too loudly or you'll piss a lot of people off).  

    Then there are several right-of-center to far-right parties, all of which are making people nervous these days, especially the "Alternative for Germany (AfD) Party," The AfD’s main shtick is opposition to immigration, but they throw in a little homophobia and other conservative issues as well.

    What's amazing to watch, and what makes me admire the German system so much and prefer it to our two-party system, is that while they yell and scream at each other sometimes, they all seem to get together when it counts.  Coalitions form, come apart, others form.  All adjusting to the times.  

    Anna Will had Martin Schulz on her program for the whole hour a couple weeks ago.  During the interview, she confronted him with one of his constituents who had once voted SPD but now felt politicians had all let her down.  It was a set-up no politician would ever want to be subjected to.  He pulled it off with great grace, however.  Not sure whether he persuaded the voter, but he gave it all he had.  Persuaded me.

    As miserable as it must have been for him, it's the very image of what one wants to see happen in a democracy.  The Democrats in the U.S. are being held responsible for Trump.  The socialists in Germany, who joined in a coalition with the conservatives, have also lost most of their support for that reason and are now trying desperately to get it back.  Let us run the show, instead of being a minority party tied to the Unions, Schulz argues, and you will see.  Why should I believe you lying politicians, asks his constituent.  Maybe if the democrats would go back to being democrats, start looking out for the little guy again instead of being just another money-chasing party.  Maybe if the socialists would be the socialists they were of yesteryear, the party of Willi Brandt, etc. etc.  Amazing the parallels here.

    If you want to read up on German politics, there are much better sources than me.  But I have brought in this much detail to provide some context for what German politicians are saying about America these days and at how well they are getting to the real issues we seem to skim over.  And that includes commentary on what has been going on in the U.S.  Leading politicians are saying (to me) amazing things.  Let me give you some examples.

    Here are bits (translation mine) from Martin Schulz’s very passionate acceptance speech before the SPD when he accepts the challenge to run for Chancellor in September:

    (about the nationalist tendency of right-wing parties):

    the party of Marie Le Pen, which the AfD identifies so closely with, translates to “National Front.”  We here in Germany have had a party with an aggressive nationalism before.  We experienced it in the first half of the 20th Century. [This party] is no “alternative” for Germany.  It is, rather, a shame on the Federal Republic.

    (about Trump and his politics):

    We will never surrender our values, our freedom and our democracy, our rule of law and our pluralism, no matter what challenges we face.  I say that in full knowledge of the fact that a U.S. President wants to build walls, thinks out loud about torture, directs dangerous attacks on women, religious groups, minorities, people with handicaps, artists and intellectuals without shame.  That is unacceptable.  I am sure that European politicians will now, when they travel to Washington, explain to the U.S. government that international human rights and the rights of nations apply to Donald Trump as well.  I’m sure of that.

    And here are bits from Steinmeier’s acceptance speech after being elected Germany’s twelfth president since the end of World War II.

    A brief aside... Worth mentioning is the fact that in the European political systems, nation and government are represented by two different figures, whether that’s the Queen and the Prime Minister in the U.K., or the president and the chancellor in Germany, respectively – and it’s similar in virtually all countries with a parliamentary system.  That enables them to put all their efforts into assuring the national leader will be person of universal respect, while the political leader is expected to get his or her hands dirty.  Schulz, once a small town mayor, later head of the European Parliament, was once an alcoholic.  He never got his Abitur.  He's not a "top drawer" type but he's drawing admiration from the voters for that very reason, a self-made man of the provinces with a bunch of kids.  At the same time, Steinmeier, also a socialist, has become the national symbol.  He will now represent the nation, and the praise (most of it sincere, as far as I can determine) is coming in from all directions.  You see the current Chancellor coming in with a bouquet of flowers, even though her chief rivals in September will be those very socialists who were (and still are, at the moment) her coalition partners. It appears Germany has worked out how government should be run. Contrast that with the American way of putting those two jobs, government leader and national leader, in the same person.  Look what that has led to.  People wanted a dirty fighter who could smash the establishment as a political leader. What we got is a symbol of the nation who humiliates it on a daily basis, with his lies, with his demonstration that he was working for the 1% all along, with his out-of-control ego and his instinct for nepotism.  The shame never seems to end.

    I’m not kidding when I say I prefer the parliamentary system. We might have kept our dignity as a nation by electing an Obama or a Jimmy Carter to represent that nation. And allowed a Trump to have a go at running the government.  Until he revealed his true intentions.  Then we could have had a vote of no confidence and bounced him out. Instead we are stuck with a tyrant for at least four years.

    Anyway, the bits:

    Steinmeier began with the story of an encounter with a woman in Tunisia who said to him, once, “You give me courage.”  The woman was not referring to him personally, he said, but to Germany as a whole.  And not because Germany was a perfect place, but because it was a place that has shown that one can rise from misery and become a source of hope to the world.

    ·      …and when this foundation becomes shaky elsewhere, all the more must we stand by this foundation
    ·      we must distinguish fact from lies
    ·      nowhere in the world is there more opportunity than here…
    ·      and who is going to do it, if not us…

    Remember when Americans talked like that?

    I hope it's clear that I'm not trying to paint a black-and-white picture here of a lousy America and a spiffy Germany. It's not that America is bad and Germany is good.  It's not even that the German political scene is better than the American political scene - that's true, I believe, for the moment, but things change.  The only certainty is that things change.

    What I am saying is that "America First" is an absolutely deplorable slogan to go by, and maybe the best evidence that American democracy has gone off track.  Democracy is not a competition.  It is - or should be - a universal cooperative effort.  Of course, we should work to make things better where we live.  But we don't live on an island, and we don't have to assume a zero-sum game.  We can watch other winners, and applaud them when they do well. And try to learn from their example.

    Germany is, I think, a good example.  I can think of lots of others - Canada, Australia, Holland and the Scandinavian countries come first to mind, but there are others, as well. Japan's bopping along. Look at how far Taiwan has come.  New Zealand, of course.  South Africa shed apartheid. Most people think Costa Rica's pretty nifty.  Lots of places have people who can be proud of their countries, imperfections notwithstanding.

    I am just partial to Germany, when it comes to good examples.

    And not just because among all the many candidates for chancellor at Steinmeier's inauguration is Olivia Jones, né Oliver Knobel.

    That's her, in the picture at the top, with her arm around Chancellor Angela Merkel.  To Angela Merkel's left is the head of the Green Party, one of them, Katrin Göring-Eckhard.  And just to round out the picture, that's Joachim Löw, the chief coach of Germany's World Cup winning soccer team, on the left.

    And here she is again, sitting among the delegates to the presidential election convention, of which she was a member.

    And one final time, congratulating President Frank-Walter Steinmeier personally:

    photo credit: Olivia Jones photos (all three)

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  3. It was a sad day for me when Andrew Sullivan decided to shut down his blog, The Dish, about a year ago and retire.  I was a regular reader and I have missed it.  So I’m delighted to find he’s back at it with at least an occasional commentary.  His latest, which appeared the other day in New York magazine, has a short review of Martin Scorsese’s latest movie, Silence, and some thoughts on the tragedy that is Trump.

    I have been a fan of Sullivan since reading “A Conservative Case,” a conservative’s argument in favor of same-sex marriage, which he made in 1995.  He was still a Thatcher/Reagan supporter in those years, and he continues to take a conservative perspective on some issues, although he joined the democrats in disillusionment with George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq and the torture at Abu Ghraib to vote for John Kerry. As you might expect from someone with an Oxford, then Harvard, education, he is a superb independent and critical thinker, and he has acquired great skill in putting his thoughts into both speech and writing. Even when I am not persuaded by what he has to say, I find myself thinking I am unlikely to find a better take on any given topic he chooses to address, even when I don’t share his views at all.  His recent comments on Silence, Martin Scorsese’s latest film, are a case in point.

