Compassion and Faith


Leo Babauta wrote an amazing reflection on the past election.  The author’s advice is to feel compassion for other people who may have voted differently from me.  I would also emphasize the importance of faith.  Not the dismissive “it’s going to be OK” or the religious “God uses unlikely people to do His will” type of faith.  But the faith in the principles on which this country is founded.  These principles are at work right now.  Watch in awe.

Thoughts on Trump Policies


The election of Donald Trump as the President of the United States on November 8, 2016, was a great surprise for me.  I have to admit that I mostly followed Trump in the mainstream media – New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, Wall Street Journal, NPR; some European sources –  BBC, Deutsche Welle, most of which are liberal.  I did not pay close attention to his words, but what I heard occasionally appeared to be so outrageous that it seemed unbelievable that anyone in his right mind could possibly vote for such a narcissistic psychopath.

He started his campaign in June 2015 by declaring Mexican immigrants to be criminals, drug dealers, and rapists.  In November 2015 Trump claimed that on 9/11/2001 he watched “thousands and thousands of people” cheering while watching the WTC towers collapse and said that he will request surveillance of certain mosques.   He drew criticism after mocking a disabled reporter who questioned him on the claim. Since 2011, Trump has questioned that President Obama was born in the United States, even after Obama has released his birth certificate.  On December 7, 2015, Trump called for a complete ban on Muslims entering the United States, suggested killing the families of the terrorists, in March 2016 he appeared to advocate torture towards the terrorism suspects.  In July 2016, Trump used the star of David as a backdrop for the words “Most corrupt candidate ever” in an anti-Hillary tweet which was viewed by many as antisemitic. In July 2016, Trump criticizes the Muslim family of a fallen U.S. soldier drawing sharp criticism even from the Republican party.  And, if that was not enough, in October 2016, the infamous “grab her by the pussy” 2005 video emerged.  All of that created in my mind an image of Trump as a racist, sexist, xenophobic populist.  So, Trump’s victory on November 8th came to me as a shock.

After the elections, I struggled with some cognitive dissonance for a while.  I tried to understand what attracted roughly a half of American voters in Trump’s character.  As I expected, Trump has significantly changed his tone after the elections.  In his speeches, he shifted emphasis on his economic policies and cut back on xenophobic diatribes.  Appointing a special prosecutor to put Hillary in jail is no longer a priority. A wall along the border could turn into a fence in some areas and he is not deporting all illegal immigrants just yet – only the felons, while the rest he calls “terrific people“.

Apparently, much of what Trump said during the campaign was “for the show”.  But where did he mean business?  On October 22, 2016, 17 days before the election, Donald Trump has made a speech in historic Gettysburg, PA, sarcastically dubbed “Trump’s Gettysburg address” by the liberal media.  Trump’s own site advertises this speech as “DONALD J. TRUMP CONTRACT WITH THE AMERICAN VOTER“.  Now, let’s try to “unlearn” what we know about Trump and take his Gettysburg speech at the face value, assuming he sincerely means to “make America great again”.  Just for myself, I’d like to annotate Trump’s promises in this “contract” to see if he follows through and how it goes.  So, here we go.

“Therefore, on the first day of my term of office, my administration will immediately pursue the following six measures to clean up the corruption and special interest collusion in Washington, DC:

  • FIRST, propose a Constitutional Amendment to impose term limits on all members of Congress;

This might be a good idea. They say, “the government is like diapers. It needs to be changed and for the same reason.” There are people in the Congress who have been there forever. It’s often a lifetime tenure. It may be useful to get some blood circulation in the Congress.

  • SECOND, a hiring freeze on all federal employees to reduce federal workforce through attrition (exempting military, public safety, and public health);

This is a prudent thing to do if you want to cut taxes. One of the concerns with reducing taxes is the budget deficit. A freeze on federal government hiring is a part of addressing it. I remember, there were a few days when the Congress could not pass a budget, and all the federal government offices were closed for a few days. My life did not stop. Nor anyone else’s.

