February 25, 2020

Ok, So Sometimes Limbaugh Is an Idiot

I shouldn't expect much of political talk show hosts given their job requires exaggeration and peddling conspiracy theories. Still, there's always the hope of finding an honest broker who tells it like it is.

For identification purposes it is helpful when hosts make an ass of themselves and their credibility goes to zero. Rush Limbaugh recently suggested the coronavirus is no different than the common cold or flu.

This is demonstrably false. 

Annually 7.13% of people get the flu, and the average flu death rate is 1.9 per 100,000 or 0.0019%. Compare this with the current death rate of COVID-19 which is ~2.2%.

Do the math. It's not higher math.  If 5 million Americans get the flu, that's 9,500 deaths. If 5 million Americans got coronavirus, that's 110,000 deaths.

When people accuse the right of having their own set of facts I don't like it but this is an example of the truth of that statement. The best case scenario is Limbaugh knows politics rather than math or science and that one should ignore him on any subject other than politics.  The worst case is he simply wants to see Trump reelected and will lie even about things provably false towards that end.

February 24, 2020

Chatter

Pope Francis had some good pre-Lenten thoughts:
“The dialogue that God wishes to establish with each of us through the paschal mystery of his Son has nothing to do with empty chatter, like that attributed to the ancient inhabitants of Athens, who “spent their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new” (Acts 17:21). Such chatter, determined by an empty and superficial curiosity, characterizes worldliness in every age; in our own day, it can also result in improper use of the media."
Ouch. That hits way too close to home with me. I’m fascinated by the superficialities of politics. Politics is my sports when baseball’s not available. It’s particularly effective at inducing a feeling of superiority in me which is not helpful: a thirst for the latest soap opera on the political stage combined with the byproduct of feeling superior. Ugh, as in “ugh-ly”.

You could say that one of the things that distinguishes a Christian (via the Jews) is the concentration of spending our time on what is old, not new. The “good news” isn’t news in a sense, in that it’s the same message basically since 33 A.D. Although it’s obviously new to every generation.

God insists we remember. The Jews were asked to constantly remember the Passover, the exodus from Egypt and manna in the desert, the Promised Land. And Christians are told specifically by Jesus: “do this in remembrance of me”. Mary “pondered these things in her heart”.

Remembrance of God is the opposite of reading a newspaper: the first centers on thankfulness of God’s past deeds, the other centers on disgust at man’s misdeeds.

The other thing the Pope said I was less moved by:
“We can and must go even further, and consider the structural aspects of our economic life. For this reason, in the midst of Lent this year, from 26 to 28 March, I have convened a meeting in Assisi with young economists, entrepreneurs and change-makers, with the aim of shaping a more just and inclusive economy. As the Church’s magisterium has often repeated, political life represents an eminent form of charity (cf. Pius XI, Address to the Italian Federation of Catholic University Students, 18 December 1927). The same holds true for economic life, which can be approached in the same evangelical spirit, the spirit of the Beatitudes.”
Yeah I guess.  But it feels an aspect of moving chairs on the Titanic. A Church that can’t prevent money laundering and other financial misdeeds, a Church losing believers by droves in Europe, South America and the U.S., a Church that is persecuted in China and Africa...is a Church that has time and leisure to set up a commission to create a new more inclusive economics despite capitalism lifting millions of Chinese and Indians into the middle class. You gotta admire the chutzpah.

There was a recent magazine article asking whether the presidency in the 21st century has gotten too big a job for one man. If that can be asked of the U.S. presidency, how much more of the papacy? So it’s kind of odd when a pope tries to expand his sphere of influence instead of contract it.

February 13, 2020

Seven (not) Short (not) Takes

I didn’t watch the Oscars of course but heard it was more politically-spiked than usual. I suspect it’s the natural and predictable reaction to the Ricky Gervais speech at the Golden Globes where he pilloried liberal speeches at award shows. Folks really, really, really don’t like to be told what to do or made fun of. They’ll just double down.

“Shaming” and fraternal correction don't really work anymore. Liberals and the media have tried that for years with varying degrees of success on Republicans and eventually Trump was elected, an almost therapeutic experience for those of us who were used to being shamed for our political beliefs.

So, post-Gervais, actors are now feeling challenged to give more asinine speeches and, post-Trump, Democrat voters feel emboldened to pick socialists. It’s really the perfect symbol of how unless one follows religiously the code of Jesus - offer love in response to hate - you will just be in a spiral of increasing hatred and division. I'm as guilty as anybody.

You can see a smidgen of it in today's headline. Biased prosecutors baited Trump by recommending ridiculous long sentence for Stone. That lack of adult behavior not provokes the understandable reaction in Trump and Barr.

