Confounding Quotations

Well, I am home sick this weekend rather then spending my time hanging out with friends, snuggling my girlfriend, fencing, and singing folk songs well into the night. I actually have a new one I wrote and wanted to premiere when it wasn’t 1:30 in the morning!

But so long as I am here getting over whatever the fuck has ruined my SCA event plans, I have at least gotten a chance to start catching up on the news I’ve been missing because of work deadlines. And I have to admit, while there has been plenty to make me angry, I find that I’ve just been confused by a whole lot of what’s being said. And today we’re going to work out some of my confusion on a number of quotes.

So here we go!

1. Divine Protection Racket

It’s often joked among atheists that what Christians call “salvation” (and other religions call other things) basically sounds like a Mafioso extorting people. “Hey, nice soul ya got there. Be a shame if something happened to it, like it burned in a lake of fire for all eternity.” It’s a bit of hyperbole to highlight that God is often trying to save us from itself. And that’s why this quote from Rep. Randy Weber is so hilariously confused and confusing.

It’s a good thing that he’s a holy, just non-vengeful God. It’s a good thing we’re not vengueful [sic], because he [sic] might ask him to bring an untimely demise to those in the abortion industry who are killing our babies. But we’re not that way. He’s a God of second chances.

Anyone else get the impression that the only thing keeping Randy Weber from murdering every abortion provider he can get his hands on is mortal law and disapprobation rather than divine grace? I mean, this quote is so all over the map. “It’s a good thing God doesn’t kill people, because we might wish God would kill people and God would do it, but he wouldn’t and we wouldn’t wish that on those goddamn BABY KILLERS that we totally wouldn’t wish harm on.” He really, really wants to be able to call for violence (and I would want to as well if I believed that people were actually killing babies), but he knows that that tends to look bad, so he keeps walking up to that line and backing away again.

It doesn’t help that he’s backing up world class idiot Paul Broun, which makes it difficult to be coherent. That being said, this was so out there that I’m not sure that it can be covered merely by being the Lou Costello to Broun’s Bud Abbott.

2. Getting What You Pay For

I really, really hate to bring up Ron Lindsay again, but the man keeps making these strange, nonsensical statements. First it was his introduction at Women in Secularism, then his absurd comparison of pushback to North Korean propagandists, and now this tweet.

Free inquiry. Free expression. Not only are these indispensable in our quest for the truth but they’re necessary conditions 4 human dignity

Where is this coming from? Ceiling Cat be praised, this is as ridiculous as The Thaw! Who has told Ron Lindsay that he can’t inquire or speak? Seriously, who? Is this just a general statement that coincidently sounds like a defense of his increasingly ridiculous and paranoid assertions? Again, we seem to have a person who is under the impression that in order to be free, they must be free from any criticism. Criticism is only something that Ron Lindsay and the people he agrees with are afforded the right to, you see. Anybody who questions that, even in the mildest of terms, is an enemy of freedom, I suppose.

Also, it’s taking a stand on some pretty nasty stuff. How do people’s heads Photoshopped on porn advance human dignity? How does publishing a person’s home address in front of a bunch of people who hate that person advance human dignity? As PZ pointed out in the link above

When they photoshop our faces onto porn, when they call us “manginas” and “cunts”, when they flood CFI conference streams with denigrating insults to the speakers, they are not making “free inquiry”, they are not using “free speech” in a “quest for truth” or to advance “human dignity”.

Not all expression is some noble gesture in favor of free expression. Listening to it is more a testament to the greatness of free expression than just saying whatever stupid thing comes to your brain. As per usual, I go to MovieBob’s The Big Picture on political correctness, which he defines pretty well as “being nice” and the enemies of political correctness as people who simply feel that some people don’t deserve their niceness. That doesn’t make you a samurai sworn in fealty to the First Amendment, ready to slit open your own belly if it’s necessary. It makes you a jerk who doesn’t want to be called a jerk while still predicating your behavior toward others on whatever impulses you have at the moment rather than anything they happen to do.

3. The Best Kept Secret

This is one that confuses me more on the practice than on the actual thing said. So, a couple of days ago, Pope Francis said a kind of nice thing about atheists and non-Catholics in general.

The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.

It’s not much, but it’s something, at least. And it’s something I can get behind, too, since I’m more than happy to work with believers of any kind in making a positive change in the world. I do it fairly often, in fact.

But this is the Vatican, and they really can’t let stuff like this go without swooping in to ruin the fuck out of it. Emphasis mine.