  • THIRD, a requirement that for every new federal regulation, two existing regulations must be eliminated;

Also seems like a good idea. Not all regulations are bad, however. Some are necessary.

  • FOURTH, a 5 year-ban on White House and Congressional officials becoming lobbyists after they leave government service;

Clearly a “yes”. Much of the legislation is not passed “by and for the people”. Lobbying is a shady business.

  • FIFTH, a lifetime ban on White House officials lobbying on behalf of a foreign government;
  • SIXTH, a complete ban on foreign lobbyists raising money for American elections.

I’m surprised that this legislation is even needed. But if such lobbying takes place, it’s worse than espionage and, clearly, must be banned. I’d even change “foreign government” to “foreign entity” because it’s easy to fund such lobbying by proxy, even through a domestic entity. There must be a law to disclose the sources of funding for all legislation.

All in all, this section is a very specific and actionable plan to “drain the swamp”.

On the same day, I will begin taking the following seven actions to protect American workers:

  • FIRST, I will announce my intention to renegotiate NAFTA or withdraw from the deal under Article 2205

Can’t say if it’s good or bad. Need to know the specifics.

  • SECOND, I will announce our withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership

TPP is already dead, I’ve heard.

  • THIRD, I will direct my Secretary of the Treasury to label China a currency manipulator

What’s the legal definition of “currency manipulator” and what are the practical or legal implications of such label? This does not appear meaningful.

  • FOURTH, I will direct the Secretary of Commerce and U.S. Trade Representative to identify all foreign trading abuses that unfairly impact American workers and direct them to use every tool under American and international law to end those abuses immediately

Sounds arbitrary. This needs specific definitions.

  • FIFTH, I will lift the restrictions on the production of $50 trillion dollars’ worth of job-producing American energy reserves, including shale, oil, natural gas and clean coal.

This will drop the oil prices and kill Russia. Those in Russia who cheer Trump’s election may be up for a rude awakening. Putin’s honeymoon with Trump will likely be canceled for the lack of honey. I may need to sell my Nissan Leaf and opt for a good old combustion engine. There are, of course, environmental concerns about this policy. This measure is the easiest to implement and this alone will have a huge domestic and international effect.

  • SIXTH, lift the Obama-Clinton roadblocks and allow vital energy infrastructure projects, like the Keystone Pipeline, to move forward

Again, this causes environmental concerns. But it’s unlikely to impact me personally.

  • SEVENTH, cancel billions in payments to U.N. climate change programs and use the money to fix America’s water and environmental infrastructure

It seems like a good idea to fix our own environment instead of funding global environmental projects. But the devil is in the details. Do we actually pay for these projects as much as Trump claims? Are the funds going to be used for domestic environmental projects (which ones?) or for the subsidies of the oil companies?

Additionally, on the first day, I will take the following five actions to restore security and the constitutional rule of law:

  • FIRST, cancel every unconstitutional executive action, memorandum and order issued by President Obama

Which ones and who determines the constitutionality? More rhetoric than meaning.

  • SECOND, begin the process of selecting a replacement for Justice Scalia from one of the 20 judges on my list, who will uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States

Yes, please. Hopefully, not an anti-abortion homophobic religious activist. It’s a shame that the Republicans have blocked the appointment of the new judge for many months.

  • THIRD, cancel all federal funding to Sanctuary Cities

Actually, I did not know that many cities in the United States (so called “sanctuary cities”) have a policy of “protecting undocumented immigrants by not prosecuting them solely for violating federal immigration laws”. Apparently, the city authorities do that to encourage undocumented immigrants to cooperate with the police in crime investigations which makes sense.

What does not make sense is not deporting illegal alien felons who do commit rape, murder, and sell drugs. I support the policy of giving honest hardworking people who go through a great risk to get here a chance for a better life in this country than they would ever have back home. And I am far from thinking that all illegal immigrants here are “drug dealers and rapists”. But I also believe that felons must be kept behind bars. And if a felon is an illegal immigrant, the government should not spend the tax money on keeping him in prison. This person must be simply kicked out across the border. This is much in line with the policy of “not prosecuting them solely for violating immigration laws”. This is prosecuting people for crimes, not for the color of their skin or their immigration status. I don’t see anything wrong with that.