We have politicized law enforcement of course, but apparently the goal of politicized law enforcement is to do it but don't be obvious about it. Maintain the fiction. Trump's not big on fiction.
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Rush Limbaugh’s been the target of a ton of hate and lately glee due to his having cancer. He had this to say - which could actually be said of any sin:
"Hatred destroys you because hatred can never be requited, hatred can never be rewarded, hatred can never make you happy. Hatred means you’re requiring something painful or bad to happen to other people. And that’s just not the way to happiness."
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So I got to reading about Freemasonry since I know nothing about it and never had any curiosity before. That’s the problem with reading: I read a single page of a book and then end up downloading everything I can find on the subject causally mentioned in the first book. This seems why I rarely end up finishing books.

So I came across this passage about Freemasons in a book written by a Catholic bishop:
Thus, the entire symbolism and terminology of Freemasonry is religiously Jewish and philosophically Gnostic. Therefore, they borrow the same terminology from the Old Testament—the building of the temple, and so on—but they say: “We are building a new temple, not the visible carnal one, which is from the evil god. We the Freemasons are the spiritual and free and independent masons, we are completely free from God, from the God of the Bible.” We have to ask: “From whom are the Freemasons free?” They declare themselves free from the true God. They say: “Our god is the Great Architect of the world, this unknown good god, whom we do not know, but we are his instruments and we are building up a new temple of humanity.” The Freemasons do this through the use of symbolism and worship, and especially with an intellectual program that must be implemented and reflected throughout the whole of human society.
I downloaded a couple Kindle book samples and an actual Mason writes that most join nowadays for two reasons: for esoteric knowledge they believe the Lodge may have, and for networking. He said many leave after a year or two when they learn the Lodge has no esoteric knowledge and that networking isn’t that effective since most of the men are towards the end of their careers. But he said those who stay, stay for the elaborate and secretive ritual.

That makes sense since man has an innate need for ritual and Protestants lack that so this fills that desire. The history of Freemasonry gets murky, but ultimately it grew out of an anti-clericalism in the 1600s and 1700s in Western Europe. The wars for religion had tired everyone out and so there was a felt need for an alternative religion that would not create martyrs. (In fact, Masons are not allowed to talk religion or politics with other Masons in order to protect the brotherhood from division.)

Basically you have a fraternal society that combines man’s natural desire for secretive knowledge (Gnosticism), a ritualistic religion untied to doctrinal debates (based on Judiasm mysticism), and a social outlet. I can see why I’d be a terrible Mason since I already have secret (that shouldn't be secret) knowledge (Catholic theology), already have ritualistic religion (Catholicism), and have low social outlet needs.

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In the past few years all the white hats have become black and the black hats white. Well not all, but it’s interesting how the lesson of late is that God uses flawed instruments and likely even has a preference for it.

Witness Donald Trump. As someone from Steubenville tweeted:
"Say what you will about Trump, yes, he has been married 3 times, has committed adultery, is materialistic, egotistical, bombastic...But yet, he defends life in the womb and the honor of God while the Pope and bishops defend recycling. You tell me who God is using right now."
That would’ve been inconceivable to me in 2015 or 2016. Trump was a black hat, end of story. “Character is destiny” said Jonah Goldberg, echoing the ancient Greeks, but neither the ancient Greeks or Goldberg are/were Christians. Christ has something to say about destiny: “the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.”

And of course there’s the hierarchy. McCarrick first and foremost but many others both on the moral but also the heterodoxy front.

Another example of a black hat is black rapper Kanye West. Er, not so black hat. West has had a serious conversion experience and is more evangelistic than our pope. The only surprising thing in all this I guess is that I'm just now learning this pretty basic stuff, i.e. that people are complicated and resist labels. Welcome to Gray Hat land.
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Transported by the book of Wisdom, chapter 14 and thereabouts. Of the Egyptians the sacred author writes, “Humiliated they well might be...the very gods they worshipped [were] the instruments of their distress”. The instrument of Christ’s distress, the Cross, is now something we hold holy so there’s a kind of symmetry between the true God and false gods.

The Old Testament book of Wisdom, astonishingly enough, was instrumental in the conversion of a young woman (now a nun) from atheism. An excerpt on sailors worshipping wooden idols with an implicit nod towards Noah and the Ark:
Here is one that will go a-voyaging, the wild waves for his pathway, and perishable wood to carry him, yet he makes his prayer to a piece of wood more perishable yet!

For it was desire for gain that planned that vessel, and wisdom was the artisan who built it; but it is your providence, O Father, that steers its course, because you have given it a path in the sea, and a safe way through the waves, showing that you can save from every danger, so that even a person who lacks skill may put to sea.

