Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Repeal the Second Amendment

It has become repetitive to the point of being tiresome: a crazy person buys an automatic weapon and kills a bunch of innocent bystanders.  TV "news" reporters gather like vultures on a carcass.  Prayers are said.  Hands are wrung.  Soap boxes are scaled and calls for gun control are recited, which collide head-on with the second amendment and DC v. Heller.  And then, a few days later, everyone forgets it ever happened until the next crazy person buys a gun and shoots some innocent people and the whole cycle starts all over again.  And again. And again and again and again and again and again.

There is a simple solution to the problem: repeal the second amendment.  By "simple" I do not mean "easy to implement."  It clearly is not that.  I simply mean that this solution is conceptually and procedurally simple.  You don't have to argue about how to interpret the Constitution, or what a "well regulated militia" is.  All you have to do is decide that the second amendment is doing more harm than good, and it's time for it to go.  We've done it before.  We can do it again.

The second amendment has clearly outlived its usefulness.  Like the three-fifths doctrine, it is a relic of an earlier time.  Two things in particular are very different in today's world than the one in which the second amendment was ratified.  First, the U.S. now has a standing army. And a navy.  And an air force.  And a space force.  And marines.  And a coast guard.  And a national guard.  And a department of homeland security.  And a DEA and an FBI and a CIA and an NSA.  Between those and a few other government agencies, those organizations have been doing a pretty good job at protecting the territorial integrity of the United States, at least since 1865.  Whatever you think a "well regulated militia" means, it is clearly no longer necessary for the security of a free state.

The second thing that has changed is that technology and the laws of physics no longer limit the amount of damage an individual can do the way they did in 1791.  Back then, smooth-bore muskets and canon were the state of the art in weaponry.  They were severely limited both in range and firing rate.  A highly skilled musket operator can get off 2-3 shots a minute at most.  An AK-47 does that in a third of a second.  In 1791 a deranged shooter could reasonably hope to get off no more than one or two shots before they were subdued by an angry mob.

And of course there is no principled reason to stop with an AK-47.  If the second amendment really does convey an unfettered individual right to keep and bear arms, and if that right is not limited to the technology of 1791, then on what possible basis could you draw a line that includes assault weapons but not bazookas or tanks or stinger missiles or even nukes?  The right to defend yourself won't get you out of this jam, for two reasons.  First, no one has ever used an AK-47 in self defense.  They are offensive weapons (there's a reason they are called "assault rifles" and not "defense rifles").  And second, the second amendment specifically calls out the reason for the right to bear arms, and it is not individual self-defense, it is the need to maintain a "well-regulated militia".  Whatever else that phrase might possibly mean, individual self defense plainly ain't it.  The founders knew about individual self-defense, and if that was the reason they enshrined the right to bear arms, they would have said so.

The only reason that second amendment endures is a concerted propaganda campaign by the National Rifle Association (funded mainly by the gun industry) and adolescent fantasies about good guys with guns vanquishing bad guys with guns.  We saw the end-game for that this past January 6.  Vigilante justice and violent revolution plays a lot better in spaghetti westerns and other conservative fantasy worlds than it does in today's reality.

So it is time for the second amendment to go.  Repeal it now.  Stop this insane cycle of slaughter.

P.S. Note that calling for the repeal of the second amendment is emphatically not a call for "taking everyone's guns", though many will surely see it that way.  Repealing the second amendment merely allows guns to be outlawed through the normal democratic self-governance process, it doesn't require them to be outlawed.  Whether or not they should actually be outlawed in any particular jurisdiction is a totally separate question from whether outlawing guns should be allowed at all, just as the question of whether marijuana or alcohol should be outlawed in any particular jurisdiction is separate from the question of whether it should be permissible to outlaw it at all.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Ron's Commandments

For the last year and a half or so I have run a weekly Bible study which attracts a diverse group of believers and non-believers.  On a semi-regular basis someone will challenge me by asking, essentially, could I do better than God, which is to say, better than the Ten Commandments, in coming up with a pithy set of rules to guide our behaviors and the structuring of our society.  I decided to take up that challenge because, yes, I think I can do better.  In fact, I think pretty much anyone could do better because, frankly, the Ten Commandments are a pretty low bar.  The actual Ten Commandments are not what most people think they are and even the text that is commonly considered as the Ten Commandments is not that hard to improve upon by modern standards.