    Silence is based on a 1966 novel by Shusaku Endo about two 17th Century Jesuit priests from Portugal who travel to Japan in search of their missing mentor, whose faith, it turns out, has not withstood the Japanese authorities’ use of death and torture to keep this “foreign” thing called Christianity at bay. The film addresses Scorsese’s belief that the road to faith must necessarily involve doubt (Why is God silent?) at some point.

    Sullivan is both gay and a traditionalist Roman Catholic.  Whether that’s kind of like being an African-American member of the Ku Klux Klan, or whether that’s a sign of his cognitive flexibility I’ll leave for another time. I understand he’s not alone in finding a way to lay claim to its non-authoritarian authority and the power of its traditions.  How he does that is not the point here.  The point here is that he clearly resonates at some level with Martin Scorsese’s notion of faith. 

    Here’s what he has to say about Silence, the movie, and about Scorsese.

    (I)ts genius lies in the complexity of its understanding of what faith really is. For some secular liberals, faith is some kind of easy, simple abdication of reason — a liberation from reality. For Scorsese, it’s a riddle wrapped in a mystery, and often inseparable from crippling, perpetual doubt. You see this in the main protagonist’s evolution: from a certain, absolutist arrogance to a long sacrifice of pride toward a deeper spiritual truth. Faith is a result, in the end, of living, of seeing your previous certainties crumble and be rebuilt, shakily, on new grounds. God is almost always silent, hidden, and sometimes most painfully so in the face of hideous injustice or suffering. A life of faith is therefore not real unless it is riddled with despair.

    Moreover, I think Sullivan correctly anticipates the public response to Silence

    Those without faith have no patience for a long meditation on it; those with faith in our time are filled too often with a passionate certainty to appreciate it.

    I part ways with Scorsese (and thus, I assume, with Andrew Sullivan as well) precisely because of Scorsese’s argument that faith is "not real unless it is riddled with despair." It strikes me that this take on faith doesn’t so much define faith as it reveals Scorsese's own personal belief system - Sullivan, like many believers, appears to be equally drawn to the mystery of belief, the power it has over so many people who can't or won't accept the loneliness of unbelief.

    I have always objected to the way religious people lay claim to faith. I see it as analogous to the way so many on the political right, including, not surprisingly, those on the religious right, who maintain they have an exclusive right to define patriotism.

    For those in the faith business, those who claim the right to speak in the name of God, or at least in the name of their particular form of organized religion, faith is synonymous with acceptance of one of the doctrines associated with our civilization - Jewish, Christian or Muslim.  It involves acceptance of the claim that God gave the land of Israel to the Jews, or that Christ was born of a virgin to redeem inheritors of the sin of Adam, or that Mohammad was the seal of the prophets and there would never be another.  

    As a non-theist, I am said to be a man without faith.  But I’m not without faith.  I’m simply without religion, and I think we’ve done ourselves a disservice in conflating the two. “Faith-based” has come to be understood as “religion-based,” when it is more precisely defined as “belief-based.” Not all beliefs are religious beliefs.  I believe there is such a thing as good and evil, for example, and that there is truth and there is falsehood and that there is beauty and there is the absence of beauty. These are philosophical principles, of course, which many people, both religious and non-religious, often distinguish from religion.  My life experience (I believe – at least I credit it to experience) has taught me that one has a moral duty to one’s fellow creatures as well as to one’s own well being. I believe that at the heart of a life well lived is a commitment to avoid violence and deceit.  And that to the degree one surrenders to violence and deceit happiness becomes increasingly unattainable.

    That faith system – my belief system – requires no descent into misery for it to mature. It requires no periods of doubt to grow, although I find doubt and the debate that derives from questioning things to be extremely useful.  And I am naturally suspicious of affirmations of certainty.  I am much more comfortable with the definition of truth used by modern science – that it is the sum total of all knowledge to date, subject to change with the addition of new and contradictory information.  It is my belief that an openness to the possibility of error in one’s convictions is superior to the claim that certain things must not be questioned.  I don’t believe that it is God “working in mysterious ways” when millions are tortured and killed in war, or die in natural disasters.  The claim of a loving God strikes me as not consistent with children born blind or paralyzed or ridden with diseases which will cause them to live out their lives in pain and agony and then die at a very young age.  I don’t wonder at God’s silence.  I do wonder how people find such a god worthy of worship and praise. How is following such a god not simply following some law of perversity?

    Silence may have many things going for it – I don’t know and I’m not attempting to review it here because I have yet to see it – but I will not seek it out for what it has to say about testing one’s faith in God.  And I trust that will not deter others from doing so if they wish.

    What Sullivan has to say about the Trump phenomenon is a different story.  This time, he and I seem to be on the same wave length exactly.

    Sullivan begins with the truism that “All politicians lie.”  What is different about Trump is that normal liars “pay some deference to the truth.”  They “acknowledge… the need for a common set of facts in order for a liberal democracy to function at all.”  Trump’s lies, he maintains, are goal-directed.  They have a purpose, to enforce his power and to test the loyalty of those he is able to force into submission. It is a characteristic strategy of authoritarians.

    Sullivan’s solution to the problem of living with Trump’s deceit is not original, but it is intuitive.  “Rebut every single lie,” he insists.  Insist, if you are in a position to, that every lie be retracted.  Work cooperatively (he’s speaking specifically to journalists here) to back each other with follow up questions.  Never leave a lie alone.   “Press and press and press until (a) lie is conceded.”  Don’t be afraid to call him a liar to his face.

    Sullivan is also not the first to suggest that there may be something wrong with Trump’s mental and psychological health.  It’s this, he says, and not his agenda, that is “a fundamental reason why so many of us have been so unsettled, anxious, and near panic these past few months.”

    There is no anchor any more, Sullivan says. “At the core of the administration of the most powerful country on earth, there is, instead, madness.”

    Most of us, I think, never imagined we’d be using language like this when speaking about American democracy.  But then none of us imagined we’d have to watch the systematic dismantling of efforts to control banking so as to avoid a repeat of the crash of 2008.  Or the removal of efforts to further enrich corporations and the hyperrich at the expense of the less fortunate.  Or to save the environment.  Who among us imagined an administration openly committed to increasing the risk of nuclear disaster, to fostering the education of the few at the expense of education of all? Who thought we’d ever see a complete takeover by the racist, sexist, homophobic right and an open attack on the voting rights and other civil rights of America’s black population?  We have always had politicians who know how to manipulate our fears and our greed.  We just have not had one in our lifetimes who did so openly and so brazenly.

    We have listened to those who claimed this liar’s promises were nothing more than some raw meat to a pack of hungry wolves, a strategy for building up a power base, and that once in power he would rise to the dignity of his office.  We have considered claims that he is not a true conservative, that his self-interest would keep the radical right from attempting to break down the wall between church and state, to roll back Roe v. Wade and the rights of LGBT citizens to marry.  And now we are presented with evidence that the opposite is true, and that chaos and uncertainty are the only certainties.  We are in a condition of exteme distress and disease.

    I said earlier that I believe in good and evil.  But I don’t believe that good always prevails.  I think if it is to prevail under present-day circumstances, it will take extraordinary efforts.

    The victory of the courts against the inhuman and profoundly stupid and self-defeating travel ban is a positive sign and some of us are celebrating that victory and hoping it signals the start of a more effective resistance to the new Trump way of doing things.

    My concern lies less with Trump, more with his enablers.  I fear that unless Republicans of integrity find a way to get us off this path, we may find that gerrymandering only gets worse, that even more blacks and other minority people will lose their power to vote, that ever more judgeships, more school board positions will go to self-serving right winger candidates.

    I also differ with those who claim this is the worst thing to happen to America since the Civil War. Even with the threat coming from an apparent powerlessness to fight deceit in high places, I think we’ve been worse off.  The Civil War time was worse.  Life under slavery and in segregated America was worse.  McCarthy and the Red Scare, the internment of Japanese-Americans, Nixon’s shenanigans – American democracy has been bombarded before.

    Our only hope is that we still have a critical mass of people committed to democracy and to decency, to the rule of law and to evidence-based justification for political action. I don’t think they are likely to let all this slip through their fingers.