And, of course, kicking people out of the country is not effective unless the border is secured because they will keep coming back. Hence, “the wall”. The literal “wall” still seems to be unrealistic. It’s too expensive to build and too expensive to maintain. But the border must be secured somehow, otherwise, any policy against illegal immigration will be ineffective.

I think it’s inhumane to leave the children born in the U.S. who are U.S. citizens by birth and deport their parents. I think that while cracking down on illegal immigration, legal immigration must be made easier, not tougher because tough rules to get into the U.S. legally motivate people to get into the U.S. illegally. I think, there is a difference between someone who has just crossed the border and someone who has been in the U.S. illegally for 50 years without breaking the law otherwise and have raised families here. Deporting such people does not make sense.

  • FOURTH, begin removing the more than 2 million criminal illegal immigrants from the country and cancel visas to foreign countries that won’t take them back

I can agree with that as I stated above as long as this is not turned into a “witch hunt” with taking people from the streets and children from the schools and sending them away from their families.

  • FIFTH, suspend immigration from terror-prone regions where vetting cannot safely occur. All vetting of people coming into our country will be considered extreme vetting.

So, it’s not a “complete ban on Muslim immigration”, but something significantly more reasonable. Syria is among the “terror-prone regions”. The question is what to do with the refugees.

In 1939, the United States turned away almost 800 passengers of the trans-Atlantic liner St. Luis which sailed from Hamburg, Germany, to Havana, Cuba who hoped to get into the United States. Almost all passengers were Jews fleeing from the Third Reich. Most were sent back to Europe. 254 of them died during the Holocaust.

“Public opinion in the United States, although ostensibly sympathetic to the plight of refugees and critical of Hitler’s policies, continued to favor immigration restrictions. The Great Depression had left millions of people in the United States unemployed and fearful of competition for the scarce few jobs available. It also fueled antisemitism, xenophobia, nativism, and isolationism. A Fortune Magazine poll at the time indicated that 83 percent of Americans opposed relaxing restrictions on immigration.” Sounds familiar?

Next, I will work with Congress to introduce the following broader legislative measures and fight for their passage within the first 100 days of my Administration:

1. Middle Class Tax Relief And Simplification Act. An economic plan designed to grow the economy 4% per year and create at least 25 million new jobs through massive tax reduction and simplification, in combination with trade reform, regulatory relief, and lifting the restrictions on American energy. The largest tax reductions are for the middle class. A middle-class family with 2 children will get a 35% tax cut. The current number of brackets will be reduced from 7 to 3, and tax forms will likewise be greatly simplified. The business rate will be lowered from 35 to 15 percent, and the trillions of dollars of American corporate money overseas can now be brought back at a 10 percent rate.

The idea here is to make the United States more attractive for investments and stop capital and manufacturing from fleeing the country for the regions with more favorable tax rules. The fear is that this will create a huge budget deficit. The hope is that the budget deficit will be offset by the economy growth and reduction of the government.

While the tax cut is supposed to decrease the tax burden for all Americans, it is clear that the wealthiest will be its greatest beneficiaries. And some categories of low-income families will see a tax increase due to the change in the tax bracket structure. Analysts show that

  • A single parent with $75,000 in earnings, two school-age children and no child care costs would face a tax increase of around $2,440.
  • A single parent with $50,000 in earnings, three school-age children and no child care costs would also face a tax increase of around $1,188.
  • A married couple with $50,000 in earnings, two school-age children and no child care costs would face a tax increase of about $150.
  • Other married couples would get almost no benefit.

2. End The Offshoring Act Establishes tariffs to discourage companies from laying off their workers in order to relocate in other countries and ship their products back to the U.S. tax-free.

This means that if, say, Ford, relocates its plant to Mexico to cut the production cost, it will have to pay an import tariff to bring these cars for sale into the U.S. Why not punishing other efforts to cut manufacturing cost? Automation, for example, also eliminates jobs. Following the same logic, automation must be taxed as well.