So here are Ron's Commandments, or at least a first draft.  They weigh in at 358 words versus 309 for the popular version and 466 for the actual version (i.e. the ones that the Bible refers to as The Ten Commandments).  I'll post all three versions here for easy reference.  You decide which set you would rather live by.

The popular Ten Commandments (Exo20 and Deu5):

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

The actual Ten Commandments (Exo34):

Behold, I make a covenant: before all thy people I will do marvels, such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation: and all the people among which thou art shall see the work of the LORD: for it is a terrible thing that I will do with thee.

Observe thou that which I command thee this day: behold, I drive out before thee the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite.

Take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither thou goest, lest it be for a snare in the midst of thee:

But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves:

For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:

Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and one call thee, and thou eat of his sacrifice;

And thou take of their daughters unto thy sons, and their daughters go a whoring after their gods, and make thy sons go a whoring after their gods.

Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.

The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep. Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, as I commanded thee, in the time of the month Abib: for in the month Abib thou camest out from Egypt.

All that openeth the matrix is mine; and every firstling among thy cattle, whether ox or sheep, that is male.

But the firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb: and if thou redeem him not, then shalt thou break his neck. All the firstborn of thy sons thou shalt redeem. And none shall appear before me empty.

Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest: in earing time and in harvest thou shalt rest.

And thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year's end.

Thrice in the year shall all your menchildren appear before the LORD God, the God of Israel.

For I will cast out the nations before thee, and enlarge thy borders: neither shall any man desire thy land, when thou shalt go up to appear before the LORD thy God thrice in the year.

Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven; neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left unto the morning.

The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring unto the house of the LORD thy God. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk.
And, just for the record, the next two verses:

And the LORD said unto Moses, Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel.

And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.  [Emphasis added.]

Ron's Commandments:

Be kind to your fellow humans, and all other sentient creatures.  Don't cause them unnecessary pain.  Don't murder them.  Don't rape them.  Don't enslave them.  Do not bear false witness against them.  Strive to understand them even (especially!) when you disagree.  Avoid eating them.  If you must eat them, raise them and slaughter them humanely.  Under no circumstances eat your fellow humans (c.f. Jer19:9).

Organize your society around democratically elected governments charged with establishing regulated free markets and social safety nets.  People have a fundamental right to vote for the people who make the rules they are expected to live by, and to clean air, clean water, food, clothing, and shelter.  No one should be deprived of these basic human needs under any circumstances.  If you see homeless people around you, you are doing something wrong.  Fix it.  Private property is not a fundamental right, but a mechanism for promoting work, innovation, and acceptance of risk.  Wherever it fails to meet that purpose it should be abolished.

Don't get hung up about sexuality.  You are complex living beings.  Sexual urges are as fundamental to your nature as hunger.  Sex is not a sin.  But causing unnecessary pain to a fellow being is, so you should only have sex in the context of mutual informed consent of all parties involved, which means adult humans.  Children and animals cannot give consent.

I reveal my truths to you through your experiences, not through prophets.  So be skeptical.  Do not believe anything except on good evidence, not even these commandments.  Base your choices on the evidence whenever you can, but recognize that time advances inexorably and so sometimes you will have no choice but to act on incomplete information and take leaps of faith.

Recognize that the thing that sets you apart from the rest of creation is your capacity to create new ideas.  Cherish and nurture that.  Especially cherish those ideas that lead to better environments for creating new ideas, like books, peace, quiet, love, and mutual support and encouragement.

Dance.  Sing.  Mourn when you must, celebrate when you can.  Enjoy your life, and do everything you can to help others do likewise.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

PSA: I'm debating Matt Slick tonight

FYI, I'm doing a YouTube debate this evening at 5:30 PST with Matt Slick on the topic of "Atheism, Christianity, and morality".  It will also be recorded so you don't have to watch it live.  Here is the link.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

The rats are finally begining to flee the SS Trump

From The Washington Post:

Whether President Trump is forced from office or serves out the remaining days of his term, he is now destined to slink out of the White House considerably diminished from the strapping, fearsome force he and his advisers imagined he would be in his post-presidency.

In the wake of the mob attack on the Capitol that Trump incited, some allies have abandoned him, many in the business community have shunned him and Twitter took away his social media megaphone. Many Republicans also hold him responsible for losing their Senate majority with last week’s twin defeats in Georgia, not to mention their House majority two years ago.

Emphasis added.  What is remarkable about this is that the Post is reporting that Trump is "destined to slink out of the White House" not in an opinion piece, but as news.  Front-page news.