So careful art thou that the gifts thy wisdom affords us should not go unused; man ventures his life on a few planks, and the frail barque gives him safe conduct across the waves. And what marvel? At the beginning of all, when the giants perished in their pride, was not such a barque the refuge of all the world’s hopes? Yet thy hand was at the helm, and the seed of life was saved for posterity. A blessing on the wood that can so procure salvation!
Written hundreds of years before Christ, yet it can be read as a meditation as the Church as our fragile ship and the Cross the wood of our salvation. We place our hopes and trust on a piece of perishable wood, the wood of suffering and death, in assurance that eternal life will spring within us.
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Still pondering a niece's politics so I considered my own formative influences on faith and politics.

For politics, I was at Miami U. reveling in the stunning display of magazines available at King Library. There, on a carousel, was the world: enticing mags invoked foreign lands, foreign worlds, foreign hobbies. You could pick from All About Beekeeping to Xylophones Illustrated. A political magazine caught my eye: National Review. I was drawn in by the words, of course, as I’ve always loved words. Cryptic words as well, and those were the kind that gushed from the pen of William F. Buckley. He and Shakespeare have forgotten more words than I know.

But if I came for the words I stayed for the ideas. This was eye-opening and a counter-cultural political world I scarcely knew existed. My knowledge of politics was limited to what Michael P. Keaton said on the series Family Ties. I took a pro-gun control position in high school because, well, who wouldn’t be against guns?

I greedily read the magazine at King Library and many more and later a half-dozen of Buckley’s books. I suspected that everyone is born liberal and that it’s only with time or education that you become conservative.

This was like the great undiscovered truth in the liberal landscape which is the same way I feel about Catholicism now. It’s like there’s this amazingly true thing that few seem to know about or can say aloud.

The great adventure, the Catholic one, was triggered by my then girlfriend not putting up a Christmas tree.

She had fallen under the sway of a Christian fundamentalist who thought trees were pagan, as if Christ and his Church had not the power to make what was once a pagan symbol into a Christian one. She gave my girlfriend long typed articles on the book of Daniel, of prophecies, and of the Roman Catholic Church as the “whore of Babylon” in Revelation.

I was greatly offended by it of course but it was the first time the intellectual side of the Faith was challenged. I read books voraciously that I should’ve been assigned long ago in high school and was taught things I should’ve been taught in grade school. For example, the passage in the gospels where Jesus says “call no man Father”, or why Mary is so honored and held in such high esteem. It was a heyday for me, a heady, euphoric time of connecting with the ancient Faith intellectually for the first time. I was convinced of the truth the Church possesses, of the gift I was given.

(The reason I wasn’t taught this in grade school or high school, I assume, was that the 1970s were a very ecumenical time in the Church and there was a feeling that we shouldn’t emphasize differences between ourselves and Protestants. The downside of this is as adult Catholics we became religiously indifferent.)

So these events occurred outside of my schooling and I suppose it has to happen that way for my niece as well. Perhaps for most people. School is something we’re conditioned to see as a means to a monetary end and it’s rare that the lightning of inspiration strikes while the iron’s hot. Or when we're young and callow...

February 11, 2020

The Show Must Go On

Jim C. gave me the go-ahead for predicting New Hampshire and hence this post...

New Hampshire lacks the byzantine nature of a caucus, the latter which involves standing awkwardly in groups like human chess pieces moved by promises of donuts and other sweets (if you'd originally stood with a fringe candidate) until at some point late in the night you are recessed. 

This makes New Hampshire look like an easier pick such that I could just go with the current poll results.  But the famous twist is that New Hampshire wants to stand out from the crowd (the crowd of Iowa) and pick someone new.  This is perhaps less of an issue this time because Iowa picked almost everybody. 

New Hampshire Democrat voters are generally agnostic on personality or the “would you like to have a beer with them?” test: they voted Sanders, Kerry, Hillary Clinton (twice!).  I’m not sure they feel the sentimental tug that would cause them to vote for Joe Biden but we shall see. It’s possible he’ll do better than I expect. 

From the outset I suspected Buttigieg would be stronger candidate than people thought since he’s all things to all white people:  a liberal, a centrist, an anti-Trump in temperament, someone older white people felt comfortable voting for, someone young people felt comfortable voting for,  someone robots felt comfortable voting for, etc... 

But ultimately it’s all Sanders all the time in New Hampshire. 

Sanders 30%
Buttigieg 24%
Warren 14%
Klob 10% 
Biden 10%

UPDATE:  Final results were Sanders, Buttigieg, Klob, Warren and then Biden so I needed to flip Warren & Klobuchar for exact order of finish. Percentages were off. I thought Klobuchar was a dead (wo)man walking.  In retrospect I should've seen it coming since New Hampshire not very wild-eyed (they didn't vote for Howard Dean or Bernie in the past).  So not enough room for hard leftists Bernie and Warren to do well.  They got only a combined 35% or so and I had them at a 44%.  Wonder if influenced by open voting, where non-Democrats can cross lines and vote.