3. American Energy & Infrastructure Act. Leverages public-private partnerships, and private investments through tax incentives, to spur $1 trillion in infrastructure investment over 10 years. It is revenue neutral.

Sounds good. Although it’s hard to say what this practically means.

4. School Choice And Education Opportunity Act. Redirects education dollars to gives parents the right to send their kid to the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school of their choice. Ends common core, brings education supervision to local communities. It expands vocational and technical education, and make 2 and 4-year college more affordable.

I support giving freedom to parents on how to spend the education tax money. It will encourage competition between schools and competition always improves service quality.

I have doubts about ending common core. It is necessary to have nationwide education standards. Although, education is managed mostly at the state level anyway. Federal regulations add little value.

5. Repeal and Replace Obamacare Act. Fully repeals Obamacare and replaces it with Health Savings Accounts, the ability to purchase health insurance across state lines, and lets states manage Medicaid funds. Reforms will also include cutting the red tape at the FDA: there are over 4,000 drugs awaiting approval, and we especially want to speed the approval of life-saving medications.

Trump himself now acknowledges that there are positive items in Obamacare. This may not be as radical as it seems. “Cutting the red tape at the FDA”, i.e. removing the bureaucratic obstacles from letting new drugs to the market, sounds like a good idea.

6. Affordable Childcare and Eldercare Act. Allows Americans to deduct childcare and elder care from their taxes, incentivizes employers to provide on-site childcare services, and creates tax-free Dependent Care Savings Accounts for both young and elderly dependents, with matching contributions for low-income families.

Sounds reasonable.

7. End Illegal Immigration Act Fully-funds the construction of a wall on our southern border with the full understanding that the country Mexico will be reimbursing the United States for the full cost of such wall; establishes a 2-year mandatory minimum federal prison sentence for illegally re-entering the U.S. after a previous deportation, and a 5-year mandatory minimum for illegally re-entering for those with felony convictions, multiple misdemeanor convictions or two or more prior deportations; also reforms visa rules to enhance penalties for overstaying and to ensure open jobs are offered to American workers first.

Many items here seem unrealistic. Toughening penalties for illegal immigration must be accompanied by significantly simplifying the procedures of legal immigration. Without a plan of legalizing the illegal immigrants already in the country, Trump risks overburdening the prison system and will ultimately fail to jail all the offenders. Besides, there is no practical benefit of jailing law-abiding hard-working people.

8. Restoring Community Safety Act. Reduces surging crime, drugs and violence by creating a Task Force On Violent Crime and increasing funding for programs that train and assist local police; increases resources for federal law enforcement agencies and federal prosecutors to dismantle criminal gangs and put violent offenders behind bars.

Legalize marijuana, dude! Then tax it. Why would anyone buy drugs from criminals if it can be done legally?

9. Restoring National Security Act. Rebuilds our military by eliminating the defense sequester and expanding military investment; provides Veterans with the ability to receive public VA treatment or attend the private doctor of their choice; protects our vital infrastructure from cyber-attack; establishes new screening procedures for immigration to ensure those who are admitted to our country support our people and our values

Strengthening the country’s military is not such a radical idea. Emphasis on protection from cyber-attack is timely. That’s a much larger risk for the U.S. than an invasion of an enemy army.

10. Clean up Corruption in Washington Act. Enacts new ethics reforms to Drain the Swamp and reduce the corrupting influence of special interests on our politics.

Too general. Meanwhile, he is reluctant to separate his business interests and his presidency.

On November 8th, Americans will be voting for this 100-day plan to restore prosperity to our economy, security to our communities, and honesty to our government.

This is my pledge to you.

And if we follow these steps, we will once more have a government of, by and for the people.”

All in all, there are some good ideas. Some ideas are doubtful and impractical. But I see no reason for panic, leaving the U.S. or taking any radical steps. I expect very interesting 4 years.

