Evangelicals: Then and Now

It’s easy to get the impression (especially for those of us in the secular humanist community) that the long-term trend of dwindling congregations in mainline Protestant churches is being compensated by increasing attendance in evangelical Protestant churches. If not matched person for person, at least as notable in the increasing volume coming from the arrogant snake-oil-selling leaders.  Historically, fundamentalist evangelicals began to assert themselves into the cultural wars and political debate in the early 1970s, mostly coming from a reaction to the upheavals in the 1960s, including the Second Wave feminist movement; civil rights reform; and challenges to the overall political and economic structures of the country and its relation to war and poverty; and the beginnings of the open drug culture.

 

But the fact is those identifying as evangelical Protestants is decreasing. Not only is its growth in decline, it is  most glaring in the demographic of age. In 2006, 23% of the population surveyed identified as evangelicals; in 2017, this had decreased to 17%. A Pew survey shows that in 1987, 20% of of those 18-29 years old claimed to be evangelicals, and by 2016 that number had fallen to 11%.

 

The numbers show that what Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute, has called the “2nd wave of Christian decline” is, in fact, underway. (Never mind the Catholics: they made sure their ride on the down escalator to irrelevance and to its lore’s favorite place— Hell— was ensured by methodically resisting change to 1000-year-old doctrine and tradition— a tradition which, unfortunately, included rampant sexual abuse by its clergy and centuries of hiding and coverups by its bishops.)

 

Probably contributing to the fall off interest from the youngest group might better be called put off. The inevitability of changing attitudes toward sex and the acceptance that biological and psychological realities about people’s sexuality do not necessarily match is now becoming evident to even the most bigoted. Most younger people know (and like) at least one gay or non-cisgender person, and really have a hard time reconciling the draconian doctrines of the church of their parents with their own more tolerant understanding. Nor do they tend to be as obsessed as their elders about immigration, and their elders’ insecurity about losing influence in an increasingly brown America.

 

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The cover story of the October edition of The New Republic gives the account of another direction a few evangelicals have taken. “The Struggle for a New American Gospel” is the story of how two late thirty-ish former evangelicals made the full circle from conservative evangelical upbringing to disaffected atheists, and back again to Christianity (mostly)—this time, with an enlightened liberal understanding of the Christian message highly preferable to the hardline fire and brimstone, racist, and homophobic religion American evangelicalism is known for.  The Liturgists was the brainchild of Michael Gugnor, musician and recording artist recognized best for contributing to the Christian music scene, and “Science Mike” McHargue, author, podcaster, former advertising representative, and current afficionado of popular science. The two co-host The Liturgist Podcast along with contributors Hillary and William, as well as plan and host “gatherings” throughout America and beyond, and have put together a couple of online courses which they sell on their website.

 

The author of the article, Bryan Mealer, inserts parallels to  his own story of a similar spiritual transition he passed through; and at times has trouble at times tempering his giddiness over this openly liberal new group and its founders. “At Trinity [an Austin church building where the The Liturgists held a gathering] I realized I could be both liberal and Christian—that the church could be an affirming and reconciling place for gay and transgender people, along with advocating for the poor and oppressed. It was liberating….Somewhere within me, beneath the scar tissue, was a child who’d once believed that Sunday school lesson of universal love and was waiting for it to be true….He clung to the verse about seeking justice ….I followed that child, running.”

 

McHargue and Gugnor borrow the term “deconstruction” from philosopher Jacques Derrida and which, very loosely, describes the processes of breaking down something into its parts to understand its meaning “through the workings of language and conceptual systems.” As applied by The Liturgists, it is the next step after first  having experienced so much of the bullshit from your religion that you have to escape. Somewhere out of the ashes the hunch that, if one was seriously committed to Christianity, focusing on the actual message charity, love, empathy, and forgiveness taught by Christ himself would be a good place to start. As it turned out, it was an excellent place to start, because the founders had, in the process, tuned in to a niche that was looking for a place to happen; where the intersection of political lefties, social justice warriors, skeptics, mainline Protestants, the “I’m spiritual, not religious”  crowd, mystics, meditators, and a place where even those to whomspeaking in tongues is a legitimate religious experience worthy of discussion are welcome at the table. After that, Science Mike and Music Michael let their talent take over—the former as the loquacious hipster directing (more or less) the discussion, and the latter filling in the conversation and plugging in self-composed music clips to set and heighten the mood of the segment. Both they and sidekicks Hillary and William are not strangers to the idea that in order to really connect with their targeted demographic a light peppering of the otherwise deep thoughts discourse with some well-placed potty language and sexual innuendo is the order of the day.

So…credit given where credit is due: the podcast has survived four years and is among iTunes’ “What’s Hot” in the spirituality and religion podcast category; they have produced a slick webpage and web-based tutorials; and they round off this year’s events with gatherings in London, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Nashville. The social message is near and dear to the humanist heart, so why not take your friends where you find them? Can the pseudo-science and the mysticism, the advice on Enneagram interpretation, and the sentimental reflections on tongues be overlooked as quirky holdovers from a previous delusional world view if they are sincerely committed to working toward righting social injustices? Do they understand current hateful roots of racism and misogyny and xenophobia in world literature can be traced to the Bible, and are they willing to speak out on the subject with fellow Christians? Or, since rational thinking and true scientific understanding are hard, will this end up being another podcast with lots of talk and little action centered on nurturing feel-goodness among fickle listeners by a couple of two very cool L.A. dudes?

The Humanist Advocate

reported by Marty Bankson

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Elimination Through Enlightenment

The trend in mass shootings  has been to find the body of the perpetrator among or nearby the dead and dying, prone on  the killing floor with his victims— either from his own hand or “neutralized” by the rescuers. (I use the masculine pronoun since these atrocities are always carried out by men.) We are then left with the multiple crises of grieving, the unending questions of causes and answers, and attempts to ferret out some sense of closure as we go about burying the dead. That is the trend, but occasionally the murderer escapes the scene alive, and is either captured in flight, or is subdued on the site. Once in custody, we are faced with another crisis, that of the choice involving continuing or ending the life of the accused: should this person live or die? The state, as a representative of the people forming it, has the legal monopoly to carry out killing, mandated through law. Should it?

