Archive for Philosophy and Logic


Freedom: Bow now or bow later

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Let’s not point fingers, but for all their hands-over-their-hearts, pocket-Constitution-carrying, misty-eyed Americanity, there are certain of our neighbors who are just not comfortable with democracy. With one-person, one-vote. With freedom of speech and religion that is not theirs. With facts that do not support their preferred view of the world. With not being in control. Galileo Galilei knew a few. As Jesus said about the poor, they will be with us always.

Thomas Jefferson knew to be wary of them:

Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting “Jesus Christ,” so that it would read “A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.
-Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography, in reference to the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom

So it was no surprise that things did not go smoothly in Spring, Texas this week when the Church of Lucifer opened its doors:
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Absolutely fascinating article by Malcolm Gladwell in New Yorker on the etiology of school shootings. They have become a ritualized behavior independent of the pathologies of individual perpetrators, he believes.

School shootings are not simply the isolated acts of a string of copycat psychotics who hear voices in their heads. They are perhaps a kind of slow-motion riot in which perpetrators downstream participate because they’ve been given a kind of permission by those who came before them. Four decades ago, Stanford sociologist Mark Granovetter posited that riots develop in this way.

Citing sociologist Ralph Larkin, Gladwell asserts that Columbine’s Eric Harris (“a classic psychopath”) and Dylan Klebold “laid down the ‘cultural script’ for the next generation of shooters.” Gladwell introduces us to a foiled 2014 plot by a seventeen year-old Minnesotan from a loving family. He wasn’t
“someone who had been brutally abused by the world or someone who imagined that the world brutally abused him or someone who wanted to brutally abuse the world himself.” Unlike Harris, psychological testing revealed this kid “wasn’t violent or mentally ill,” but “simply a little off.” Plus, he thought Harris was “cool.” The account reads like a scene from Fargo.

Gladwell explains Granovetter’s theory:

In his view, a riot was not a collection of individuals, each of whom arrived independently at the decision to break windows. A riot was a social process, in which people did things in reaction to and in combination with those around them. Social processes are driven by our thresholds—which he defined as the number of people who need to be doing some activity before we agree to join them. In the elegant theoretical model Granovetter proposed, riots were started by people with a threshold of zero—instigators willing to throw a rock through a window at the slightest provocation. Then comes the person who will throw a rock if someone else goes first. He has a threshold of one. Next in is the person with the threshold of two. His qualms are overcome when he sees the instigator and the instigator’s accomplice. Next to him is someone with a threshold of three, who would never break windows and loot stores unless there were three people right in front of him who were already doing that—and so on up to the hundredth person, a righteous upstanding citizen who nonetheless could set his beliefs aside and grab a camera from the broken window of the electronics store if everyone around him was grabbing cameras from the electronics store.

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As a kid, I watched Superman on TV in black and white fighting his never-ending battle for “Truth, Justice, and the American Way.” All three have since fallen out of fashion. Carly the Fabulist’s tales of Planned Parenthood reminded us just how far we have fallen. Her “willingness to unrepentantly and repeatedly” look into the camera and lie to our faces recalls Dick Cheney’s talent for that, Digby reminded this week at Salon.

Digby references a post (in part about Mitt Romney) by Rick Perlstein that I want to revisit. While his books might bear pictures of presidents to please the marketers, Perlstein writes, he is much more interested in how “both the rank-and-file voters and the governing elites of a major American political party chose as their standardbearer a pathological liar. What does that reveal about them?”

Indeed. Direct-mail maven Richard Viguerie is one of his Perlstein’s touchstones for seeing into the conservative mind. Perlstein’s insights also come in part from examining the snake-oil ads in conservative publications such as Human Events and Townhall, as well as the more plebian Newsmax. My viewport is the conservative pass-it-on spams that land in my in-box. I collect them. I lost count somewhere around 200.

Perlstein contrasts the ubiquitous “get rich quick” appeals in these publications to one he noticed in the liberal The American Prospect for donations to help starving children in the Third World. I contrast them with the lack of appeals found in pass-it-on spam. They are lies, smears, distortions, propaganda — passed along dutifully by the parents who warned us about communist propaganda as kids:

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Sellin’ the big nothin’

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Public domain from Library of Congress

There is an emotional scene at the end of the movie First Blood. Rambo, the decorated war veteran with post-traumatic stress, is breaking down.

He tells his best friend – his only friend – how since leaving the army his life has gone to hell.

He shouts, “For me, civilian life is nothin’. In the field, we had a code of honor. You watch my back, I watch yours. Back here there’s nothin’.”

That nothin’ is what our elites are sellin’.

Oh, our leaders love them some troops in uniform. They put their hands over their hearts, get all solemn, and snap to attention when soldiers pass. They may even think they mean it. But the values they praise in the military are not the values by which they (and we) have organized an economy that no longer serves us. We serve it.

Inside the base perimeter, training instills esprit de corps. Teamwork. All for one, one for all. Self-sacrifice. We give medals for it. Leave no one behind. A code of honor.

But outside in Anytown, USA? Screw you, I’ve got mine. Anyone “out of uniform” is unworthy. Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. Stop picking my pocket. Everyone for himself.