New Feminism


Based on the newest French initiative, I propose a new way to eliminate oppression of the women in our civilized society.  Oppressed women shall be fined.  There must be zero tolerance for all forms of women’s oppression.  Oppressed women must absolutely stop being oppressed or they shall be banned from all public places including beaches, […]

A Fine Example of Civilized Behavior


Among the few things making humans different from animals is clothing.  No animals clothe themselves.  People who don’t use clothes are often looked down upon as savages.  I also thought that teenage boys would normally show more interest for unclothed women than for fully clothed ones.  Apparently, these stereotypes become outdated.  There is a fierce debate in France on the issue of whether bathing suits fully covering women’s bodies (a. k. a. “burkini”) are acceptable in a civilized society.  The debate is not new, but it was rekindled by this brawl on a Corsican beach:

Witnesses say the brawl began after the Muslim families objected to photos being taken by a tourist. When a local teenager, with a group of friends on the beach, also took a photo the brawl erupted. Stones and bottles were thrown… Soon about 40 men from Sisco arrived to defend the youths, witnesses said, and one of the men was slashed with a harpoon blade.  According to Le Figaro newspaper (in French), some of the older men in the bathing party had attacked the teenagers with hatchets. Villagers allegedly then set alight cars belonging to the bathers.

So, what does the government do?  Do they punish the disturbed obnoxious teenagers taking photos of fully clothed women instead of watching photos of naked ones on their computers?  Do they send a message that men should not attack each other with hatchets and stones?  No.  They call the burkini “profoundly archaic” and “outdated ideas” and ban them from public beaches…

Wait a minute here.  So, if a woman shows up on a beach fully clothed rather than naked, she risks being called barbarian. She will be surrounded by tourists and troubled teenagers trying to photograph her like a wild animal.  This world is, definitely, changing.  This is quite weird. Not only direct sun rays are shown to cause skin cancer, but I also find burkini quite beautiful.

And the last, but not the least point in this story.  The brawl over burkini erupted between men.  Look at the pictures and videos in the news articles.  How many women do you see?  Men tell women what they must or must not wear believing that this somehow protects women’s rights.  But strangest of all, they persecute women for being oppressed.  Makese sense, doesn’t it?  Ahem…, gentlemen,… I understand the eagerness to free the women from oppression, but, maybe, we can ask the ladies what they want to wear?  Perhaps, women have other reasons to dress or undress than to impress or please the men?  Just a thought…

 

The Shackles of Freedom


I was recently reading Richard Stallman’s Personal Site.  Richard Stallman is a legendary software activist who promotes the idea of Free Software.  He is most famous for his GNU project, Emacs text editor, Free Software Foundation, and GNU General Public License (GPL).  His ideas are interesting and highly influential.  GPL, for example, grants people freedom to run, distribute, and modify software under the condition that the modified and distributed software is shared under the same license.  Ability to change implies Open Source Software (OSS).  The word “free” does not mean “free of charge”.  It means freedom to do anything with the code and fully examine and understand what the code does and how.

Richard Stallman tries to live according to his own principles.  He refuses to use any non-free software.  Thus, Windows, Apple, and Google with its Android, Gmail, Maps, Google Drive, and a host of other useful things are off-limits for him.  He believes these companies are unethical and exploit their users in a most outrageous way.  He also does not use Amazon, Facebook, Skype, and Spotify because these companies snoop on their customers.  Any website (such as this one) running complicated JavaScript code is an abomination and a stench in Richard Stallman’s nostrils. He abhors  ebooks as ebook distributors dictate the users what they may and may not do with their book copies.

Richard Stallman is very careful (I’d say, paranoid) about things requiring his identification:

I am careful in how I use the Internet.

I generally do not connect to web sites from my own machine, aside from a few sites I have some special relationship with. I usually fetch web pages from other sites by sending mail to a program (see git://git.gnu.org/womb/hacks.git) that fetches them, much like wget, and then mails them back to me. Then I look at them using a web browser, unless it is easy to see the text in the HTML page directly. I usually try lynx first, then a graphical browser if the page needs it (using konqueror, which won’t fetch from other sites in such a situation).

I occasionally also browse unrelated sites using IceCat via Tor. Except for rare cases, I do not identify myself to them. I think that is enough to prevent my browsing from being connected with me.