As it turns out in the case of Nikolas Cruz, the troubled teenager who shot dead seventeen in a high school building, this crisis of choice rests primarily with the jurisdiction’s district attorney or other designated prosecutor. Cruz’ defense attorney has already made the offer to agree to the defendant’s plea of guilt if the death penalty is excluded from the sentence. Almost two weeks has passed since this proposal was floated, but to date, no response has been forthcoming from the prosecutor. It is a “crisis” of choice inasmuch that if the prosecutor proceeds to send the case to trial seeking the death penalty, there is a good chance that, barring any legal snafus or abuses, Cruz will be found guilty. The defense of Cruz would boil down to his unfortunate circumstance of an unstable family life involving adoption, the loss of both adoptive parents, the move to a third family, and the failure of the state to recognize him as potentially sociopathic, and then failing to follow up with him—even with fair warnings from police records and personal testimonies. Neither of these, alone or together, are usually sufficient grounds for meriting a reprieve. The prosecutor in cases that involve the death penalty has a morbidly serious decision that no mere mortal should be confronted with, but usually manages anyway with a clear conscience, assuming a mandate has been proffered from the voting public which, in the United States, approve of the death penalty by over 60%. The United States government law allows for execution only in certain cases of terrorism and treason, but leaves individual states free to make their decisions about it. It is not certain why the U.S. lags behind other developed countries in abolishing this archaic ritual of ultimate vengeance,  it could be a hangover from mythical (read: religious) concepts of retributive and redemptive violence, wherein one is somehow “repaid” or redeemed through acts of violence; but allowing individual states their own option on moral issues involving matters of life and death is not a good idea. Even so, the practice is on the decline according to Steven Pinker in his newly released book Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress (Viking, 2018). Seven states have banned capital punishment in the past decade, bringing the total to 19. Of the 31 states where it is still legal, 16 have moratoria against it. Some states have not used it in over five years. Pinker describes this retreat as a breakdown of the machinery “of the intricate apparatus of death and the team of mechanics to run and repair it,” and further, “As the machine wears out and the mechanics refuse to maintain it, it becomes increasingly unwieldy and invites being scrapped.” That cycle began with the “historical expansion of sympathy and reason,” to the point that even the strongest supporters of the death penalty “lost their stomach” for the brutality of it. Factors playing a role in the growing revulsion are forensic DNA and fingerprinting methods showing that the wrong person is sometimes executed; the relative “dignity” and humanity associated with even its “cleanest” iteration, lethal injection—although a long way from the “gory sadism of crucifixion and disembowelment”—is still fraught with unreliability and pain; and the increasing dependability of penitentiary design and operation making them escape- and riot-proof have made life terms of incarceration within them the more desirable option.

“The pathways [to abolition of the death penalty] are manifold and tortuous,” writes Pinker, “the effects are slow and then sudden, but in the fullness of time an idea from the Enlightenment can transform the world.” And why not? Many ideas from that age have transformed the world, literally . But  for the present, unfortunately, Mr. Cruz’ fate rests on the grim choice the district attorney makes with his state-invested authority to avenge death with death. And we know what that means.

A Liberal Looks at Identity Politics

 “…the most profound and potentially most radical politics come directly out of our own identity, as opposed to working to end somebody else’ oppression.” —from the Combahee River Collective Statement, 1977

“anything achieved through movement politics can be undone through institutional politics.”—Mark Lilla, The Once and Future Liberal

Once upon a time in recent history, someone altered the quotation  “All politics is local,” reportedly said by former Speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives Tip O’Neill, to fit a blossoming cultural trend and controversial niche of higher educational study and curricula to “All politics is identity politics” (and its corollary “all politics is personal”) which has proven to be, at the very least, a fail proof title for bloggers and journalists under which to express their own two cents worth on the subject. A few examples can be seen here, there, and everywhere. One ambitious writer even tries stirring interest with its antithesis yonder.

Mark Lilla, author of last year’s much-discussed book The Once and Future Liberal (HarperCollins, 2017, Kindle Edition) is Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University and a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, and has written other books about political philosophy and history, including The Stillborn God, The Shipwrecked Mind, and The Reckless Mind. The oddly simplistic titles of the books, along with a lucid and straightforward writing style belie his  thorough understanding of the history of ideas of politics. In this book he takes a position that is usually associated with the thinking of both those farther left of liberalism and farther right at the same time, those which challenge the idea that identity politics is true politics in the first place; a paradox that I’ll try to illuminate later.

 

He sets up his premise looking at twentieth century U. S. history based on two different and opposing grand political themes—which he calls “dispensations,” borrowing from the theological term meaning, loosely, “ divine ordering of the world”—named for their association with the presidents that inspired them and became recognized as the guru of each. The Roosevelt dispensation began with the New Deal escape from the Great Depression and excesses of monopoly capitalists, and continued through the defeat of fascism, the civil rights movement—up to the Great Society days of Johnson. It “pictured an American where citizens were involved in a collective enterprise to guard one another against risk, hardship, and the denial of human rights.” and could be tagged with words like solidarity, opportunity,  and public duty. The Reagan Dispensation “pictured a more individualistic America, where families…and businesses would flourish once freed from the shackles of the state,” with watchwords like self-reliance and minimal government. The early 1970s is generally accepted as the time the transition began, culminating in 1980 with the election of Ronald Reagan. Lilla’s ultimate message is to emphasize party politics over movement and identity politics as the only successful way to achieve progress, but  that about this time,  democrats abdicated power to the Republican Party by not following this prescription . The New Left of the 1960s spawned  issue-based movements that helped bring about progressive change, writes Lilla, but did nothing to contribute to the unification of the Democratic Party and develop a liberal vision of America’s shared future.  Remnants of the New Left were left scattered following their attempt at a radical transformation of American society. Scattered, but not forgotten: many of the group, now with degrees, returned to campuses as instructors or activist hangers-on and “turned the university into a pseudo-political theater for the staging of operas and melodramas” which, “generated enormous controversy about tenured radicals, the culture wars, and political correctness.”  On the other side, however, Republicans were spreading out across the country through small towns, rural counties, and big cities participating in “real” politics by getting people elected to offices of magistrates to judges to governors, where the power for change really rests.

Enter Reaganism—the new vision of bootstrapping one’s way to success if only big government would get out of the way was presented in 3D and replayed through political campaigns and commercial media. The economic lull of stagflation after the post-war boom years and flattening  wages was blamed in whole or part on big government with its proliferation of welfare and social aid programs, byzantine bureaucracy, and appetite for war (even if was about Communism). The vision of the newly empowered individual speaking true to the power of the monolithic state swept Republicans into the driver’s seat in statehouses, federal offices, and the Presidency. And this is the paradox: another form of individualism was populating our campuses and writing policy in the Democratic playbook. That form being self-definition, construction of personal brands, self-regard, and training students to become “spelunkers of their personal identities. Reaganism for lefties, Lilla calls it. We now had two identitarian groups; one of wallet-watchers and the other of navel-gazers, neither concerned much about the concepts of reciprocal rights and duties, civic responsibility as a virtue, a common vision for the future, or the priority of citizenship over group or personal identity. (Sam Harris claims we deny the common rationality shared by humans. Others call it libertarianism on steroids; others, a free fall into the pool of Narcissus). The conservatives are correct in saying that liberals run academia, but fail to see that it works in their own favor, since collegiate identity politics has a fragmenting, anti-political quality built in, which  should affirm that the Republican has no need to feel threatened or challenged for power, at least from those quarters. The left identitarians create their own problem, with the backlash from white supremacists gaining a renewed feeling of empowerment—courtesy of the student body’s lead that it was now okay for everyone to get on with expressing their own identity.