    “One of the great achievements of free society in a stable democracy is that many people, for much of the time, need not think about politics at all,” Sullivan writes.  We’ve had it easy.  We’ve been able to ride the waves.  We’ve been able to turn off the news, and “exult in that blessed space where politics doesn’t intervene.”

    Not any more.  We are beginning to realize those times are over.  We now get to have a close look at just how fragile democracy really is. We may have to live with fear and with burnout from an endless display of outrage, day after day. Some of us will go under, especially if our health care suffers and if white supremacists continue to come out of the woodwork.

    Everybody’s looking for ways to resist.  Let me suggest one that I have not heard seriously suggested before.

    I witnessed a terrible injustice the other day when a provocateur came to speak at the UC Berkeley Campus at the invitation of the young Republicans.  Protesters assembled and outside forces, identified as “anarchists” (they dressed in black and wore masks), came in, set fires and smashed windows on and near the campus.  The news media then did what I think was a terrible thing.  They reported that “some of the protesters turned violent.”

    But that was bad reporting.  The protesters didn’t turn violent.  This is Berkeley, the home of free speech.  Protesters protest here all the time and the tradition of peaceful protest is well established.  It was a separate group of outside agitators who took over, as they now commonly do when there are public protests, and brought about the violence.

    The Berkeley police held back because in previous riots in the Occupy movement they had moved in too soon and only escalated the rage of the group.  The pendulum swung too far and this time they calculated that allowing the negative energy to burn itself out was the lesser evil. Getting that right is an art.  They need community help in doing this.

    Here’s my suggestion.  We need to recognize that protests are now going to be a regular part of the resistance to the new Trumpocracy.  Because it is based on deceit and the power of a small minority to abuse the institutions of power to which they have been given access, we have no alternative.  As the recent 600 women’s marches around the country and the world demonstrated, protest, along with other institutions like the police and the courts dedicated to the rule of law, are going to be our way around this corrupt regime.  Let me suggest that protesters take another look at the police and shed the outdated view that they are the enemy.  Protesters need to work with the police against the anarchists.  If you see somebody wearing a mask set a building on fire, rip off that mask.  Take their pictures and pursue them relentlessly up until the time when they are prosecuted.  Call them out by name if you know them. Call attention to them.  Shut down this threat to peaceful protest.  It’s our new lifeline they are endangering.

    I realize this isn’t easy.  Many still think of cops as “pigs.”  As racists and bullies.  Some are, as the Black Lives Matter movement makes plain.  But some is a long way from all. We need to commit to a ruthlessly honest look at the prejudice in ourselves and at our own inclination to profile.  Recognize that there are crooked cops, but also that the majority of police are committed to law and order.  Making cops the enemy is a self-destructive strategy in this day and age.  What we need now is to join forces with the police and help them do their job to look out for the weak and the vulnerable.

    We need to know who our friends are and not make enemies of the very people we need to fight this battle of resistence to the man who promised to drain the swamp but now demonstrates on a daily basis that he’s all about doing the exact opposite. 

    We need to get smart.



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  4. Here’s Dimash with his hero, Джеки Чан, on
    his right.  That’s Russian (and coincidentally
    Kazakh, as well) for Jackie Chan.
    I love musical pyrotechnics as much as the next guy.  What’s not to love about that high C in Il Trovatore?  And I still can’t believe the human voice can sing things like that Queen of the Night number in The Magic Flute.   Or practically any coloratura soprano.  And how about Dmitri Hvorostovsky doing Largo al Factotum (Figaro)? You cross the line from music appreciation to superhuman performance, and it’s like watching an Olympic athlete.

    Some of the power of the voice still grabs you for its beauty, even when they’re showing off.  Alfie Boe singing “Bring Him Home” from Les Misérables inevitably makes the tears well up.  But then there are the “see what I can do” numbers, like you often see on those talent shows, when Susan Boyle or some nine-year-old belts out a number with an operatic voice.

    I came across two of those the other day and was reminded of how we live parallel lives here in America with people on other parts of the planet.  The years I lived in Japan, I marveled at the sheer number of popular singers who had thousands of adoring followers known in the rest of East Asia but not in Europe or America.  The same holds true for the Slavic World.

    Vitebsk is a city in Belarus.  Known chiefly as the birthplace of Marc Chagall and as the site of the Vitebsk Ghetto massacre where most of the city’s Jewish population, some 34,000 people, met their death, Vitebsk today is the site of an international Slavic arts festival known as the Slavianskii Bazaar.  Most of the artists who show up for the annual competition are from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, Poland, Bulgaria and the nations of the former Yugoslavia, although other winners have included contestants from Israel and Mexico.  In 2015 the winner was a young singer from Kazakhstan with an incredible range of voice. His name is Dimash Kudaibergen.

    The Slavic festival at Vitebstk was only the beginning for this young man, I'm guessing.  I think he’s going places, if he's got the discipline to get an international career going.  He’s got great looks and great style for such a young man.  But more than that, he blows ‘em out of the water with his voice range.  Must be at least five octaves. Here he is competing at Vitebsk.

    And here he is, more recently, in front of a Chinese audience (at Dalian? Not sure about that.) Pushing the limits, the "see what I can do" approach to a French song entitled "S.O.S. d'un terrien en détresse."

    And if you don't find this all too gimmicky and unpolished, and want more, try The Show Must Go On and this one, a song with the title of Opera 2, by the Latvian born Russian, Vitas.

    Here's Vitas doing it at the Dalian International Festival in 2009. 

    Vitas’ full name is Vitaliy Vladasovich Grachov.  He’s a 38-year old Russian singer who, like Dimash, has a five-octave vocal range and an impressive falsetto.  I can't explain this Latvian/Kazakhstani miracle voice phenomenon. Maybe it’s a gift the Great Spaghetti Monster in the Sky gave to the world in appreciation for the fall of communism. What blows my mind is that these people exist on the other side of the world and we on this side, most of us, have never heard of them.  We might as well be living on different planets.

    Even if you have heard of Vitas, did you know that:

    Vitas doing "7th Element" at the Kremlin in 2002
    ·      He has won awards declaring him Russia's laureate ten times through various competitions.
    ·      He was recognized as Russia's most prolific live performer between the years of 2001 and 2003.
    ·      He is the youngest artist ever to have performed solo at the Kremlin.
    ·      He was MTV Asia's best foreign performer in 2011.
    ·      He is also a fashion designer, having presented his Autumn Dreams collection in 2002, again, at the Kremlin.
    ·      His album A Kiss As Long As Eternity sold more than 2 million copies in less than half a year.
    ·      He has released 16 studio albums.


    Here are the words to that song Dimash and Vitas wowed them with.  The one with the catchy title, Opera 2.  In case you want to sing along:

    Russian romanized
    Дом мой достроен,
    Но я в нем один.
    Хлопнула дверь за спиной
    Ветер осенний стучится в окно
    Плачет опять надо мной.
    Ночью гроза,
    А на утро туман.
    Солнце остыло совсем.
    Давние боли
    Идут чередой.
    Пусть собираются все.
    Дом мой достроен,
    Но я в нем один.
    Хлопнула дверь за спиной.
    Ветер осенний стучится в окно
    Плачет опять надо мной.
    Это судьба, а судьбу не могу
    Я ни о чем просить.
    Только я знаю, как после меня
    Станут ветра голосить

    Dom moi dostroen
    no ya v nem odin
    khlopnula dver' za spinoi
    Veter osenni' stuchitsya v okno
    Plachet opyat' nado mnoi
    Noch'u groza
    A na utro tuman
    Solntse ostilo sovsem
    Davnie boli
    Idut cheredoi
    Pust' sobirayutsya vse
    Dom moi dostroen
    No ya v nem odin
    Khlopnula dver' za spinoi
    Veter osenni' stuchitsya v okno
    Plachet opyat' nado mnoi
    Eto sud'ba, a sud'bu ne mogu
    Ya ni o chem prosit'
    Tol'ko ya znayu kak posle menya
    Stanut vetra golosit'

    My house is built,
    but I’m alone in it.
    The door slams behind me
    There’s an autumn wind knocking on the window.
    Crying over me once again.
    Thunder in the night and
    fog in the morning
    The sun has grown cold
    Pains from long ago follow one after the other.
    Let them all gather together.
    My house is built
    but I’m alone in it.
    The door slams behind me.
    There’s an autumn wind
    knocking on the window.
    Crying over me once again.
    It’s fate. I can ask nothing of fate.
    All I know is that after me
    the wind will howl.