I never pay for anything on the Web. Anything on the net that requires payment, I don’t do. (I made an exception for the fees for the stallman.org domain, since that is connected with me anyway.) I also avoid paying with credit cards.

I would not mind paying for a copy of an e-book or music recording on the Internet if I could do so anonymously, and it were ethical in other ways (no DRM or EULA). But that option almost never exists. I keep looking for ways to make it exist.

How I do my computing

Stallman avoids any services requiring his personal identification: Uber (perhaps, for good reason – Uber does seem unethical), Amtrak, Netflix, Airbnb.  Apparently, he flies airplanes occasionally as he visited China, Greece, and Israel among other countries.  It’s hard to travel overseas anonymously. I wonder why he does not object being identified and searched in the airports.  I personally consider it humiliating to take off my shoes to go through stupid gates and being searched by TSA officers. He does not seem to be against filing income tax returns as he has scorned the “shared economy” companies (Uber, Airbnb) for using offshore tax havens.  This is another inconsistency as many people believe income tax is unconstitutional and a great infringement on multiple constitutional freedoms.  (Disclaimer: the author of those writings, Irwin Schiff, has died in prison in 2015 where he was put by the federal government, technically, for not paying taxes).  It would be interesting to find out how Richard Stallman reconciles flying airplanes and filing income tax returns with his principles.

I read all this and thought “Wow!  Is there a limitation that one would not be willing to impose on himself for the sake of freedom?”

“Doublethink” is the Test of a First-Rate Intelligence


Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.
George Orwell, “1984”

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.
F. Scott Fitzgerald

ergo

Doublethink is the test of a first-rate intelligence.

Q.E.D.

Justice vs. Forgiveness and Mercy


Much of religion revolves around justice.  Christians believe in the final judgment day when the evildoers will be punished and the righteous will be rewarded.  At the same time, forgiveness and mercy are also at the very foundation of the Christian faith.  Justice and forgiveness seem to be incompatible with each other.  Atheists exploit this conflict to make a point that Christianity is immoral.

I think, the contradiction is in the reciprocity of these concepts.

An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.

This expression attributed to Gandhi, but, perhaps existing long before Gandhi, shows the flaw in the biblical concept of justice. “An eye for an eye” approach creates a vicious cycle of violence that can only be broken by forgiveness.  Forgiveness and mercy, on the other hand, are supposed to create forgiveness and mercy in return.  But sometimes they don’t.

Reciprocal relations have to start small and build on themselves.  When I don’t know if I can trust a stranger, I trust him with something small. Then I build my trust on my experience.  Trust builds on trust, but it starts unconditionally.  It justifies itself, like faith. Or, rather, it’s justified by the experience of practicing it. In the same way, we can find out if forgiveness is worthwhile.

Dialogues with Atheists I


One of my old dialogues with an atheist on an atheist forum. I was asked what I actually believe, which was unusual. I shared some thoughts I find worth repeating here.


Chuck,

I appreciate your interest. I’ve seen a lot of condemnation and criticism in atheist forums, I have not seen much interest to understand.

I believe, there is a force that “makes things happen” – in the physical world, but, most importantly, in our minds. There is “something” that drives us towards a better life – justice, love, etc. I think, it’s a simple human belief, and many atheists may believe the same thing. For me, it is hard to imagine the possibility of any social progress without such belief. I believe that we should seek to understand this force and submit to it. Christians may call it “the Holy Spirit”, atheists may say, it’s “genetic code”, but those are just words, placeholders for the concept. We are talking about the same thing, whether we want it or not.

We only understand what we can visualize. Some people visualize God as an old man with a beard in the sky. Some visualize the Holy Spirit as a dove, light, or water. I don’t think, any of those are correct visualizations. I may agree that “God” of the OT who writes with a finger on stone tablets and walls and speaks from a cloud or Jesus of the NT are fictional characters – attempts to visualize the concepts. You know wisdom when you see it. It may come from Tom Sawyer, Daffy Duck, Winnie the Pooh, Cat in the Hat, or Jesus. God is wisdom, not Daffy Duck. As for Jesus, even Christians believe, he was a man. If I think of Jesus in a sense that I described, it does not matter to me if he is fictional. I view the virgin birth and physical resurrection as symbols. The Bible is full of such symbols and metaphors. Such views do not contradict the idea that Jesus can save us (where “Jesus” is a visualization of the “force” driving us towards good).