 

Some reviewers of The Once and Future Liberal see it as more of a polemic than a scholarly social analysis, filled with over-simplifications, stereotypes, and buzzwords. Lilla himself admits to being “harsh” in his criticism of the phenomenon. But often it takes a rousing polemic to refresh interest in a topic that has tended toward the over-analyzed and  a sameness that triggers the glaze-over-zone-out reaction in readers. The feedback from writers in the national media demonstrates the controversy his book has created. Lilla’s insistence on moving on from what is now a four decades-long move from the civic-minded citizen working with others to get through troubling times and plan for the better future into today’s hyper-individualistic, atomizing, de-politicizing, and self-absorbing  libertarian ideology is probably a project those who identify as humanists could agree with as project worth pursuing. Whether they would agree that working through grassroots Democratic party politics to accomplish that is another question. After all, the accusation that both major party organizations, as servants to a larger neoliberal capitalist ethos are systemically corrupting in themselves cannot be ignored. That the ethos motivated by profits alone can, in the course of one television program, promote ideal of all people of various cultures and skin colors celebrating life while enjoying their soft drink in one commercial; and in the next, offer inexpensive DNA test kits to show you just how different you are from the  folks in the previous commercial shows where the vision of the current party politics is likely focused.

So is Lilla’s solution to the problem viable? Is the problem really a problem?  Whatever the correct answers are, it is a good bet they won’t be the coming from one person, one party, or one identity group alone.

Volney’s Ruins Resurrected

In the current (Sept/Oct 2017) edition of The Humanist, former president of the American Humanist Association Lyle L. Simpson marks the centennial anniversary of the modern humanist movement with a brief summary of its improbable beginning in a Minneapolis Unitarian Church, while also mentioning its ancient origins with Greek and Roman literati Epicurus and Lucretius.

Epicurus’ teaching, “centered on each of us maximizing our life here on Earth instead of our life being regulated by the gods”  was “spelled out in detail” in Lucretius’ poem “On the Nature of Things” writes Lyle, and was later translated into Latin and adopted by the Medici family, Florentine rulers in the early 1400s, as a code for living.

Missing from Lyle’s abbreviated history was an entire movement generally referred to as Renaissance Humanism, beginning with the efforts of Italian poet Petrarch, promoting the idea of human progress—only three centuries removed from the Dark Ages—  and as an alternative to the static outlook of Catholic scholasticism. Petrarch’s belief was that in order for humanity to advance and regain “cultural excellence”—and thus “progress”—Classical-era texts and histories of needed to recovered, restored, and thoroughly studied and then emulated in life. He considered the Greek and Roman classical age as the high point of civilization, and the need to get back to a culture modeled after it. From the late 1300s to the 1600s, humanists went about searching “private and monastic libraries, [the region of] Byzantium, and [interviewing or uncovering works by] Muslim scholars and merchants,” (1)  collating and cross-checking translations for accuracy. The rebirth of the Classical age was the goal, and that would be progress.

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Thomas Christian Williams introduced attendees to the September monthly meeting to the signature accomplishment of Constantin-François de Chassebouef, compte de Volney: his book Les ruines; ou Méditations sur les révolutions des empires; author and book hereafter referred to as Volney, and the English title The Ruins of Empires. Williams’ lecture, titled “The Modern Day Relevance of Volney’s Ruins” suggested that there can be lessons for humanity in this book he calls a “lost classic,” “lost” even though it was popular in the late 18th and through much of the 19th centuries.

Perhaps the most interesting points about the history of the author and book is that Volney was acquainted with Benjamin Franklin, who, in turn, introduced him to Thomas Jefferson during the fledgling days of the American republic. Jefferson apparently liked the book well enough to attempt translating it into English, completing about 80 percent of it before abandoning the project to pursue running for the office of President. The remainder of the translation was completed by Joel Barlow and first published in the United States in 1828. The book was read by George Washington (the pre-Jeffersonian edition), Frederic Douglass (Volney was also an abolitionist), Abraham Lincoln (who wrote an essay about it), atheist crusader Robert Ingersoll, poets Walt Whitman (whose “Leaves of Grass” is based upon) and William Blake, and women’s right pioneer Elizabeth Cady Stanton. With a list of readers such as these, it should  easy to believe in Williams’ claim that this book of “secular general principles” is one “our species needs in the tumultuous opening decades of the 21st Century,” and is one “people could use to build a peaceful, prosperous, and transparent democracy.”

Williams is, by some accounts, the world’s leading expert on Volney’s Ruins, and that pedigree would be hard to deny. His expertise on the different editions and translations of the book can been seen on the Amazon website under comments section where he himself contributes to reviews of several versions of the book, including in some of them “Five General Rules to Purchase a Jefferson-Barlow Translation”. He is the searching, diligent 15th Century humanist in this respect—making sure the Jefferson translation is properly identified, while giving background on other editions, motivated by the belief that a true understanding and implementation of Volney’s works will be a progressive move forward. Unlike the Renaissance Humanists, his reflection to the past is not toward the cultural Shangri-la of the classical Greek era, but rather to a much more recent period of—primarily—intellectual history known as the Enlightenment, of which Volney and Jefferson  could be considered exemplary .

For today’s reader, getting through a translation of an 18th Century French work will probably prove to be cumbersome and tedious. One reviewer describes it as a “belated example of ‘philosophic’ polemics,” so dear reader should be prepared to add to the already slightly arcane language lots of hyperbole and obscure allusions; and wading one’s way through it could become an even slower slog for all but the most dedicated scholar. It is here where Williams’ world class expertise is again on display by cooking down the highfalutin flowery prose to straightforward lessons for the modern day audience.

Volney was a secularist, who believed the cause of the demise of empires was rooted in a conflict between fundamentalism and modernity; the fundamentalist system of morality  being based on “metaphysical assertions,” where modernists’ moral code is based on the “physical realities” of nature. And the most evident of all physical realities to living creatures is based on the will to survive. Humanity—in the form of  governments and groups and individuals alike—would flourish only by accepting this basic natural law  and encourage an ethic of “enlightened self-interest,” which Volney defines as self-interest combined with education, moderation, and always applying  the Golden Rule. This ethic, Williams writes in Amazon, is “a direct challenge to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Social Contract—if you refute the Social Contract, you refute the moral foundation of the big government social programs that exist in the world today.”

