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Showing posts from June, 2017

Satire doesn't have to be an exaggeration to be satire

Ok. So this test is satirical.

I think.

But that doesn't change the scary fact that a considerable percentage of President Trump's base would probably get the answers to all seven of the questions "right!" And that conveys quite well why I am so alarmed at the phenomenon of Donald Trump.

He really could, as he once boasted, commit cold-blooded murder on New York's Fifth Avenue in broad daylight and not lose the support of his base.  It's not just that I think the guy is a dangerously ignorant and impulsive and dishonest bully and demagogue who is utterly unqualified for the office he holds. It's that he holds it because of people who could literally pass the test linked to above.

Anybody who has read this blog long enough may remember that in the early days of the Obama administration I mocked the cult of personality that had developed around the man. He was no kind of messiah, no matter what his adoring followers inside and outside the mainstream media …

Jimmy Carter vs. Jesus Christ

Nicholas Kristoff of The New York Times published an op-ed piece today in which he related a conversation with Jimmy Carter about, among other things, whether one can be a Christian without believing in the Resurrection, whether one can be a Christian by basing one's religion on the Sermon on the Mount, and whether virtuous and admirable non-Christians can somehow get to heaven, too.

Mr. Kristoff is an intelligent and- typically for this day and age in our culture- biblically uninformed person harboring deep and culturally common misconceptions about matters which lie at the very heart of the New Testament and the historic Christian faith. This was a great opportunity for Mr. Carter to enlighten him. He blew it, probably because he has allowed his own thinking to become fuzzy about things which are uncomfortable for Christians in our culture to affirm. He pulled his punches and even misapplied Scripture in an attempt to justify himself in doing so. The result was so vapid that on…

...and why, in the short run, I'm maybe a LITTLE worried about my Cubs

In my previous post, I observed that my concerns about the Cubs this year center chiefly on the pitching staff; that the pitching staff on last year's world championship team was more or less scraped together piecemeal and not really built for a multi-year run; that every starting pitcher has lost velocity since last year and that only Hendricks, Lester, and Lackey remain viable; that I confidently expect at least one major trade to land a top-tier starting pitcher before the season ends; and that I expect the signing of at least one  elite free agent starting pitcher over the off-season.

I also observed that while there are several relief pitchers on the staff who are not assets the Cubs do have a lights-out closer in Wade Davis, a very capable setup man in Carl Edwards, Jr. as well as acceptable ones in Koji Uehara and Brian Duensing, and a very capable long reliever (unfortunately currently pressed into emergency service as a starter) in Mike Montgomery.

Further, I said that I…

Why I'm not worried about my Cubs

My Cubs, who made a shambles of the National League last year, are barely above .500 this year. Even so, they're at this writing only a game out of first place, and I have no doubt that they will win the NL Central by a comfortable margin.

But today, they lost yet another game they should have won, and Cub fans have started hitting the panic button. And there are good reasons to be concerned. By now the world champions should have left this very mediocre division in the dust, but they're not even leading it.

Every Cub starting pitcher has lost velocity over the winter. As to the bullpen, while Davis is great and Montgomery and Edwards good and Uehara and Duensing adequate, Strop, Grimm, Rondon, Pena and Floro are terrible (in Floro's case I'm basing that on what little we've seen from him at the MLB level).

The situation with the bullpen isn't a disaster since if you have a lights-out closer, a couple of decent set-up men, and a long reliever or two you can co…

Yes, we'll soon have no bananas, At least like the ones we have now.

Guess what the top-selling item is at Walmart?

The banana. And we're running out of bananas as we know them.

A rapidly-spreading fungus is threatening to wipe out the Cavendish banana, the kind we're used to. Panama Disease, or Tropical Race 4, spreads easily and cannot be controlled by fungicides. It has heavily infected Cavendish bananas all over Asia. The spread of the fatal strain of Panama Disease to South America seems to be only a matter of time, and scientists believe that it won't be long until the Cavendish banana ceases to be a viable staple for worldwide consumption
Wild bananas are inedible because their flesh is riddled with the hard, undigestable seeds which permit them to reproduce. The bananas we eat are seedless mutant plants which have to be artificially cultivated. All the bananas in grocery stores all over the world are effectively clones of one another. So they're especially vulnerable to scourges like Panama Disease. They can't mutate or evol…

The triumph- and promise- of common sense in France

Newly-elected French President Emmanuel Marcon is a man of the Center-Left, whereas American former independent presidential candidate and gadfly Evan McMullin is a man of the Center-Right. But both have something significant in common: they're leaders of national movements to bridge the gaps between their politically polarized countrymen and to get people talking to one another instead of screaming at each other, to get them to recognize valid points made by the other side, and to get them working together to find solutions to problems instead of finding ways to blame each other for them even while respecting honest differences of opinion.

