This Politico Article Makes My Head Want To Explode.

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Ed. note: I don’t know the candidate and I have no party with whom I actively work. Furthermore, this isn’t a hit piece on Politico. They did a great job reporting on what is actually happening, in the Missouri GOP primary. It is the fact that it is all actually happening this way that is so deeply maddening.

That’s right. My head is going to explode, thanks to this article and everything about our society that it manages to encapsulate. So, here we go…

Apparently, the GOP has a new … or should I say, had a new golden boy, Josh Hawley, – at least, so says Politico, and, by all accounts, the GOP really wanted him to be the “next one.” I say had because, already, he is falling from the good graces of the party elite. You see, they don’t like how he is campaigning. He isn’t putting enough time into it, they say. Here’s the thing, though – he is not a self-appointed golden boy. In fact, he’s the reluctant golden boy. He is, by all indications, the kind of anti-hero that we actually want to have in office. Mr. Hawley is in the throes of a GOP primary race that he never wanted to be in. Yes, you read that correctly. He didn’t want this fight. His recent election as State Attorney General gives him a perfect 1 for 1 record, in political races, and he, apparently, actually intended to perform that job. At 38, and with serious academic credentials, and looking “the part” of a U.S. political superhero, everyone in the Republican Party decided that he was the guy to challenge Claire McCaskill for the Missouri Senate seat. The thing is, Mr. Hawley didn’t want to run. He had just been elected, he has two young sons, and he had no intention of running for the Senate at this point in time. After phone calls from everyone from local party officials to the Vice President of the United States, he agreed to run.

Josh Hawley Doesn’t Run Right.

Since Josh Hawley isn’t campaigning as hard as voters want him to campaign, some are starting to say that they aren’t going to vote for him. Now, campaigning has always been a big deal in politics. However, at this point in history, I have to ask why? As the fox knows,* there are many reasons why. The trouble that I am having is that the reasons why are deeply troubling, when you really start to examine them. First, we need people to campaign hard to sell voters on the candidate. Second, we need people to campaign hard to tell voters why their opponent is terrible and why the candidate is going to be better. Th former ties into my last, and perhaps deepest concern – the voting base needs to be “energized.” Let’s take these apart piece by piece.

Selling voters on the candidate. What a remarkable admission is made by those that say they won’t vote for him now, because, by their estimation, he isn’t out there campaigning hard enough. They are literally admitting that they, and the party in general, lack the capacity to choose a candidate based on their agenda and qualifications – they need to be sold on a face and a compulsory handshake. If we were living in the pre-internet age, I would understand the need to get your face in front of voters – to shake babies and kiss hands, and all that. However, we are not living in that age. It is a remarkably sad commentary on the state of our democratic republic, that we require a sales pitch that is the product of “face time,” with the candidate. What do you care that he shook your hand? How petulant are we?!? Go online and read his policies and his agenda. Determine whether it matches closest to your ideology. Vote accordingly.

The need to tear down opponents to win. The other really important thing that every candidate must be sure to do is to attack their challengers. Be sure to make it personal, if possible. We can’t just run on the ideas and merits of the candidate. After it is all done we can shake hands and pretend that it was a noble engagement and that we are all good friends, right? Perhaps, there is a better way? Maybe… Go online and read his policies and his agenda. Determine whether it matches closest to your ideology. Vote accordingly.

Of course, energizing the base is of paramount importance. We can’t get everyone pumped up and excited about working together to improve life for the people of this country. Forget about learning the intricate details of the problems that we face to develop real solutions and vote for the candidate that has advanced the best solutions, in our own estimations. No, no. That isn’t going to get it done. We like red meat. Right or left, we want to see our opponents ripped to shreds. We want to feel validated in the ludicrous and god damned foolish idea that all of our political beliefs are correct and the only way to make things better is to do it our way. How arrogant, ignorant and fool hardy. I almost think we deserve what we get. Perhaps, instead of desperately seeking out that political red meat, that is eventually going to give our nation a political heart attack, you might consider taking the following route: Go online and read his policies and his agenda. Determine whether it matches closest to your ideology. Vote accordingly.

One parting thought: Mr. Hawley has been videotaped working out in the gym (during daytime hours – **gasp**), photographed out buying a bottle of wine on a Friday, and critiqued for posting an Instagram picture of himself at the gym. All I can say is: get a life, people! Do you think the guy doesn’t work in the evenings, or on the weekends? Why are you taking creepy pictures of him while he goes to buy some wine? Get a life. You have a candidate that was talked into running – this is your best shot at getting someone who isn’t a power-hungry, maniacal, sociopath, in office. So far, all who have been involved have done a great job demonstrating why no normal, sane, person would actually want to run for office.

