Harry Enten over on FiveThirtyEight posted a piece yesterday about how registered Democratic-leaning voters did not vote and therefore cost Clinton the election. And I was like, oh right, I’m pissed at those guys, too. And I am. But who I’m really pissed at is conservative and Republican-leaning voters who should have known better.


Parsing Donald


The above is from Donald Trump’s Facebook page.

We grieve for the officers killed in Baton Rouge today.

As do we all. Killing is killing and leads to more killing and distrust and fear.

How many law enforcement and people have to die because of lack of leadership in our country? (Emphasis added)

Who are the “and people” part? African Americans killed by police? General bystanders? Those killed daily by the incredible number of guns in the United States? This was probably a tweet before it was a Facebook post so Trump only had so many characters, but this (to me) odd “and people” inclusion leaves more questions than it answers. I can’t tell if he’s expressing empathy with victims of violent crime and/or police misconduct or trying to make those who aren’t feel as though they may as well be.

He then does the usual “if only someone strong was in charge” thing by saying people are dying due to lack of leadership. As if all we need to fix these issues in our culture is a leader…like Donald. Not a leader with answers (he has none other than platitudes), just a leader willing to face the obvious truth and lead.

We demand law and order.

So do a lot of people. African Americans who feel their disproportionate targeting for stop, arrest, and killing by police demand those things. As do the loved ones of deceased police officers killed in deranged race-based violence.

The notion that the solution to social turmoil is “a leader” who delivers “law and order” would, I imagine, sound very familiar to those in 1918 Russia and 1933 Germany. Law and order is a byproduct of justice, a feeling of shared community, and a sense of hope for the future. It doesn’t come easy and the answers won’t be found in 140 characters.

America the insane

It’s not easy for a mass murderer to get to the front of the news cycle nowadays. Just shooting a handful of innocent people isn’t enough. They have to do it in a really spectacular or public fashion. And then, like clockwork, the president comes out and sighs and shakes his head and tells us we choose to live (and die) like this and that we can do better. Then someone proposes something logical like stricter background checks or limits on magazine sizes or whatever and, invariably, those on the other side say…

“But that wouldn’t have stopped Sandy Hook / Colorado Springs / Charleston / Washington Navy Yards / San Bernardino / (pick your favorite from the ever-growing list).”

But that isn’t the damned point. As tragic and heartbreaking as these punctuation marks on the 2nd Amendment are, they aren’t the real tragedy. Since 2001, more than 400,000 Americans have lost their lives to gun violence. That comes in lots of flavors we rarely if ever hear about on TV. Random drive-bys, suicides, accidents, etc. The point of trying to pass what are really common sense checks on who can buy and own a gun is to try and make a dent in that massive pile of bodies, not necessarily stop the banner headline makers.

Today, twenty-four hours after 14 people were killed in San Bernardino, the Senate rejected a bill opposed by the NRA that would have expanded background checks and disallowed the mentally ill, felons, and those on the federal terror watch list from buying guns. How in the name of all that’s right in the world do you oppose that? Somehow, all but one Republican in the Senate (along with one Democrat) found a way.

That’s obscene. It’s repulsive. It’s nihilistic. It’s fucking un-American.

We used to be able to look at hard problems and find a way to fix them. We prided ourselves in doing the things nobody else could do. But that American resolve melts like butter in the face of this issue. The mighty NRA has weaponized the fear of Americans. Terrified them so much that they vote against anyone unwilling to tow the absolutist 2nd Amendment line. Not to defend the rights of Americans, but to defend the ability of gun manufacturers to sell their wares on the American market.

What in the hell will have to happen to change this? The killing of 20 little children didn’t do it. Dead cops and military members didn’t do it. The god-fearing shot down in their own church didn’t do it. What kind of horror will it take? How awful must things get before we do even the most simple and logical thing about firearms?

I have no honest idea. But whatever it is, we’ll deserve it for having done nothing before then.

Originally published on Medium.


I don’t believe in any religion. Note I didn’t say I didn’t believe in God. I don’t, but I think of them as separate issues. As someone who styles themselves a pragmatic empiricist, there’s just no way for me to know if there’s a supreme being or not. Maybe there is, but there’s no evidence that supports the premise. “Faith” is something I have a hard time with, especially when it comes to something as improbable as God, and I’ve never been willing to take someone’s word on the matter.

But I don’t have a problem with someone who wants to believe there is a God. That’s up to them. For me, the problems stem from groups of people believing all the same thing (more or less) about their version of God. Because that invariably leads to them looking askance at those in other groups who believe something different (even if only slightly). And that leads to the kind of bullshit we’re dealing with today.

