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    • Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – August 25, 2019
      Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – August 25, 2019 by Tony Wikrent Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus Strategic Political Economy Give No Heed to the Walking Dead [The Scholar’s Stage, via Naked Capitalism 8-18-19] The People’s Republic of China is wealthier than any rival America has faced. Its leaders are convinced […]
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Seth’s Sleepless Night

Seth Andrews at The Thinking Atheist recently returned from Australia to his hometown in Oklahoma. This is just after Mike Pence signed the RFRA bill in Indiana. Welcome home, Seth!

Seth went to a birthday party where all his relatives are “Christian” and they wasted no time talking about “The Signs”. Jet Lag and The Signs. Sounds like the name of an alternative jazz-rock fusion group. Nope, what came out instead was a perfect, well, rant would undercut the seriousness of the monologue. Let’s just call it a monologue.

Here it is. It’s called Coexist?

Unlike Seth, I am willing to coexist with the religious. I’m not an atheist but I have strong sympathies in that direction. So, I have no problems with liberal Christian denominations. But I consider myself an enemy of fundamentalism of any kind and this country has given Christian fundamentalists way too much attention and deference.

Yesterday, I met a man from Syria while I was at work. He was frantic. I think he needed someone to talk to. He said he was employed by the Saudi Royal family. I got the impression that it was his job to manage the families properties. But recently, he was kicked out of the kingdom- because he was a Christian. Not a good move. His wife is a dentist. They had to leave. They were able to get out of the middle east. Some of his friends are refugees in Sweden or other places in Europe. HE, he regrets to say, ended up in the United States. He thought that when he got here that because this is a Christian country, there would be some help for him. Not so. He has a job washing dishes. His wife can’t practice. He has an autistic son. He doesn’t know where to go for help.

His friends landed in countries that have a real safety net and health care. He has nothing.

Thank you, Fox News!

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Ghost Stories

I listen to a variety of podcasts.  Yes, my best beloveds, you would be surprised at the wide range of podcasts I listen to.  One of my favorite podcast hosts is Seth Andrews over at The Thinking Atheist.  He’s got one of the best non-consensus reality podcasts out there.  You don’t have to be an atheist to enjoy it.  Plus, he’s got the best voice in the podcast universe.

Every year at about Halloween, he does a special Ghost Story episode.  This year doesn’t disappoint.  The “Two sentence ghost stories” that are included in this year’s episode truly freaked me out.  Seth shows that even atheists are people who like a good story – and traditional holidays – just like everyone else.

So, get your hot chocolate, turn down the lights and gather round your computer for The Thinking Atheist Podcast Ghost Stories 2014.  Bwahahahahahahhhhhhh!

And if you liked that, check out:

TTA Ghost Stories 2013

TTA Ghost Stories 2012

No, no, don’t thank me.  Thank Seth.

More on religion

The Publican and the Pharisee

My post on religious narcissism is getting a lot of hits.  The hits come and go.  It’s clearly hit a nerve probably because it feels truthy.  But I’m not the only one who has made the connection between some religious people and narcissism.  And I’m not condemning all religious people, not by a long shot.  I have no problem with those people who know their boundaries and can coexist peacefully without insisting on sticking their beliefs into our heads.  I’ve long been a proponent of God 2.0, that is, a new kind of experience that is independent of bronze age mythology.  In other words, god needs a rewrite and a makeover but I can live with the metaphorically minded in the meantime.

We can not rule out the possibility that the right, seeing a potential push back against their ramming religion down our throats, is going to fight dirty.  I’m not Frank Luntz or Karl Rove and I am not employed by Fox News (or I would be a lot wealthier right now) so I can’t tell what form their coming attack is going to take but I’m pretty sure that there are agents out there combing the blogs looking for trigger words and memes. I’m not being paranoid or inflating my influence.  It’s just something they do and they wouldn’t be doing their jobs if they didn’t scour political and cultural blogs for potent memes.  It happened in 2008 and it’s going to happen more and more leading up to the 2014 and 2016 elections.  There’s a lot at stake.

This meme has legs so I expect them to start conjuring a response.  No one likes to be called a narcissist, even if they only think that it has something to do with vanity while they miss the bigger personality disorder.  It might put the religious off their kibble if they start looking undesirable or if they start to sense that the rest of us are on to them.  It could trigger narcissistic rage, which is Bill O’Reilly’s forte, or it could mean that the rest of us can gain a toehold to resist them.  They’re not going to like it in any case so I’d keep my eyes and ears open for a response.

I’m trying to put together a post that explains how to deal with people with narcissistic personality disorder but it’s not an easy one to write because there is no magic bullet that will make these people stop behaving the way they do.  It’s harder in America because the critical mass of “nones” hasn’t been reached here that would be a more powerful counterweight to the religious narcissists.  The “nones” category is growing rapidly (I suspect there are many god 2.0 people among them) but our culture still reveres the religious and because these people have a powerful microphone right now, they will get a greater amount of attention than they are entitled to.