    I’ve probably broken all sorts of copyright laws here.  Not my intention, and I hope the KGB, or whatever their successor organization is called, understands I’m not making any money off of this, but just trying to keep my Russian, now on full life support, alive.

    But I really do love Russian music.  All of it.  Tchaikovsky, Hvorostovsky, and now these young Kazakhstani and Russian guys with the falsetto voices.

    Why can’t we all just get along?


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  5. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz
    First thing you need to know if you watch Juana Inés is that “viceroy” is “virrey” in Spanish, and Mrs. Viceroy is “virreina.”  Since people learn about viceroys in school, the term is probably familiar to most modern speakers of English.  Not so his lady-partner’s title, which is not Mrs. Viceroy, actually, but “vicereine.”  If you’re a follower of the goings-on in the British Royal Family, you may know that Prince Charles, the king-in-waiting, is the grandnephew of Louis, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, of whom he was especially fond.  Louis is sometimes referred to as “the last Viceroy of India,” done in by an IRA bomb in 1947.  Charles’s father, Prince Philip, is said to have found Charles’ weeping over his mentor great uncle’s death unseemly for a royal and is known to have said to Charles, “Mountbatten is dead and there is no good sniveling about the fact.”

    We in the anglophone world naturally pick up trivia like that.  If you were raised in a hispanophone environment instead, you might not know much about Louis, but you would maybe know about this marvelous Mexican nun named Juana Inés, who may or may not have been a lesbian.  Making her one is the latest thing.  We can’t know for sure because back in the 17th century rubbing the virreina’s breasts with almond oil didn’t necessarily make you a lesbian, especially if you were a lady-in-waiting and were told to do it by the virreina herself.

    Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, O.S.H. (that’s Ordo Sancti Hieronymi, not Orchard Supply Hardware) was born Juana Inés de Asabaje y Ramírez de Santillana on November 12, 1651, to a Spanish captain and his criole concubine, Isabel, in San Miguel Nepantla, near Mexico City.  San Miguel Nepantla has since been renamed Nepantla de Sor Juana Inés.  Concubine or no concubine, Juana’s mother came from a fine family, and Juana got to grow up in a place called Amecameca, where her mother’s father had an impressive library.  Juana learned to read and write Latin by the age of three and began writing poetry at eight.  She also spoke and wrote poems in Nahuatl as well.

    Hernán del Riego as Padre Antonio
    Here her personal history merges with fiction, but somehow she wormed her way into the viceroy’s court and caught the attention not only of the almond oil loving vicereine, but of the leading philosophers, theologians, poets and other notables of the court.  Because the vicereine wanted her for their daughter’s tutor, the viceroy subjected her to a public examination of the knowledge for which she was already famous.  At some point she either became tutor to the viceroy’s daughter or was persuaded by her father confessor to become a nun.  Or both.  If you’re interested in the actual historical facts, they may be found in Octavio Paz’s book on Sister Joan Agnes of the Cross, as she is known in English.  Spanish title: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz o las trampas de la fe; English title: Sor Juana: Or, the Traps of Faith.

    Or you can binge-watch a highly entertaining Mexican soap opera on Netflix in seven parts, as I did last night till about three in the morning.  Juana is played first by Arantza Ruiz as a young girl and then by Mexican actress Arcelia Ramírez.  They look nothing alike and the switch from one to the other is a jolt.  But you get over it.  Arcelia Ramírez is known to many for her role in Like Water for Chocolate, one of fifty films and TV shows in which she has appeared since 1985.

    I love how the Mexicans can sock it to the Roman Catholic Church.  I guess you have to be raised Catholic to be able to kick the dying institution that hard.  What a cast of religious charlatans.  Who knows what the historical Father Confessor, Padre Antonio Núñez de Miranda, (played by superb actor Hernán Del Riego) was actually like.  Or the pathological woman-hater, Francisco de Aguiar y Seijas, whom  Pope Innocent XI made Archbishop of New Spain (i.e., Mexico) in 1680 (when Sor Juana was 29, in other words).  His role was played by Carlos Valencia.  Archbishop Francisco not only hated women.  And cockfights and bullfights, both of which he shut down.  But plays and music. And walking on the same surfaces nuns walked on.  In the series Juana Inés, he is the downfall of the heroine, aided by other clerics and even the viceroy, whom he has intimidated with his ecclesiastical power.  Between him and Padre Antonio you have enough evidence to prove that the Roman Catholic Church is not merely rotten to the core.  It is actually governed and maintained by Satan himself.

    Great entertainment.  Sloppy and overdone in parts, and much that might have been artful has been lost by pressing it into the service of modern-day feminist and LGBT causes. But then, if you are for those causes, you will readily forgive that peccadillo. Juana Inés was also proof to the old world that talent abounded in the colonies, so there’s a political bit to play with there, as well.  I leave it to native or near-native speakers of Spanish to judge the quality of Juana’s poetry.  About all I can do is sit and marvel at this lovely soul’s obsessive need to write, and accept that many see her as probably the greatest poet of the colonial era.  And many (Octavio Paz included, apparently) would argue even that’s not giving her the credit she deserves.

    Available in Netflix streaming.  Make enough popcorn for seven 50-minute episodes.

    picture credits: Juana Inés 
    Hernán del Riego as Father Confessor Padre Antonio


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  6. Another night with the helicopters.  I love living in Berkeley.  I love living close to the UC Campus.  But the helicopters really get under my skin.

    Last night it was the riots over the appearance of Milo Yiannoupoulos the young Republicans invited to speak. A disaster from start to finish.

    For one thing, we had to witness the tragedy that this great free speech campus of the 60s is now a place where people shut down speakers whose views are offensive.  Whenever there is a just cause for protest, anarchists join the protestors and bring violence and destruction.  The University identified about 150 of them, most wearing masks.  That’s about one in ten, but their presence means certain death to a reasonable protest.

    Now we get distracted by the question of whether the police should have stepped in sooner. And the fact that there were apparently no arrests.

    For the record, I’m a big fan of the Berkeley police and I understand the wisdom of letting the mob rage burn itself out.  Stepping in too soon can be medicine worse than the disease.  They held back, focused on keeping the mob contained, let the fire burn, and today store owners are sweeping up the broken glass that once was their storefront.

    At the center of it all was the darling of the right, provocateur Milo Yiannoupoulos, playing the event like a mighty Wurlitzer.  Yiannoupoulos is editor of Breitbart.  That hate-filled rag once run by Steve Bannon before he graduated to running the country for Donald Trump.

    Don’t get me wrong.  I think there is a line between free speech and hate speech.  But I think that line has to be tuned like a Stradivarius.  It’s not all or nothing.  I’m with Germans who have laws preventing Nazis from speaking publicly, but I wouldn’t want those laws in the United States.  Different historical contexts.  Different circumstances.  And I think Yiannoupoulos, obnoxious as he is, should be allowed to speak, to laugh at fat people, reveal his malevolence, and leave in peace.  So far he has not shouted fire in a crowded theater. The bad guys, in my view, are the flame-throwing glass-shattering thugs that attach themselves to protest marches these days.

    But while I don't want to lay all the blame at this provocateur's feet, I don't want him to get off scot free, either.  Provocateurs are not innocents.  And what happened last night is going to happen again.  It’s worth taking a closer look at this guy.  He’s going to be around for a while.

    I got an e-mail from a friend this morning who had not heard of him before.  Is he “just a
    "no talent version of Ann Coulter?" he asked me.

    Here’s my response.

