Debates

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This comment appeared among those commenting on Perry’s Bad Night by Gail Collins. I thought it describes pretty accurately what could happen to America. Thank you Dave from North Strabane, PA.

Herman Cain (and most all Republicans) want to get rid of the EPA. All the Candidates seem to want to get rid of the evil government. The Norquist and Ron Paul cheerleaders who want to destroy government or “drown it in the bathtub” are the real anti-American traitors. Read the Constitution. It begins, “We, the People” In a nation of we the people, with a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, if you hate government then you hate the people. You hate Americans, and, by extension, you hate America. Without a government to defend our legitimate role in this society, we become merely subjects to the unchecked power of wealthy individuals and corporations. Without government there is no way to block their power and they can act with impunity; they can exploit us, pollute our air and water, cheat us, steal whatever they want,and we’d be powerless to stop them. To destroy government is the ultimate act of democratic suicide.
Recommended by 218 Readers at 7:45am EST

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Yes, I’m spending too much time on facebook. Why? Well, it’ so easy. One waits for comments on your posts, posts on your comments, comments on your comments, and finds some posts, some comments, interesting even if you don’t comment back. It’s one gigantic blog where everyone is posting and commenting at the same time. The stream of information is sweeping by at an alarming rate. A hot topic one day disappears into the next. It’s information overload! But fun. Still, is it largely a waste of time? Not necessarily.

It can be a channel into interesting topics. Sam Harris has a FB page which I looked into and found an interesting two hour long debate between Harris and Shermer on one side and Chopra and Houston on the other. Juan Cole has a page. And Barney Frank. Then there’s Karen Armstrong with her Charter for Compassion. Countless others. Too much of course, and how does one pick and chose?

The net result is I ignore this blog. Not that I don’t have enough to do besides facebook. The Norway UU church keeps me busy. The stewardship campaign is beginning and there’s hardly anyone to run it. A flurry of emails amongst Chris Davis, Kathi Pewitt, Deborah Crump, Richard Beal, and me, plus a couple of phone calls from Chris to me, finally resolved a date for our kickoff meeting: April 16th from 5:30pm to 7pm. And then there’s all the church’s financial stuff with me as treasurer. Then there’s OUR financial stuff.

Enough for now. I’ve got to think about food and interact with Cynthia regarding the food, plus check our provisions.

Oh, but I’m reading an interesting philosophical book by James P. Carse, “Breakfast at the Victory: The mysticism of ordinary experience”. Fascinating but difficult. The need for silence. The heading for the sixth chapter is one of my favorites. It’s from the Rig Veda X:129:

Then even nothingness was not, nor existence.
There was no air then, nor the heavens beyond it.
What covered it? Where was it? In whose keeping?
Was there then cosmic water, in depths unfathomed?
Then there was neither death nor immortality,
nor was there then the touch of night and day.
The One breathed windlessly and self-sustaining.
There was that One then, and there was no other.
In the beginning desire descended upon it —
that was the primal seed, born of the mind.
The sages who have searched their hearts with wisdom
know that which is kin to that which is not.
But, after all, who knows, and who can say
whence it all came, and how creation happened?
The gods themselves are later than creation,
so who knows truely whence it has arisen?
Whence all creating had its origin,
he, whether he fashioned it or whether he did not,
he who surveys it all from highest heaven,
he knows — or maybe even he does not know.

Now I gotta go.

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In his God Talk, Part 2 today in the Times, Fish begins with some statistics: between 79 and 92 percent of Americans believe in God, and 95 percent of readers of his original God Talk don’t. Wow!

The learned professor goes on to say that those unbelieving 95 percent “believe, apparently, that religion is a fairy tale, hogwash, balderdash, nonsense and a device for rationalizing horrible deeds.”

In this part 2 article he provides what may be reasonable answers to these 95 percent by in fact using reason to show that reason has its limitations, limitations because it must operate within a context based on starting assumptions. There’s a lot of heavy epistemology here.

He goes on to say that “talking God” is not about giving proofs of God’s existence but about some kind of conversion experience, and he seems to be accepting that there are many kinds of such experiences. One which particularly resonates with me as a UU is from reader Shannon:

But the kind of religion that moves me and other religious people I know is the STORY of hope and love and sticking to your beliefs in the face of disaster etc., not the idea that any particular story describes concrete, historical “truth.”

To me the key here is “hope and love” and this may be consistent with the thinking of the avowed atheist, Ian McEwan, who has said that there is an important moral center to believing that this is it, that this is all we’ve got, this life; we are instinctively moral beings and have this gift of empathy. Of course to accept this as an abstract principle is not the same as acting on it, which might become a real conversion experience or at least take courage, like for example Dr. Rieux in Camus’ The Plague.