From Vox:

On the Tuesday after the Paris terror attacks, a Virginia civil engineer named Samer Shalaby carried a few poster boards into Spotsylvania County’s small, low-ceilinged community forum room to present plans to replace Fredericksburg’s aging Islamic center. Shalaby’s presentation was meant to formalize his application for a zoning permit — the very dullest sort of dull civic meeting — but as a crowd filed in, filling every seat and standing shoulder to shoulder along the walls, it became clear that they were not there to discuss zoning.

“Nobody wants your evil cult in this town,” one of them shouted at Shalaby, pointing an outstretching finger. Many in the crowd clapped and cheered their affirmation.

“And I’ll tell you what,” he went on, “I will do everything in my power to make sure that this does not happen. Because you are terrorists. Every one of you are terrorists. I don’t care what you say. I don’t care what you think.” He later added, to cheers, “Every Muslim is a terrorist, period. Shut your mouth.”

As the crowd grew more hostile, a city official stepped in, first to ask them to calm down and, when they wouldn’t, to abruptly cancel the meeting.

You don’t need to be a crackpot to believe, as the owner of the outstretched finger does, that Muslims are inherently evil, violent, and seeking “our” destruction. I have friends (like, actual people I know) who feel the same way. Who say Islam is a religion that teaches hate and intolerance and is fundamentally incompatible with a free society. This boggles my mind, truly.

From where I sit, apart from both Muslims and Christians, both religions looks pretty much the same. Their acolytes profess theirs to be a religion of peace yet in both cases it’s not hard to find justification for deadly acts in their holy texts. Those books, like all works of men, are contradictory in places and teach love and acceptance alongside vengeance and violence. An unhinged individual could easily find a passage to hide their actions behind if they needed to.

Over on the Facebook, I posted a link to an article describing how a Christian evangelist named Joshua Feuerstein (whose Facebook page has nearly two million likes) called on fellow Christians to “punish Planned Parenthood” and make those who work for the organization fear for their lives. This is after Robert Dear killed three and wounded nine at a Planned Parenthood office in Colorado Springs. I asked if Feuerstein should be considered a “radical Christian” and why moderate Christians hadn’t “cleaned house” the way Muslims all over the world are called to do each time someone commits an atrocity in the name of their religion.

A friend of mine who identifies as Christian and whom I respect very much said Feuerstein “gets a little fired up sometimes and ends up putting his foot in his mouth.” Apparently, that he shouldn’t be taken seriously because his emotions get the better of him and we should expect another statement recanting his call to violence. Great, but what if that never happens? Or, if it does, that some unhinged person allows his first words to radicalize them into terrible action? We are to let this go without response because…? He’s a fellow Christian? That’s all?

Even in our own media, we seem to have a blind spot regarding people like Dear. I’ve yet to see The New York Times refer to him as a terrorist. Critics like to call out the president for refusing to say we’re battling “radical Islam” but there’s no criticism from those same people when the nation’s paper of record won’t call a spade a spade and use the president’s preferred term, “religious extremists.” Why won’t The Times call Dear and all the others who firebomb and vandalize and shoot up clinics what they are? Is it perhaps because we live in an overwhelmingly Christian nation and therefore have an understanding of the gradations of tolerance that exist within that faith? That few Christians (in fact, the vast majority) are like Feuerstien or Dear or would take up arms against innocent law-abiding health care workers or incite others to do the same?

There are 1.7 billion Muslims in the world and the overwhelming majority totally reject the actions of the religious extremists who claim to act in the name of their religion. They say Daesh is not following the tenets of Islam when they kill the innocent. Ironically, on the subject of Robert Dear who, by all accounts considered himself to be a devout Christian, my Christian friend says Dear was not one. That Christians don’t do such heinous things. That he would not defend or condemn anyone since Christianity “needs no defense.” In other words, he sounded like nearly all the Muslims on the face of the planet who disown those who would wrap their actions in faith.

Less than one percent of Americans are Muslim. Chances are, you know few if any unless you live in a large, non-Southern city. To vast numbers of Americans, Muslims are “those people” who do terrible things and hate us. They have no other frame of reference besides what they see on the TV or read on the web (and, if they’re religious conservatives, that information pool is small and shallow and invariably negative regarding Islam). It’s all too easy to demonize them as “the other.” In the exact same way radical Muslims demonize Christians and all those in the decadent, irreligious, and secular West. And it works for exactly the same reasons, only in many Muslim countries and communities poverty and hopelessness allows the hate to fester and concentrate until it lashes out explosively.