*See Isaiah Berlin’s essay on The Fox and the Hedgehog, or Philip Tetlock’s application of same to political forecasters.

 

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The Failure Of Bumper Sticker Theology.

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This is the companion piece to The Failure Of Bumper Sticker Ideology.

Most of us grew up in a “dictate and regurgitate” education system that says, Here is the answer. You will have to parrot this specific answer on the test, or you are wrong. There is no critical thinking here… there is almost no thinking at all. For those Americans that grew up in the church, this was doubled down upon. No one was to question the infallibility of the bible – it was deemed the written and authoritative word of God. So, now we have 13 years of education where we are taught not to question, but, simply to accept the information that we are given as the unquestionable truth AND a faith that tells us that we cannot question it, in any way.  Under this construct, there is no reason to ask questions about how we got the bible when we are told that it is infallible from the word “go,” or from the words, “let us pray.” In fact, to ask questions concerning the origins of the bible is almost heresy, in and of itself, in most churches.  This is nothing new. Throughout the churches entanglement with the Roman Empire, Christians that were caught with a copy of the bible were subject to punishments including death. Can’t have the rabble reading the word – to stupid to understand it. 

Catchy, short proclamations were made, in an effort to make clear who the heretics were and how greatly thou dost sucketh if thou followeth losers like the heretic. Also, you shouldn’t follow them – because we’ll kill you. As time has moved on, some really problematic things have remained the same. Leaders, Medieval clergy, PR people, and evangelical-firebrands, all love to use the bumper-sticker theology to shut down dissent. It sounds so simple when the entire concept can be crammed onto a bumper sticker… That  simplicity belies its deficiencies, unfortunately. Even more troubling, is that along with the proclivity for bumper sticker solutions, comes the army of torch wielding, slogan chanting, useful idiots that we have affectionally come to define as the majority of society.

Real theology cannot be simplified to fit onto a bumpersticker. If it sounds that simple, you aren’t actually thinking. I implore you: don’t accept bumper sticker theology – Study to show thyself approved. If your theology can fit into a mouth full of words, but cannot withstand the scrutiny of questioning, then you aren’t standing in faith – you are standing in the middle of the proverbial road of life, with your eyes closed and your fingers in your ears. Eventually, a car will come along and splatter you and your half-baked theology all over the place. That car will have a vanity license plate that reads somewhere along the lines of **DOUBTER** or **TRAGEDY** or **BLINDSIDE.** I agree that, in part, this is why Paul says to “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling…” Working out the details of our theology is scary. Asking real questions necessarily involves some fear and trembling. You may interpret it differently. Indeed, there are many legitimate ways to interpret the written word that, even carefully read to ensure proper context, lead to very different conclusions. This is precisely why bumpersticker theology doesn’t work. There is an implicit arrogance in thinking that one has figured out the details such to the extent that we’ll turn it into the proverbial (or God forbid a literal) bumpersticker.

Belly Fat, The Universe, and What It Can Teach Us About Life.

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So, I’ve been expanding lately… I don’t mean in the sense that I have been branching out into new things, I mean in the sense that “the universe is expanding.” Coincidentally, much like the universe, I have been expanding faster than was previously believed. You may wonder why I have been expanding. If my waist was examined in the way that we examine culture, foreign politics, domestic politics, and trendy diets, then you would hear four talking heads on [insert whichever news channel you find particularly loathsome], all debating my large ass largesse:

Head 1: It’s because he has been eating more! You all realize that, right?!

Head 2: Head 1, are you mentally challenged or do you just hate America?! Clearly, it is because he hasn’t been working out, due to that knee injury!

Head 3: It is because Jupiter is aligned with Mercury and because Pluto is angry that we took away its planet-hood! Also, this is a mankind problem – America is a false construction, anyway.

Head 4: I don’t understand what is wrong with all of you!!! Clearly, it is because he has been more stressed out, which causes additional belly fat to accumulate! However, I might only be able to understand that because I’m actually a real American.