So, I’m going to punt for awhile while I continue gathering my resources and instead recommend a podcast from Mormon Stories.  Mormon Stories is hosted my John Dehlin, a Mormon on the liberal end of the spectrum, who is studying for his PhD in psychology.  I highly recommend this podcast in general because Dehlin’s interview style ranks right up there with Terry Gross, IMHO.  Where has this guy been??  He should be way more famous.  Another great podcast host is Seth Andrews of The Thinking Atheist, whose warm, resonant radio voice reassures thousands of disaffected new atheists that they’re not alone.

Anyway, what I really love about Dehlin’s podcast is he is documenting the struggle that modern Mormons are having with their church in terms of gender equality, homosexuality and the history of their church.  These Mormons want to stay connected to the culture they grew up with for many good reasons but they need the church to recognize their concerns.  Dehlin takes a rigorous approach to religion in general and some of his podcasts have explored the types of religious believers that exist in this country as well as why religion is so compelling from  a social psychology perspective.  Here are a couple episodes from that latter category.

Episode 417: Dr. Ryan Cragun on his new book, “What You Don’t Know About Religion (But Should)”

Episodes 339-342: The Psychology of Religion with Dr. James Nagel

One of the things I took away from these podcasts, as well as Seth’s podcast, is the importance of knowing you are not alone.  Just because your entire family, neighborhood, culture appears to be spouting anti-birth control nonsense or is obsessed with the pedophile that is lurking behind every tree, doesn’t mean everyone is going nuts.  If you speak up, you may find you have a lot more people on your side than you thought.  They tend to keep quiet when they think they are outliers.

The other thing I learned, that Ryan Cragun confirmed, is that it is a LOT harder to organize people on the left side of the spectrum because they don’t consider themselves to be joiners.  This will always be an advantage to the right.  Now, we might want to try to figure out why the left and the skeptical community don’t join forces in the same way the right’s disparate communities do but I suspect that it might go back to our childhoods.  If you are forced to join a religion or social structure that you may not feel affinity for, you may resist any attempts to join a sympathetic one in the future.  That’s just one working hypothesis.

One final thing, Cragun says that religious fundamentalists are a lot more unpopular than they or we are lead to believe.  He says the problem with popularly reported surveys is that the participants are rarely asked to rank fundamentalists in the same way they are asked to rank atheists.  Consider those surveys in the same light as the ones commissioned by WaPo where people are asked to rank taxes, the budget deficit and every other thing except unemployment as the most important things that government should tackle.  So, yeah, fundies are living in denial when they think they are universally loved and admired.

Gotta go now.  Get your headsets on and enjoy.

 

Seth’s Ideal Candidate

Seth Andrews, The Thinking Atheist, put this video together of what he considers his ideal candidate.  I think he’s onto something here.  Too many candidates tend to be plain, vanilla people who have never had a real job, done things they regret, or have failed at anything.  Psychologist Nassir Ghaemi, author of A First Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness would tend to agree.  The last person we needed to run the country in the last four years is a monogamous dude who has never known defeat or dark nights of the soul.  (Note that personality disorders, like sociopathy and narcissism, are not the same as depression or mania or other mood disorders.)

Where I differ from Seth is that I do believe there is value in experience for a public servant.  For example, FDR was Secretary of the Navy and Governor of NY. Just like anything else, achieving mastery in the art of governance is aided by experience.  To say that a person with little or no experience is desirable for the highest position of power in the world is probably not too wise.  That’s how we ended up with Obama and he clearly has no idea what options he has available to him to get things done.  Either that or governance is just not his thing.

The distaste for experienced public servants is a mistake of both the left and the right.  The left just hates the idea of politics altogether.  It requires shaking hands and knowing people well enough to anticipate how they will behave so that a selection of carrots and sticks may be applied and all of that is just oogie to them because they fancy themselves to be cool intellectual types who are above all that squishy emotional stuff. When they nominate the cool intellectual type, they tend to be ineffective. Take John Kennedy for example.  His whole cabinet was full of people who didn’t really like politics.  They didn’t like LBJ either because he was too earthy and touchy feely but it was Johnson who got much of Kennedy’s agenda passed because he wasn’t afraid to get in people’s faces and wheel and deal.

The right just doesn’t like government.  It doesn’t really matter who is in charge.  Their business is business.  Whether the various departments work well or not is really not their concern.  Get in, lower taxes on the rich, eliminate as many regulations as possible so that no one is minding the hen house, and get out before anyone attaches the disaster you caused to your party.  Reagan, and the two Bush’s are examples of that type.  Governing well was the last thing on their minds.