You said,

“I see the Pope and many other religious leaders as scriptwriters and ventriloquists who push people around by saying “You had better obey because it is the word of God.”

I agree. I do not like this tone either. In a church where I go, there were several sermons on this very issue with the main thought “do not put your own words in God’s mouth, put God’s words into your mouth”. In NT, this was frequently an issue between Jesus and the Pharisees. They were trying to push their agenda on him using the letter of the law. So, your attitude is not “anti-Christian”. In fact, I find it Christian. We don’t need a performance of a ventriloquist. Frequently, it’s enough to step into a church to see such performance.

“Do you believe in a self-conscious God?”

I don’t think, I can make a coherent speech on this subject. Just to show the nonsense of this question, I will try. He is supposed to be conscious of everything. That includes himself, doesn’t it? Also, without self-consciousness, how can one feel compassion? Or how can one feel compassion without the ability to be hurt or harmed or feel pain? On the other hand, I’m not sure if being conscious of everything is different than being conscious of nothing. Both concepts are nonsense. It only makes sense to be conscious of something in particular. Once we say “I’m conscious of X”, we must be conscious of our consciousness. Being conscious of my consciousness makes as much sense as knowledge of knowledge, beliefs about beliefs, and reasoning about the reason. This does not make much sense, does it? As I said above, such questions are only useful to show the limits of our reasoning abilities. They simply short-circuit our logic machine. We have to step outside this logic machine to comprehend the issue.

“Does God have thoughts and desires? Is he a jealous and angry God?”

Can a force have thoughts and desires or be jealous and angry or be conscious of itself? We give these attributes to the forces with our metaphoric language (furious storm, calm weather). And we have to understand these forces to survive.

“Does he create things and destroy things?”

You can say, “things appear and disappear”, or “being created and destroyed”. It’s linguistics which reflects how we think about things. These two phrases say the same thing.

“Am I risking one of God’s lightning bolts by typing these insolent questions?”

We all are risking to die the next minute. We’d better do something good while we can.

Toilet Laws Belong in the Toilet


…figuratively, not literally.

These pictures are taken at the First Unitarian Church in Portland, Oregon.  Yes, in a Church.

Just stumbled across this post  calling to Sign the Boycott Target Pledge.  There seems to be an unraveling brouhaha in online media (thanks, Just Merveilleux) around the issue of who goes to which bathroom.

The AFA petition claims

Target’s policy is exactly how sexual predators get access to their victims. And with Target publicly boasting that men can enter women’s bathrooms, where do you think predators are going to go?

Oh, yes! All male sexual predators are going to dress as women and rush to Target bathrooms, overtake them, and stampede our unsuspecting innocent wives and daughters who have a legitimate need to pee in a place designated for this purpose by God almighty. Why? Because that’s exactly how they get access to their victims! They catch the victims when they are most vulnerable – with their pants down, sitting on the toilet in a Target bathroom! And (OMG) it is now legal!

I have a few questions to the proponents of legislation to ban people from using public restrooms based on how they look:

  1. Why can’t a male sexual predator dress like a man and go to a men’s public restroom to harass our unsuspecting innocent husbands and sons?  To follow the AFA logic, we must prohibit men from entering men’s restrooms for the fear that they might commit heinous sexual crimes there.
  2. What is the connection between a person’s appearance and the likelihood that this person is a sexual predator?  Who could imagine that Catholic priests (yes, priests) could molest children?  Should we ban everyone who looks like a priest from entering men’s restrooms?
  3. How are these laws going to be enforced?  Shall Target have a security officer checking patron’s genitalia at the bathroom entrance?
  4. What if a person’s gender is misjudged?  Who will pay compensation to the victims of unwarranted humiliating bathroom police raids subjected to strip searches simply because someone imagined that they may have a different kind of genitalia than one might think?
  5. How would you like being dragged out of a public restroom by a security guard with your pants down because someone thought that you don’t look like a person they thought you look like?
  6. And, finally, why are you so preoccupied with other people’s genitalia?