You see, there are four voices and each offering only one option, to the exclusion of all of the others – oh yeah, and one of the explanations is completely insane. If you heard an argument among my friends on the topic, you’d likely ask what is wrong with all of them – why don’t they know that each of the three sane suggestions was a contributing factor? You might even ask if I was losing sleep and suggest that as an additional factor. Yet we do the same thing with politics, culture and diet crazes. We treat things as if they exist in a vacuum, with only one potential explanation. Actually, the reality is even worse than that – to say it more accurately would be to say that we hear others suggest one explanation, and we accept their explanation as fact.

The Ancient Greek poet Archilochus wrote: πόλλ’ οἶδ’ ἀλώπηξ, ἀλλ’ ἐχῖνος ἓν μέγα (“a fox knows many things, but a hedgehog one important thing”). Isaiah Berlin expounded on the one-off line thusly: The hedgehog sees only one potential explanation for an issue  and one potential solution. The fox, on the other hand sees a variety of explanations that either contributed to the problem jointly or act as potential causes of the problem. Dr. Philip Tetlock applied these labels to political forecasters and found that foxes are more likely to be accurate than hedgehogs. However, hedgehogs are much more likely to find themselves on TV, in the role of the talking head because they are better for ratings. I’d contribute that the arrogance of the hedgehog is why he gets to be on TV. He makes people who agree feel great about themselves and he makes people that disagree get fired up. However, since he isn’t reasonable, he doesn’t inspire reasonable reactions in viewers. Since news outlets are geared toward building a base of loyal viewers, they are far more interested in ratings and red meat than they are in generating reasonable explanations.

However, unlike my waist, the other topics discussed in this blog post are of a rather serious nature. It should be more important to us to be reasonable than it is to be told that we are right in our preconceived notions – notions that some other talking head likely spoon fed to you. This is not the kind of cognitive function that most of us have a natural capacity to avoid. We require someone else to draw it to our attention and help us to realize what we are doing. Whenever you hear someone make a claim – large or small, instead of accepting it as true, ask, what basis is there to support their claim. Google it and see what sources are advancing the same claim. Are they trustworthy? Are they independently verified? Have you looked into the opposing perspective with the open mind that is required to consider whether they may be correct? If you haven’t, you should and if you are unwilling to put in the effort, well… just don’t tell me. You’ll just stress me out more, I’ll end up eating more, I’ll lose sleep, and you won’t have the depth of thinking to help me remember that it is all of that which makes me fatter.

Yes, Stanford Protestors Really ARE Protesting Apple, Over The iPhone.

See for yourself – iPhone is too addictive, Stanford students say | Fox News – http://www.foxnews.com … I read it because, I was desperately hoping that what they meant to say was that there was research done that showed us what we all already knew – that technology is addictive. Nope. No such luck. I typically hate the term, “snowflake,” however, rarely has there been such an appropriate application of it.

Instead, these elite university students were protesting. PROTESTING(!!!) Apple. Their demands? That Apple make life easier for them – and the rest of us, by making their iPhone less addictive for the world. I can’t even. I just. I don’t… WHAAAATTTT??? What you mean to say, my dear Stanford snowflakes, is that you can’t control yourselves, so, you need the big bad business to control you – for your own good. Well, I suppose what you’re actually saying is that you’ve already allowed them to control you – by causing you to become addicted. Now, you want them to control you differently. I’m sure the majority of your classmates are horrified to be associated with such epic, whiny, petulance – as well they should be. I wonder if you are aware that the working conditions in Apple factories in China are notoriously dismal? There are also trade issues worth contemplating a protest over … but, no. No, you had to focus on an issue whose resolution is accomplished by self control and personal responsibility.

Dear Stanford snowflakes, I need to know why WHY WHY! Were you not more concerned with the tragedies and atrocities that are being perpetuated against people from all corners of the globe – of the very real race and gender based struggles that are playing out on the stage of life in our own country – or of any of a million legitimate things that you could have chosen to bring attention to?!? But, no, you had to highlight the utter lack of self control that so perfectly represents our culture; the “do it for me because I don’t want to, give up my autonomy and outsource my decision making authority” apathy, that will be the great American undoing – unless we learn how to have some self-control and to take some personal responsibility. It’s time to head back to class, dear snowflakes, you’ve got a lot to learn.

What The Release Of Russian Ads On Facebook Tells Us About Ourselves.

America, I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this – but,

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[Russian voice]: Have happy time looking at shiny thing. Why you have to worry about…

Hey! What the hell was that?! Anyway, as I was saying, what the Russi –

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[Russian voice]: Look at this happy boy – he is watching tv, but not the news. Don’t you want to go watch tv that isn’t the news?