    I wouldn’t use those words to describe Milo Yiannoupoulos.  First off, that implies that Ann Coulter has talent.  I've never seen any.  Secondly, he's not an artist and I see no reason to worry about whether he has talent.  He's a provocateur.

    He's also well-educated and well-spoken when he wants to be, if you think a shit mouth can actually be well-spoken.  A nasty piece of work.

    I get where he's coming from.  There is something seriously off-putting about some on the left when they get righteous.  Serious phonies abound.  They make a good target for somebody like Milo Yiannoupoulos.  Or Ann Coulter.

    The problem is that he paints with too broad a brush.  Like calling feminists humorless.  Some are.  And for good reason. But to tear angry people down because they can’t or won’t see the humor in things is to reduce their legitimate gripes.  It misses the boat and you end up joining the oppressors, whether that was your intention or not.

    Yiannoupoulos has it in for lesbians, for some reason.  My guess is that he thinks he's on safe ground because he himself is gay.  And he gets cruel.  He plays to stereotypes of the fat bull dyke, and pretty soon he's making fun of fat people.  All fat people.  He has the mean wit of a bull in a china shop.

    I guess this is what the charge is all about that he has no talent.  He has no apparent understanding of how one distinguishes between real people and phonies and appears not to care.  His shtick is fame. He doesn't care how he gets it, and if the innocent go down with the guilty, it's no skin off his nose. As long as he gets attention.

    Rather than say he has no talent, I'd say he has no wisdom.  He's young, and like many who are very smart he's also very stupid. He's got enough rope to hang himself with. Knows how to use people's weaknesses to hurt them but doesn't know enough not to hurt them.

    He's a product of the age.  We live now in a world where it's more important to be known than to be respected.  A People's Magazine era.  The zeitgeist has thrown up people like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin. Yiannoupoulos is merely the latest incarnation of a malevolent spirit fed by the mob.  People love circus.  Look at all the YouTube videos where somebody "trashes" somebody else.  We want people we don't like not just taken down; we want them cut and broken. It's an era of slash and burn.

    Yiannoupoulos is a circus act.  His being gay and catholic is his costume, his equivalent of Donald Trump's hair.

    Donald Trump got elected because he knew how to ride the mob's lust for slash-and-burn infamy.  He understood the media would grease the skids he could use to get to the top.  We can't resist money. We can't resist people who are famous for the sake of being famous, who thrill us by saying things decent people would never say.  Our TV shows get more and more violent.  Our love scenes get more and more graphic.  We always want more. We don’t want quiet music.  We want rock.  We don’t want gentle humor.  We want the outrageous.

    People like Trump and Yiannoupoulos will keep showing up because they reflect our own worst instincts and we haven't figured out a way to kick the habit.  If we ever do, these "no talent" queen-for-a-day type provocateurs will fade away.  Until then, we'd better set aside more money to replace the broken storefront windows.

    photo credit

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  7. Robert Burns
    O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
    To see oursels as ithers see us!
    (And would some Power give us the gift
    To see ourselves as others see us!)

    Rabbie Burns, "To a Louse, on Seeing One on a Lady's Bonnet at Church

    Two news items caught my attention yesterday, one from Britain, one from Germany.  The British piece, available on YouTube, is a recording of the three-hour debate in Parliament over whether the Trump visit to Britain should be downgraded from a “state visit” to an “official visit.”  Or cancelled outright, for that matter, given the despicable abuse of refugees and immigrants reflected in Trump’s executive order this week.

    The irony is inescapable, to listen to British MPs talking about the beauty of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and all that followed, and how those noble notions are being trampled on by the new administration.  Brits, like citizens of all modern countries, long ago gave up their royalist and imperialist cultural values and took on the values of the humanist project reflected in the American Revolution.  So maybe calling this ironic is overly dramatic.  But the point is the voices you hear in this debate beautifully articulate the agonizing dismay at the takeover of America by the radical right.  To listen to this three-hour long debate (I must come clean and admit I’ve only heard about half) is to understand the emotional impact on progressive people from all around the world who complain, “You Americans get to elect the head of the Western World.  We don’t have a voice in your elections.  But what you do affects us personally and directly.  Please get it right!”

    The second piece, also available on YouTube, is from the German news organization Der Spiegel, generally recognized as one of the leading magazines not just in Germany or in Europe but world-wide for hard-hitting investigative journalism.  The Economist wrote of it back in 2002:

    In a country where journalism, particularly in the past, tended towards the pompous and docile, it had the most lucid prose, the best investigative reporting, the widest foreign coverage, the sharpest political analysis, and the most insightful social commentary. Its legendary archive, people said, only half-jokingly, was bigger than that of Germany's security service, and a darn sight more reliable.  

    Its circulation now exceeds one million. With 80 full-time fact checkers, they have been called  (by the Columbia Journalism Review) “most likely the world’s largest fact-checking operation.” They began producing Spiegel TV in 1988.

    That said, my gut response when first viewing this online article on American Nazis and other white supremacist fringe groups is that there is something wrong with even bringing this up, because it leads to the impression that Trump voters are Nazis.  That’s obviously not true, and I can certainly understand why highlighting a groups of wackos that number as few as 500 members (The Indiana-based Traditional Workers Party­ ) and no more than 5000 (the KKK) would make you wonder if this isn’t just another tabloid getting its jollies from sensationalist journalism. That suspicion increased as I took note of editorial comments throughout the piece like “not for the moment” when discussing the right to wear the KKK uniform openly.

    But in the end, I think it is what it is, and there is no reason to editorialize the information out of the big picture, either.  The article makes the point that Trump is a right-winger and he has encouraged the rats to come out of the woodwork.  It doesn’t mean that every fear-driven American who voted against the establishment, which Hillary so clearly represented, is a rat or a fascist.  But it does mean that there are rats running loose that were once fearful of demonstrating their racism, sexism, ethnocentrism and homophobia quite so openly.  Take it for what it’s worth, if, for no other reason, to see how America looks these days through the eyes of some Europeans.

    The article is in German.  I have provided an unauthorized translation, i.e., any errors are mine.

    Published on Jan 29, 2017

    Intro: For a week, reporter Andreas Lünser interviewed people advocating the extreme right take on American power, propagating white supremacy and claiming national socialism is now mainstream.  People for whom the words “Sieg Heil” and Lügenpresse trip lightly off the tongue. [Lying press – a term regularly used by the Nazis to refer to a critical press, and now used again in Germany by the radical right.]

    Trump is our man
    Spiegel.tv video

    Washington, D.C.  Last Friday.  Warm-up for the inauguration of Donald Trump.

    Never before had a president polarized things like this before taking office.

    (voice in crowd): Death to the Fascists.  Death to white supremacy.

    Many people in America are afraid.  Of new and old racists and of the far right.

    Three hours by plane to the southwest, not far from New Orleans, is the town of Walker.  Many people here are unemployed, and those who do have work are underpaid.   Walker voted for Donald Trump.  The local KKK lives here.  In this trailer, the Imperial Wizard receives his followers.  Carl Dupres has been the leader of the Klan for several years now.  His concern is the supremacy of the white race.

    (Carl Dupres): When we lived out here in the country when I was growing up, there weren’t many blacks.  They kept to themselves and the whites kept to themselves.  There wasn’t much mixing and everybody kind of knew their place.

    The Klan is the chief pride of the 56-year-old.  And his friends.  Shirley Sarmento  had radical right friends in Germany, as well.

    (Shirley Sarmento): Whites should only be with whites.  Everybody who doesn’t have any pigment in their skin.  No Muslims.  No gays.

    In the swamps behind the trailer the men have regular shooting practice.  The KKK admits openly that they are racists.  The White Race can only survive if it defends itself.  Particularly against the blacks who, according to the Klan take advantage of social welfare programs.

    CD: They don’t work.  They just hang around and sell drugs, make babies, and the government has to pay for that.  And I have to pay for it.  I work and the n****r gets my money.  They take almost half of our paychecks and give it to the government.