This is a hopeful sign.  It means there is hope we could get out of this mess without any further bloodshed and loss of life.  That, of course, is up to the people who have supported an enabled Trump to this point.  The more of them repent now, the more likely the rest of them will lay down their arms.  I'll still give you long odds against, but not nearly as long as I would have before reading this story.


Arnold Schwarzenegger compares the Capitol attack to Kristallnacht

Arnold Schwarzenegger just released a video in which he compares the Jan 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol to Kristallnacht, and draws a straight line from the Proud Boys to the early Nazis by way of his own personal experience growing up in Austria in the long shadow of World War II.  The video gets a little corny and treacly towards the end, but the analogy is apt and the warning is one we would all do well to heed.  Worth watching at least the first half of the video.

The Capitol attack was not the beginning, and it won't be the end

A dry run of the attack on the U.S. capitol occurred the day before in northern California:

Here in California’s rural, conservative northern counties — where people have long wanted to split from California and form a new state called Jefferson — the kind of anger and distrust of the government that Trump has fomented is on full display.

And it is not likely to go away any time soon, because some residents believe there is great political utility in making government officials believe that potential violence could become all too real.

“We have to make politicians scared again,” Carlos Zapata, who attended the supervisors’ meeting, told The Times. “If politicians do not fear the people they govern, that relationship is broken.”

The last four years, and even Jan 6, have been a warmup.  The main event, the real damage that Donald Trump will do to our country, is yet to come.


Trump and the Reverse Cargo Cult

Speaking of prophetic observations, here is a particularly profound one made by Hans Howe back in 2017:

Trump administration lies constantly but doesn’t even attempt to make it seem like they aren’t lying.

...

Trump’s supporters don’t care about being lied to. You can point out the lies until you’re blue in the face, but it makes no difference to them. Why? Because it is just a game to them. The media lies, bloggers lie, politicians lie, it’s just all a bunch of lies. Facts don’t matter because those are lies also. Those trolls on Twitter, 4Chan, T_D, etc. are just having a good laugh. They are congratulating each other for being so smart. We are fools for still believing in anything.

Well worth reading the whole thing.

Ron prognosticates: Trump will pardon the capitol rioters

I don't think I'm going very far out on a limb to make this prediction, but I just wanted to get it on the record before it happened.  It seems like some low-lying prophetic fruit that I just felt like picking this morning.  (Oh, and I also predict that he will also issue blanket pardons to himself and his family.)

As long as I'm writing, an administrative note: I am now moderating all comments on this blog.  For seventeen years I have not done this because I believed in free speech, and I still do.  But my recent posts have attracted conspiracy cockroaches.  I would just ban the worst offenders, but unfortunately the Blogger platform doesn't allow that, so I'll have to filter everything manually.  I deeply regret having to take this step, but I will no longer allow my blog to be an outlet for repeated blatant lies that are a clear and present danger to the country that has been my home for most of my life.

So here's the new rule: I will no longer publish anonymous or pseudonymous defenses of right-wing propaganda.  If you want to defend these positions here, you're going to have to do it under your real identity, as I have been doing for the last 17 years.  If you really have the courage of your convictions then show your face.  If not, then go crawl back into the holes from whence you came like the cowards that you are.

[UPDATE] One pseudonymous coward has taken to the comment box to whine about censorship.  Tough.  One man's censorship is another man's exercise of editorial control.  I have actually had an editorial policy since the beginning, but it hasn't really been necessary to enforce it much until now.  If you send a letter to the editor of the New York Times they are under no obligation to publish it, and neither am I.  You are perfectly free to write your own blog if you want to be heard.  But this blog belongs to me, and if you're not willing to show your face or demonstrate that you have a basic grip on reality you are not welcome here.  Begone, pseudonymous trolls.


Friday, January 08, 2021

Faith and Insurrection

 Article III section 3 of the Constitution of the United States says:

"Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort."

Donald Trump, while wielding the authority of the Presidency, incited a violent insurrection against the government of the United States.  It cannot possibly be any clearer that he committed treason, and hence he is an Enemy of the United States, and hence anyone who still actively supports him at this point is giving aid and comfort to an Enemy of the United States and hence also guilty of treason under the Constitution.  I make these allegations fully cognizant of the fact that treason is a capital crime in the U.S.

