Tuesday, August 9, 2016

A weird encounter with Jehovah's Witnesses

On a recent Saturday, some Jehovah's Witnesses came by my house and the discussion I had seemed rather odd. For starters, it looked like at least four people came, but two people just sat in the vehicle they came in the entire time. I didn't ask about that, so perhaps they were just rotating? I've gone door-to-door for political canvasing; it's not something I find enjoyable, so I could see taking a break if I were with a larger group.

As for the two people I did talk with, Cliff and Joanne (I believe were their names), Cliff did most of the talking. And I wouldn't call what he did much more than talk. He never really made a case for anything he was saying. Rather, his talking-points were the types of points that may cause people to cave into their ignorance. Basically, he was asking questions about how something may have came to be, with the idea being that, because I don't have an answer, I should then assume a god is responsible. I'm wiser than that, so his talking points did not move me at all.

For some examples, the very first "point" he tried to make related to this idea that the Bible is still a best-seller, despite all the attacks that have been made against it. He asked if I thought something might be behind this. The idea here is that there is supposedly no way the Bible could have survived through history if it was not, at the very least, divinely inspired. (Some may go further and claim that a god has been protecting the Bible.) Next he went to verses in Revelation about Armageddon. He was suggesting that the verse was talking about our present day and asked how the author could have known this was going to happen. For kicks, here are the two verses, Revelation 16:13-14: "Then I saw three impure spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet. They are demonic spirits that perform signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty." Your guess is probably as good as mine as to how that is supposed to relate to the present day.

Other talking-points he raised related to biology and cosmology. I can't even remember the stupid questions he asked, but what he was going for was trying to get me to think that there is no way the world could have come about naturally and, therefore, I should believe a supernatural being is responsible. I, of course, understand how bogus such thinking is and did not cave in.

This may have made the conversation weird. I wonder if I threw him off by not accepting his sales pitches, which left him struggling to decide which pitch to go to next. That said, I doubt he actually had any sort of argument and that's what I'm really interested in. This is where I failed in the conversation. If he wasn't going to present an argument by himself, I should have found a way to request that he present one. Also, there was one point where he asked if I believe everything I was taught in school. He, to little surprise, was out to get me to doubt the teachings of evolution. This was an opportunity for me to ask him how he goes about determining what is true and what is not. What is his methodology? Why should anyone believe that his methodology is actually reliable? I wonder if he actually had any methodology. If there is a next time, I'll have to do a better job on this.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Open Letter to the Democratic Party

Dear Democratic Party,

What happened with Wasserman Schultz and the DNC is a bit concerning. Clinton nominating Kaine as her VP is concerning. Clinton hiring Wasserman Schultz as an honorary chair is especially concerning.

I am a Sanders supporter and was a Sanders delegate to the Linn County Convention. Over these past few months, when it was clear Sanders was not going to be the nominee, there had been calls for Sanders to drop out and endorse Clinton for the sake of party unity. I am willing to support Clinton, but I know of others that are not. Certainly you are aware of the "Bernie or bust" crowd. And I'll agree with Sarah Silverman that they are "being ridiculous" (warning: autoplay video).

My concern is when can we expect Clinton and her supporters to make consolidations for party unity? The issue I have is that it feels* like a one-way street. It feels like it is always progressives or those who are more grassroots making the sacrifices and never those who might be described as neoliberal (or even neoconservative) or part of the establishment.

I have encountered Clinton supporters who have shown a total disregard for progressives. When progressives threaten not to vote for Clinton, the attitude is "Good riddance." I can somewhat understand the attitude from a mathematical perspective. It's not like those people are going to go vote for whoever the Republican nominee was going to be (that we now know to be Trump). Losing progressives only costs one votes. It makes more sense, then, to go for those in the middle. If you lose their vote, they may go vote for Trump. That costs two votes - the one Clinton loses plus the one Trump gains. It would seem to make sense, then, to go for those middle voters.

But it is then disingenuous to ask for party unity and then forget about the progressives when it comes to the general election. And, unfortunately, I saw some condescending attitudes from Democrats at the convention, one of which was from Elijah Cummings. (Though, to be fair, I heard his speech was disrupted, so he could have been a bit bitter over that, and understandably so.) The attitude is that progressives should be happy as the party platform is, so I have heard (yeah, I should probably read the platform sometime), quite progressive and they (we) got Wasserman Shultz's head served on a platter. Metaphorically, of course.

