Category Archives: Ideas

It Can’t Happen Here

It really can happen here: The novel that foreshadowed Donald Trump’s authoritarian appeal.

Carla Seaquist, The Huffington Post, 10/01/2016, Updated Oct 02, 2017

Amid the 80th anniversary of Sinclair Lewis’s anti-fascist tome, Trump’s campaign makes Lewis look prophetic. SEPTEMBER 29, 2015 (UTC)

Candidate Donald Trump has turned into a much better joke than most people expected. What first appeared like a Simpsons gag, a media stunt, is now leading the Republican field. Trump’s pseudo-populist businessman’s appeal is so surprisingly forthright that, in addition to being the butt of the nation’s laughter, he’s turning the whole political system into a punchline too.

With his careful mix of plainspoken honesty and reactionary delusion, Trump is following an old rhetorical playbook, one defined and employed successfully in the 1936 presidential campaign of Senator Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip. In his campaign’s promotional book “Zero Hour,” Windrip laid out the classic nativist call to action that Trump would pick up nearly word-for-word:

My one ambition is to get all Americans to realize that they are, and must continue to be, the greatest Race on the face of this old Earth, and second, to realize that whatever apparent differences there may be among us, in wealth, knowledge, skill, ancestry or strength–though, of course, all this does not apply to people who are racially different from us–we are all brothers, bound together in the great and wonderful bond of National Unity, for which we should all be very glad.

After Windrip’s coup at the Democratic convention, he won a three-way race when the other two candidates split the reasonable vote. Once elected, President Windrip appealed directly to his core constituency of unprosperous and resentful white men to help him repress dissent and bring fascism to America. It’s a chilling historical lesson, even though it didn’t actually happen.

Windrip’s election is the beginning of Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel “It Can’t Happen Here,” rather than actual American history. A wonderful example of prophylactic fiction, Lewis used his position as one of the nation’s top novelists to show his countrymen exactly how authoritarianism could rear its head in the land of liberty. The assassination of Louisiana Governor Huey Long (better remembered in literary history for inspiring Robert Penn Warren’s “All The King’s Men”) and the reelection of Franklin Roosevelt rendered Lewis’s warning moot for a time, but 80 years later the novel feels frighteningly contemporary.

Like Trump, Windrip uses a lack of tact as a way to distinguish himself. Americans know on some level that the country’s governing system has never conformed to its official values. There are basic contradictions between what politicians and policymakers say and what they do, but also at the core of the national identity. We are, in our own mind, a scrappy underdog and the world’s only superpower at the same time. Right-wing populists don’t shy away from either side of the dichotomy; instead they gain credibility by openly embracing the contradictions. They tell the truth about why they’re lying and declare their ulterior motives.

When it comes to making America great again, Trump promises to wheel-and-deal like the savvy businessman he keeps telling us he is. Instead of just implying their cynicism through participation in the electoral process like a normal politician, Buzz and Trump put it in their “pro” column. “We probably will have to lick those Little Yellow Men some day, to keep them from pinching our vested and rightful interests in China,” Windrip writes of Japan in “Zero Hour,” “but don’t let that keep us from grabbing off any smart ideas that those cute little beggars have worked out!” Any American president will be a thieving imperialist bastard, but these guys promise voters they will be the best thieving imperialist bastards.

The devil in a devil costume, however, is no less sinister than the besuited version. The social forces that Windrip and Trump invoke aren’t funny, they’re murderous. Our conventional narrative is that the Klu Klux Klan was mocked into nonexistence, but recent demonstrations prove some people still haven’t given up the Lost Cause. That American fascism has always had a goofy Halloweenish quality makes it easier to laugh, but doesn’t protect their targets.

Continue reading It Can’t Happen Here

Donald Duck!

Below is a listing of members and former members of the US Congress, along with other prominent  Republican politicians, who are adamantly opposed to same-sex marriage (as well as special protection for the rights of LGBTQ people) and would probably restore the interdiction of all such within our nation if they could. So far they haven’t been able to do so, but Brett Kavanaugh’s arrival on the Supreme Court bench has us worried about what’s to come. 

At the  top of our list are  Donald Trump, and Mike Pence, two of the worst in respect to not respecting the rights of the LGBTQ people, including the right to marriage. Nine on the list are present U.S. Senators, all Republicans, who most account, by shamefully kowtowing to Trump, for the survival of his presidency. Without the Republican support. often by keeping silent before the President’s lies on Twitter, at the rallies and elsewhere Donald Trump would have been out of office months ago.


Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann,  Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, Jim DeMint, Marco Rubio, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich,  Bobby Jindal, Rand Paul, Michael Crapo, Mitch McConnell
Thad Cochran, Eric Cantor, Lindsey Graham, Orrin Hatch, Ted Cruz, Jan Brewer, Todd Akin, Chuck Grassley, Tom Emmer, Scott Walker, Tim Pawlenty, Ralph Reed, Doug Lamborn, and John Thune.






Would it help to restore some decency to our Republican politicians if they were to read  Platon’s The Banquet (go here to read the speech of Aristophanes at the Banquet) and in particular his speech  claiming a natural origin for the sexual inclinations of men and women, whatever they might be.

(That’s the Greek comedian and playwright. Aristophanes. Born in Athens, in 446 BC, died at-Delphi in 386 BC)

These bigots listed are all members of the Republican Party! The party of Abraham Lincoln, whom I think would never have been against same-sex marriage. We don’t know of course but I would imagine him saying, pretty much what I say, “Why not?” Why not leave it to the people to decide for themselves their manner of coming together with their loved ones?

How much do the Republicans’s views of marriage explain their to me otherwise inexplicable support of Donald Trump? (The great irony here is that Donald Trump himself if left to himself probably wouldn’t have been against protecting LGBTQ rights.) Now if our President seems not to protect these rights it has to be because he is after the bigot vote, that which  in 2106 was enough to make him president.

These men and women, elected officials of our government, are terrible people, without a shred of fairness and decency. (SAD! AS TRUMP WOULD SAY) Listen to what some of them have to say about same sex marriage:

Mike Huckabee: “I don’t think a lot of pastors and Christian schools are going to have a choice but to resist marriage equality. They either are going to follow God, their conscience,… what they truly believe is what the scripture, not civil law, teaches them,”

Rick Perry: “I may have the genetic coding that I’m inclined to be an alcoholic, but I have the desire not to do that, and I look at the homosexual issue the same way.”

Jim DeMint: “If someone is openly homosexual, he shouldn’t be teaching in the classroom (nor should an unmarried woman who’s sleeping with her boyfriend, be in the classroom either. –

Marco Rubio: “Support for the definition of marriage as one man and one woman is not anti-gay, it is pro-traditional marriage.”

Mitt Romney (newly elected to the Senate!) “I agree with 3000 years of recorded history. I believe marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman.”

Bobby Jindal: “I  hold the view that there has been a consensus in our country for over two centuries that marriage is between one man and one woman.” (And wasn’t there for about 400 years or more  a consensus that slavery was good, and right? No argument, that, appealing to history, which changes, of course, as we change.)

Orrin Hatch: “OK individuals don’t choose to be gay, but they should not be allowed to have a traditional marriage.”

Ted Cruz: “We look at the jihad that is being waged right now, in Indiana, and in Arkansas, going after people of faith who respect the biblical teaching that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.”  

Todd Akin: “Anybody who knows something about the history of the human race knows that there is no civilization which has condoned homosexual marriage widely and openly that has long survived.” (and the Greeks and the Romans???)

Tom Emmer:This guy compares marriage equality to incest and bestiality. He  was named the Minnesota chairman for the anti-equality Faith and Freedom Coalition, and he headed up efforts in the state on a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality.

Ralph Reed: He claims that federal workplace protections for LGBT people would be “a dagger aimed at the heart of religious freedom for millions of Americans. ”


But the bottom line to all this, all this Trump business, is still our being able to laugh at ourselves, and of course at the President.

I don’t know the origin of this joke below, but I liked it and laughed LOL.

Trump is doing a meet-and-greet at a crowded venue and his security detail is being extra watchful. One of them is a new guy and he’s extra jumpy.
Suddenly, a gunman bursts from the crowd, aiming his weapon at the President. Pandemonium ensues. The rookie bodyguard screams “Mickey Mouse!!!” at the top of his voice and this startles the would be assassin to the point that his aim is off and the shot goes over Trump’s head.
Some bodyguards wrestle the assailant to the ground, while others hustle the President to safety. Disaster averted.
Later, during debriefing, the head of the security detail congratulates the rookie. Without his quick thinking, he tells him, the President might very well be dead.
“But I’m puzzled” he said. “Why on earth would you yell Mickey Mouse?”
“I’m new”, explained the rookie, sheepishly. “I panicked. I meant to yell Donald! Duck!!