    All the men of the Klan think like Dupres.  Trump has given them courage.  That’s why they all voted for him.  The main thing is Obama is gone.

    third person: I think anybody can do better than Obama.
    fourth person: Trump knows how to run a business.  If he runs America the way he runs his own businesses, it will be great.

    The highpoint of the training, Dupres shows how to load a blasting charge.  Then comes the shot.

    The men show off their robes and masks.  They are not allowed to display them openly in the state of Louisiana.  Not at the moment.

    CP: That is our official Klan insignia.  It shows that you’re an imperial officer.  And our Dixie Ranger insignia.  The Confederate flag.  Klan symbol.  And this here for the inner hierarchy.

    Even during Obama’s presidency, the number of klan members were growing.  Now, under Donald Trump that number could increase.  That’s the hope, anyway.

    CP: He’s got a lot of good ideas that I like.  Many people didn’t like the way things were going up till now.  The majority of Americans voted for him.  And they share his ideas.   They’ve had enough of the others, and they don’t want the government running their lives.

    All together, the number of KKK members in the U.S. is estimated to be around five thousand.

    From here we go to Paoli, in the state of Indiana.  Here is the headquarters of the so-called Traditional Worker’s Party of America.   Its leader, Jeff Matthew Heimbach, receives like-minded visitors in his trailer.  They want to see his latest video, shot a few days ago at a demonstration in Chicago.

    MH: We are not afraid of the left.  We are not afraid of the black gangs.   Not afraid of the worst gangs, the leading politicians.  Hail Victory.

    Heimbach’s party is directed at whites exclusively.   It’s anti-capitalist, but it is especially opposed to globalization.  Also part of their program is respect for Russia’s president Putin.

    MH: I’m happy that Trump was elected.  I hope we will have a better relationship with Russia, question NATO, get our jobs back, and solve the immigration problem.  For a long time now we’ve been spit on, pushed aside.  The Supreme Court allows for discrimination against whites in the university, for example.  We will soon be a minority.  In our own country.

    This video shows the way Heimbach goes about showing his support for Trump.  During a demonstration he pushes a black woman who wanted to demonstrate, filmed by a local TV broadcaster. 

    MH: Look at the whole video.  Naturally the “lugenpress” (sic German: Lügenpresse – „the lying press“) only shows a small part of what went on.  The woman came at me and I only help her get outside.   Helped her on her way.

    Heimbach is in contact with the NPD (German Nationalist Party) and other European radical right parties.   Here he shows off the new party T-shirts.  One of them shows the English fascist party leader Oswald Mosley.

    MH: He led the most successful fascist movement in the English-speaking world.  A very brave man.  He sacrificed everything for his politics and tried to persuade his people to stay out of World War II.  A great example for us.

    Heimbach founded his brown party only two years ago.  It has grown now to 500 members.  So that his son will have a future in white America, he is in favor of setting apart special areas for the different races in the land.

    Our journey through Trump’s radical right country continues.   The once great industrial city of Detroit stands in for the economic collapse of the USA.  Where once automobiles were produced for the world market, there are only ruins that look like the aftermath of a bomb attack.   Detroit is also the home of the U.S. Nazi Party.  Jeff Schoep is the leader of the national socialists of America.  For him, the election of Donald Trump meant the beginning of something great.   

    JS: We do hope that Trump changes things.  He talks about basing things on our national values.  He talks about getting our jobs back, about draining the swamp, about building a wall, many of the things we’ve been saying for years.

    Here Trump is in good company.  The NSM (National Socialist Movement) is one of the oldest nazi movements in the USA.

    NSM rally: Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil!

    Schoep has led the admirers of Hitler since 1995.  But things have never been better.

    JS: National Socialism now has the potential to become a majority.  We’re being discussed in the mainstream media.  It’s no longer a question of being a fringe group.  People have known for years now what we stand for.  We’re now in the middle of the society. 

    Since Trump’s election, they have gotten rid of the swastika.  The US Nazis want to be part of the mainstream.  They have replaced it with the odal rune.   The Viking symbol – also forbidden in Germany.

    JS: We think this better expresses the political middle of American society.  The old symbol helped us in a lot of ways, but I think we’re in a new era now.

    Nazis they are, all the same.  One day they’ll be able to use the swastika again.  At least that’s the hope. 

    Washington, D.C.  One day before the inauguration.   A day that incorporates the longings of radical right.  Included among these is radical right worker’s party leader, Matthew Heimbach.

    MH: We’re here not just because of the historical event, but to meet with members of the radical right white supremacists.  In 2016 we defeated Hillary.  2017 has to be the year of action.

    Members of the local Antifa (German term for „anti-fascist“) discover Heimbach in the street.  Not a problem for Heimbach. 

    MH: Hey!  Be glad it’s Trump.  When we take over it will be way worse.

    MH Group: Hasta la vista, anti-fascista

    But Heimbach isn’t finished with his opponents.  He seeks out a confrontation.

    MH: Let me ask you something.  Why do you fight against the interests of the working class?

    Antifa: The working class?  Or the whites?
    What Heimbach is really after in Washington is allies.  He wants to put together a large rightwing network.  That means he is not afraid to come in contact with the much hated establishment.  He meets with Republicans sympathetic to the ideas of the worker’s party.

    Man in Trump hat: Gott mit uns (God is with us – the motto German soldiers wore on their belt buckles in WWII.)

    Trump supporters among themselves.   They invite Heimbach to lunch at the exclusive Republican Capitol Hill Club.

    And that’s how things look these days in the new America.  Rightwing.  And Radical.

    photo credit: Robert Burns 

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  8. It’s not just that Trump is a nasty piece of work.  It’s that he is outrageous in so many different ways.  This latest move, trying to keep out people who have any connection with Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Syria is a race between stupidity and cruelty. The worst kind of uninformed profiling. Bad on so many levels.

    Remember that line from Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”? That’s what you get when you elect as president somebody who doesn’t even read, much less learn from history.  If he did, he’d also remember Manzanar and all the other camps we put Japanese-Americans in.  Profiling and lumping innocents with bad guys on the basis of accidental similarities beyond their control.  This is where viewing the world in black and white goes from a simple cognitive error to a dangerous and counterproductive one.  As Michael Gerson wrote in The Washington Post yesterday, it's "the half-baked work of amateurs who know little about security, little about immigration law and nothing about compassion." Does anybody doubt that ISIS is cheering this move?

    One should also remember that when we stopped pushing Jews running from Hitler back out to sea and started letting them in we began to get Nobel Prize winners, artists, and scientists of all kinds, including Albert Einstein.  A new study out from Stanford shows there was a 31% increase in U.S. patents between 1920 and 1970 in fields where Jewish refugees excelled.  

    Hitler was making Germany great again.  Building the autobahn, putting people back to work.  Again, great stuff, on the surface.  Until you come to see the method and the cost.  Generating scapegoats lines up angry followers. Generating weapons puts people back to work.  But then what do you do with the weapons once you’ve got them? (I'm not comparing turning your back on refugees to war-mongering; I'm drawing a parallel to policy that backfires.) In Trump’s case, his promise is to rebuild the infrastructure.  But he’s got no way to pay for it if he simultaneously intends to keep kicking the wealth upwards and making the people at the bottom pay for it.  They don’t see that coming, the people at the bottom.  But just you wait.

    And while we focus on the Holocaust when we think of Hitler – the evil he brought into the world – it's easy to overlook the folly of kicking so many German thinkers out of the country who then went to work for other countries.  Stupid.  Self-destructive.  I’m sorry if this sounds like trivializing the horror of the concentration camps, but this part of the story, the loss, on the practical level of talent and wealth generation is not insignificant.  It illustrates how giant egos who work in isolation, convinced “Only I can fix it!” can put some seriously stupid policy in place.

    I remember conversations with grad students at Stanford who were grateful for all the foreign students in math and engineering, because they created a demand for classes that would not have been taught otherwise.  You don’t have to justify taking in refugees running for their lives entirely out of the kindness of your heart.  You can justify taking them in because they enrich your life.  Apparently a piss ant like Donald Trump has trouble getting his mind around such a thought.