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[Russian voice]: mmm… This looks good! I bet you are hungry, too! Close the blog and go have food! 

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[Russian voice]: Perhaps you are stressed and you just need some exercise? Bonus! The gym is full of beautiful people! And …. [sounds of a struggle in the background]

Ok… I’m back! I don’t think we’ll have anymore interruptions from that guy. Ok, where was I? Ahhhh… I was about to tell you that Congress released every Russian Facebook ad run during the election cycle. The 3500+ ads are deeply disturbing in many ways. What I find most disturbing is not what it says about Russian involvement. Instead, it is what it says about us. Russia used ads designed to stir up strife and contention throughout our nation. They pitted us against one another by race, gender, political affiliation, and on, and on. None of that would matter if we didn’t take the bait, though. While the U.S. intelligence community believes the Russians decided that they wanted Donald Trump to win, they played everyone – left, right, center, and even politically oblivious, they played us all like a fiddle. America, we need to wake up. It’s time to start being proactive thinkers. It is time to pull ourselves away from television sets, the mindless Facebook scrolling, and ubiquitous self-indulgence, and figure out what the &%$* is going on around us. Otherwise, we will never be anything more than the fish in the frying pan, because we just couldn’t resist the (click)bait.

What We Can Learn About Truth From The Syrian Chemical Weapons Attacks…

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Recently, we were given a great chance to observe how the absence of objective truth can  drag nations into war, along with how very little we objectively know. Not long ago we saw video of Syrians who were purportedly attacked with chemical weapons. I’m not saying that they were attacked and I’m not saying that they were not attacked. What I am saying is that, objectively speaking, we don’t have a clue what happened. We were told that the U.S. government, along with the British and French governments, said that the Assad regime carried out an attack. Meanwhile, the Russians said that there was no attack – that the whole thing had been elaborately staged. You likely already have an opinion about what is “true.” You probably feel so strongly about it, that you don’t even consider it an opinion, until someone points out the fact that there are other opinions about what happened.

Here is what you and I actually know: we saw a video that claims to show the aftermath of a chemical weapons attack. We also know that leaders from different governments have taken several positions on what happened. Based on what I have read, Putin is a bad guy. In order to believe that, I really have to draw my conclusions on a myriad of sources, including Russian ex-pats, news reports from the press of nations with varying foreign policy interests, etc. I have concluded that Putin is a bad guy. However, many Russians have probably concluded that the U.S. government is evil. Indeed, many within our own country have drawn the same conclusions. I have concluded that whether the government is evil or not depends on who is running it at the time. The government is not a person; it is a group of people and, in this country, those people change. Nor does the government actually reflect the will, character, or nature of the people, as they are not one person, either.

What we don’t know: who actually did what. Anyone who has ever seen the movie “Wag the Dog,” knows that a war can be staged. Anyone that has followed conflicts in the Middle East knows that various factions have been caught red-handed faking and staging all kinds of attacks. We don’t know if there was or wasn’t an attack. We don’t know who carried it out, if there was one. And, all we know of the motivation of the various governments is what they are telling us – which is very different from knowing what their motivations actually are. They may be exactly as purported – or they may be as far removed as possible.

The reason that you need to understand all of this, as you watch the news on your couch, or while working out at the gym, or while waiting for your Chinese take-out, is because it is an accurate reflection of almost every piece of information that comes our way. Unless we dig beyond the narrative of whatever media outlet we are watching, and actually do a little research of our own, we don’t actually know anything.

Objective Truth Is A Yeti, Not A Unicorn.

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Objective truth… what an elusive thing. You know what, that sounds like a really heavy way to start a blog post… Let’s talk unicorns and Yeti, first. So, when was the last unicorn sighting that you heard about? It’s been a while since I have heard one. You have to go all the way back to, “I’ve never freaking heard that in my life,” to find it. On the other hand, Big Foot, or the Yeti, or Sasquatch – whatever you want to call him, pops up much more consistently. Unfortunately, proving him to be real turns out to be much more difficult than seeing him running through the forest. Generally speaking, it seems that, what people believe to be “Big Foot,” is actually some other animal. They have misidentified something as Big Foot, but you will be hard-pressed to convince them of this fact. However, it is possible that they have seen something that amounts to “Big Foot.” Some species that is extremely illusive, but, that nevertheless, exists – and for all of our doubt, is still real. It is in these ways, that Big Foot is the perfect metaphor for objective truth.

