Here we go again…

After the shooting the other day in Parkland, Florida, I went back and reread the twoposts I wrote following the Pulse nightclub shooting nearly two years ago.

Nothing has changed. The Republican Party still refuses to do anything to actually address the problem. As a result, nothing is even being tried.

There is one thing about this particular shooting that is different from most of the other ones: the shooter is still alive. I hope that a competent investigation can provide details into his motives and motivations.

Donald Trump’s tweet about the shooting makes a good point:

So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!

7:12 AM – Feb 15, 2018

Countless people warned us about how dangerous he was and is. Reporters. Politicians. Trained psychologists. And yet, all those millions of people voted for him and now he’s in the White House….

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A glimpse into a mindset

If you direct your web browsers to websites like Townhall, it shouldn’t take long to realize the agenda that they’re pursuing. If you don’t want to follow that link, just know that they feature articles by columnists like Ann Coulter, Todd Starnes, and Michelle Malkin, three people who, to paraphrase Will Rogers, never met an anecdote that couldn’t distort to serve their own agendas.

(Starnes is particularly gifted at this, since everything he sees is a form of Christian persecution. I’ve wanted to write a blog entry about him for some time but doing so would require a significantly greater time commitment than I’m prepared to dedicate…. There’s a reason why Ed Brayton refers to him as “Fox News’ resident hysteric”.)

But there’s an interesting article over at Townhall that I can’t look away from. Hence this essay. Columnist Scott Morefield, whose name is so far under the radar in the conservative movement, he doesn’t have a Wikipedia page (unlike Coulter, Starnes, and Malkin, as linked above), has put forth an article that’s simultaneously frustrating and, in a perverse sense, validating.

Note that I readily acknowledge that I don’t have a Wikipedia page either. But I’m pretty sure that my tens of followers don’t mind that. I don’t have a national platform like Townhall (or a comparable liberal blog) from which to share my views.

The article begins with an unnecessary and snide remark that the phrase “Christian liberal” is not an oxymoron. Listen, Scott, (may I call you that?) I get that you’re a conservative and a Christian. Demonizing the other side doesn’t bolster your credentials. It makes you look petty. If you can’t back up your position with, you know, facts, maybe the issue is your position.

What’s the adage about being an effective lawyer? If the facts are on your side, pound the facts. If the law is on your side, pound the law. If neither is on your side, pound the table. But I digress…

As is true for many phrases that come from the Bible, the title of Scott’s essay is a cliche, specifically derived from Isaiah 5:20, and the warning not to confuse good and evil. I always objected to this particular verse because of the plain black-and-white nature of it. Even assuming you know and understand the difference between the two, why can’t there be shades or degrees of them?

The concept of heaven itself illustrates this. Imagine two people going to the same place in the afterlife, where they’ll be treated as equals in a perfect paradise: the racist white supremacist and the black man he tried to keep down. To the black man, being treated with a respect he never felt in life, this place might be heaven. To the guy who oppressed the black man, this place would seem more like hell.

And that’s not even getting into psychology tests involving runaway trains where doing nothing will cause the deaths of multiple people while doing something will still kill someone, but save everyone else.

But this essay takes liberal Christians to task because they object to the way modern evangelicals, like Jerry Falwell Jr, for hitching their wagon so closely to Donald Trump. Indeed, evangelicals are the only people who are. And even if I haven’t explicitly said so before, I think it’s clear my opinion of evangelicals like that: at best, they’re hypocrites.

So the liberal Christians to whom Scott objects, are taking Jesus’s teachings about loving your neighbor seriously. They’re not as concerned about, say, abortion (which is not only condoned in some bible verses, an argument can be made that, if we hew strictly to verses in Genesis, Exodus, and Deuteronomy, then it’s acceptable until a month after the baby is born) as they are economic inequality and opening your door to strangers in need. They don’t want Trump’s proposed wall between us and Mexico, they want bridges.

Now I will grant you: the Bible is so long and self-contradictory, it’s certainly possible to find biblical justification for just about any position you might hold on just about any topic. I mean, let’s face it: both sides of the United States Civil War justified their positions on slavery using completely valid biblical verses.

Both Scott and those he demonizes, justify their positions with their cherry-picked bible verses of choice. Scott clearly favors the verses that consider blacks and women as second class citizens and a generally prevailing tribalism. I get that. He can be a bigot all he wants.