The principle of enlightened self-interest, at least Volney’s definition, may not sit well with many humanists who believe that government social programs are not a bad thing in themselves; on the contrary: it can be shown that they help mitigate many excesses of “self-interest” running amuck, which has resulted in gross concentrations of wealth and political power in world capitalist economics.

But his ideas of a morality based on naturalism over the “metaphysical assertions” of religions; his promotion of  strict separation of church and state; and his abolitionist stance on slavery should be enough for secular humanists to at least familiarize themselves with his work but not, as the Renaissance Humanists, for the purpose of a nostalgic trip back to what they believed were better books and a better life to aid any   attempt to emulate or recreate it in the present.

 

 

 

The Teaching Company, LLC. (2007). Great Scientific Ideas that Changed the World. “Progress Enters into History” https://thegreatcourses.com/digital-library/course/view/id/514/format/0/

given his very professional presentation of the material in a slow and measured speaking style punctuated with occasional quickening and raising  his voice for dramatic or reflective appeal.

Check Your Attitude at the Door

Someone once told me that opening up your Facebook app was like going to the neighborhood bar. The lyrics

Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name.

soon came to mind and continue—complete with the sappy melody from the Cheers sitcom theme of the ’80s—to initiate a daylong ear worm every time I think about it.

For my purpose, the barroom analogy may be well-suited. Whether  you sit there reading, scrolling—latte or Red Bull within arm’s reach of your keyboard—or with elbows and forearms prone on the counter guarding the  micro-brew standing between them,  with a co-relaxant/conversationalist on the next barstool, the inevitable interloper will walk through the door. How she got here if she were not otherwise on a “Friends with” list or a page group member,we may not know, possibly gaining entry through algorithmic aberrations of the Facebook master plan to have eventually everyone become friends of everyone else. But your space is public, just like the pub, so no explanation is ultimately necessary—it just happens. But this character is not the overly-welcomed Norm or the just-irritating trivia monster Cliff of Cheers, but a full-on goddamned troll; and just when you thought the day’s stress was evaporating with each passing minute, she’s on a mission. The analogy fails when, as most in-the-flesh disagreeable strangers keep to themselves in public settings like pubs, where the newcomer, seeing a group expressing opinions contradictory to his own, is more likely to grab a stool at the far end of the bar. Likewise the troll without the cover of his basement or bedroom or the road-raging driver without two tons of Ford F-150 armor is effectively neutered. Isolation seems to bring out the worst in us.

The rather extended lead-in here is to illustrate that possible mistaken or just haphazard confluences of associations of people with others or groups that would not, on the face of it,  appear as natural matches, in fact, occur; and when confined to the internet, telephones, or other non-physical modes of contact they can lead to very acrimonious verbal exchanges. This is not news to anyone who participates on social media or has ever had to deal with an inept customer service rep; and it is not news to frequent visitors to group pages like our own NOSHA page. There can be some intersting speculation on how these ill-matched conversationalists end up in the same place though.

There can be some confusion to the assumed general outlook and reason for being of the NOSHA organization itself, which can carry over as a misrepresentation in the social media. Some incorrectly assume that disbelief in the supernatural—all variations of atheism, etc.—is, pretty much, the beginning and end of the conversation, when, for NOSHA, it is really just the beginning. The American Humanist Association recentLY published a brief and insightful look into this topic   with a very brief review of historical highlights of atheism through the ages and a statement of principles of humanism, concluding with quotes from influential writers and scientists involved in AHA.

With the advent of the New Atheism in the mid-2000s came a resurgence of interest in the topic, and a new cottage industry of books, essays, and speaking tours was born, followed not long after by the more contemporary  communications available through social media, blogs, and  podcasts. The underlying theme of most of it was that atheism was a “movement”. The NOSHA Facebook page doubtlessly benefitted from this surge, now approaching 1,000 members, doubling the number from five years ago. And since the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association was founded before both New Atheism and social media, it could be considered a placeholder when referencing the birth, development, and outlook of similar groups that have sprung up since.
But atheism—in itself—cannot be the foundation of a movement: the dialectical refutation of an idea (or in this case, gods) can lead only to a ‘higher” truth, not a validation of itself as the end. It is only a method, a tool. Negation alone leads to nihilism. So it should come as no surprise that cracks have lately begun showing in the unity of the mission, perhaps the most glaring being the woeful attendance at the 2016 Reason Rally in Washington. Some blamed the scheduling at the beginning of summer, but  much of it was due to atheist “purists” refusing to attend in reaction to programming geared more towards social justice and identity politics issues.  Podcaster David Smalley most recent contribution to the cybersphere is titled “Eating Our Own: How You Can Save the Movement,” which acknowledges that there are divisions within “The Movement,” but tries to demonstrate that none of the divisive issues can be of more importance than keeping The Movement together. One would need not look far to find other examples or commentary on the subject.

But here are some bad actors that are atheists, let’s face it; and the web is being populated with more white nationalists/supremacists and closet fascists by the day, not to mention the standard complement of mainstream neocons and neoliberals—many avowed atheists— that hold unprogressive notions antithetical to the goals of humanism. Smalley can’t be further from the truth with his call for unity for unity’s sake. All atheism may be created equally, but where one proceeds with it is what matters.

A recent dust-up on the NOSHA Facebook group page is what drew my attention to this conflict. It happens sometimes, but I suppose we should still—in the spirit of humanism—allow obvious anti-humanists the ability to speak their piece. That same antagonist, on the other hand, should expect pushback. If she is unaware of the ideals of humanism, she needs to be informed, since some may still see NOSHA as primarily a gathering place for “just” atheists. Once informed that the tenants of humanism stand in sharp contrast to her own agenda but she relentlessly pushes on, “speaking one’s piece” becomes miserable trolling in its worst form.  In this case, the reactionary atheist interloper decided to leave the group. That happens sometimes as well, reminding me of another interesting analogy that compares entry into Facebook Land to “….like being hit with the braggart Christmas letter every single day—Johnny is doing this, Jane is doing that—thereby making you feel bad about all the things you’re not doing. It’s pushing you to participate in a game you didn’t really want to play.” (1)

 

Havens, Sara. The Bar Belle, Vol. 2. lulu.com: 2015

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An afterword, taken from the AHA’s link above…..

“It is quite possible to be an atheist and be quite deluded about other things other than religion. ‘A-theism’ is an empty category. ‘Humanism’ may be deluded about human potential, but at least it is a hopeful and non-exclusionary delusion!” – Joyce Carol Oates AHA Humanist of the Year and prolific author.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FIELD TRIP!

Many, if not most of the advances in the discipline of science and its utilitarian child technology have come from man’s ability to devise new ways to observe, measure and record the physical world around him—and the worlds beyond his own.