The Banquet chez Agathon

Now we still struggle with and disagree about what is love.  Widely accepted is only one kind of love, that between a man and a woman.

Not widely accepted and often outlawed in some, in probably too many tribes and nations, is the love between man and man and woman and woman. But this love is there also, and so far no one has  explained why it’s there, why it’s such a big part, a good part of many of us.  But there are some of course who still deny that this love is no less natural than that between a man and a woman.  These people would deny its legitimacy and declare it unnatural and would even attempt somehow to correct and undo it.

Below I give The Greek poet Aristophanes’ explanation for all love, that between man and woman, man and man, woman and woman. I would encourage everyone, but especially the Republican politicians who would make  love, homosexual love, love between members of the same sex, at least unlawful, if not have it disappear.

In particular  I would encourage those men and women  (see here) who are persuaded that only one form of love is legitimate, that between man and woman, I would encourage them to read what Aristophanes has to say, some 2500 years ago about the nature, the multiple nature of love between men and women. I take this passage of course from Plato’s Dialogue, The Symposium or Banquet, that which ought to be, ought to  have been a part of everyone’s liberal education.


Aristodemus meeting Socrates in holiday attire, is invited by him to a banquet at the house of Agathon, who had been sacrificing in thanksgiving for his tragic victory on the day previous. But no sooner has he entered the house than he finds that he is alone; Socrates has stayed behind in a fit of abstraction, and does not appear until the banquet is half over. On his appearing he and the host jest a little.

The question is then asked by Pausanias, one of the guests, ‘What shall they do about drinking? as they had been all well drunk on the day before, and drinking on two successive days is such a bad thing.’ This is confirmed by the authority of Eryximachus the physician, who further proposes that instead of listening to the flute-girl and her ‘noise’ they shall make speeches in honour of love, one after another, going from left to right in the order in which they are reclining at the table. All of them agree to this proposal,

When it is the turn of Aristophanes he has a mind to praise Love in another way, unlike that either of his predecessors, Pausanias or Eryximachus.

Mankind, he began, judging by their neglect of him, have never, as I think, at all understood the power of Love. For if they had understood him they would surely have built noble temples and altars, and offered solemn sacrifices in his honour; but this is not done, and most certainly ought to be done: since of all the gods he is the best friend of men, the helper and the healer of the ills which are the great impediment to the happiness of the race. I will try to describe his power to you, and you shall teach the rest of the world what I am teaching you.

In the first place, let me treat of the nature of man and what has happened to it; for the original human nature was not like the present, but different. The sexes were not two as they are now, but originally three in number; there was man, woman, and the union of the two, having a name corresponding to this double nature, which had once a real existence, but is now lost, and the word ‘Androgynous’ is only preserved as a term of reproach.

In the second place, the primeval man was round, his back and sides forming a circle; and he had four hands and four feet, one head with two faces, looking opposite ways, set on a round neck and precisely alike; also four ears, two privy members, and the remainder to correspond. He could walk upright as men now do, backwards or forwards as he pleased, and he could also roll over and over at a great pace, turning on his four hands and four feet, eight in all, like tumblers going over and over with their legs in the air; this was when he wanted to run fast. 

Now the sexes were three, and such as I have described them; because the sun, moon, and earth are “are three; and the man was originally the “child of the sun, the woman of the earth, and the man-woman of the moon, which is made up of sun and earth, and they were all round and moved round and round like their parents.

Terrible was their might and strength, and the thoughts of their hearts were great, and they made an attack upon the gods;…. At last, after a good deal of reflection, Zeus said: ‘Methinks I have a plan which will humble their pride and improve their manners; men shall continue to exist, but I will cut them in two and then they will be diminished in strength and increased in numbers; this will have the advantage of making them more profitable to us. They “shall walk upright on two legs,…

He spoke and cut men in two, like a sorb-apple which is halved for pickling, or as you might divide an egg with a hair; and as he cut them one after another, he bade Apollo give the face and the half of the neck a turn in order that the man might contemplate the section of himself: he would thus learn a lesson of humility. Apollo was also bidden to heal their wounds and compose their forms. So he gave a turn to the face and pulled the skin from the sides all over that which in our language is called the belly, like the purses which draw in, and he made one mouth at the centre, which he fastened in a knot (the same which is called the navel); …

After the division the two “parts of man, each desiring his other half, came together, and throwing their arms about one another, entwined in mutual embraces, longing to grow into one, they were on the point of dying from hunger and self-neglect, because they did not like to do anything apart; and when one of the halves died and the other survived, the survivor sought another mate, man or woman as we call them,—being the sections of entire men or women,—and clung to that. They were being destroyed, when Zeus in pity of them invented a new plan: he turned the parts of generation round to the front, for this had not been always their position, and they sowed the seed no longer as hitherto like grasshoppers in the ground, but in one another; and after the transposition the male generated in the female in order that by the mutual embraces of man and woman they might breed, and the race might continue.