Marcon has become remarkably popular in the brief time since his landslide election over Marine Le Pen, a sort of female French Donald Trump. His newborn political party, La République en marche! ("Republic, forward!") has swept the even more recent French legislative elections and put the Marcon government in a position to demonstra…

Trumpism as a political retrovirus

I have enormous respect for Ross Douthat, a Roman Catholic thinker and conservative columnist who has an uncommon understanding of what has gone wrong with our culture (and with American Christianity) and why. I regard his book Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics as one of the most insightful books I've ever read.

In March of 2016, Douthat wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times which pretty much took the measure of Trumpism. Of course, the closing words of the piece seem a bit poignant now:

Fortunately Trump’s fire should still be contained, by the wider electorate if not by his hapless party. Fortunately he’s still more a comic-opera demagogue than a clear and present danger. Fortunately this is just history giving us a lesson in what could happen, how the republic could slide into a strongman’s hands.

Fortunately.
Of course, it wasn't contained by "the wider electorate,"  because there were more angry, disaffected, badly-informed Americans than a…

Trump delegates part of the job of being President to the military

The President is supposed to set policy. The military is supposed to follow it. Or that's the way it's supposed to work. But President Trump has decided to let the military decide our troop levels in Afghanistan, and thus at least to a degree our level of commitment there.

Yeah, I know a good leader delegates. But I still have mixed emotions about this.

On one hand, I can only praise Mr. Trump for recognizing that he has no idea what he's doing in that area and delegating the decision-making to those who do. But on the other hand, there seems to be no aspect of his job in which he does know what in the world he's doing.

If only he would do that more often! At some point, having him in the Oval Office might actually become almost harmless. But on the other hand, making policy decisions is kind of... well, you know.... what he was elected to do in the first place?

Wouldn't it just have been simpler to have simply elected somebody who was qualified to be president la…

Our biggest problem

I've just had a fascinating experience which, while not surprising, kind of sums up what is probably our biggest problem in America today.

Last night I posted a properly indignant article about a bizarre exchange between President Trump's nominee for Assistant Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Russell Vought, and Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Sen. Sanders brought up a magazine article which Vought wrote years ago defending the right of his alma mater, Wheaton College, to hold an institutionally negative view of Islam- one considerably less negative, it should be said, than the view the Koran takes of Christianity. Wheaton College is, after all, a Christian institution, and orthodox Christianity has taught something Jesus Himself clearly and repeatedly taught pretty much ever since He taught it: that the entire human race stands condemned before God because of sin, but that nobody need personally experience that condemnation because God has provided  an escape from it thr…

The shameful religious bigotry of Bernie Sanders and Chris Van Hollen

This shameful and bigoted performance by Sen. Bernie Sanders- supported by Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland- is a direct assault on the Constitution and thus a violation of their oath of office. It also represents a threat to our values and our way of life far more serious than any of the frightening things President Trump has said about the First Amendment.

Jesus repeatedly states in the New Testament that salvation is obtained only by faith in Him. There have always been Christians who disagree with Him. In recent decades Roman Catholicism has broken with the apostolic tradition and taught that this might not be the case. Certainly, nobody is required to agree with the clear and consistent teaching of the New Testament. But His words are plain, and they are repeated over and over. Sen. Sanders' attack, and that of Sen. Van Hollen,  thus is not merely an attack on Russell T. Vought, the president's nominee to be Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget. Everyth…

"Give me a lever long enough...

...and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world!"--Archimedes

Nick Troiano of The Centrist Project describes his plan to, I don't know... maybe save the country in 2018?