See how difficult it is to deal with this stuff? Whew…. Over and out.
😆 🙄

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That One

Cynthia and I watched the debate from beginning to end, on C-Span — no talking heads for us. McCain came out at the beginning as sharp, clear, and focused, a better communicator than Obama. But that didn’t last long. After a while it was clear that at least Obama had thoughtful, well-constructed answers, especially under the time constraints and the fact that responses were not allowed, although Obama managed to get a few in anyway. It became clear that McCain was lying a lot of the time, or simply mis-informed. Obama may have been gilding the lily a little but at least he had trains of thought in his answers. McCain tended to jump around a lot, and kept opening with “My friends” which came across as phony after a while. His worse moment was when he thought he was being cute with that snide side-pointing at Obama as “that one”. Of course, I’ve been reading what others have been saying: Josh Marshall, Kevin Drum, NYT editorial, plus several more in this vein. The snap polls have all given the debate to “That One” by a solid margin.

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Down here in front of my computer I watched the entire debate last night at the U. of Texas between Hillary and Barack. Cynthia didn’t want to watch it on TV upstairs because she wouldn’t be able to stand it, she said. She’s strongly for Clinton. So she stayed upstairs and read.

I’m liking Obama more and more, not only because I think he has a better chance of beating McCain, but because he’s proving himself presidential more and more, like he did in the debate last night. Hillary did well in the debate, too, and her closing remarks were nothing short of magnificent. I’m not one of those who subscribes to Hillary’s public persona as rigid and fake. I’ve read that in private she’s likable and outgoing, and I believe she probably is.

But of course, she’s a politician, just like Obama. Politicians have to be actors on the public stage. And they get interpreted and stereotyped by the media and the talking heads. That’s why I turned the debate right off at the end rather than listen to the talking heads discuss it, but I did scan their opinions this morning.

Most say it was a draw and I agree. The negatives were the bit about plagiarism, which, with Obama, I agree is just silly, and the bit about the Obama speeches being Xerox copies, which is also ridiculous. The rest of the debate, the large majority of it in fact, was very civil and stuck to discussion of issues.

On the health care issues, although I see the point many make about mandates, Obama may be right in that mandates are not all they’re cracked up to be (witness Massachusetts) plus getting them through congress will be daunting even if a Democratic majority gets elected. Obama’s approach, being more flexible, might actually get something passed in the way of significant health care reform.

So, to conclude, I thought they were both great, that the debate was civil for the most part, and that it was probably a draw. Actually, Hillary may pick up a few points because of her Eureka moment at the end. We’ll see.

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See here for details on the controversy surrounding the “diamonds or pearls” question a girl asked Hilary Clinton at the close of the debate Thursday night. Apparently, CNN chose the question but the girl chose to ask it. Here’s the video:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jTPiCV9E3Z4[/youtube]

Pretty tacky question. Good response from Hilary.

That Debate

I watched the entire Democratic debate last night and came away more annoyed with Wolf Blitzer than with any of the candidates. His arrogant, yet sanctimonious manner was over the top. For example, he kept demanding a choice between “Human rights or national security” in Pakistan, as though everybody knows that cracking down on Musharrif will endanger national security there, when in fact the people Musharrif is cracking down on are in no way the Taliban or Al Qeada, instead they are middle class people, while the tribes run free in the north, barely touched by the Pakistan army. I think Obama may have explained this the best, but most candidates had to waste time warding off Wolf’s simplistic question by trying to clarify the situation in various ways while he kept demanding an either-or answer.

Eric Alterman is going to do a Nation column next week on the debate but here’s his response to it today:

I’m going to do my Nation column this week about last night’s debate, but one thing I found particularly offensive, aside from the atrocious questioning, was, from the standpoint of sitting in the audience, the way CNN producers purposely ginned up the crowd to cheer over and over, as if they were pom-pommed cheerleaders at a high school pep rally. This is a ridiculously immature manner in which to conduct an alleged debate on the nation’s future, but it also interfered with the debate itself, as a bunch of rowdies in the crowd felt empowered to shout over the candidates’ answers. Overall, it was an abysmal performance, but I’ll have more ordered thoughts later in the week. I thought Joe Biden “won” the debate by the way, not that it matters… The loser was Wolf Blitzer.

I’ll be looking forward to Eric’s column next week.

UPDATE: Jamison Foser has a great analysis of the debate moderators lack of asking key questions here. Here’s the lead paragraph:

Through 17 debates this year, roughly 1,500 questions have been asked of the two parties’ presidential candidates. But only a small handful of questions have touched on the candidates’ views on executive power, the Constitution, torture, wiretapping, or other civil liberties concerns. (A description of those questions appears at the end of this column.)