And I can cite him as yet another example of how I agree with Isaiah about calling evil good and vice versa. That’s why the folks at Townhall shouldn’t object when I emphatically state that their website, and the Bible they so love, are evil.

Woe unto them for calling them “good”.

Kind of pathetic, really…

When I was a sophomore in college, I stopped into a theatrical prop store off campus one day, and picked up a large prosthetic nose that actually looked a little like a penis.

With this prop as a central figure, I assembled a cast of friends and directed the famous balcony scene from Cyrano de Bergerac, which we performed at the “night of scenes” for budding directors at the on-campus dramatic society.

During the repeated practices, I confess that I started to develop — if I’m being both modest and polite — strong feelings towards Helene, whom I had recruited to play Roxane (the only female character in my one scene; feel free to criticize me for my non-adherence to any Bechdel Test standards, but that’s not what this blog entry is about).

As director, I had a position of power over her so I knew better than to act on those feelings, even at age 19 or 20. Furthermore, I learned that this is actually quite common for directors: developing some form of — I hesitate to call it “love” but most people do use that word as a substitute for whatever it really is — for cast members whose gender happens to be consistent with the sexual orientation of the director. For a straight, male director like me, that would be the women… (Or later, when I was in community theatre performing for a gay male director, he expressed similar feelings towards me and my male cast mates).

It doesn’t help that acting, like most arts, require a fair bit of passion in their execution.

When my soon-to-be former congressman, Pat Meehan, was all of the news a couple of weeks ago, I was reminded of how I fell in love with Helene all those years ago. For a quick summary of the scandal that enveloped him, he was accused of sexual harassment of one of his employees, fired her when she rebuffed him, and paid her hush money from a public funds.

If that were the full story, there wouldn’t be much to tie in with my Cyrano de Bergerac scene. It’s the interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer and other news stories that make allow me to make the connection. When you look at what happened in the lead-up to her firing, he felt the same things I felt all those years ago: he spent a lot of time with her, they talked a lot, made what he felt were undoubtedly real connections with her, intellectually and emotionally.

(I don’t know how many times I ate a meal with Helene in the cafeteria before and after classes in that time, but it was undoubtedly multiple times. It didn’t help matters for me that she came from Harry Chapin’s home town.)

The big difference, then, between me and Meehan, is that I knew that, if there was a foundation for anything more serious than friendship between me and Helene, it was made of sand and could crumble easily and quickly. I’m not even sure I ever told her what I felt. And I have no reason to think my non-verbal cues made her uncomfortable.

Meehan, on the other hand, told her they were soul mates and that he was in love with her, despite being married to someone else. His words were — again, if I’m being my most polite — juvenile. And if I could tell that my emotions were little more than a byproduct of the circumstances of my being with her a quarter century ago, I would hope that Meehan might have been more introspective than he was.

So yeah, he was pathetic. Even without a prosthetic nose that looks like a penis.

State of the union

Every year, by law and by tradition, the president of the United States must present a report on the state of the union to congress.

The tradition of doing it in the form of a formal address to Congress is only about a century old. Because of the timing of the report relative to Inauguration Day, a newly sworn-in President gets a pass on providing a formal state of the union but, at least in the age of television, they still give a speech before a joint session to set out their agenda.

Donald Trump’s first State of the Union is officially in the history books now. I don’t want to speak of the content of the speech (although I would like one exception: there is no war on coal other than market forces, and there’s no such thing as “beautiful clean coal”).

Instead, there are two aspects of this speech I want to call attention to that we really should do away with in all future SOTU addresses, regardless of the political leanings / partisanship of both the president and congress.

The first is using guests of the president as props in the speech. The first time a president did this was in 1982, when Ronald Reagan called out Lenny Skutnik for his bravery two weeks earlier in rescuing a passenger on Air Florida Flight 90, which crashed into the Potomac River. That was a legitimate, honest, and heartfelt moment 36 years ago.

But now, these parts of the address are not intended to help illustrate what’s great or right about America. Instead, they’re little more than props, human metaphors for a political agenda. In two addresses before congress, Trump has used grieving family members of someone who had died — either in combat or gang violence — in this manner.

I’m sorry but in a time of grief, that’s the last thing you should do is have a huge (and obviously unwelcome) spotlight shining on your loss. Look at the faces of anyone Trump called out in this manner as they struggle not to burst into tears. Do we not have the simple decency to let them come to terms with their loss as they would want to?