The idea is simple. If maybe two or three moderate independents were elected to the U.S. Senate (Evan McMullin in Utah, for example, or Chuck Hagel in Nebraska), they could deny both parties a majority and dictate who gets to be Majority Leader, who get to chair the committees, and so forth. Reasonable Republicans and Democrats (Republican Ben Sasse of Nebraska, for example, and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia- and incumbent independent Angus King of Maine) might well at least at times break ranks with their parties, if any, and join in.

They could also say to the two parties, "Ok. Each of you come up with a budget/program to address climate change/tax reform plan (or whatever). If you want to get it passed, work together. Compromise. Use common sense. Stop putting ideology first …

No, Mr. President. Qatar is NOT a mosquito repellent!

One of the problems with having a naif like Donald Trump as President of the United States is that he gets played like a harmonica every time he tries to engage in foreign policy.

No, Vlad Putin isn't the only virtuoso. Nor is China's Xi Jinping. We have just seen a performance which demonstrates beyond question that Saudi Arabia also is somewhat accomplished. 

That nation is the seat of the fanatical Wahabi sect of Islam responsible for so much of Islamic extremism. It doesn't like the fact that Qatar serves as a kind of regional counterbalance to it, a rival for leadership in the region. So when Mr. Trump tweeted a call upon the nations in the region to stop funding "radical ideology," the Saudis agreed that yes, Qatar is really terrible. So terrible, in fact, that shortly thereafter they broke off diplomatic relations with Qatar because of its encouragement of Islamic terrorism.

To be fair, Qatar is the home of al-Jazeera, which might be thought of as the Fox…

President Trump still has adult supervision

Konrad Yakabuski of the Toronto Globe and Mailherein offers us some comfort in the face of President Trump's erratic, bizarre, embarrassing and often frightening actions and tweets about foreign policy.

Yakabuski points out that the Paris climate agreement is, in fact, largely symbolic, probably will have little impact on climate change, and is in many ways a fig-leaf for attitudes among its remaining signatories every bit as ungreen as Mr. Trump's. He reminds us that grownups like James Mattis and Rex Tillerson (the latter turning out to be a far better Secretary of State than I had expected) seem to be able to keep Mr. Trump from doing too much damage other than the purely diplomatic.

The guy is still a national humiliation any way you look at it, and our safety and that of the world continue to rest upon his not throwing a violent enough tantrum to actually overrule those in his administration who know what they're doing. But it's worth being reminded that even in …

This is who I am

When I was president of the umbrella organization for the City Colleges of Chicago student governments, our activities director at Wright said that I was someone perpetually in search of a cause. ANY cause.

While wasn't even approximately true, I didn't take that as an insult. In fact, I took at as a kind of compliment. I am a Don Quixote. It's in my blood and bones and soul. Not only do I freely admit it, but I am glad that's what I am.

We live in a world in which most people are willing to embrace whatever kind of evil they're familiar with or think they can cope with if they think it can protect them from a different kind that's foreign to them or somehow less congenial. The problem with that, of course, is that it still means resigning yourself to embracing evil. I'm all for striking the best deal you can get with reality and making the best bargain you can with events. But I'm not comfortable with actually embracing evil even if it's familiar …

Tolkien for the age of Trump and abortion and moral relativism

FRODO: I can’t do this, Sam.

SAM: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy. How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened. But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back; only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something.

FRODO: What are we holding on to, Sam?

SAM: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.

Trump's ignorance might be a reason, but it's no excuse

It seems that I'm not the only person who has noticed that the defense of President Trump in the Comey affair boils down to "Given his ignorance, what do expect?"

Look. When I agree with Fred Kaplan- or with anyone else at Slate- it scares me to death. But in this case, Kaplan's column is the soberest common sense. All presidents are "new to this" at first. All presidents make mistakes. Generally, the longer they've been in positions of power, and the closer they've been to the summit of power, the fewer mistakes they make. But the primary characteristic of a well-qualified president isn't necessarily what a person knows. Generally, the better-suited someone is to the office, the more that person is aware of what he or she doesn't know. In fact, that's almost a requirement for the job.

Even Mr. Trump's supporters saw this moment coming. I well remember being told during the campaign that the man's ignorance of just about every fa…