 

At last count, there are five space observatories in Louisiana, all but one resemble the image most visualize when hearing the term, of an igloo- or dome-shaped building with a the barrel of a telescope jutting out at an angle. It works on the very old math of focal lengths and the craft of lens making. Thanks to this measuring stick (and Galileo, of course) we know that we are not at the center of our solar system, much less the universe.

 

The fifth space observatory is an example of a new way to observe nature. It was conceived, designed, and constructed for the purpose of observing, unlike telescopes, phenomena that are invisible. And not only invisible, but, at the time, were only known to exist as a necessary consequence of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. The phenomena are gravitational waves, the ripples in spacetime proposed by the theory that undulate outward from a large celestial events.

 

In April, about fifty NOSHA members went on a field trip to the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) ten miles or so north of Livingston, La. for their monthly educational meeting, and got a first hand experience and tour of how it works. The LIGO operation is funded by the National Science Foundation and operated by Caltech and MIT universities, with assistance from students and staff from LSU. An identical facility is located in Hanford, Washington; the idea being that with two observatories, any errors in measurements at either location—false positives—caused by local conditions or glitches would be cancelled by the other.

 

LIGO began taking its first measurements in 2005, and made upgrades to the facility in 2015, which included the Science Education Center, a building designed for the general public with an auditorium, classroom, pre-control room area, and exhibit hall with about 50 interactive exhibits. The NOSHA group spent time with the hands-on giant, suspended slinky, bobbing and wagging their heads following the  pendulum apparatus, trying to determine the heat source from a large concave mirror, and other exhibits while waiting for the guided part of the tour. The guide walked about half of us (our group was split up due the the numbers and others outside of the group mixed in) to the main building where a short film was presented, followed by a visit to the central control room of the complex. Banks of monitors, almost floor to ceiling on three walls looked down on the three or four operators staffing the control. The operators seemed unfazed by the crunch of tourists that squeezed in the the tight space down the center aisle and around their desks and were prompted by the guide to take questions from the guide. (There always seems to be a smart ass in these open question sessions, who purposefully ask a very technical question that would possibly leave a technician without an answer, thereby showing off his own expertise on the subject. Our group had one.) One of our members commented later that this part of the tour might better be served with a more dramatized presentation of goings on with the maze of data displayed in the monitors and work being done by the operators rather than allowing questioners wander down rabbit holes with their abstruse musings.

 

So how do we observe something we cannot see (or is not detectable by any of our other four basic senses)? This is possible by observing the effects the phenomenon. In the case of the LIGO observatory, two 4-kilometer arms resembling inverted concrete half-pipes radiate at a 90° angle from a common point from within which a laser beam is sent traversing through a vacuum tube and reflected back to the center by suspended ultra fine mirror. The passage of a gravitational wave alters the length of the tubes, causing a difference in the time it takes for the beam to travel, and shows up as a slightly out of phase wave length. On September 14, 2015, such a disturbance was noted with the observatory in Livingston, and then, milliseconds later, at the Washington installation. By triangulation, the origin of the wave is determined, and the result agreed with a  previous observation of the merging of two black holes over a billion years ago. “Slightly” is a vague and greatly understated term to describe the actual measurement: the variation amount to a mere 1/1000th of the diameter of a proton was all there was on the wavelengths. The precision involved in locating the mirrors to this degree of measurement is almost incomprehensible, as well as the technology to assure that the foundations in the ground were perfectly level; the concrete base poured to offset the curvature of the Earth, which would be a significant factor for error, even over the relatively short 2.5 mile length. Another wave was observed on December 26 of the same year at both locations. One gets a feel for the sensitivity of the equipment upon entering the facility. The two-lane road is lined on both sides and down the middle with traffic cones and the posted speed limit of 10 mph about a quarter mile before arriving at the main entry and guard shack. Some restrictions on tours are in effect to minimize traffic vibrations.

 

Some philosophers of science have pointed out that in the course of building new devices for observing natural phenomena-—even though the original conception may be sound and the intentions admirable-—may have biases built into them, causing them to yield results that they were specifically designed to observe or validate. Understandably, an area where the actual phenomenon remains invisible to the human sensory apparati, doubt about the validity of positive results can persist, even among those involved in the project. Einstein himself waffled on his own idea, at least once publicly doubting the existence of the gravitational waves. But to Rainer Weiss, who by 1972 had drawn up a design for these long-armed “antennae” as a way to catch lightning in a bottle, a Nobel Prize may soon be on its way, and the burden of disproof remains on the skeptics.

 

 

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu

Transcript of a speech delivered by New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu on May 19, 2017, the day of the removal of the last of Civil War statues slated for removal by an ordinance passed by the City Council. 

The soul of our beloved City is deeply rooted in a history that has evolved over thousands of years; rooted in a diverse people who have been here together every step of the way – for both good and for ill.

It is a history that holds in its heart the stories of Native Americans: the Choctaw, Houma Nation, the Chitimacha. Of Hernando de Soto, Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, the Acadians, the Islenos, the enslaved people from Senegambia, Free People of Color, the Haitians, the Germans, both the empires of Francexii and Spain. The Italians, the Irish, the Cubans, the south and central Americans, the Vietnamese and so many more.

You see: New Orleans is truly a city of many nations, a melting pot, a bubbling cauldron of many cultures.

There is no other place quite like it in the world that so eloquently exemplifies the uniquely American motto: e pluribus unum — out of many we are one.

But there are also other truths about our city that we must confront. New Orleans was America’s largest slave market: a port where hundreds of thousands of souls were brought, sold and shipped up the Mississippi River to lives of forced labor of misery of rape, of torture.

America was the place where nearly 4,000 of our fellow citizens were lynched, 540 alone in Louisiana; where the courts enshrined ‘separate but equal’; where Freedom riders coming to New Orleans were beaten to a bloody pulp.

So when people say to me that the monuments in question are history, well what I just described is real history as well, and it is the searing truth.

And it immediately begs the questions: why there are no slave ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks; nothing to remember this long chapter of our lives; the pain, the sacrifice, the shame … all of it happening on the soil of New Orleans.

So for those self-appointed defenders of history and the monuments, they are eerily silent on what amounts to this historical malfeasance, a lie by omission.

There is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence of it. For America and New Orleans, it has been a long, winding road, marked by great tragedy and great triumph. But we cannot be afraid of our truth.

As President George W. Bush said at the dedication ceremony for the National Museum of African American History & Culture, “A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them.”

So today I want to speak about why we chose to remove these four monuments to the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, but also how and why this process can move us towards healing and understanding of each other.

So, let’s start with the facts.

The historic record is clear: the Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were not erected just to honor these men, but as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause. This ‘cult’ had one goal — through monuments and through other means — to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity.