Of course, very few people will take this seriously despite the fact that it is manifestly true.  Donald Trump will not be indicted for treason, let alone convicted and executed for it, despite the fact that if anyone else had done what he did they would already be in shackles.  And if that person had been black, they would probably be dead already.

Seriously, imagine if Barack Obama had done the exact same thing as Donald Trump after the 2016 election: made baseless accusations of voter fraud and claims that the election was stolen from Hillary, and incited a mob of angry black men to storm the capital.  How do you think Republicans would have reacted to that?

The sad fact of the matter is that 70 million Americans voted for Donald Trump, and while some of them might have had a change of heart after the events of Jan 6, most surely have not.  Not even the actual manifestation of an attempt at violent overthrow of the government will dissuade these people that Donald Trump is the Chosen One, and anyone who dares accuse him of treason, indeed who dares to question him in any way, will face their wrath at the ballot box and now, quite possibly, in the streets or in their homes.  And so there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands.  There might even be ignominy of a second impeachment and removal from office (though I'll give you long odds against).  But there will not be justice.  Donald Trump may live out his remaining days in disgrace, but not in prison.

I think it's really important, though, to be clear about what brought us to this pass, because it is plain as day: we are here because Donald Trump lied.  And he lied and he lied and he lied and he lied and he lied and then he lied some more.  And eventually people started to think that there just had to be some truth to the lies, not because there was any actual evidence that they were true, but simply because no one could possibly lie that much, right?  Where there is smoke there has to be fire.  So the election was stolen, not because there was any evidence for it, but simply because Donald Trump said so.  And said it again.  And again.  And again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again...

And it worked.  And it continues to work.  And that is our ultimate shame: we have built a society where lying works as long as your lie is big enough and you repeat is often enough and you never back down, not even in the face of manifest catastrophe.  In this regard we are extremely fortunate that Donald Trump is merely a consummately skilled con man and not a scheming despotic mastermind, because if he were the latter we'd staring down the barrel of a much bigger gun.

How did we get here?  How did we build a society full of people so utterly incapable of skepticism and critical thought that it gave us not only Donald Trump and his followers in the tens of millions, but anti-vaxers and anti-maskers and holocaust denialists and lunar landing denialists and climate-change denialists and flat earthers and birthers and 9-11 truthers people proudly waving the Confederate flag saying it has nothing to do with slavery?

I submit that it is because, in American society, denial of the truth is considered a virtue.  Except that it's not called denial of the truth, it's called "being a person of faith."

Now, I want to be very clear here that I am NOT signing on to Richard Dawkins's rabid anti-religion agenda.  I'm sure many religious folks are fine peopleSome of my best friends are religious.  The irony here is intended to be dark humor, but in all seriousness, I am about to levy some pretty harsh criticism on religion, and I want to be very clear that there is a distinction between that and religious people.  The problem with "people of faith" is the "faith" part, not necessarily the "people" part.

The problem with faith is not that it leads you to believe in things that aren't true (though it certainly can do that).  The problem is that it leads you to believe in things without evidence, or worse, in direct contradiction to the evidence.  Again, I want to be clear that this is not necessarily bad.  There are circumstances where believing in things without evidence or contrary to evidence can be very beneficial, which is probably why we evolved the tendency in the first place.  If you believe you can kill that sabre tooth tiger despite all the evidence that it is hopeless, that might spur you to attempt to kill it, and you just might surprise yourself and succeed where your more rational competitor might have just given up and cowered in a corner and gotten eaten as a result.  In some circumstances, suspension of disbelief really can be a virtue.

But it can also be incredibly dangerous.  It's not mere happenstance that a large majority of evangelical Christians support Trump, nor that many of the insurgents were waving signs that said, "Jesus saves."  They have been trained to bow to authority, to submit themselves to the Will of God, many from a very young age.  I'm sure many of them believed in their heart of hearts that they were doing the will of God.  I'm sure many of them still believe it.

People of faith now need to wrestle with this if they want democracy to survive in the U.S.  Faith can lead to hope where there might otherwise be despair, action where there might otherwise be complacency, courage where there might otherwise be fear.  But it can also lead to people doing stupid shit like what we saw two days ago.