Objective truth, or objective fact – whichever way you prefer to say it, is a real thing, but, it is a rare thing, and, It is real whether or not you believe it; it is not subject to debate. However, if you look around, you will see that you are surrounded by a world of people telling you things as if they are true. Sometimes, the proclamations are real: “A forest fire broke out in [insert city].” That is an objective fact – it happened. We can document that it happened. We know that it happened and that it is, or at least was, real. In the metaphor, this is tantamount to the part of the eye witnesses account where they say, they heard or saw something. However, a very significant portion of the time, the assertion, or proclamation is not objectively true. While it is sometimes completely false (not only did you not see Big Foot, but, there was, objectively speaking, nothing there at all…), often times it is just a misinterpretation (you saw a massive [insert animal name here]).

The big problem that we have as receivers of the information, is that we tend to simply accept things as true. Sure we look skeptically, if not cynically, at the person that claims to have seen Big Foot, but, we loudly and quickly embrace claims that bolster our cultural and political opinions, often without even listening to find out what the basis for the assertion was.

Beyond that, objective truth is far more limited than we are comfortable with accepting. Anything that one cannot prove on an evidentiary basis, is not an objective truth. Even when we can use an evidence based approach, we can misinterpret the evidence and see Big Foot, instead of a weird rock that is briefly illuminated and then covered again in shadow, or whatever it was. For example, 2+2 does not always equal 4… sometimes, it equals 5 – just kidding. There’s a math error in that one… did you catch it? Oh well… it is true, though, that “2+2” does not necessarily equal 4. (1)(2); the sky isn’t blue – and neither is water; and that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

This can all become problematic in daily life if we aren’t actively analyzing information with the appropriate amount of skepticism. When we cannot find objective truth in such basic things as 2+2=4, imagine how far off base we are when we are trying to interpret someone’s feelings, actions, motivations. Facebook is the ever-present reminder of how badly we misconstrue people’s real words, as well as how quickly we accept as true words that were never spoken by the person to whom they are attributed. Websites such as factcheck.org and snopes.com have popped up to attempt to correct the record. Unfortunately, even these sites occasionally become politicized, or in some other way, less than objective. Such was the case when a story went viral on Facebook, describing anti-American sentiments of Russian state run media, in connection with a civil defense drill. Snopes.com declared the story a mixture of fact and fiction, claiming that, part of the viral story that was false was the part that mentioned a nuclear threat. At the end of a fairly lengthy article (for snopes.com), the article closed with the following: “But Russian citizens were reportedly told on Defence Ministry-run Zvezda TV that “Schizophrenics from America are sharpening nuclear weapons for Moscow.” Further, the Russian publication Pravda reported that EMERCOM is undertaking a project to build shelters capable of protecting all of Moscow’s 12 million residents in case of a nuclear strike.”

This absence or misrepresentation of objective truth can have truly catastrophic consequences. In WWI, the Allied forces were sold a message of German Barbarism, while the Axis powers were sold a message of British Imperialism and British intentions of subjugating the German people. What was reality? What was objectively true? It seems clear now that neither were objectively true. Millions of lives were lost – based on false premises. The closest thing to objective fact that we can find in that situation, was that, through a series of governmental foreign policy decisions, all of Europe had signed treaties with various other European countries, stating that, if their ally became engaged in a war, they would join the ally in that war. Governments vying for a mix of power and stability caused WWI – not the people of those countries. The people were sold a false narrative and there was no contravening voice.

We haven’t even touched scientific miscalculations. the majority of scientific research conclusions are not reproducible. The skeptical, reputable, scientific community is either dead, or else it is sort of like the, “good old days,” that turn out to not really have been all that great for everyone involved. In the vast majority of our culture, objective science has been replaced by Scientism – a religion unto itself (although it rejects that label, obviously); making sweeping proclamations that they deem to be authoritative – in that same manner that much of the church declares the bible to be authoritative. I do not blame (most) scientists for this outcome, however. It is the result of a misunderstanding in the laity, combined with a few talking heads who are great for ratings – think the detestable Bill Nye and Neil Tyson-DeGrasse, who both are as arrogant as they are myopic.

The point of all of this is to understand that: 1) things are not cut and dry; 2) we must balance our hubris with humility – even when we are sure that we are correct, we are often wrong, both individually and collectively; and 3) we must go through each day with curious and skeptical minds if we hope to have even a modicum worth of a clue of what is going on, from the day-to-day of life, all the way up to the existential.