First erected over 166 years after the founding of our city and 19 years after the end of the Civil War, the monuments that we took down were meant to rebrand the history of our city and the ideals of a defeated Confederacy.

It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America, They fought against it. They may have been warriors, but in this cause they were not patriots.

These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.

After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism as much as a burning cross on someone’s lawn; they were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city.

Should you have further doubt about the true goals of the Confederacy, in the very weeks before the war broke out, the Vice President of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, made it clear that the Confederate cause was about maintaining slavery and white supremacy.

He said in his now famous ‘Cornerstone speech’ that the Confederacy’s “cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

Now, with these shocking words still ringing in your ears, I want to try to gently peel from your hands the grip on a false narrative of our history that I think weakens us and make straight a wrong turn we made many years ago so we can more closely connect with integrity to the founding principles of our nation and forge a clearer and straighter path toward a better city and more perfect union.

Last year, President Barack Obama echoed these sentiments about the need to contextualize and remember all of our history. He recalled a piece of stone, a slave auction block engraved with a marker commemorating a single moment in 1830 when Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay stood and spoke from it.

President Obama said, “Consider what this artifact tells us about history … on a stone where day after day for years, men and women … bound and bought and sold and bid like cattle on a stone worn down by the tragedy of over a thousand bare feet. For a long time the only thing we considered important, the singular thing we once chose to commemorate as history with a plaque were the unmemorable speeches of two powerful men.”

A piece of stone – one stone. Both stories were history. One story told. One story forgotten or maybe even purposefully ignored.

As clear as it is for me today … for a long time, even though I grew up in one of New Orleans’ most diverse neighborhoods, even with my family’s long proud history of fighting for civil rights … I must have passed by those monuments a million times without giving them a second thought.

So I am not judging anybody, I am not judging people. We all take our own journey on race. I just hope people listen like I did when my dear friend Wynton Marsalis helped me see the truth. He asked me to think about all the people who have left New Orleans because of our exclusionary attitudes.

Another friend asked me to consider these four monuments from the perspective of an African American mother or father trying to explain to their fifth grade daughter who Robert E. Lee is and why he stands atop of our beautiful city. Can you do it?

Can you look into that young girl’s eyes and convince her that Robert E. Lee is there to encourage her? Do you think she will feel inspired and hopeful by that story? Do these monuments help her see a future with limitless potential? Have you ever thought that if her potential is limited, yours and mine are too?

We all know the answer to these very simple questions.

When you look into this child’s eyes is the moment when the searing truth comes into focus for us. This is the moment when we know what is right and what we must do. We can’t walk away from this truth.

And I knew that taking down the monuments was going to be tough, but you elected me to do the right thing, not the easy thing and this is what that looks like. So relocating these Confederate monuments is not about taking something away from someone else. This is not about politics, this is not about blame or retaliation. This is not a naïve quest to solve all our problems at once.

This is, however, about showing the whole world that we as a city and as a people are able to acknowledge, understand, reconcile and, most importantly, choose a better future for ourselves, making straight what has been crooked and making right what was wrong.

Otherwise, we will continue to pay a price with discord, with division, and yes, with violence.

To literally put the confederacy on a pedestal in our most prominent places of honor is an inaccurate recitation of our full past, it is an affront to our present, and it is a bad prescription for our future.

History cannot be changed. It cannot be moved like a statue. What is done is done. The Civil War is over, and the Confederacy lost and we are better for it. Surely we are far enough removed from this dark time to acknowledge that the cause of the Confederacy was wrong.

And in the second decade of the 21st century, asking African Americans — or anyone else — to drive by property that they own; occupied by reverential statues of men who fought to destroy the country and deny that person’s humanity seems perverse and absurd.

Centuries-old wounds are still raw because they never healed right in the first place.

Here is the essential truth: we are better together than we are apart. Indivisibility is our essence. Isn’t this the gift that the people of New Orleans have given to the world?

We radiate beauty and grace in our food, in our music, in our architecture, in our joy of life, in our celebration of death; in everything that we do. We gave the world this funky thing called jazz; the most uniquely American art form that is developed across the ages from different cultures.

Think about second lines, think about Mardi Gras, think about muffaletta, think about the Saints, gumbo, red beans and rice. By God, just think. All we hold dear is created by throwing everything in the pot; creating, producing something better; everything a product of our historic diversity.

We are proof that out of many we are one — and better for it! Out of many we are one — and we really do love it!

And yet, we still seem to find so many excuses for not doing the right thing. Again, remember President Bush’s words, “A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them.”

We forget, we deny how much we really depend on each other, how much we need each other. We justify our silence and inaction by manufacturing noble causes that marinate in historical denial. We still find a way to say “wait, not so fast.”

But like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “wait has almost always meant never.”

We can’t wait any longer. We need to change. And we need to change now. No more waiting. This is not just about statues, this is about our attitudes and behavior as well. If we take these statues down and don’t change to become a more open and inclusive society this would have all been in vain.

While some have driven by these monuments every day and either revered their beauty or failed to see them at all, many of our neighbors and fellow Americans see them very clearly. Many are painfully aware of the long shadows their presence casts, not only literally but figuratively. And they clearly receive the message that the Confederacy and the cult of the lost cause intended to deliver.

Earlier this week, as the cult of the lost cause statue of P.G.T Beauregard came down, world renowned musician Terence Blanchard stood watch, his wife Robin and their two beautiful daughters at their side.

Terence went to a high school on the edge of City Park named after one of America’s greatest heroes and patriots, John F. Kennedy. But to get there he had to pass by this monument to a man who fought to deny him his humanity.

He said, “I’ve never looked at them as a source of pride … it’s always made me feel as if they were put there by people who don’t respect us. This is something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. It’s a sign that the world is changing.”

Yes, Terence, it is, and it is long overdue.

Now is the time to send a new message to the next generation of New Orleanians who can follow in Terence and Robin’s remarkable footsteps.

A message about the future, about the next 300 years and beyond; let us not miss this opportunity New Orleans and let us help the rest of the country do the same. Because now is the time for choosing. Now is the time to actually make this the City we always should have been, had we gotten it right in the first place.

We should stop for a moment and ask ourselves — at this point in our history, after Katrina, after Rita, after Ike, after Gustav, after the national recession, after the BP oil catastrophe and after the tornado — if presented with the opportunity to build monuments that told our story or to curate these particular spaces … would these monuments be what we want the world to see? Is this really our story?

We have not erased history; we are becoming part of the city’s history by righting the wrong image these monuments represent and crafting a better, more complete future for all our children and for future generations.

And unlike when these Confederate monuments were first erected as symbols of white supremacy, we now have a chance to create not only new symbols, but to do it together, as one people.

In our blessed land we all come to the table of democracy as equals.