If we can’t at least leave the bereaved alone, then the whole human prop in a speech should be done away with.

The second is excessive applause lines. It never fails: when the president says “we need to do X” or “we’ve achieved Y” (and it doesn’t matter what X and Y are), the members of his party or all of congress starts applauding. Sometimes they stand up. I can’t think of any other type of public speech that gets broken up by applause as much as any presidential speech given to congress. And it cheapens the gesture.

There are legitimate applause lines in speeches of any type. “We passed a budget” shouldn’t be one of them. (Although, in fairness, given that the modern Republican Party seems incapable of doing that, maybe it should be….)

So here’s my advice for Donald Trump and all future presidents: just tell us the state of the union. No fanfare. Nothing to gossip about. Maybe a little bit of agenda setting and the usual lie about how the state of the union is “strong”.

Then maybe, just maybe, we’d be hitting both the letter and the spirit of this requirement of the president.

Guard your irony meters!

It’s a good thing there are no actual devices out there that are capable of measuring irony as though it were something measurable and quantifiable. If so, then the mere existence of evangelical Christianity, for all its self-righteous hypocrisy, would make it impossible to find a maximum level to be measured.

I’ve talked about this before. We see bigoted people doing bigoted things, and then complaining that they’re being called bigots. Randy Cassingham, whose online column This Is True has been collecting weird and unusual news stories since the mid-90s, is quick to point out that he gets a disproportionate number of complaints when the subject of a negative article is a Christian compared with literally any other group (including other religious groups and political groups of all stripes).

We often see a degree of irony in backlash to the phrase political correctness. As if trying not to offend people is a bad thing. People railing against political correctness often call those of us who don’t want to offend, “fragile little snowflakes” or something similar.

Well, there’s a new article on Movieguide — about which I’ve written before — that, if anyone takes this complaint seriously, they immediately forfeit all right to call anyone else a “snowflake”. Brace yourself.

Apparently Google Home doesn’t know how to answer the question of who Jesus is. And people complained about this fact. If the comments section is to be believed, they’ve leveled the playing field by taking out references to Abraham, Mohammed, and Buddha.

Seriously? Let’s get past the fact that I don’t know why anyone would ask a smart speaker that question in the first place. For all of the different places where you can look up whatever you want to know about Jesus (and I recommend starting with the Skeptics Annotated Bible) why would you use a smart speaker?

It also bears mentioning that the only people who would ask this question already have a preconceived answer they’d expect to hear and anything short of that will miss the mark in their terms.

But if they’re getting that upset about it, I seriously think that the real problem is with them. And they’re the true “snowflakes”.

We’ve seen this before…

Yesterday, all of the political news media were abuzz with the information posted by The Guardian about a book coming out next week by Michael Wolff, in which the long-anticipated war between Steve Bannon and Donald Trump — which we’d been expecting since the former left the White House to return to Breitbart — finally exploded into open hostility.

I have no real allegiance to either side so I’ll just sit back and watch how things play out, hoping that neither side does too much damage to the country at large. That said, I wouldn’t be a good student of history if I didn’t point out that there have been other individual allegiances between political players that fell apart after their eventual victory. And if history is any guide, things don’t look good for Bannon.

The first that bears mentioning, is Thomas Paine, without whom George Washington would never have had the popular support for his insurrection against the British crown. When Paine was imprisoned in France in 1793, Washington chose not to intervene on his behalf. The rift between them only widened from there and by the time Paine died, he was a pauper and an outcast. While his memory has been revived somewhat in the past 200 years, Washington clearly emerged on top.

Next is Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky and his complicated relationship with Vladimir Lenin. Like Paine, Trotsky was valuable in helping gain popular support for Lenin’s revolution, although by the time Lenin died, Trotsky knew he’d be safer in exile. Trotsky made too many enemies in Lenin’s inner circle, most notably Josef Stalin’s who would ultimately emerge on top. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Trotsky’s death was a political hit.

Finally, we have Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, two revolutionaries who truly needed each other in their quest to achieve their goals. When Castro got into power, he basically ignored Guevara, who was ultimately assassinated by Bolivian revolutionaries. Castro undoubtedly could have helped.