On Thursday, the Vatican issued an “explanatory note on the meaning to ‘salvation.’”

The Rev. Thomas Rosica, a Vatican spokesman, said that people who know about the Catholic church “cannot be saved” if they “refuse to enter her or remain in her.”

Look at that highlighted part right there and really think about it. It’s Catholic doctrine that people who are unaware of the Church get a free pass on the whole Jesus thing, so why the fuck would you tell anybody about it? No, seriously, if you care about the state of people’s souls after death, and you know that if you simply don’t tell them that there’s an option to sell your soul to a tiny nation-state in the middle of Italy instead of just doing whatever it is you do already, why wouldn’t you just not tell them about it? Wouldn’t that get more people into Heaven? Wouldn’t that just starve hell of people because nobody knew they had the chance to give 10% of their income to men in fabulous, if poorly cut, dresses? Catholicism should be two guys who live in secret and make sure the other one is always following the catechism and nobody learns of their arcane practices.

This also suggests the other question: what if the one true religion involves two brother gods fighting over the last doughnut eternally, one guy in Luxembourg knew about it in 1751 and died without telling anybody, and because of the loophole that you don’t have to believe if you’ve never heard of it, any person who is decently good and generous gets to spend eternity in the Divine Krispy Kreme, where the red light is always on? It’s no less plausible than any other myth base.

4. Designed Economics

The Sensuous Curmudgeon is hilarious. I love reading their take on creationists and their mockery of evolution deniers. It’s really something to read every time. However, they also are a fiscal conservative, so occasionally will write a post discussing economics that inevitably misses a point someplace. This was, however, exceptionally weird.

This post is based on their support of a quote from Ronald Bailey, which goes, “Intelligent design is to evolutionary biology what socialism is to free-market economics.” There is then a lot of writing about how shopping malls are like evolution in that stores change and the mall you knew growing up is probably almost nothing like the mall you know today. I think this may be the crux of their argument.

Aside from the mall itself, who planned the assembly of all the individual stores, with all the wares they display? No mall developer could possibly design all that. Even if he started out with a few chain stores in mind as tenants, the roster of retailers currently at the mall is probably quite different from the original tenants, many of whom may have gone out of business and were replaced by new retailers. Not only do the stores gradually change over time, but the goods being sold are probably different from those that were originally on display. In the space of a decade or two, virtually everything is different.

I’m not sure if the Curmudgeon thinks that developers create malls, take on original tenants, then just let them go and develop as they will or what, but developers have constant say in what can go on in stores in a mall. When one store fails, the developer finds another store to replace it. Stores have very strict limits on what they can display and how they can display it. A mall quite literally is intelligently designed constantly.

Down here in Orlando we have the Mall at Millenia, which is supposed to be high end stores. Take a look at the directory. I see a Crate & Barrel, Monteblanc, Louis Vuitton, every Gap brand except for Old Navy, an Apple store, Prada, Rolex, and several other places that cater to the wealthy. Know what I don’t see? Spencer Gifts. Or Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Or Target. Why? Because there is a developer who has complete control over this mall and decides who can and can’t open a store there. That’s nothing like evolution, which would allow any store that set up shop and made money to thrive, whether it was Tiffany & Co. or Dollar Tree.

The original quote makes no sense, either. As I pointed out, most businesses are, in fact, intelligently designed. The original person just took two things he liked and two things he didn’t like and made a syllogism that only stands as true if the comparison is something that Ronald Bailey approves of to something that Ronald Bailey doesn’t approve of.

The other problem with this quote and the whole perception is that this isn’t necessarily a good thing. I mean, think about it: two common atheist complaints about religion are that a) evolution is an endlessly cruel process and it’s hard to imagine an all-good creator putting entire species through that, and b) if we are intelligently designed, then the designer isn’t that good at their job since there are so many ways things could be better. We reject ID because it’s in all likelihood not true, not because there’s something inherently bad about the idea of a designer. Hell, if there were a genuinely omni-benevolent creator who knew what the fuck they were doing, that would actually be a lot better! We would have redundancies built into our bodies, we wouldn’t have pointless organs, we wouldn’t run down with age, there would be no part of us that didn’t heal or grow back, we wouldn’t be so fragile, we wouldn’t be susceptible to disease…the possibilities for improvement are endless. Why wouldn’t we prefer it if species were just gotten right the first time and didn’t have to go through the gruesome machine that is natural selection?