We have to reaffirm our commitment to a future where each citizen is guaranteed the uniquely American gifts of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

That is what really makes America great and today it is more important than ever to hold fast to these values and together say a self-evident truth that out of many we are one. That is why today we reclaim these spaces for the United States of America.

Because we are one nation, not two; indivisible with liberty and justice for all, not some. We all are part of one nation, all pledging allegiance to one flag, the flag of the United States of America. And New Orleanians are in, all of the way.

It is in this union and in this truth that real patriotism is rooted and flourishes.

Instead of revering a 4-year brief historical aberration that was called the Confederacy we can celebrate all 300 years of our rich, diverse history as a place named New Orleans and set the tone for the next 300 years.

After decades of public debate, of anger, of anxiety, of anticipation, of humiliation and of frustration. After public hearings and approvals from three separate community led commissions. After two robust public hearings and a 6-1 vote by the duly elected New Orleans City Council. After review by 13 different federal and state judges. The full weight of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government has been brought to bear and the monuments in accordance with the law have been removed.

So now is the time to come together and heal and focus on our larger task. Not only building new symbols, but making this city a beautiful manifestation of what is possible and what we as a people can become.

Let us remember what the once exiled, imprisoned and now universally loved Nelson Mandela and what he said after the fall of apartheid. “If the pain has often been unbearable and the revelations shocking to all of us, it is because they indeed bring us the beginnings of a common understanding of what happened and a steady restoration of the nation’s humanity.”

So before we part let us again state the truth clearly.

The Confederacy was on the wrong side of history and humanity. It sought to tear apart our nation and subjugate our fellow Americans to slavery. This is the history we should never forget and one that we should never again put on a pedestal to be revered.

As a community, we must recognize the significance of removing New Orleans’ Confederate monuments. It is our acknowledgment that now is the time to take stock of, and then move past, a painful part of our history. Anything less would render generations of courageous struggle and soul-searching a truly lost cause.

Anything less would fall short of the immortal words of our greatest President Abraham Lincoln, who with an open heart and clarity of purpose calls on us today to unite as one people when he said:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to do all which may achieve and cherish: a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Thank you.

Conspiracy or Three Card Monte?

three-cardIs the charge of election fraud by Donald Trump a consequence of his wounded ego? Is a man who won the presidency by a sizable margin in the electoral college so consumed by his desire to be everything and all that matters in the universe overly prone to delusion and conspiracy theory from the  cognitive dissonance that comes with losing the popular vote by almost 3 million? Could this loss of the popular vote even be a personal moral failing in the weird logic of the patho-narcissist? So much so that the fantasy of the conspiracy must be amended and given new angles and subplots ?

 

CASE “A”

The latest revision of the voter fraud theory was expressed to a group of Senators, assembled to talk strategy about the Gorsuch nomination. Trump quickly turned the discussion into a refined tale of how New Hampshire’s election was a total fraud, with residents from Massachusetts taking part in the election. The assertion was so delusional Commissioner Ellen Weintraub of the Federal Election Commission called Trump’s bluff. “Allegations of this magnitude cannot be ignored,” she said. Such rampant misuse of the election process would be a serious crime, urging the President to come up with the evidence. The administration trotted out its new spokesperson, the youthful, stone-faced Stephen MIller (who has been described as the architect of the immigration policy), on the Sunday morning circuit of TV politics, who embellished the story with how the fraudulent voters had been bussed in from Massachusetts, and that approximately 10 percent of undocumented aliens in the U.S. had registered to vote. Maybe the most remarkable statistic that all of these fraudulent votes were cast for Hillary Clinton.

 

There will be no evidence forthcoming, as there has been no evidence forthcoming for past claims.

 

And why does the megalomaniac bring up his continually revamped tale of intrigue at unpredictable intervals, but general always following a setback on another front? This latest iteration of the voter hijacking came on the heels of the appellate court rejection of the district court’s temporary restraining order on his executive order banning of travelers from 7 Middle Eastern countries. Trump’s original accusation came soon after, on January 25th, the final tally of voter turnout showed that he had lost the popular count by 2.8 million votes. He pledged to launch an investigation into irregularities in two (unnamed) states. “You have people that are registered who are dead, who are illegals, who are in two states. You have people registered in two states.” It turns out that some of his staffers are registered in two state. Details of an investigation were not mentioned again until this latest story; and he has appointed no one less that his second in command, Vice President Pence. To lead the election.

 

CASE “B”

Large public demonstrations protesting Trump’s proposed policies were planned for  immediately after his inauguration January 21 and 22  by the worldwide Women’s March. Scattered demonstrations have sprung up across the country since. A scheduled appearance of right-wing firebrand and exhibitionist Milo Yiannopoulos drew a raucous crowd early at U. C. Berkeley, forcing Yannopoulos to cancel. The administration has claimed that the group Demand Protests had run ads recruiting protesters promising $2500 each for protesting against Trump during his inauguration. Press Secretary Sean Spicer claimed that those protesting the anti-travel ban Trump begun on February 3 were paid protesters, as were those at Berkeley. U. S. Senator Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) says the rowdy audience at a recent town hall meeting he hosted was the doing of paid protesters.

 

**********************************************************

 

Given time and the likelihood of more demonstrations, this narrative will be reworked and modified with baleful details. The question of whether these plots are manufactured to neutralized the damage to the ego of the President, or could their invention be from something else; and is placing the root cause on an abnormality in Trump’s personality  a way of covering up more insidious motivations? Could the claim of voter fraud be laying the groundwork for getting even more voter restriction legislation on the books? Several states, including Texas and North Carolina, were already on this bandwagon; and if the fear of illegals stealing elections is contagious, it could make it even harder for citizens (primarily Blacks and the elderly) to vote.

 

And the protesters? The charge that they are in large part “paid” does one thing, if nothing else: it delegtimatizes the purpose and authenticity of the participants. These folks are either phonies and not to be taken seriously, or pose as a threat to incite  dissension where it is not warranted, or, worse, anarchists with violence and destruction in mind. Either of these could serve as  “emergency” situations where it would have more public support for restricting the right of assembly.

 

Rather than advancing what might be called a conspiracy theory itself, the fabrication and promotion of these two tales could probably be a result of both—Trump’s ego and the white nationalist agenda of Bannon and Miller—along with a third: in their throroughly maddening incredibility, they function as smoke and mirrors to distract from the keystone-copsineptitude of the administration, like figurative Keystone Kops doing a security detail at the House of Horrors that has become the White House. We are so amused at the folly and tail-chasing  that real proceedings become a boring sideshow.

Finding Wall Funds

The Trump administration may have come up with new ideas to reinvigorate the enthusiasm for a southern border wall that was so much a part of his campaign and election last fall.

