Skip to main content


Showing posts from January, 2018

Conscience and Religious Freedom...isn't

On Jan. 18, 2018, the Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that its Office for Civil Rights would have a new "Conscience and Religious Freedom Division." The idea of a need to protect "religious freedom" has been around for a while. Outwardly, it is based on the concern that a religious person might be forced to do something that violates their conscience or religious belief. Political scientist Andrew Lewis said recently: "Federal religious freedom laws gained some steam in the mid-1990s, and a decent number of conservatives were involved in them, but there was very little public awareness that they were going on. It’s not until you see the legalization of same-sex marriage that you see this real drive to protect religious freedom. The day that the Obergefell case was decided...They knew that they were losing this cultural battle and this was a way to preserve what they thought was their orthodox faith in action." During the 1990s

What's 'the paradox of voting'? And why do people bother to vote?

The paradox of voting Going to the cinema alone On a walk by yourself, you stop at the cinema. The three-screen cinema is showing Robot Laser Wars, Lawyer Drama, and Giggles the Bear. You’re hoping for Robot Laser Wars; it’s something you can only see without your spouse, who wouldn’t appreciate it. When you arrive, there is a confusing sign saying “Next showing sold out.” You’re unsure which of the three films is sold out. Before you approach the ticket window, you privately rank your preferences so you’ll have a second choice ready to go in case it’s your first choice that’s sold out. It’s not hard. You’ll settle for Lawyer Drama. You feel much too old for Giggles the Bear. If your spouse were in the same situation alone at the cinema, you’re sure that Lawyer Drama would be his first choice, and furthermore that he’d rather see Giggles the Bear before setting foot in Robot Laser Wars. And your child? She’s still young enough to prefer Giggles the Bear. She might be enterta

Fire and Fury #4 - Trump's relationship with the media

Note: Please also see the 2020 Books Are Our Superpower article about this book. In Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff describes the president's complicated relationship with the media. Years before the campaign, when Trump was famous as a New York real estate mogul, he had sought the limelight. Roger Ailes said that, to Trump, “the media represented power, much more so than politics". Wolff relates: "The media long ago turned on Donald Trump as a wannabe and lightweight, and wrote him off for that ultimate sin — anyway, the ultimate sin in media terms — of trying to curry favor with the media too much. His fame, such as it was, was actually reverse fame — he was famous for being infamous. It was joke fame." Furthermore, he was known for his bankruptcies. "Whereas he [Trump] had before been the symbol of success and mocked for it, now [in the 1990s] he became, in a shift of zeitgeist (and of having to refinance a great deal of debt), a symbol of failure

Fire and Fury #3 - The president's odd behavior

Note: Please also see the 2020 Books Are Our Superpower article about this book. Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury documents some unusual behavior from the president. Questions about relevant knowledge and mental fitness Wolff marvels that Trump was elected president while "wholly lacking what in some obvious sense must be the main requirement of the job, what neuroscientists would call executive function....He had no ability to plan and organize and pay attention and switch focus; he had never been able to tailor his behavior to what the goals at hand reasonably required. On the most basic level, he simply could not link cause and effect." Moreover, "while he was often most influenced by the last person he spoke to, he did not actually listen to anyone. So it was not so much the force of an individual argument or petition that moved him, but rather more just someone’s presence..." As a result, he had accumulated little relevant knowledge. "Almost

Fire and Fury #2 - Trump never intended to win the election

Note: Please also see the 2020 Books Are Our Superpower article about this book. In Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff argues that Donald Trump never intended to win the 2016 presidential election. Wolff contends that Trump thought that Clinton had the better campaign ("They’ve got the best and we’ve got the worst") and that he never wanted to be president so his campaign "was not designed to win anything." He only wanted to become "the most famous man in the world" and possibly have his own cable network featuring Kellyanne Conway, which he could easily achieve by losing. The Republican Party establishment could then revert to business as usual and Steve Bannon could lead the Tea Party. He promised his wife Melania that he would not win, a prospect she feared would disrupt her personal life. Victory, in fact, would raise liabilities: Mike Flynn had accepted a $45,000 speaking fee from Russians while campaigning for Trump, and Trump's campaign mana

Fire and Fury #1 - The role of Steve Bannon

Note: Please also see the 2020 Books Are Our Superpower article about this book. One of the most important themes in Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury (2018) is the role of Steve Bannon in the White House. In the book, we learn: Bannon and Sessions agreed on anti-immigration positions before the Trump campaign. Articles from Bannon's media outlet, Breitbart, were given to Trump and formed many of his positions in the campaign. In this way, "[t]he Trump campaign became a sudden opportunity to see if nativism really had legs." Bannon gave only one-word responses to emails ("partly a paranoia about email, but even more a controlling crypticness") and often didn't respond to phone calls at all. "You couldn’t really make an appointment with Bannon, you just had to show up." Bannon wrote the 16-minute inaugural speech for Trump. It featured Bannon's "take-back-the-country America-first, carnage-everywhere vision for the country. But

What we all must do to make a more peaceful world

This is the magnitude of the task ahead in all our lives. The ideas below were used to write an article for LinkedIn: "There is no button for peace." Attain deeper understanding of emotions — your own and those of others "The solution has to be found, as Krishnamurti has said, in the problem and not away from it. In other words, the 'bad' man's disturbing emotions and urgent desires have to be seen as they are — or, better, the moment in which they arise has to be seen as it is, without narrowing attention upon any aspect of it.
" - Alan Watts Attain deeper understanding of personal motivations — your own and those of others "I am a convinced pacifist and for that reason I am curious to understand what make normal people brandish a gun." - Enzo Baldoni Attain deeper understanding of institutional agendas, especially the ones that leaders won't admit "Clearly, we wouldn't have invaded Iraq if its chief export

No one, no matter how good, should be able to end the world

The novelist Dennis Lehane wrote, "When two men pointed their guns at each other, a contract was established under the eyes of God, the only acceptable fulfillment of which was that one of you send the other home to him." Since weapons are made to be used, do they all imply a promise of injury: if not now, then later; if not by one hand, then by another? Do they define the kind of society and world we live in? If so, then it matters what kinds of weapons we make. Clubs, knives, guns, bombs, and nuclear devices alter the possibilities that are available to us. They can expand as well as constrain those possibilities. In a certain extreme case, they may even determine the end of history. James Carroll quoted his father as having said: "Man has never created a weapon and not used it. The nuclear war is inevitable." Defensive violence is something people like to ethically justify, for obvious reasons. The scope of the violence involved in mounting an adequate defense

Zohar: A poem about new beginnings

A poem about new beginnings for the new year. Originally posted 1 January 2008 to the JVoices blog which has been taken offline. Resurrecting the poem here for its tenth anniversary. There is always fog When the unformed forms. First, it is a seamless thing, Then it bulges and diffracts, Shooting out worlds and barriers between worlds. We do not see the flame as it is. We trust the bad, mistrust the good. Through persuasion and gratitude In our left and right hands, These daggers of radiance Become feathers. In you is a well of color. Try to image the great beyond — You can, though you are bound in clay. Forty hues flow in your river, And as many as you catch are yours. So linger an hour in the presence. If darkness scares you, stare and sprint. Flare forth, lift skin, break veil. Then will you see the well with which you see. The eye sees color, but let the mind Collapse in on the darkness, Be at one, on fire again. “Within the most hidden recess a dark