To apply that to economics, why would we prefer a system that is manifestly more brutal and apathetic to human suffering than one that actually tries to alleviate human suffering? No, I’m not talking about pure socialism, which doesn’t work, but surely we can socialize aspects of things to increase the happiness and well-being of as many people as possible instead of shrugging our shoulders and saying that that’s just the price of free markets. Again, atheists are constantly saying that given omnipotence we could do better than any of the perceived gods thus invented, so why would we embrace apathy instead of empathy when we have the chance?

5. Timmy and the Washing Well

Regular Conversationalists know that I consider Timmy Dolan one of the most horrendous humanoid creatures to walk the face of the Earth. I mean, the slimy trail he leaves through the media is toxic in the most nauseating sense of the word. I’m pretty sure he can’t order breakfast without a back handed compliment to queer people or atheists, and his excessive pride in what he thinks is incredible subtlety reads like a child who can see up a girl’s skirt and can’t stop giggling at their own naughtiness.

Which brings us to this bizarre piece of tripe that he wrote titled “All Are Welcome!” in which he describes how the Church loves people to show up and wants them to know Jesus and blah blah blah. Then we get to this.

This balance can cause some tensions.  Freddie and I were loved and welcomed at our family table, but the clear expectation was, no dirty hands!

He’s, of course, talking about gay people, people who live together before marriage, and people who have been involved in abortion in some respect. To his credit, he also calls out businesmen (and only men) who don’t pay their workers a fair wage, but it feels tacked on considering he rarely seems to discuss it otherwise and the Church doesn’t throw their weight behind living wage laws as much as they do behind fighting marriage equality or contraception.

But what is bizarre and infuriating about this particular extended analogy, is that he really didn’t think that anybody would question his comparison of being gay or cohabitating to being dirty.

It gets worse in that when several Catholics showed up at St. Patrick’s Cathedral (where Cardinal Timmy preaches) with dirty hands for a silent protest, they were not only told they weren’t welcome inside, but Timmy of the Imposing Jowls called the NYPD to have them removed! And, what’s worse, the NYPD enforced it! Because, as we all know, it’s imperative that an organ of the state enforce religious rules like the one that was broken here (i.e. “Do what I fucking tell you because I have a fancy hat!”).

I admit, this one pisses me off, but the idea that protestors don’t plague him like the Furies did Orestes also pisses me off. What baffles me is the repeated failure of people to stop and think in this whole debacle. First Timmy having a secretary translate his crayon scribble into a blog, then him calling the cops to prove that “all are welcome”, then the NYPD showing up and enforcing religious dictates. It’s just failure after failure after failure here, and nobody was able to figure out that this might not look very good, even if they weren’t sure if it was right or not? I know that the Catholic church doesn’t much care about bad PR at this point, but I thought the NYPD still did. Maybe too many loving handjobs on network television that convinces people they’re all saints in blue suits?

(h/t to Slacktivist for that last one)

So, yes, things have gotten really confusing while I’ve been away. Am I being unreasonable, here? Do these things really make perfect sense and I’m just being dense? Because I really can’t figure out how any of these things have gotten said or done.

Twinkie the Kid Rides Into the Sunset

I was just about to start my lunch when my very good friend, the Dread Lord of Bakery, pinged me with a woeful lament about the end of the Twinkie. Naturally curious, I asked why he was mourning the snack cake that would outlive us all, and he told me.

Hostess is filing for bankruptcy and shutting down.

Apparently the making and distribution of snack cakes cannot even be free of partisan wrangling, with those on the left cheering this as a union victory, the loss of the company being the result of mismanagement. Those on the right point to the danger of unions which have cost the jobs of 18,000-some workers. I suspect that it’s not nearly so simple as either of those interpretations (don’t get used to me taking the middle road), and what it came down to was a company on the brink of failure that needed its employees to work for far less than they could possibly live on. The union negotiations were just delaying the inevitable and employees who are laid off are in no worse shape than they would have been if they were working for wages that couldn’t sustain them, if not better shape.

For once, though, I’m less interested in the left/right narrative battle than I am in the inside baseball of what this could mean. The DLoB and I sort of teased this out and, while neither of us are economists, he has his finger on the pulse of the food industry and I…well, I read a whole lot. People with more informed opinions are encouraged to comment.