    And don’t tell me that it was only because the Jewish refugees came from a highly educated German population that so much brain power was added to American life.  All you have to do is look at the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” from all over the world who have made good in America over the years who would not have had a chance to show their stuff if they had spent their years in refugee camps instead.  Or if they died before they could even get that far.

    No Syrian has ever been charged with aiding terrorism.  There have been terrorists among the 7.5 million refugees, yes.  Two.  And they both came as kids and grew up here.  Would we seriously argue somebody else should be made responsible for those 7.5 million men, women and children?  Or that they should stay in war zones and risk God knows what?  American killed more people in six hours on any given day last year than refugees have killed ever.  Ever!

    Does he have enough rope yet to hang himself with? Or do we keep having to wait and hope the next outrage does it?  Or will the next outrage only further condition us to think all this is normal?

    The assistant attorney general refused to carry out his xenophobic order, calling it unconstitutional. So he fired her.  And now we move on to confirming Sessions.

    There isn't enough opposition to the man to take him down.  People think he's nothing more than a blood blister and everything will get better all by itself in time.

    While we wait and wonder, he dismantles safety regulations, denies climate change, takes more from the poor and gives it to the rich, tramples on human rights and rallies anti-Semites and homophobes and white supremacists behind him.  He touts his business acumen, but even I know that a good business deal is one in which both participants benefit.  His "America First" plan is an "I Win, You Lose" plan.  The world should not want to spit when they say the words "United States of America." 

    I'm thinking positive. I think the resistance is building.  

    In the meantime, eat well.  Sleep well.  Stay warm.

    Mozart will help.


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  9. Norway, how do I love Thee? With apologies to EBB, let me count the ways…

    Norway, like many other European countries, has a state church.  (Actually had a state church; I'll get to that in a minute.) And since I am very American in wanting to keep church and state apart, and a non-believer who doesn’t think much about organized religion anyway, I know I’m a hypocrite to say this, but I just love the fact that Norway has just decided to allow same-sex weddings in their state ("Norwegian People's") church.  And I don’t know what tickles me more: that fact, or the fact that Sweden and Denmark got there before them, Sweden in 2009 and Denmark in 2012.

    But enough with the false humility.  I recognized a long time ago that religious bodies are social entities that lay down a bunch of arrogant assumptions about knowledge of truth, but at the same time provide succor and comfort to millions of people. In their good moments, they inspire and bring out the best in people - when they focus on the parts which encourage them to be kind and compassionate and loving.  Churches, both local congregations and the institution writ large, are what people make of them.

    For the longest time I struggled with the commonly held notion that what’s wrong with Islam is not just the radical jihadists but the very religion itself, particularly the Qur’an and all those passages telling people when and how to lop off people’s heads.  I’ve come down from that position, having taken a closer look in recent months at the contents of the Bible and discovered what a wretched collection of bashing kids’ heads against rocks type stories that abound.  It really isn’t the “bad parts” or the “good parts” of a religious Scripture that determines what the faith is; it’s what the collective makes of those parts, which ones it chooses to stand by, which ones it chooses to define as limited to historical-and-no-longer-binding contexts.

    I spend a lot of time listening to German talk shows where a bunch of people sit around discussing things like “Is Islam compatible with Germany?”  And I’ve come to see what a really dumb question that is.  The response should be that the question is unanswerable, because there is no ultimate authority – no ultimate single authority – on what exactly Islam is.  Germany is a secular democracy – even with its state churches – and what binds its people is its Grundgesetz (Basic Law) – its equivalent to our U.S. Constitution.  Claim it as your own, agree to live by it, and you’ve got the makings of a good citizen.  Reject it and it doesn’t matter whether you’re religious or not – you’re choosing to be an outsider to the national community.  Religion is irrelevant in the modern world when it comes to civic identity and civic duty.

    One of the good things that has come from the Protestant Reformation is the weakening of authoritarian religion.  It took a few centuries.  Lutherans for a time got just as nasty and authoritarian as the Catholic Church they broke away from, but they established the pattern of thinking for oneself when it comes to religious matters, and that, in time, led to making people receptive to the notion of universal rights without regard to race, creed, sexual preference – and ultimately religion itself.  And it opened organized religion to the possibility of placing the values of the larger universal modern culture ahead of the traditional values of a particular local religion.  And yes, I see the Church of Rome as local, despite its “catholic” claims.

    I blogged earlier on cherry-picking and how it is supposed to be a bad thing when it comes to religion.  Authoritarian (clericalist) Catholics sneer about “cafeteria Catholics” who think they can have the sugary parts of the faith and not eat their vegetables, but even these folk are usually careful to live by the rules set down by the secularized community they live in.  They don’t jail senators for passing abortion-rights laws (although they do try to deny them communion), or throw rocks at gay weddings.  They simply state their views, and agree to disagree with their compatriots.  And that makes it possible for us all to live together in the modern world. 

    The point is we have reached a time in the history of the Western World when we rise or fall on the basis of our secular values.  And the Church of Norway has just decided those values include extending Christian love and compassion to their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters – all the way and not just half way.  And I predict that, in time, the Christians of the nations with state churches that marry LGBT people (and agree to support without reservation the families that come from such unions) will wonder what the hell took them so long?  I doubt there are many whose dying words are, “I should not have extended a loving embrace to my gay neighbors.  I should have left them out in the cold to live in shame.”

    What a happy place is Norway today.

    And what a cool dude their king is.

    Have a listen to this... 
    Norwegians come from the north of Norway, from the middle, from the south and all the other regions.  Norwegians are also immigrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Poland, Sweden, Somalia and Syria.  It is not always easy to say where we come from, to which nationality we belong.  Home is where the heart is.  That cannot always be placed within country borders. 
    Norwegians are girls who love girls, boys who love boys, and boys and girls who love each other. Norwegians believe in God, Allah, everything and nothing.  Norwegians like Grieg, Kygo, Hellbillies and Kari Bremnes.  In other words, You are Norway.  We are Norway.
    My biggest hope for Norway is that we will manage to take care of each other.  That we can build this country further on trust, solidarity and generosity.
    ... and ask yourself whether the head of the church of Norway got this way from being the head of the church of Norway.  Or whether the church of Norway became what it is today because of men and women like King Harald.  I take the view that the two evolved together, that religion and culture become inseparable in time, that one hand washes the other and an organized religious group can actually become its better self through the influence of enlightened cultural values, many of which come from folk and from traditions outside the religion itself.

    Technically, what was once the state church of Norway no longer is.  Its official designation was changed in 2012 from state church to “Norges Folkekirke” (Norway’s people’s church) a designation that took legal effect just a few weeks ago, on January 1, 2017.  Its 1250 active clergy are no longer employees of the Norwegian government.  And King Harald is no longer its head.

    And, I might add, only about 20% of the population now identify with the church, so cynics are welcome to say they’ve only shut the barn door now that the horses have escaped.

    Be that as it may.  The church is there if you want it, and it’s a warmer, more inclusive compassionate place than it used to be.  Christianity in Norway  – in its official organized form – has come a long way since it was introduced in the 9th Century. Olaf II was killed for the faith and canonized in 1031 for killing the church’s enemies.  In 1537 Christian III of Denmark forced the Lutheran Church down everybody’s throat, banished the Catholics and plundered their resources.

    Norwegian (and other) Christians can celebrate Olaf and Christian, if they choose.

    Or they can celebrate the decision this week to allow its pastors to marry gay people.

    How you identify as a Christian is pretty much up to you.

    picture credit: fjords of Norway


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  10. People need to read the bible more.  If they did, they would understand we are probably going to have to raise taxes.  There are an estimated 152 million men in America.  And, according to one source, about 57% of them have committed adultery.  If we did as the Bible instructed us to do, we’d raise some serious tax money.  Enough to put 866,000 American men to death.  I don’t know how typical Maryland is, but in Maryland it costs about $3 million to execute somebody.  $3 million times 866,000 is $2,598,000,000,000 if I’ve done the math right.  The good news is, I’m sure once we really get the executions started, the cost will go down, so we will not actually have to raise that large a sum.