Why is that? What is that?

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Om nom nom! Waffles!This is an invitation to a Waffle Brunch I help organize once a year. It’s a lot of fun – and if you don’t show up you’ll be missing out on some seriously awesome food. It’s known to local foodies as ” The Greatest Waffle Brunch In History.”

Chefs from around the world compete in Asheville, NC to decide who will be crowned “Master of the Waffle Iron And Supreme Potentate Over All Creation”.

To aid this culinary contest the community (That’s YOU) comes together to taste & vote on the waffles. Side-items such as fruit salad, bacon, and mimosas are provided by the attendees to share with one another.

This year all proceeds go to BAMFS – The Blueridge-Asheville Movement & FlowArts Society. (Look them up & “Like” them on Facebook.)

The Waffle-Off Championship is considered the most important event on Earth.

Cost: $5 per person + _ONE_ of the following items to share:

–> Real maple syrup (No HFCS please)
–> 1 gallon of organic orange juice
–> 1 bottle of Sparkling wine (aka: Champagne)
–> Bowl of fruit salad. (Doesn’t have to be organic fruit)
–> Something you want to share with the community, as long as it’s pre-cooked. (eg: Bacon, Mom’s breakfast strudel.)

Link to ticket page:

Advance ticket: $5
Tickets at door: $8

Note: A small group, such as a family or couple, may show up with a single one of the above items and it will count for the entire group. (For example: A family of 4 can bring a single bottle of real maple syrup.) If you don’t have time to pick up one or create of the items, no worries, an additional $5 will be accepted.

* Kids under the age of 10 and press get in free.

So, to summarize:

What: 2015 Waffle-Off Championship & Brunch

When: Sunday – March 29th 2015 @ 10:00am – 12:30pm

Why: To answer the most important question of all time: Who makes the best waffles IN THE UNIVERSE!!!???

This event is a benefit for BAMFS: Blueridge-Asheville Movement & FlowArts Society (Look us up on Facebook)

Where: The Asheville Commissary – 3080 Sweeten Creek Rd Asheville, NC 28803. (Formerly CinTom’s Frozen Yogurt) Refer to this Google Map:

This is a rain-or-shine event.


From my cold, dead fingers

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If there’s anyplace that defines exceptional in this big, ol’ beacon of freedom called America, it’s Texas. They are SO American in Texas, they can even take exception to the First Amendment and puff out their chests with pride about it.

Molly Ivins, I think, used to call the Texas state legislature “the Austin Funhouse,” noting once that state legislators there are the lowest paid in the country and Texas gets what it pays for. As Digby reported yesterday at Salon, Republican state legislators are “extremely bothered by the idea that a citizen might film the police in the course of their duties.” Ergo:

The House Bill 2918 introduced by Texas Representative Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) would make private citizens photographing or recording the police within 25 feet of them a class B misdemeanor, and those who are armed would not be able to stand recording within 100 feet of an officer.

As defined in the bill, only a radio or television [station] that holds a license issued by the Federal Communications Commission, a newspaper that is qualified under section 2051.044 or a magazine that appears at a regular interval would be allowed to record police.

Isn’t that exceptional? It takes exception to the United States Court of Appeals For the First Circuit in Glik v. Cuniffee (2011) and to the United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit in ACLU v. Alvarez (2012), both of which uphold the right of citizens to film police.

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Behold, the relativist wasteland

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A number of people have taken shots at David Brooks this week for his essential cluelessness about people who are not David Brooks. Over at Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi calls Brooks’ “The Cost of Relativism” his “10 thousandth odious article about how rich people are better parents than the poor.” Taibbi writes:

Brooks then goes on to relate some of the horrific case studies from the book – more on those in a moment – before coming to his inevitable conclusion, which is that poor people need to get off the couch, stop giving in to every self-indulgent whim, and discipline their wild offspring before they end up leaving their own illegitimate babies on our lawns:

Next it will require holding people responsible. People born into the most chaotic situations can still be asked the same questions: Are you living for short-term pleasure or long-term good? Are you living for yourself or for your children? Do you have the freedom of self-control or are you in bondage to your desires?

Yes, improving your station is a simple matter self-discipline and of pulling yourself up by those bootstraps, if you have the boots. Can’t find a job? Pull together some investors and start your own business. Personal responsibility … yadda, yadda, yadda … achieve the American Dream.

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Junior DeMint

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Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton’s letter to the Iranian government, the one 46 of his GOP colleagues signed, has everyone from NPR to the Wall Street Journal to talking about the Logan Act. This, in spite of the fact that since its passage in 1799, there have been “no prosecutions under the Act in its more than 200 year history.” The law forbids citizens from interfering with U.S. foreign policy “without authority of the United States.” Whatever that means.