To me, Christians and Muslims are nearly identical. Untrusting of the other, scared, and in a constant crouch. All because of a mutual ignorance and unwillingness to see the other as a human first and a potential enemy second due to the other having learned about God from a different book written by different men.

And this is why I don’t believe in religion. And I never will.

Originally published on Medium.

Nothing will be done

I am, by nature, an optimistic person. I feel like intractable issues can be solved with enough information, education, and dedication by honest people who want to find solutions in the spirit of pragmatic compromise. I wholeheartedly believe in the promise of representative democracy. But I feel nothing but a nihilistic fatalism when it comes to the issue of gun violence in the United States.

Many of my friends in social media are calling for nothing less than the eradication of guns in our society. Several others refuse to acknowledge we even have a gun problem. Our problem is with violence and insanity, they assert, not firearms. 

Everything against nothing. There is no middle ground. 

Just five days ago, Hillary Clinton said, “We are smart enough, we are compassionate enough, to figure out how to balance the legitimate Second Amendment rights with preventative measures, and control measures, so that…we will not see more deaths.” I do believe we’re smart and I do believe we’re compassionate, but more than anything else we are distrustful of ourselves. And that distrust eats our intelligence and blots out our compassion so that nothing ever happens. 

The closest analog I can think of regarding an issue so divisive and seemingly immune to reasoned discussion was the discord over slavery in the 1850’s leading up to Abraham Lincoln’s election. Just the election of someone who felt slavery was wrong was enough to drive southern states from the Union. Even before he was inaugurated and before he could advocate any action at all, and in the face of his specific statements to the contrary of their fears, pro-slavery advocates assumed the very worst, gave up on democracy, and took the most drastic action.

Try having a conversation with someone on either extreme of the gun issue and see how far you’ll get. There is no common ground and those who might have it are either not willing to speak or are shouted down while trying to make their point. As I read my Civil War history, I see many parallels. 

I don’t think guns will lead to a civil war, but I also don’t think anything of real significance will be allowed to transpire. Not in this generation and probably not the next. All the greatness of our nation and all the grand ideals we supposedly represent are balanced by this poison in our soul. The guns themselves are not the poison. Our unwillingness or inability to talk and compromise and find a way forward is. It’s as though we are required to make this regular payment of innocent blood in exchange for being who we are. 

We will do nothing about gun violence until we can do something about our fundamental mistrust and unwillingness to empathize with those with whom we disagree. Our media and our politics conspire to ensure that will never happen. 

Nothing will be done. It will happen again and again. And I hate that I feel this way about it.

The immutable nature of liberty

Following the trends of recent years regarding the definition of “religious liberty,” the New York Times reports:

Within hours of the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, an array of conservatives including the governors of Texas and Louisiana and religious groups called for stronger legal protections for those who want to avoid any involvement in same-sex marriage, like catering a gay wedding or providing school housing to gay couples, based on religious beliefs.

They demanded establishing clear religious exemptions from discrimination laws, tax penalties or other government regulations for individuals, businesses and religious-affiliated institutions wishing to avoid endorsing such marriages.

And as if on cue, this is already happening in places like Texas:

The state’s Attorney General is inviting, really encouraging, public officials to defy last week’s Supreme Court ruling legalizing marriage for same sex couples across the United States. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is telling country clerks they may refuse to issue marriage licenses if they believe same sex marriages violate their religious beliefs.

I think the state needs a pretty good reason to make someone do something they either don’t agree with or simply don’t want to do. I’m inclined to let those with strong feelings about same-sex marriage live as they like, even if I completely disagree with them. The problem is, we continue to talk about LGBT people as though they’re doing something some of us don’t agree with as opposed to being a certain way. 

Federal anti-discrimination law covers five attributes: race, skin color, gender, ethnic origin, and physical disability. Note that none of these are things over which an individual has choice. One cannot choose to be younger or white or able to walk when physically unable to do so. In the same way, those who are emotionally satisfied in relationships with others of the same gender have not made a choice to be that way. At no point has any 8-year-old made the decision to be gay or bisexual. It just happens. Justice Kennedy called it an “immutable nature” in his majority opinion and, indeed, it is just that. 

If it’s wrong to discriminate against people due to things they have no control over, then it’s wrong to discriminate against those who need to be in same-sex marriages. If one’s religion teaches that these people are somehow evil or going against the wishes of a supreme being and less deserving of basic dignities, then we need to have the courage to stand up and say their religion (or, more likely, their interpretation of it) is wrong. As such, absolutely no exceptions should be allowed for those who choose to discriminate against those who only want to live the life they were born to live.