Where faith becomes especially dangerous is when it leaves the realm of the ambiguous and the spiritual and places itself squarely at odds with objective reality.  Your faith in your ability to vanquish the sabre tooth tiger will be put to the test when you try to act on it.  Either you will vanquish the tiger or it will vanquish you.  That kind of dynamic prevents faith from spinning too wildly out of control.  If you see enough of your tribe mates being eaten by sabre tooth tigers you may start to rethink the wisdom of believing in your prowess against them.  But your faith in (say) being rewarded in the afterlife cannot be put to the test until it is too late for anyone to act on it if you turn out to be wrong.  And if your faith is too strong you may well end up believing that, say, Donald Trump is telling the truth when he says he won the election because it was God's will so it cannot possibly be any other way.  If the evidence says otherwise, well, then the evidence must be wrong.  Too much faith leads inevitably down the conspiracy rabbit hole.

The events of Jan 6 were horrific, but we actually dodged a bullet because it could have been so much worse.  Think of what might have happened if the rioters had been organized and brought their assault rifles.  Or if, instead of inciting this riot, Donald Trump had instead decided that the best way to for him to stir the pot would be to nuke Tehran.  (And if you think he wouldn't go that far then you really haven't been paying attention.)

Faith can be a virtue, but it is not an unalloyed good.  I'm not a person of faith so there's not much I can do to help solve this problem other than to point it out.  If you consider yourself to be a person of faith, this ball is squarely in your court.

Thursday, January 07, 2021

My take on yesterday's insurrection

It was never a question of whether Donald Trump would destroy the Republican party, but when and how, and whether he would take the rest of the country (and possibly the world) down along with it.  The one silver lining to yesterday's horrific events in our nation's capitol is that we finally have the beginning of a real answer.  Mike Pence and Mitch McConnell finally joined the rest of the rats fleeing the rapidly sinking S.S. Trump, leaving Ted Cruz at the helm.  I predict he will stay there like a hyena on a rotting corpse because he is so hungry for power that no matter how bad things get he will not be able to tear himself away from all those tasty, tasty MAGA voters.

That Trump's reign would end something like this was utterly predictable from the start.  I'm sorry, but if you didn't see something like this coming, you really haven't been paying attention for the last four years.  Donald Trump was never going to stop abusing his power until he got smacked down hard.  In fact, he still hasn't gotten smacked down hard, and so he is still not going to stop.  Maybe he will get smacked down in the next two weeks (by a largely symbolic second impeachment), or the next two years (by being prosecuted for his various crimes), but until that actually happens (and it is far from clear that it will) Trump is not going to stop being himself even now.

But the Republican party, thank God, is done for.  Donald Trump has set out a very stark choice for Republicans: follow me, or follow the law.  As with everything Trump does, there is no room for compromise or nuance.  You are either with him or you are against him.  Choose.

As bad as yesterday was, we still have a lot to be grateful for because it could have been oh so much worse.  Imagine if the mob that descended yesterday had been disciplined and well-organized and armed with assault rifles instead of the ragtag motley crew that it turned out to be.  Or imagine if, instead of a riot in Washington, Trump had decided that it would be a good idea to nuke Tehran on his way out the door.  Yesterday could very well have been the Reichstag fire.  Instead it was the beer hall putsch.

But make no mistake, this war is far from over.  Yes, the Republican party is finished, at least for now.  It will split into the Trump wing and the anti-Trump wing, and that will blunt its influence for a while until it can heal and reorganize.  But we have much to fear from what will inevitably rise from those ashes.  The 70 million people who voted for Trump in November of 2020 are still out there.  They are still nursing their grievances and concocting their conspiracy theories and, most frightening of all, waiting for someone new to lead them to the promised land where white people will once again assume their rightful place at the pinnacle of society.  Ted Cruz is even now maneuvering to fill that role.  Cruz is even less principled and more power hungry than Trump, and, what should really scare the living daylights out of you, a hell of a lot smarter.

In the end, the only thing that saved us from total disaster this time around was Donald Trump's incompetence.  Not Mitch McConnell, not Mike Pence, not Bill Barr, not Ron Cohen, not Robert Mueller, not Chuck Schumer, not Nancy Pelosi.  If Trump had been just a little bit less stupid, if he'd actually thought things through, if he had any skills at all beyond bloviating in front of a crowd, we might well have learned the hard way that our democracy is a whole lot more fragile than most people think it is even now.

So yes, breathe a small sigh of relief that the bulwark of democracy appears to have held this time around.  But don't take too much comfort in this because the next time we might not be so lucky.  And there will be a next time.  What happened yesterday was just the latest skirmish in a conflict that has been running cold and hot since before the founding of the Republic.  Democracy has won this battle, but the war is far from over.