If anything, we need a president who actually enjoys being a politician and governor.  We haven’t had one for 12 years now.  What country in their right mind keeps saying, “We have a position open for the most powerful person in the world but we prefer a person with no practical experience in governing.  Poli Sci and International Relations majors also need not apply.  This is a entry level position.”  That’s just a crazy way to elect a president and we deserve what we get.

What makes a good president is a coherent worldview, a vision, a political philosophy, and the abilities and experience to use the power of the position to lead people in the direction of that vision.  You don’t have to be an intellectual genius, you don’t need to be pure in body or spirit and wealth is definitely not a pre-requisite definition of success.  What makes a good president is someone who genuinely cares about people and their welfare.  Think about all of our best presidents and they all have that in common.

I would add one more thing to this list.  A president has to be committed to the constitutional equality of all Americans regardless of gender, sexuality or religious affiliation or non-affiliation.  And that candidate should have a record that clearly and unambiguously demonstrates that commitment.  Because the last thing this country needs is for so many women, LGBT persons and non-believers to be forced to sit on the sidelines because they are convenient paraiahs to target in election years.  We can’t afford to waste any talent.  In particular, any candidate who fails to vigorously defend the rights and equality of women should be immediately disqualified.  A candidate who allows his or her party to kick around half of the population as a political football doesn’t deserve to be president.  Both candidates are guilty this year.

Cleaning the instapaper queue and, At any moment now…

Charles Pierce will roll out his weekly dissection of David Brooks’ latest hand wringing over the declining morals in America.  Because, you know, if we unemployed scientists hadn’t screwed and  gotten high all the time and had children out of wedlock, we’d be better educated and fully employed.  This week’s Brooksian post was a doozy so I am nearly peeing myself in anticipation of the next episode of the adventures of Moral Hazard, the PR dog of the Young Fogey’s club.

In the meantime, here’s some stuff that has accumulated in my instapaper queue:

I can’t wait until I have enough money to buy a Dutch bike. American cities aren’t ready for them but I predict a booming business in the next couple of decades. I love the Bear Bicycle ads.  Look at what we have to look forward to:

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In Gene Sequencing for Leukemia, Glimpses of the Future recounts the course of a leukemia researcher’s battle with the disease from a personal standpoint.  This article made me nostalgic because FLT3 was one of the proteins I modeled before we had any good publicly available structures.  It was a tangent that my project went off on while we were working on a closely related protein.  It’s good to know that this group of proteins can be inhibited successfully.  I’d love to still be involved in these projects.  Very satisfying.

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In case you haven’t seen this post already, David Kotok writes in BusinessWeek Insider what the financial fallout of the LIBOR manipulations could be and says claims could “spiral into the trillions”.  It could be very profitable for lawyers who have a future full of lawsuits from municipalities, investors and individuals who were negatively affected by the rate manipulations.

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BuzzFeed Politics reports on the silly right wing outrage over the Obama campaign’s use of the Revolution Gothic font.  I like the font.  Might even use it myself someday.  It’s just a fricking font, people.  Stop frothing at the mouth.  Anyway, it’s the slogan the Obama campaign is using that should get everyone’s attention:

In the wake of so many Wall Street scandals, and the fact that it funded Obama generously in 2008, “betting on America” seems ill-advised.  Betting and gambling on America definitely conjures up negative connotations.  I’d fire the PR department, but then, I’d fire the whole campaign and the candidate, so, maybe I’m not being objective enough.  Still…

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Crammed into Cheap Bunks, Dreaming of Digital Glory is about “Hacker Hostels” in California where entrepreneurs, techies and geeks can get together and collaborate.  The places are flophouses for the young aspiring future Mark Zuckerbergs.  I think it’s an ingenious solution to a perplexing problem: what are you supposed to live on when you’re creating all this good stuff that venture capitalists and corporations are going to want to license from you or invest in?  Ideating isn’t easy and people have to eat. I think it’s great that geeks are finally starting to socialize and share ideas but you’d think we’d make it easier for Americans to innovate, maybe not indenture them to their student loans so they could actually have their own bedrooms.  But no, this is America!

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Here’s a great timewaster.  (Warning: if you have things to do today, do not click on this link) The Landmark Trust in Britain buys old properties, some of them very old, and renovates them, restoring them as closely as possible to their original forms and functions.  Then, it rents them out as vacation properties.  Yes, you too could stay in your own Mill-on-the-Floss or castle.  It’s bloody brilliant!

Brinkburn Mill

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If you’ve ever wanted to code javascript (and who hasn’t, right?), here’s a cool way to learn how to do it.  The CodeAcademy will take you through a series of exercises, step-by-step.  You type exactly what they tell you to type (not as easy as it sounds) and then hit the run button to watch it work.  This is not a time waster.  I’ve learned a lot in the first 7 or so lessons.  The problem is it doesn’t stick in my brain for very long.  So, practice, practice, practice.

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And now for something completely different, The Thinking Atheist, Seth Andrews, put together this lovely youtube video for people who are scared to death of death:

Chill.