Or if man came to man they might be satisfied, and rest, and go their ways to the business of life: so ancient is the desire of one another which is implanted in us, reuniting our original nature, making one of two, and healing the state of man. Each of us when separated, having one side only, like a flat fish, is but the indenture of a man, and he is always looking for his other half. Men who are a section of that double nature which was once called Androgynous are lovers of women; adulterers are generally of this breed, and also adulterous women who lust after men: the women who are a section of the woman do not care for men, but have female attachments; the female companions are of this sort. But they who are a section of the male follow the male, and while they are young, being slices of the original man, they hang about men and embrace them, and they are themselves the best of boys and youths, because they have the most manly nature.

Some indeed assert that they are shameless, but this is not true; for they do not act thus from any want of shame, but because they are valiant and manly, and have a manly countenance, and they embrace that which is like them. And these when they grow up become our statesmen, and these only, which is a great proof of the truth of what I am saving. When they reach manhood they are lovers of youth, and are not naturally inclined to marry or beget children,—if at all, they do so only in obedience to the law; but they are satisfied if they may be allowed to live with one another unwedded; and such a nature is prone to love and ready to return love, always embracing that which is akin to him.

And when one of them meets with his other half, the actual half of himself, whether he be a lover of youth or a lover of another sort, the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy, and one will not be out of the other’s sight, as I may say, even for a moment: these are the people who pass their whole lives together; yet they could not explain what they desire of one another. For the intense yearning which each of them has towards the other does not appear to be the desire of lover’s intercourse, but of something else which the soul of either evidently desires and cannot tell, and and of which she has only a dark and doubtful presentiment.

Suppose Hephaestus, with “his instruments, to come to the pair who are lying side by side and to say to them, ‘What do you people want of one another?’ they would be unable to explain. And suppose further, that when he saw their perplexity he said: ‘Do you desire to be wholly one; always day and night to be in one another’s company? for if this is what you desire, I am ready to melt you into one and let you grow together, so that being two you shall become one, and while you live live a common life as if you were a single man, and after your death in the world below still be one departed soul instead of two—I ask whether this is what you lovingly desire, and whether you are satisfied to attain this?’—there is not a man of them who when he heard the proposal would deny or would not acknowledge that this meeting and melting into one another, this becoming one instead of two, was the very expression of his ancient need (compare Arist. Pol.).

And the reason is that human nature was originally one and we were a whole, and the desire and “pursuit of the whole is called love. There was a time, I say, when we were one,….I am serious, and therefore I must beg Eryximachus not to make fun or to find any allusion in what I am saying to Pausanias and Agathon, who, as I suspect, are both of the manly nature, and belong to the class which I have been describing.

But my words have a wider application —they “include men and women everywhere; and I believe that if our loves “were perfectly accomplished, and each one returning to his primeval nature had his original true love, then our race would be happy. And if this would be best of all, the best in the next degree and under present circumstances must be the nearest approach to such an union; and that will be the attainment of a congenial love. Wherefore, if we would praise him who has given to us the benefit, we must praise the god Love, who is our greatest benefactor, both leading us in this life back to our own nature, and giving us high hopes for the future, for he promises that if we are pious, he will restore us to our original state, and heal us and make us happy and blessed. …

Excerpt From “Classic Philosophy: Plato, complete dialogues, the Jowett translation.”



Where is the progressive interpretation of the US constitution?

Conservatives have an interpretation of the US constitution that furthers their political objectives. Progressives need one, too

‘Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation has created a conservative majority on the court that is sure to undermine individual rights and lessen equality.’
Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation has created a conservative majority on the court that is sure to undermine individual rights and lessen equality.

Over the course of American history, there have been great gains in individual freedom and enormous advances in equality for racial minorities, women, and LGBT people. But much remains to be done. Unfortunately, we are now at a profoundly challenging moment for these values. We have a president who is not committed to them, and for the foreseeable future we face the prospect of a hostile supreme court.

But all this will change. Someday there again will be a majority on the court committed to using the constitution to advance liberty and equality. In the meantime, progressives must fight to provide the foundation for their work. In particular, they must develop and defend an alternative to the conservative vision of the US constitution.

Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation has created a conservative majority on the court that is sure to undermine individual rights and lessen equality. There now are five conservative justices who will explicitly or effectively overrule Roe v Wade, declare unconstitutional all forms of affirmative action, lessen the protection of civil rights, and further erode constitutional protections for criminal defendants.

This is the most conservative court since the mid-1930s, and the five justices that dominate it will be together for years to come. Clarence Thomas is 70 years old. Samuel Alito is 68. John Roberts is 63, while the two newest justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, are 51 and 53 respectively.

In the face of all this, progressives are understandably discouraged. But they have crucial work to do in providing an intellectual framework that current critics and future justices can use to oppose the regressive policies of the Trump administration and the conservatives on the supreme court.

This must begin by showing the intellectual hypocrisy of “originalism”, the conservative approach to constitutional law. Conservative justices pretend that they are just following the original meaning of the constitution and deny that they are imposing their own values on the country. They try to describe themselves as if their values don’t matter. Echoing the language used by John Roberts at his confirmation hearings in 2005, Brett Kavanaugh told the Senate judiciary committee: “A good judge must be an umpire – a neutral and impartial arbiter who favors no litigant or policy … I don’t decide cases based on personal or policy preferences.”

That is nonsense. Supreme court justices are not like umpires at all. Umpires apply rules and have relatively little discretion in determining their meaning. The supreme court creates the rules and justices have enormous discretion in interpreting the law. How a justice votes is very much a result of his or her ideology and views. Clarence Thomas and Ruth Bader Ginsburgdisagree in virtually every major case entirely because of their differing ideologies, not because of anything inherent in the constitution.

This is not new; it always has been the case that supreme court decisions are a product of those sitting on the bench. The constitution was intentionally written in broad, open-ended language that rarely provides guidance for issues that must be resolved by the supreme court. What is “cruel and unusual punishment” or “due process” or “equal protection” cannot be determined by the words of the text or the intent of its drafters, who wrote long ago for a vastly different world. What’s more, no constitutional right is absolute: constitutional cases constantly involve weighing the government’s interest against the claim of a right by some other member of society.

The desire for value-neutral judging in such cases is an impossible quest. The need to balance competing interests is inescapable, and a justice’s own ideology and life experiences inevitably determine how he or she – or anyone interpreting the constitution – strikes that balance. By claiming otherwise, conservatives are trying to create a smokescreen to make Americans think their decisions are based on the “true” meaning of the constitution, when actually their rulings are a product of their own conservative views.

But the progressive vision must do more than simply show the intellectual bankruptcy of originalism. It must explain that constitutional law is always about applying the provisions of the constitution to current problems. It does not try to deny the discretion of the justices or make them seem like umpires, but instead says that discretion should be used to effectuate the underlying values of the constitution.

These values are clearly stated in the first words of the constitution, its preamble. It declares that the constitution is written to create a democratic government, to ensure an effective government, to establish justice, and to secure liberty. Added to these goals should be achieving equality, something omitted from the original constitution, which protected slavery and envisioned no civil rights for women or racial minorities.

The task for progressives is to give content to each of these values and show how the constitution should be interpreted to achieve them. Among other things, a progressive vision of constitutional law must seek to eliminate serious flaws in American democracy, such as the electoral college and racially discriminatory voting laws; champion criminal justice reform, including finally ending the death penalty and ensuring competent counsel for all criminal defendants; and fiercely defend privacy rights, including reproductive autonomy for women.

Addressing race and sex discrimination also requires that progressives interpret the law to curtail government actions that, while perhaps neutral on their faces, have demonstrably discriminatory impacts. And, in the longer term, progressives must make the case for interpreting the constitution to give a right to all Americans to the essential requirements of life: food, shelter, medical care and education.

All of this may seem elusive today with Brett Kavanaugh joining four other conservative justices on the supreme court. As Martin Luther King Jr proclaimed, however, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”. A day will come when we have a more progressive court, and we must now build the intellectual framework for that day.

  • Irwin Chemerinsky is Dean and Jesse H Choper distinguished professor of law, University of California, Berkeley School of Law, and the author of We the People: A Progressive Reading of the Constitution for the 21st Century


“So they went out and found religion.”