The proponents of the bathroom laws claim that they “never said that all transgender people are sexual predators”.  However, they clearly imply that anyone who dresses to look like the opposite sex and goes to a public restroom does so for no other purpose than committing sexual offenses.

Just recently, I happened to translate the subtitles for this TED video into Ukrainian.  I agree with the speaker on multiple points.  Instead of banning people from going to public restrooms, the legislators should mandate unisex single-stall restrooms in all public places, just like they mandate wheelchair ramps, accessible parking, and other amenities for people who don’t fit the narrow brackets of “normality”.  I can totally see these facilities used by parents who need to take their children of the opposite sex to a bathroom, for example.

 

I Disagree!


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Dissent is glorified. “Herd mentality”, “following the crowd” are derogatory terms, and “thinking out of the box” is often praised and admired.  People who confront authority and stand for justice are often considered to be heroes.

In the Bible, dissent is commended, unless it is dissent against God or his faithful servants. Moses confronted the Pharaoh in Exodus and saved the Israelites from slavery. Mordecai saved his tribe disobeying the king and refusing to kneel before Haman in the book of Esther. Numerous prophets spat the truth into the eyes of corrupt kings. Finally, Jesus himself turned over merchant’s tables in the temple, broke oppressive rules, and said “woe to you, hypocrites” to the religious authorities of the time. The meme that religion espouses blind obedience to authority and condones slavery is debatable.

Perseverance is considered a virtue. Dissidents have to endure pressure, threats, and persecution to succeed. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the book of Daniel were thrown into a blazing oven for refusing to bow to an idol. Daniel was thrown into a lion’s den for praying to God in spite of the ban. We all know what happened to Jesus.

“I won’t back down!” — sings Tom Petty. “Do not bend under the ever changing world! Let the world bend under us!” — sings a famous Russian songwriter Andrei Makarevich who is known as a dissident since Soviet times. Makarevich is still a dissident in Russia. He opposes Putin’s war in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. But he is no longer admired by the majority as the majority in Russia now admires Vladimir Putin. Makarevich is scorned and called a “national traitor”. But that quite fits his image of a persecuted dissident.

But consider the character of Vladimir Putin himself. Majority of Russians admire Putin for standing up to “corrupt and hypocritical” America who “tries to lord over the whole world”. He is also admired for “perseverance” — continuing his policies despite economic sanctions imposed by most developed countries on Russia for aggression in Ukraine. Putin is also “persecuted” through sanctions and sharp criticism from the West. So, Putin himself, in a sense, fits the definition of a dissident. Moreover, both Makarevich and Putin, are sure that their position is right, that they both stand for justice, and perseverance is worthwhile.

This raises a question, are dissent and perseverance always good? Stubborn persistence in one’s error is not the type of perseverance praised in motivational posters. But there seems to be no reliable way to tell perseverance from stubbornness.

The founding document of the United States, Declaration of Independence, openly declares the right of the people to fight an oppressive government.  It was considered right in 1776 to fight the rule of the British king. People who did that are heroes in the U.S. But when in 1861 southern states considered the rule of the Union to be oppressive, they were not allowed to secede. Today, perhaps, it would be a very bad idea to use the Second Amendment right to fight the “unjust government” in the U.S. Armed confrontation with government forces is no longer a heroism in this country. But the U.S. often supports such activities in other countries.

Some folks believe that removing creationism from secular school curricula is an offense on their rights and they must “persevere”. Some are determined to “persevere” “the war on Christmas” raging in their heads.

It seems to me that dissent and perseverance are not always desirable. “Conformity” can be also called “adaptation” — ability to correct one’s views, beliefs, and opinoins.  When everyone drives in the wrong direction, chances are that you are driving on the wrong side.  Dissent and perseverance must be treated and interpreted with extreme caution.