But the controversy must look to his T-party cohort like Tom Cotton’s coup. (Or is that Tom Cotton’s kooks?) “Cotton is a conservative hero, and a crackpot,” reads the Washington Post’s landing page teaser. Paul Waldman writes for the Post’s Plum Line:

On paper, Cotton looks like a dream politician with nowhere to go but up — Iraq veteran, Harvard Law School graduate, the youngest senator at 37. It’s only when you listen to him talk and hear what he believes that you come to realize he’s a complete crackpot. During the 2014 campaign he told voters that the Islamic State was working with Mexican drug cartels and would soon be coming to attack Arkansas. When he was still in the Army he wrote a letter to the New York Times saying that its editors should be “behind bars” because the paper published stories on the Bush administration’s program to disrupt terrorist groups’ finances (which George W. Bush himself had bragged about, but that’s another story).

While in the House in 2013, Cotton introduced an amendment to prosecute the relatives of those who violated sanctions on Iran, saying that his proposed penalties of up to 20 years in prison would “include a spouse and any relative to the third degree,” including “parents, children, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, grandparents, great grandparents, grandkids, great grandkids.” Forget about the fact that the Constitution expressly prohibits “corruption of blood” penalties — just consider that Cotton wanted to take someone who had violated sanctions and imprison their grandchildren. Needless to say, this deranged piece of legislation was too much even for Republicans to stomach, and it went nowhere.

Waldman suggests Cotton is poised to be the next Jim DeMint.

But forgetting about what the Constitution expressly prohibits is just the point for T-partiers like Cotton. Cloaking themselves in it should be enough. What the law actually says doesn’t matter. What matters is what they believe it should say. (I’ve heard this argued in person.) The fact that “God helps those who help themselves” is not in the Bible, for example, is beside the point. It should be. It feels right. And that truthiness is good enough for them. To borrow again from Stephen Colbert, they want to feel the law at you.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Deference must be shown

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Somebody didn’t get the memo. For an exceptional people who celebrate their revolution to overthrow rule by kings and titled nobility, we have an amazing number who still believe they are entitled to deference. According to some in Washington, “entitlements” are bad. They make a people weak. And if there is anything (besides LGBT people) that makes their skin crawl and makes them reach for another grain alcohol and branch water, it’s weakness.

See, deference must be shown to “the job creators” — praised be their name — even when their invisible hands create no jobs. Deference must be shown to Wall Street titans, for without their wisdom, there would be no six- and seven-figure bonuses for selling fraudulent securities, and no taxpayer-funded bailouts. Behold them in their glory. Behold the power the royals wield over our late, great democracy. Psst. Kneel, willya?

Proper deference must be shown, too, towards the alpha dogs’ faith, a faith that justifies. Tolerated other faiths must know their place. Sadly, the Kenyan Pretender did not get the memo either. At the national prayer breakfast Thursday, President Obama said:

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Freedom to be jerks

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Image public domain via Wikipedia

The Kochs, the NRA, and Randians of the right treat the word freedom as a conversation stopper. (What, are you against freedom, commie? Game Over. We win.) But just as creating the T-party pushed the GOP so far right that party regulars now are stuck with trying to reign in the monster they created, turning freedom into a worship word may be backfiring too:

A Florida man set up a gun range in his front yard, but police said there’s not much they can do but keep an eye on him.

Other residents are livid that 21-year-old Joseph Carannate set up targets and plans to fire his 9mm handgun in his residential Saint Petersburg neighborhood, reported WFLA-TV.

“I don’t know if this idiot is going to start popping off rounds,” said resident Patrick Leary. “I’m furious.”

Yeah? Furious commie.

But since by law the Gunshine State prohibits local governments from restricting gun rights, freedom means fire at will. Freedom means telling the neighbors, hide in the basement with your young-uns if you don’t like it.

The recent fight over vaccines travels that same road, doesn’t it? The teaser headline on the front page of the Washington Post online grabbed me this morning. Gerson: Vaccines and our duty to our neighbors. Whaddya mean “duty to our neighbors,” commie? Free-DOM:

Resistance to vaccination on the left often reflects an obsession with purity. Vaccines are placed in the same mental category as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), DDT and gluten. But the problem with organic health care is that the “natural” rate of child mortality is unacceptably high. Organically raised children can get some very nasty ­diseases.

Opposition to vaccination on the right often reflects an obsession with liberty — in this case, freedom from intrusive state mandates. It has always struck me as odd that a parent would defend his or her children with a gun but leave them vulnerable to a microbe. Some conservatives get especially exercised when vaccination has anything to do with sex — as with the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine — on the questionable theory that teenagers are more likely to fornicate if they have a medical permission slip (or less likely to without it).

Whether you are blazing away in a suburban front yard, or putting neighbors’ children at risk by refusing to immunize yours, or publishing cartoons of Mohammed with intent to offend (France, I know), or strolling into the Burger King with your AR-15, or doing anything else arrogantly prick-ish, because freedom, maybe the radical individual thing has gotten out of hand. Doesn’t it seem, at long last, that our freedom fetish is turning us into a nation of jerks?

Michael Gerson dares use the phrase “common good”:

In all these matters, there is a balance between individual rights and the common good. This may sound commonplace. But some Americans seem to believe that the mere assertion of a right is sufficient to end a public argument. It is not, when the exercise of that right has unacceptable public consequences, or when the sum of likely choices is dangerous to a community.


(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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