Even what we know, or what we think we know, is not what we may think it is. Take Christianity, take the Big Bang, take evolution. These are all unfinished achievements of men (man and woman). They are at best what the moment would have them. They are moments in history. But they are not end points, definitive statements of this or that. To be a Christian is always something new, if it would survive. Otherwise it is dogma as is so much of the church, mosque, temple, and synagogue words and writings. As for the Big Bang, clearly it’s not yet understood. And evolution, well it’s very nature is change. What evolutionist, such as myself, would ever say this is the way it is and always will be.

Christianity is one of the biggest sinners in trying to fix things for all time as being the truth about man (and his God).

But Christianity was at its beginning anything but the dogma that is ensconced in the Vatican, and in many other religious hubs. There were Christians, in the early years, and more and more of them, but they were of all kinds and most often competing for the top spot on the mountain and flinging their rivals down. And the history of Christianity, instead of being of the rich differences of men’s understanding of the story of Jesus, is a long sad tale of something much like the train of kings, as in France or England, those who fought to be on the top, bishops and emperors, popes and the alpha dogs of Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam (what’s the word for emperor or pope in each of the hundreds, thousands of the world’s religions?). And for a long time, through the long night of the Middle Ages, it seemed that Catholicism had won.

(For the article about Karen King  by Lydialyle Gibson in the Harvard Magazine of November 2018, and from which I take most of what follows, please go here.)

King in her study of Christianity’s origins makes it clear just how varied were the earliest stirrings of Christianity, how rich and  diverse were the various congregations who called themselves Christians. And King makes it clear that much has been lost by Christianity becoming in King’s words a single trunk of the tree of Christianity. Better than the single fixed trunk of a tree would be the myriad directions taken by the branches of a bush. Just as our own biological history is best represented by a bush, so is Christianity according to King.

And perhaps because of this she turned, and had her students turn with her, to the study of the World’s Religions, that being clearly a bush with innumerable branches, not a tree with a single trunk. And in particular with her students she looked closely in her introductory course to the religions of the world, right next door to where she was teaching at Occidental College, in the city of Los Angeles that held within its neighborhoods almost an infinite humber of cultures, and along with cultures religions.

She and two other instructors divided their students into teams and asked them to pick “a something,” she says. “It could be the local farmacia”—which, in Latino culture, dispenses folk cures, religious amulets and candles, and limpias (“spiritual cleansings”)—or a church, synagogue, temple, or whatever.

“LA has everything. So they went out and found religion, that is religions.”

King rented a bus and took the class to Pentacostal meetings, an Eastern Orthodox cathedral, Hindu temples, a Buddhist monastery, a Muslim community center, the temporary synagogue of recent Russian Jewish immigrants. “Sometimes we would pick a spot on the map and draw a circle around it and send the students to find out what religion looks like inside that circle,” King says. The students would start by asking, “What do you believe?” By the end of the course, they were paying attention to artwork and architecture, music or the lack of it, teaching and meditation, prayer. They watched how worshippers gathered, whether men and women sat separately; they traced groups’ immigrant history.

The class altered King’s understanding of how to treat early Christianity. The thesis of the course had been that religion is at least partly a function of place. “I started noticing that scholars would talk about the ‘pure essence of Christianity,’ or what Christianity ‘is’ as a singular thing.

“But what Los Angeles shows you is that religion is always fully embedded in the culture of its place. It is diverse and always adapting.”

“And so that purity and synchronism are really artificial categories that don’t help us understand the complex beginnings of Christianity.” In Los Angeles, she once visited a Greek Orthodox church that displayed a timeline of Christian history in which the main trunk, from the origins of Jesus, led directly to the Orthodox Church, with Catholicism and Protestantism as side branches. In their own churches, of course, Catholics and Protestants each see themselves as the trunk.”

But of course the tree is a bush, and Christianity is just one (if you can even speak of it as one) among many branchings.

Trump’s rabble-rousing rants and more.

Trump’s Divisive Speech Puts the First Amendment at Risk

by Suzanne Nossel, Foreign Policy, October 31, 2018

The relationship between President Donald Trump’s rabble-rousing rants and the recent spate of hate-fueled plots and violent attacks poses a quandary for Americans. Under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, Trump’s hectoring of the media, barbs at racial and religious minorities, and even his praise for an assault on a journalist are all constitutionally protected forms of speech.

Does It Matter That Trump Is a Liar?

World leaders have never really trusted each other—but the president’s behavior undermines American foreign policy anyway.