Congressional skepticism about the project has been growing, even from some usually reliable southern and Republican delegations. Texas senior Senator John Cornyn (R-Tx), whose home state has the longest stretch of border common to Mexico, was wary of the economic impact a 20 percent import tax levied as a funding source for the construction would have on his state’s economy.

“The United States imports into our refineries a lot of heavy crude. … Those would all be subject to the tax. One refiner told me that they believed that would increase the cost of gas by 30 cents. I want to make sure we know what the consequences would be and how this would work. I know a lot of the major retailers are concerned about this was well,” he said. “We have a unique relationship with Mexico, with maquiladoras (factories which have duty-free privileges) right across the border and in the car-manufacturing business in particular.” Cornyn isn’t alone in the Republican congress. True to conservative principles, others, including Lisa Murkowski (R-Ak), vow that a 10-12 billion dollar expenditure would need be offset with with reductions in other parts of the budget, which would be difficult to find.

As far as the demand that Mexico pay for the construction, Senator John McCain (R-Az), said curtly “No, that is not viable.”

The junior senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, has made no public comments on the proposal, possibly still fuming about recent Obama initiatives normalizing relations with Cuba. Even though his ancestry is there, he really hates Cuba.

Our sources have revealed a possible contretemps that might have been an intentional leak of the administration’s strategy to breath new life into the project. A bar service operator (whose name must remain anonymous), related a recent evening at an out-of-the-way D.C. watering hole in which he served White House dignitaries Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer. After a couple of drinks, the couple left, but not without leaving a scrap of paper, which, as it turned out, was an opened but empty envelope,  and fairly covered with a scrawl of of whirls, smiley faces, and what has now been determined to be a back-of -the-envelope brainstorming session between the two to revive the the national and White spirit that fueled support early in the campaign.

“Good fences make good neighbors” was printed fastidiously at the top. Between the doodles and check marks, the envelope gave up the following: Plan A and Plan B. It was unmistakable. Despite the attempt to render the notes to seeming hieroglyphical code, it was possibly a pseudo-cryptogram, intended to float a leak of possible strategies to reverse flagging interest in The Wall. After each bullet point was a short, abbreviated stream of consciousness.

A. Offset in spending–big one: military ± 750B–but OP wants to strengthen military--How jibe?  Reductio ad absurdum: 12B is only 1.6% of 750B! Also make libs and Catholic pacifists happy. win-win.

B. OP to guarantee loan--has extensive open lines of credit--trustworthy--good for it--he's a builder--well?--income verify?--naming rights!--would he?

The chicken scratch near the end of Plan B., calling for the President himself to personally back the financing of the construction became less legible, as if the scribe , whether Conway or Spicer, had lost confidence in B., and her cursive effort was weakening. And come to think of it, for good reasons: it wouldn't be likely the OP would front $12 Billion of his own cash, and getting a signature or collateralized loan for that sum would require proof of income— namely, providing his income tax return to the lender. That was improbable.

And maybe that's why the envelope was carelessly left behind. Maybe it was just another dead-ended strategy session, and not a plot to leak hare-brained trial balloons to bolster support of a bad idea.

Or perhaps it was. But—just saying—if it happens,  you heard it here first.

The Donald’s Date with Cinderella

doomsday_clock-_2-5_minutes-640x353

On Thursday, January 26, a grim announcement  ticked across the news wires and internet but was buried to the point of near-obscurity by the blitz of executive orders and incessant accusations by the new administration of widespread voter fraud and media manipulation of  inaugural crowd reporting.

 

On November 14, 2016, an interview of Noam Chomsky— linguistics scholar, political philosopher, and public intellectual—by C. J. Polychroniou was published on the website of political news outlet Truthout. In the interview, Chomsky made the assertion that the Republican Party had become the most dangerous organization in world history. The assertion expectedly drew criticism for being preposterously partisan hyperbole, and some other things not quite so nice.

 

Chomsky’s point was made on observations about the two most potentially destructive human creations ever, each having within its exclusive characteristic to cause “catastrophes that could wipe out all of humanity or, at least, devastate modern civilization.” Either of the two acting alone and left unimpeded could fulfill  its nightmarish potential in due course. Those two Frankensteins-in-waiting are Anthropogenic Global Warming (climate change) and nuclear war. And to those, the members of the Republican Party either—on the subject of climate change—sneer at the overwhelming consensus of individual researchers and the esteemed agencies of NOAA, NASA, and many others based internationally, or—in the case of nuclear weapons—make frequent loose-lipped referrals and jingoistic threats to nukes as possible solutions to conflict, as did Sen. Ted Cruz did in recommending “making the sand glow” in combating ISIS; or the even more ominous suggestions to restart the arms race to add even further destructive power to those running the show.

 

The announcement Thursday was made by The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the publication of a group that is comprised of physicists and environmentalist working in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which currently sits 15 Nobel Laureates—including luminaries Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss. The Bulletin originated at the University of Chicago by some of the same scientists that worked on the Manhattan Project, which developed the first nuclear bomb. In 1947, reports The Bulletin on its information webpage,

 

the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the Doomsday Clock two years later, using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity and the planet. The decision to move (or to leave in place) the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock is made every year by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors…

 

The clock was initially based on the threat of nuclear conflagration only, but in 2007 was expanded to include other potential civilization-altering calamities including climate change, and cyber-and biological warfare. It was first set at 7 minutes before midnight, and has been reset 20-odd times in the last 70 years. The furthest from midnight was in 1991 when the SALT agreement was signed by the U. S. and Moscow, soon followed by the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The closest it was moved toward the bewitching hour was 11:58—just two minutes shy—in 1953, when the U. S. tested its first thermonuclear device, followed in the same year by the Soviets.

 

Thursday’s announcement advanced the clock to two and one-half minutes before twelve, the nearest it has been since that “two-minute warning” in 1953. The symbolic time-setters at The Bulletin have no supernatural ability to foresee the future, but given their familiarity with the history of this project, and the serious nature of their opinions and the effects of their pronouncements, one could only hope they make them only after rigorous evaluation and with religious regard the weighty consequences involved in their interpretation. Reasons for advancing the clock this year were: “the rise of nationalism, here and in Europe; the threat of a new arms race between the U. S. and Russia, along with heightened tensions in eastern Europe and NATO; President Trump’s comments on nuclear weapons; and the disbelief in the scientific consensus on climate change by the Trump administration.”

 

You would think Noam Chomsky was on the Board of Sponsors, having basically said much of the same thing two months earlier. Chomsky might wish, however, to rephrase his comment about the Republican Party to include the volatile and unknowable Trump as its leader as being a major factor in making his judgement. Such an amendment could change what seemed preposterous partisan hyperbole for some to an undeniable truth for all.