    Executing adulterers isn’t the only thing we have to take care of.  We need to apologize to the Confederacy for forcing them to give up slavery.  Maybe pay them some compensation for all the years they had to pay an exorbitant price to cotton pickers after 1865.  If we had read our bibles (as many did) we would have concluded (as many did at the time) that the Bible not only approves of slavery; it has rules for regulating it.

    To wit:
    ·      "slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling" (Ephesians 6:5), or 
    ·      "tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect" (Titus 2:9). 

    Gay men have gotten away with entirely too much.  No matter how hard they try, gay people cannot deny that the bible says quite clearly:
    ·      "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination" (Leviticus 18:22). 

    And please note, in passing, that if you read Luther’s translation, remembering that it was Luther who first translated the bible into the vernacular so we could all understand it, you will find:

    ·       Du sollst nicht beim Knaben liegen wie beim Weibe; denn es ist ein Greuel.  Which in English translates to “thou shalt not lie with a boy (sic) as with a woman, for it is a horror/ atrocity/ anathema/ abomination."

    Pick your translation.  English speaking people will find “mankind” where German speaking people find “boys.”  In either case, you get the idea.  Diddling is a definite no-no.

    OK.  So while we’re into Leviticus, which Christians and Jews both agree is sacred scripture, look what we find in the very next chapter, Leviticus 19:19:
    ·      Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee.

    So no linen and wool, no mixed crops.

    and in 19:26:
    ·      Ye shall not eat any thing with the blood: neither shall ye use enchantment...

    So no juicy steaks, looks like.  And no reading of Harry Potter, which celebrates enchantment.
    ·      Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard.
         No shaving your beard.

    It’s in 20:10 where you find the command to execute adulterers, which is where I began all this:
    ·      And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.

    Now there is a way out to the scary prospect of killing 866,000 or so of our fellow citizens, actually.  One can stop reading the bible literally.  And one can cherry-pick.

    Cherry-picking has gotten a bad name.  It has come to be understood as "the overemphasis of token data that supports a preferred conclusion, excluding all contradictory evidence."  Much of the time, it is a term associated with religion because it flows easily off the tongues of the self-righteous, the holier-than-thou who want you to know you’re a sinner and they’re sinners too except that they’ve been saved so they’re in God’s good graces while your ass is going to hell.

    I think that's unfortunate.  We have done ourselves a disservice in seeing cherry picking as a term with negative connotations only, when there is no reason not to see it as a synonym for using your head.

    Personally, I’d just as soon chuck any and all so-called holy scriptures out once and for all.  They’ve done – and continued to do – so much harm, riling up the insecure and the low-informationals and making them bash about shouting things like “Allahu Akhbar” or “Hallelujah,” depending on the part of the Eastern Mediterranean region their religion is native to.  But I appreciate that for every verse like Psalm 137:9
    Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.
     there are verses like the six verses of the 23rd Psalm:

    The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
    He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
    Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
    Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
    Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

    And you don’t have to be a Christian, or even believe in God, to recognize how beautiful those words are in the English language and how comforting they are to folks who see themselves as helpless and vulnerable little sheep and their deity as a kind of shepherd.  The “valley of the shadow of death” in this poem makes this passage popular at funerals.  I wouldn’t want to take this inspired piece from anyone.  And not just because it’s carved into my dear grandparents’ gravestone.

    Feel like you need some inspiration to get yourself out of bed and go to work so you can afford some new clothes?

    Try Proverbs 13:4:
    The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.

    Looking for a reason to take a day off and stay home instead?

    Try Matthew 6:28:
    And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:

    We sneer at Catholics who practice birth control and call them hypocrites.  Well, I don’t, but some people do.  We also call them “cafeteria catholics,” and imply that they are lazy and irresponsible for selecting only the rules established by their ruling hierarchy and by scripture which it suits them to follow. 
    “Don’t kill?”
    “Absolutely.  Wouldn’t dream of it.”
    “Don’t eat meat on Friday.”
    “OK now to eat meat on Friday.”
    “Don’t masturbate.”
    “Can we change the subject?”
    “Don’t marry outside the faith.”
    “I know it’s wrong, but I love him.”
    “Don’t divorce.”
    “You try living with this asshole!”

    Anybody who actually does read the Bible – I mean really read the Bible – confirms early on what common sense and an education beyond grade school will make plain – that the Bible was not written by a deity or by folks whose hands are guided by a deity, but by a lot of different people in different times and places, working within a faith community and sharing common attitudes, values and beliefs, for the most part, each putting the tribe or community’s knowledge in writing.  Since it’s done over time, discrepancies have crept in.  It should surprise nobody that the two different sets of writers of Genesis have different notions of how things started.  One version has Adam and Eve created at the same time.  The other has Eve created later.  The quaint tale of God getting up each day and going to work to create different things on different days is a curiously human idea of how one goes to work, complete with taking a nap when it’s all over.  Hardly the image of a god who, if he chose, could do it all at once at the snap of his human-like fingers.

    Such inconsistencies are of little consequence to folks who cherry-pick the bible and find in it an appeal to love one’s neighbors and forgive people who wrong you.  It’s no more possible to do that in most cases, but it feels right.  There is something praiseworthy about the notions.  It matches our gut feelings and the life experiences we build up which have led us to an understanding of right and wrong and the advantage of supporting the right to the greatest degree possible.  People who read the bible for inspiration, for positive thinking, for its comforting notion that there is a big daddy out there who will take care of you and explain away all the absurdities and injustices that plague our everyday, those people – let’s call them seekers – make one understand that religion need not be cruel and destructive.  In fact, it’s only cruel and destructive if you cherry-pick the wrong parts.  If you ignore the love/duty/friendship/charity portions of the Qur’an and stress the militant parts, for example.  If you sing praises to the Lord of Hosts (ever stop to realize that Hosts means armies?) instead of the Lord who makes the blind to see.  And while we’re at it, “Heavenly hosts?”  Really?  God needs an army in heaven?

    There’s a battle going on over whether Islam is really a religion of peace, as its name implies.  Or whether, as people like Hamed Abdel-Samad and Sam Harris like to claim, Islam is inherently violent and that ISIS and Al Qaeda and all the other Islamic terrorists are merely “reading their Qur’an correctly.”  Yes, the answer is.  They are reading their Qur’an correctly.  They open it up, see that its tells them to cut off the heads of infidels, and go out and do their god’s bidding.  There was a time when the pope got Christians to behave in like manner.  They were reading their scriptures correctly.  What they were not doing was cherry-picking, recognizing that their so-called holy scriptures are compendia of history of their tribe at different stages in its development and therefore by nature wide-ranging in scope and contradictory in content.

    Don’t want to bash the brains of your enemies’ kids against a rock?  Don’t.  Cherry-pick that part out and toss it in the trashcan of history, something from a time of intense hatred of one’s enemies and the need to be brutal and heartless.  Don’t like the rule in Deuteronomy 22:28-29 that says
       If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days.
    Toss it out.  Recognize that we have evolved as a society where women are not the property of men any longer, and put that rule in the “no longer relevant” column, along with the rules for not eating pork or shellfish.

    Time to take a second look at the word “cherry-pick.”

    It’s not a word to throw at people with a sneer.

    When I lived in Saudi Arabia I remember talking about abortion with one of my students.  Not a very well-educated young man, not traveled, not sophisticated.  “What does the Qur’an say about abortion?” I asked him.  “I don’t think it says anything about abortion,” he answered.  “I think that’s one of the places where Allah wants you to use the brain he gave you to make your own decision.”

    A Protestant might have an easier time with his answer than a traditionalist Catholic.  But in the end, thinking Christians can agree with thinking Muslims and Jews and others as well that right and wrong are not something you look up in a book.  You deal with it as best you can.  You struggle with moral dilemmas, you use the wisdom of your community and loved ones to find a course of behavior to follow.  You may even use some holy scriptures on occasion for inspiration.

    But you cherry-pick.  

    Pick the good parts.  

    Leave the rest.


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