Mental Health Break

Oct 23 2014 @ 4:20pm

Whom does an atheist thank after making a game-winning play?

Earlier this week, David Sanger reported that the administration is looking at ways to avoid a Congressional vote on a nuclear agreement with Iran, including ways to suspend sanctions via executive fiat. Jack Goldsmith takes issue with that approach, arguing that it would make any eventual deal very tenuous:

The fact that the President does not think he can get Congress on board for any deal with Iran signals to Iran that any deal would be with the President alone, and would last only as long as his waiver authority – i.e. two more years. The deal could last longer, as it did with the last major unilateral presidential deal with Iran, the 1981 Algiers Accords that effectuated the release of the hostages. In the transition between the Carter and Reagan administrations in January 1981 some in Congress and the press questioned whether President Reagan should honor the deal that Carter struck with Iran through Algerian intermediaries. President Reagan did honor it, of course, and the courts upheld his and Carter’s actions. But the situation with Iran today is different than 1981. … The bottom line, then, is that any deal struck by President Obama with Iran will probably appear to the Iranians to be, at best, short-term and tenuous. And so we can probably expect, at best, only a short-term and tenuous commitment from Iran in return.

William Tobey is on the same page:

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Earlier this week a reader from Texas gave us a great rundown of midterms down there. A reader in South Dakota follows suit:

Six months ago, I would tell anybody who would listen that there was zero chance that the Senate seat held by Democrat Tim Johnson was going to go to another Democrat. Former Governor Mike Rounds, a Republican, would win by a land slide. I used to laugh when I would see SD even put in any category but a surefire GOP win.

Now, I am not so sure. There is a big scandal here in SD that has the potential of dragging Mike Rounds down.

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Dissents Of The Day

Oct 23 2014 @ 3:20pm

A reader quotes me:

I still favor maximal religious liberty – even for a public accommodation like this one because requiring individuals to perform a marriage ceremony against their beliefs is just something we don’t do in a liberal society.

This business had two parts, based on the descriptions you provided. The first part was in the performance of marriages by the owners, and I agree that the owners should not be forced to perform a marriage contrary to their beliefs. But it sounds like their second business was in renting the space like you’d rent a ballroom at a hotel, with someone else performing the marriage. If they continue to rent the space to others, I don’t see why they should be exempt from anti-discrimination laws in who they rent to.

Another expands on that point:

I think the big legal issue here isn’t whether we should force ministers to perform gay weddings (I don’t think we should), but whether a for-profit business can use entirely pretextual changes to circumvent regulations. The ADF is picking a situation engineered to elicit a favorable response to the question – gay marriage, local ordinance – but the implications are massive. This is a shot strait at expanding corporate ability to exploit the Religious Freedom Restoration Act far beyond its intended purpose. In its Hobby Lobby ruling, the Supreme Court made the point that the courts are not in the job of measuring the religious sincerity of litigants. This case tests that proposition. Do we want a world where any for-profit business can escape regulations it finds burdensome by filing a few documents with the Secretary of State and changing the mission statement on its website? How long till a cottage industry of Corporate Religion Consultants starts advising every closely-held company on whether being Muslim or Mormon creates a better regulatory environment?

Another brings up the racial comparison:

As a country, we have been down this road before.

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The Black Plague

Oct 23 2014 @ 3:02pm

While Americans remain far safer from Ebola than you’d know from watching cable news, the epidemic still presents a real crisis in the three West African countries hardest hit, with the World Health Organization reporting almost 10,000 confirmed cases and at least 4,877 deaths, but probably a lot more:

The WHO has said real numbers of cases are believed to be much higher than reported: by a factor of 1.5 in Guinea, 2 in Sierra Leone and 2.5 in Liberia, while the death rate is thought to be about 70 percent of all cases. That would suggest a toll of almost 15,000. Liberia has been worst hit, with 4,665 recorded cases and 2,705 deaths, followed by Sierra Leone with 3,706 cases and 1,259 deaths. Guinea, where the outbreak originated, has had 1,540 cases and 904 deaths.

But how do the virus’s African origins affect the way we perceive it? For one thing, it leads to geographically ignorant nonsense such as this and, according to Lola Adesioye, it also inspires the media to stereotype the continent and its people:

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A Warmer, More Violent Planet

Oct 23 2014 @ 2:38pm

Chris Mooney flags a new meta-study on “the existing research examining the relationship between climate change and violence and conflict”:

[F]or a degree Celsius of temperature increase (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit), [Stanford researcher Marshall Burke] says there could be a 20 percent increase in civil conflict in Africa. The impact of warming varies by region, however; some places are more sensitive to small heat increases than others. In the United States, the estimate would be lower: For 1 degree Celsius of warming, he’d expect about a 1 percent increase in interpersonal conflicts, a category that includes crimes like assault and robbery but also road rage and fights at baseball games.

A Small Bit Of Justice For Iraqis

Oct 23 2014 @ 2:21pm

Four former Blackwater security contractors were found guilty yesterday in the infamous 2007 Nisour Square massacre, during which they shot 14 Iraqi civilians to death and injured 17 others:

In an overwhelming victory for prosecutors, a jury found Nicholas Slatten guilty of first-degree murder. The three other three guards — Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard — were found guilty of multiple counts of voluntary manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and gun charges. The four men had been charged with a combined 33 counts in the shootings and the jury was able to reach a verdict on all of them, with the exception of three charges against Heard. The prosecution agreed to drop those charges.