Our thought is that this is going to lead to a short period of turmoil as demand suddenly drops for the products necessary to run an operation like Hostess. They’ll take a year to wind down, but it’ll still be a pretty weird next few months just from the news and that they’re canceling orders already. However, I don’t think Wonder Bread will suddenly disappear off of shelves, and most likely other companies will swoop in and start buying the brands piecemeal. Part of why I’m not too concerned for the laid off workers is that I suspect that in a lot of cases the new companies, rather than trying to start up operations someplace else, will take the already-outfitted factories and hire the already-trained employees. Not all of them, but I suspect a significant portion.

What I would like to see, though, is rather than this forcing the food industry to close ranks and gobble up what’s left of Hostess so we end up with bigger, more bloated corporate entities with even less competition, that this allows some smaller operations to rise to fill that niche. This could not only introduce us to new foods, but also continue the shift toward healthier consumables that has been evident for the past decade or so.

The Dread Lord of Bakery thinks we might also see a rise in the viability of local bakeries. If prices rise, which they likely will, on grocery store snack cakes, people may be more willing to eat the better, healthier, and all around more awesome selections at their local establishments. If the big operations take time to roll out their “Hostess” cakes, the vacuum left by the makers of HoHos might be filled instead by corner stores. It’s a long shot, but I’m a bit of a dreamer and think this would be better for us overall.

No, we’re not going to see these products disappear, but the prices may fluctuate and the formulas may change. Either way, now might be an excellent time to Google for your local bakery and give them some business. Even those things we’re used to may change, but sometimes it takes news like this to cause us to re-examine our habits and ask whether there may not be better options.

Rolling Jubilee and a Little Snark

I really just want to write about how much I love this idea. For those who are unfamiliar, or have only ever heard of it in connection with monarchs, X-men, and cherries, Jubilee is a biblical concept. Essentially, every seven Sabbatical years (so seven seventh year, or every 49 years), all debts would be forgiven, all slaves freed, and all ownership basically set back to default. There is debate on whether it would be the 49th year or the 50th, whether the first year counts as one or not, etc. Basically, people pick nits when it comes to their money. The point remains the same: every {mumble mumble} years, all debts are forgiven.

Before anyone gets any ideas, this will never happen in any official capacity. Dan Cathy, as dedicated as he is to biblical principles, isn’t going to tell his franchise owners that they no longer owe him a part of their profits. The Catholic Church, with it’s billions and billions of investments, isn’t going to tell everyone to keep the money, it’s Jubilee year.

But, that doesn’t prevent people from doing that themselves.

The thing about debt in the modern era is you can buy somebody else’s debt, usually for pretty cheap. When one group gets tired of attempting to collect or just feels it’s become too risky, they can bundle up a lot of debt and sell it to other people to recoup at least some of their loss, and those other people are now responsible for it.

But what if people bought a bunch of debt, and then forgave it all?

That’s the latest idea out of Occupy Wall Street (remember them?). They did a test and spent $500 to buy $14,000 worth of debt. And then forgave it all, no questions asked. Those people no longer owe a dime. They even have a website encouraging other people to contribute so they can continue to get people out of debt for ridiculously low prices.

I really want to just be supportive of this, but I have to add a little snark at Tim Worstall, who wrote the article at Forbes that I read it on.

The problem is that when Worstall is trying to be helpful, such as pointing out ways that this can be done without running into the tax law problem of forgiven debt being counted as taxable income, he’s spot on. When he tries to do his little conservative (excuse me, neoliberal, which I assume means “conservative, but unwilling to be associated with the religious nuts”) happy dance that OWS is doing something that he would like to see done, he comes off basically as a smug jerk, and I can’t tell whether he was attempting satire (though his early assertion that wages have risen in some appreciable way since the 70s makes me think not).

But the icing on the cake for me is that this one and only decent Occupy idea is a profoundly conservative one, relying as it does on those little platoons. It isn’t Progressive, it’s not liberal (in the modern sense although it certainly is in the classical liberal or libertarian sense) it is conservative. And isn’t that wondrous? That the only time the progressive liberals of Occupy get something right is when they’re not progressive liberals?

So Worstall is making the incredibly insightful point the that first OWS idea that he thinks is good is one that fits in with the kinds of things he considers good ideas. What incredible genius! Why didn’t I think of that? Tim Worstall considers ideas that he thinks are good ideas to be good, and presumably ideas that he thinks are bad ideas to be bad! I’m willing to bet, and don’t hold me to this, that he also thinks his favorite foods taste great and his least favorite foods taste awful, and that this is an indication of his refined palate that he only likes things that taste good.

Anyway, Rolling Jubilee: great idea. Tim Worstall: Clearly an economics genius!