On that last point, Wasserman Shultz needed to go a long time ago. This email leak wasn't the first time it has been suggested Wasserman Shultz and the DNC were playing favorites. It was believed months ago the debate schedule was set up to give Clinton an edge by reducing Sanders' exposure to the public. No, this email link was just more evidence of the DNC giving progressives the middle finger.

Again, I can agree that some people have gone a bit over-the-top on this, going as far as to suggest that the DNC engaged in illegal activity. The reality is it was probably largely people being driven by their internal biases that led to this problem, but I don't think the frustration that we are observing are over the emails. I cannot even say that the emails are some sort of "smoking gun" as the emails, from what I have read, seem rather tame. No, the problem is with business as usual and the problem doesn't magically disappear just because we get tossed a few bones. For people like Elijah Cummings to suggest that we should be happy with these bones is insulting.

The tone-deafness may be what is most disappointing. Here, WikiLeaks' Julian Assange states the problem more elegantly than I ever could:
It is important for there to be examples of accountability. The resignation was an example of that. Now, of course, Hillary Clinton has tried to immediately produce a counter-example by putting out a statement, within hours, saying that Debbie Wasserman Schultz is a great friend, and she’s incorporating her into her campaign, she’s going to be pushing for her re-election to the Congress. So that’s a very interesting signaling by Hillary Clinton that if you act in a corrupt way that benefits Hillary Clinton, you will be taken care of. Why does she need to put that out? Certainly, it’s not a signal that helps with the public at all. It’s not a signal that helps with unity at the DNC, at the convention. It’s a signal to Hillary Clinton partisans to keep on going on, you’ll be taken care of. But it’s a very destructive signal for a future presidency, because it’s—effectively, it’s expanding the Overton window of corruption. It doesn’t really matter what you do, how you behave; as long as that is going to benefit Hillary Clinton, you’ll be protected.

This, of course, won't bother loyal Clinton supporters a bit. But I think the Democratic party needs to do better. Blind loyalty is part of why the threat of a Trump presidency is still a concern, both on the side of Republicans who will vote for the Republican candidate no matter what and on the side of the Democrats, who scare off less partisan voters with their lack of criticism of Clinton.** I will agree that these couple of email "scandals" are not actually scandals. At the same time, there needs to be the recognition that there was incompetence at play here. Admit the mistakes and learn from them. But one can't learn from mistakes they won't admit they made. Also, please stop claiming that Clinton is the most qualified candidate ever. I will agree she is perhaps one of the most experienced candidate, but experience does not equate with being qualified. Let's not forget that FBI director James Comey described the email behavior as "extremely careless." I realize that emails is a small part of a President's duties,*** but if Clinton is one of the most qualified candidates ever, this tells me we seriously need to find better qualified candidates!

With all this said, I really just want Democrats to represent the values they claim to represent. When an organization like the DNC claims to be impartial and its not, that causes mistrust. When a political party demands that its progressive members sacrifice for party unity, but the neoliberals seldom have to sacrifice (And when their "great" sacrifice is a more progressive party platform? Shouldn't that be a good thing?), that creates mistrust.

Finally, going back to the search for voters in the "middle," I would like the party to make a decision. With the Republican party self-destructing, it may be that some day, the Democrats could become the dominant party. I know...I know. Republicans control much of our government; that seems a bit odd based on how disorganized they are. Still, there seems an opportunity for the Democrats to pick up people who are dissatisfied with the party. This means the Democratic party could move further to the right, distancing itself further from the progressives in the party. The decision I would like the party to make is on which way it wants to move. Is it going to move further right? I get the sense the party is hesitant to move left, so should we progressives just leave the party now?

* Yes, I realize that feelings were brought up at the RNC a lot and that what we feel isn't necessarily true. But, when we are talking about bringing a party together, feelings matter.

** Yes, I also realize there is a lot of sexism directed at Clinton and a lot of people who won't vote for Clinton largely because she is a woman. But I am concerned some brush off some of these issues as being non-issues because they think it is just the sexist crowd that wants them to be issues.

*** I sometimes think I myself should get involved with politics, but I know one of my major weaknesses is my communication skills. The point is I do recognize it is hard to have all the necessary qualifications, but can we please recognize Clinton has both strengths and weaknesses?