John Mearsheimer finds that both democratic and authoritarian leaders routinely lie to their own publics. Indeed, they are much more likely to lie to their own people than they are to each other. Populations are far more trusting—a cynic would say “gullible”—and a leader’s pronouncements can be amplified by the apparatus of the state, by tame media lapdogs, and by the awe and respect that many citizens feel for those in high places. In point of fact, leaders of all kinds enjoy impressive rhetorical advantages when it comes to hoodwinking the public, and as Trump is proving daily, some percentage of the population is likely to believe them no matter what they say.

Moreover, for all of his mercurial, insulting, bombastic, and self-indulgent tweeting, it’s not as if Trump hasn’t acted pretty much as we should have expected. He was and is skeptical of NATO, even if he has reaffirmed the U.S. commitment there several times. He was and is opposed to the current trading system, and he has retained his bizarre fixation on trade surpluses as a (the?) critical indicator of economic health. He was and is a xenophobe and possibly a racist who is committed to keeping foreigners out and keeping America as white as possible. He remains utterly indifferent to human rights issues save as a club to brandish at adversaries, and he has long been remarkably comfortable with dictators. And Trump hasn’t wavered in his belief that the Iran nuclear agreement was “the worst deal ever,” even if that belief is unfounded. So, while nobody should believe a word Trump says, it’s not like he became president and suddenly changed his tune….

But does it really matter if Trump lies as easily as you or I draw breath? In particular, does it really undermine his ability to conduct foreign policy? Until recently, I’ve thought (and written) that this simply had to be the case. And so have a number of other well-known scholars, such as Princeton University’s Keren Yarhi-Milo. The obvious fear was that given Trump’s proven track record of deceit, neither allies nor adversaries would believe a word he said. As a result, America’s ability to craft favorable agreements with others—and especially deals that might involve some degree of trust—would be critically impaired.



Macron had pointed words for his counterparts Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, who have each embraced nationalist policies and, in the case of Trump, explicitly embraced nationalism as a political identity.

Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism: nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism,” Macron said. “By pursuing our own interests first, with no regard to others’, we erase the very thing that a nation holds most precious, that which gives it life and makes it great: its moral values.”

Are we one people on the earth, or not?

Unfortunately there are still too many of us who would insist that we are not one but many, making up multiple tribes not cooperating with one another but most often at  war. By one people I mean what evolution, picking up the slack from centuries of mistaken ideologies, secular no less than religious, has taught us,  that we are, all of us, full and paid up members of the still existent although threatened animal species homo sapiens.

Now the very worst that Donald Trump has done is to have encouraged some of us, sometimes it seems most of us, to believe that we are not just one people but members of different tribes at war with one another. Witness what he had to say during the aftermath of Charlottesville, where hate groups including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and others were pitted against those who would defend the Enlightenment ideals, those of a free press, religious freedom, minority protection, free elections, democracy, a free and independent, judiciary, tolerance, and respect for others.

What Trump said was: “You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides,”  “Very fine people, on both sides,” not true of course. And if you have ever attended one of Trump’s rallies (with shouts of ‘crooked Hillary, lock her up, crying Chuck Schumer, low IQ Waters, slam him to the ground, the Fake News people at the Wash Post and the NYTimes etc.’) you’ll know just what I mean about his stirring up the very worst in us..

Terrible things do happen in the U.S mostly because of crazed individuals, although in many cases encouraged by Trump’s own  failure to separate himself from the white supremacists, with guns, all too ready to turn their guns against the objects of their hate, against people just like themselves.

Things are bad in today’s United States. Witness the almost weekly shootings. But things are much worst elsewhere, making it more incumbent upon ourselves to avoid stirring the waters of hate. And in fact perhaps everywhere except in Europe and lands and countries of the developed world, where there are still a few enlightened peoples who at least act as members of the single species homo sapiens. As an example of the hate, of the unreason and untruth that is out there, witness this news item from the Economist of November 8:

When a panel of three judges on Pakistan’s Supreme Court overturned a poor Christian woman’s conviction for blasphemy, which carries a mandatory death sentence, it was, as one commentator, Zahid Hussain, put it, as if they had at last broken the country’s “ring of fear”. Nine years ago in the fields, Asia Bibi, a mother of five, had taken a sip of water before passing the jug on to fellow (Muslim) fruit-pickers. They said they could not share a drinking vessel with an “unclean” Christian, and demanded she convert to Islam. She refused, and soon a mob was accusing her of insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

Pakistan’s main blasphemy law is breathtakingly sweeping. Anyone who defiles Muhammad’s name, even if “by imputation, innuendo or insinuation”, faces death. Since its introduction in 1986, several hundred people have been charged, with a disproportionate number either non-Muslims or Ahmadis, a persecuted sect who revere both Muhammad and a 19th-century prophet—something many other Muslims consider abominable. No one has yet been executed. But more than 50 people accused of blasphemy have been murdered….