There’s a fourth that I considered putting in this list. I ultimately decided to mention it here but it’s not quite the same as the other three: Charles Guiteau, who believed himself to be responsible for the election of the 20th president of the United States, James Garfield. When he didn’t get the political position he had applied for, he assassinated the president. He was quickly found guilty and executed for his crime.

It bears mentioning that of the pairings mentioned above, only Castro outlived his one-time ally. Living longer, though, doesn’t mean much in the lens of history. Based upon age alone, I would expect Bannon to live longer than Trump. Washington, Lenin, and Castro all got what they wanted. Paine, Trotsky, and Guevara? Not so much.

Net Neutrality

One thing that Barack Obama did during his presidency that gets him some criticism from his detractors and fans alike, is he issued a very large number of executive orders to get things done.

In his defense, not once during his eight-year tenure did he get the support of a single Republican member of congress for his initiatives. When the democrats had a slim majority for the first two years of his first term, he got some things (like the ACA and the fixes to the financial crisis). After that, everything other than simple procedural votes and the budget came to a grinding halt.

Everything else, if Obama wanted to accomplish something, he had to do it via executive order.

The thing about executive orders, is that any order that one president can do, the next one can overturn. There’s been a ping-pong game among presidents going back to Reagan with regard to what’s known as the “gag rule”, which dictates whether or not foreign agencies receiving US assistance can talk about options related to an unwanted pregnancy.

I want to talk specifically about one executive order from 2015, commonly known as “net neutrality”.

At issue in this particular topic is whether or not broadband internet access can or should qualify as a utility (like the phone lines, electric lines, gas lines, etc.). If it does, then it can be regulated as such under the terms of the Federal Communications Commission.

There are two legitimate sides to this debate.

On the one hand, we have the content providers. We don’t want the internet service providers to decide who gets to view which web pages. At its most innocent, the ISP’s could charge an exorbitant fee to allow you to watch The Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt on Netflix. At worst, ISP’s could restrict access to news and information that’s either critical of them or the politicians they support. In other words, just because the government can’t censor content, private industry sure can.

One the other hand, we have the ISP’s. They argue, not entirely inaccurately, that overregulation is will do nothing but stifle innovation (either in the short or longer term) and, hypothetically, prevent everyone from getting faster and more reliable internet service. If ISP’s are just regulated to prevent monopolies and similar unfair trade practices, that would be in the jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission, not the FCC.

So what about someone like me? Outside of this blog, I’m not a content provider (and this one little-read blog doesn’t really qualify as much of anything other than to serve as an outlet for my own thoughts and the few people who actually read my words). I make no money off of this blog and I have no expenses related to it (unless you count the fact that, about a week ago, I had a one-time expense of $25.00 to upgrade the software I use to compose these blog entries.

What I care about, then, is having the most up-to-date technology to provide my broadband access while at the same time not being restricted in what I can see when I do go online.

Those who would spread fear about the implications of a decision to repeal net neutrality aren’t entirely off-base. The people who have money and power don’t want an informed populace. This is nothing new. After all, the Catholic Church opposed the use of the printing press more than 600 years ago, because they knew that an educated populace could spell trouble for the power they sustained. (And, when you consider what happened basically a century later, they weren’t wrong…

A few years ago, there was a study that held that people who watch Fox News are less well-informed than people who don’t watch the news at all. What would happen if the ISPs decided that this was the only acceptable source of “news”?

The main saving grace on this point, is that this can’t and won’t happen too quickly not for technological reasons but instead for logistical reasons. The ISPs know that if they just shut off access to unfavorable news sources, they’d face such a massive backlash they’d effectively undermine their own arguments.

So what appears to be inevitable, is that when a republican administration comes in, they’ll repeal net neutrality regulations, and when a democratic administration comes in, they’ll reinstate them.

This is no way to run a country. The real solution is not regulatory; it’s legislative.

In 2010, republicans retook control of congress and followed a policy of obstruction, which they have continued up until this year.

What we’re seeing now, with the republicans in charge of both congress and the White House, is that they don’t actually know how to govern. Ignoring their actual positions on, well, anything, and without regard to whether you approve of or agree with those positions, they’re not really accomplishing what they would otherwise want to do.

So there’s little hope of getting a legislative solution in the short term. I should hope that, if the punditry is accurate in their predictions of 2018 being a wave election year, (a prediction bolstered by the special election in Alabama the other day), then maybe we can hope for a real solution in time for the next presidential election.