The First Amendment protects people of faith from being required to do anything that violates that faith in the act of practicing their faith. That means Hasidic rabbis are not required to marry those who aren’t Jewish and Catholic priests can require those seeking marriage in that church to follow the tenets of Catholicism. But being a county clerk isn’t the same thing at all. Providing a government service guaranteed by law is not “being a Christian.” The government, as the 14th Amendment assures, is required to apply its laws equally. No person acting as an agent of the government has the right to apply any factors to their work other than the civil law. Their religion-driven discomfort is not as important as another’s right to be married.

The issue is a little squishier when it comes to businesses. My company has chosen not to serve gambling or tobacco clients, but that’s different than saying a baker cannot serve a same-sex couple because of her reading of the Bible. The tobacco company has made a choice to sell the products they do but the same-sex couple is only living as they are wired to. They’re following the only path to happiness they have. Discriminating against them is exactly the same as discriminating against a couple because they’re from Pakistan. Again, one’s right to conduct business does not trump another’s liberty to simply be as they are and pursue their own flavor of happiness.

We need to call this “religious liberty” stuff exactly what it is: Bigotry. LGBT people need to be protected under the law from all forms of discrimination. Since Congress is defectively constipated, it’s doubtful we’ll see any action there. Perhaps these calls for “religious liberty” will lead to a Supreme Court ruling that once again works to make our union a little more perfect. The shield of “religious liberty” needs to be broken.

Relative nightmare

Republican candidate for governor of Minnesota Jeff Johnson, in response to the decision of Preferred One to leave the state’s health insurance marketplace MNsure, said yesterday,

Six out of 10 people who’ve purchased insurance through MNsure will now have to go through the nightmare process of purchasing another plan all over again.

This is, to be clear, the same “nightmare process” all consumers of heath insurance have to go through at some point (like, when they change jobs or their employer changes plans). It’s the same “nightmare” my company asked our employees to endure several times over the years we’ve owned it as we faced double-digit date increases on top of double-digit rate increases, all in search of a lower cost solution. It’s the same “nightmare” that was allowed to live following the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

Does it suck? Yes. It is especially unique? No. It’s a feature built-in to the American health care system.

real “nightmare” would be having a family member with a chronic illness and not being able to get insurance. Or getting into an accident or discovering cancer without having access to affordable, effective insurance. Both those issues are largely resolved under the ACA.

Sounds like Preferred One made a business bet and lost. Happens all the time. Good thing there’s a marketplace where those affected can go and get new insurance.

Wife, no. Kids? Sure.

According to Harris, two-thirds of Americans beat their children. I’m actually shocked the number is that high. I mean, I often feel guilty just yelling at my kids. I can’t imagine doing to them what I recall was done to me when I was a kid.

I recall my dad using his belt on me. One time in particular I recall very specifically. Not what caused him to do it, though. Only that it happened. I also recall being disciplined with a paddle in grade school by the principal. There was a group of three or four of us involved in whatever it was that caused it. Again, I only remember the result, not what precipitated it.

You don’t beat other people. Period. At first, my thinking about Adrian Peterson was that breaking the skin as he apparently did (and admits to) was the line too far, but the more I think about it the more I realize the appropriate thought is that you should never strike your kids for any reason whatsoever. How is it possible that we’re in a place in our societal development where striking one’s spouse just once regardless of injury or consequence is never acceptable but there are those who would actively defend stuffing a bunch of leaves in a kid’s mouth and whipping them until they bleed?

It’s not as though there aren’t consequences for the child. According to Slate:

Spanking can increase a child’s risk of aggression, antisocial behavior, and mental health disorders later in life. It slows cognitive development and decreases language skills. Spanking may not leave outward signs of injury. But the mental scars it inflicts can last a lifetime.

Meanwhile, the Vikings are allowing Peterson to come back and play. Said Zygi:

At this time, however, we believe this is a matter of due process and we should allow the legal system to proceed so we can come to the most effective conclusions and then determine the appropriate course of action.

Not good enough. He sounds like he’s saying this is purely a legal matter. That if Peterson isn’t convicted, then everything’s cool. That’s bullshit. Abuse is abuse. Hitting a family member should result in the same treatment regardless of their height, age, or gender.

I don’t know if I can stomach watching the Vikings play. Deactivating him was the right thing to do. Keeping him deactivated is the only appropriate course of action.

Apparently, in the NFL, you’re out if you coldcock your wife but are OK if you make your child bleed. So take it out on your kids.