So the judges’ decision was brave. The charges against Ms Asia, they said, were “concoction incarnate”. The reaction of hard-core Islamists, meanwhile, was predictable. Muhammad Afzal Qadri, a founder of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (tlp), a fast-expanding political party formed in response to the hanging of Mr Taseer’s bodyguard, called for the three judges to be killed. Supporters poured onto the streets, bringing cities to a halt with blockades of burning tyres and shutting down the motorway between Islamabad, the capital, and Lahore, the country’s second-biggest city….

Apparently stung by the criticism, the authorities may now be acting. As The Economist went to press, Ms Asia had been freed. Her whereabouts are unknown, although the government insisted she was still in the country. Meanwhile, the authorities warned the tlp’s leaders that they would be put under house arrest if they called out the mob. For now, Mullah Rizvi has merely said he will “consult” his followers on what next. Most Pakistanis are fed up with zealots blocking roads and burning cars. Even an inexperienced government appears to realise this. If the state is at last finding some backbone, it will be a triumph of hope over experience.

Christian Winter, Evolution & the Big Bang

Christian Winter
Christian Winter, Evolution actually is not that difficult

Is the Big Bang actually possible?

We don’t know. That does not imply God.

People that argue against evolution say “how can something come from nothing”.

That’s not an argument but a question which has nothing to do with evolution. Evolution deals with the question how the species we have today could have developed from first life. How first life came into existence is still unclear. We have some ideas but nothing conclusive.

The question also is inadequate. Life did not come from nothing. Life, as it seems somehow came from inanimate matter. That is not nothing.

What is your argument and proof of evolution and the Big Bang theory?

That evolution is happening needs no proof, because it’s not a theory but an observation. We can clearly see that from millions of fossils we found. We can see that with microorganisms exposed to antibiotics. The current theories of evolution simply are our most plausible explanations for that phenomenon.

Same goes for the Big Bang. We have a ton of evidence that points in that direction. It’s the most plausible explanation. What is beyond that, we cannot tell. All our models break down within a Planck environment around the Big Bang. Maybe we will never know. Again, that does not imply God.


Why aren’t we all liberals?

Andrew Sullivan in today’s Intelligencer (NYMagazine) writes:

I mean by liberal democracy one in which pluralism is celebrated, power is widely distributed, justice is dispensed without regard to politics, the press is free and respected, minorities protected, and where an opposition has a chance to win real, governing power.

The space for this in America has significantly shrunk these past two years and this election has only consolidated that new status quo. In a textbook case of authoritarian creep, Trump will now further marginalize the press, rid his Cabinet of anyone not wedded to him entirely (bye-bye, General Mattis and Jeff Sessions), quash or marginalize any independent investigation into his campaign, politicize the Justice Department, and launch new inquiries against his opponents.


Do conservatives really not believe what liberals believe, that “liberal democracy is one in which pluralism is celebrated, power is widely distributed, justice is dispensed without regard to politics, the press is free and respected, minorities protected, and where an opposition has a chance to win real, governing power.”

What do they believe instead? that pluralism should be put down, power not be widely distributed, that justice should be dispensed in regard to one’s politics, that the press is the enemy of the people and should be  declared Fake News, that minorities should be left unprotected, to fend for themselves, and that the opposition should be deprived of the chance to win real governing power?


In the same issue of NYMagazine Jonathan Chait has this to say:

On November 7, President Trump woke up to a world in which Democrats had smashed through a gerrymandered map to win three dozen House seats, depriving him of both his legislative majority and his effective immunity from congressional oversight and accountability. He responded in the most Trumpian way: with an atavistic display of brute dominance. He insisted the election had been a triumph (“I thought it was a very close to complete victory”), belittled Republicans who had lost for declining his “embrace,” pulled the press pass from CNN reporter Jim Acosta, and warned Democrats not to investigate anything in his administration or he would refuse to work with them and have Senate Republicans investigate them back….
From the very beginning, when Donald Trump and his father ignored demands from the Nixon Justice Department that they stop discriminating against African-Americans, through his repeated tax fraud and financial scams, legal impunity has formed the through-line of his career. Holding him accountable serves not only Democrats’ self-interest but the rule of law. That process (of impeachment?) begins now.