Max Boot approves, calling the verdict “a step forward in holding contractors accountable for their conduct on the battlefield, but only a small step”:

After all, it took seven years to conclude this case–not that it’s concluded now since the defendants are likely to appeal. That is hardly the definition of expeditious justice.

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I guess this was inevitable, if hilarious. After the Palin family got itself into a drunken brawl at someone else’s house, in which Bristol Palin is alleged to have punched the owner in the face multiple times – partly confirmed, by the way, by her own sister Willow (“She missed every fucking time!“) – a post simply pointing out the sheer vulgarity of the event is roundly criticized because it somehow diminishes the plight of Bristol who presents herself as purely a victim of the event.

Look: I abhor violence of all kind, especially against women, and have written that that was the furthest from my mind when selecting that colorful quote. But seriously: anyone reviewing the entire event who thinks that‘s what this was about is smoking something really good. To infer from the police report that the Palins were entirely the victims here is, well, bonkers, not least because it requires believing a single word any Palin family-member says. Track even gave a false name to the cops at first, the usual Palin reflex.

As for Charles Cooke’s point: “Why are we spilling so much ink on this topic at all?” allow me to point out that I’ve barely expended any. Two short posts and a paragraph in The Best of the Dish Today over nearly two months. But isn’t it obvious why there has been so much press? This is an amazingly lurid, tabloid story and it gains traction because it contrasts this trashy, violent Jerry Springer behavior with someone who actually ran for vice-president of the United States six years ago. Of course the press will cover this. It’s irresistible and further proof that what John McCain did in 2008 disqualified him from any serious, subsequent role in our public life. And that was my only point. If McCain were retired or had the good sense to leave public life after that fiasco, it would be another thing entirely. But he carries on, never publicly acknowledging the greatest fuck-up (of so many) in his public life.

Have I let Hunter Biden off the hook?

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This reader liked the book, to say the least:

​I am 69, an atheist, and a retired engineer. Until I read about Waking Up on the Dish, I had never heard of Sam Harris. Because of his book, not only will I die happily, I will be happier for the rest of my life. For a long time I struggled with questions such as “Where was I before I was born?” and “What happens to me after I die?” I had not researched to find answers to my questions. However, the scientific and philosophical discussion by Harris has convinced me that consciousness is self (I). My perception of I is just my consciousness. Bingo! Now I am not worried about “I.”

Waking Up will not change many minds, as you suggest. But it may help many individuals like me who are not deep thinkers. Thanks for paving my way to enlightenment.

Another offers a critique:

The problem with Sam Harris’ thesis is that he spends a good deal of energy to destroy one dualism – the self and the rest of the world – and then focuses the rest of his capital on 51dolkylconstructing another in its place – consciousness and sensory perception. As if consciousness is any easier to define as a continuous, knowable entity than self. A valid argument could be made that he’s simply substituted one term for the other and both are subject to the same powerful criticisms he makes against self – that both are elemental, Western constructs of spirituality that don’t survive analytic examination.

What are we left with then, if that’s the case? A construct of consciousness that, on the most basic level, is completely reducible to brain waves and other sensory input. Humans may seem to be more complex organizations than, say, rocks and debris. The brain is a wonderfully mysterious organ to behold, after all, especially by its owner or someone similarly placed. And true spiritual oneness with the world could start by meditation and a loosening up of the dualistic approach we utilize to strap the world down on a gurney and do with it as we please.

But Harris might need one more nudge in an Eastern direction, to get his argument fully down. He’s wedded himself to the existence of consciousness, despite acknowledging all along that it is not scientifically provable (except, he argues, through self-examination).

Or one nudge back West, in which the richness of human experience and thought cannot be reduced to neurons, without making it meaningless. Another turns the critique toward me:

Like many, I found Sam’s book enlightening and deeply challenging. And, like you, in the end I found myself unable to follow him into the complete annihilation of the self; it is too intuitively, phenomenologically present, it seems to me, to accept Sam’s dismissal. But the bookclub-beagle-trtraditional Western view of the self seems also unsatisfactory, hence the value of trying to see things from a different perspectives.

However, I also cannot accede to your Christian idea of a self relating to an altogether different and greater entity or being (which, only too often, amounts to the projection of human personality traits onto God, emotions such as love or anger or jealousy).

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The Most Expensive Midterms Ever

Oct 23 2014 @ 1:20pm

The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) does the calculations:

Almost $4 billion will be spent for this year’s midterm election, the [CRP] is projecting. That figure makes this year’s election by far the most expensive midterm ever. The candidates and parties alone will combine to spend about $2.7 billion, while outside groups will likely spend close to $900 million on their own — a figure that veers close to the $1.3 billion spent by outside groups in 2012, when the hyper-expensive presidential race was fueling the fire. …

The 2010 midterm cost $3.6 billion; this one will run an estimated $333 million more than that. The congressional portion of the 2012 race cost about $3.6 billion as well.

Evan Osnos asks, “Will anything stop those sums from growing again in two years, and two years after that? “:

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