Sunday, May 28, 2017

Bridging the Gaps

Most of the people in my social media circles are left of center, and that tends to mean that even the ones who profess a certain level of religiosity tend to be dismissive of the role of divinity in mundane events, even those that are unusual. Accordingly, they tend to look askance at people who rely on religion, rather than modern (Western) medicine. Discussions about the topic tend to end up with calls for relying on faith to be viewed as a form of child abuse by the legal system, and questions as to why people look to religion in such circumstances.

Occasionally, one comes across a case where the believers claim a certain obligation to "Let go and let God," as the saying goes. And this furthers the confusion. This has, I believe, less to do with religion, than it does with a certain inexactness in medicine.

There are stories of other great miracles that were brought about by faith that no one attempts to replicate today. Jesus is said to have feed a multitude with a few fish and a handful of loaves of bread - but if a food bank director who said that they would rely on God to stretch a few boxes of food into filling meals for the entire homeless population of a major city, you would likely have a difficult time finding someone who would take them seriously. And you would likely have an even harder time finding someone who considered skepticism of the director's claims to be disparaging faith in God. Given a certain quantity of food, one can generally predict how many people can be fed with it. You might be off by a few people here or there, but most people can come up with reasonable estimates, with a little training. The idea that a miracle would occur to multiply the food is likely beyond the expectations of even ardent believers.

But medicine is something different. A doctor could proclaim that a patient has only weeks to live, only to wind up seeing that same person again and again for years when the diagnosed condition doesn't behave in the manner expected. Diseases go into remission and people recover from injuries, seemingly at random, and in a manner or time frame that leaves the medical establishment at a loss. I suspect that most practitioners would tell you that there are any number of things that we simply don't know, or can't speak to with 100% certainty.

I think that it's telling that people tend to see miracles primarily (if not exclusively) in these places that have uncertainty in them - the "miraculous" outcome, while unusual, or perhaps even unheard-of, is not, however, manifestly impossible given our current scientific understanding. Were I to be in an automobile accident that required amputation of a badly mangled leg and put me into a deep coma from which most experts agreed that I would never recover, a respectable doctor could claim that one day, I might awaken. But that same doctor would lose pretty much all credibility were they to claim that they'd be unsurprised to enter my room, and find me with both my feet again. Similarly, while we might see the hope of someone who prayed for me to awaken to be reasonable, if they claimed to be be praying that my amputated leg would grow back, they'd widely be considered delusional.

By the same token, raising the commonplace to the level of the miraculous also strains credibility - while the flu can be fatal, few feel that divine intervention is the only reason why people survive. And so casting such as a miracle seems to be overdoing it.

The limiting of the miraculous to areas of uncertainty has the side effect allowing both sides to claim victory, seeing what they wish to see. Which ensures that the debate will likely never reach a conclusion.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Culture Bombs

"This is what happens when you disarm your citizens."
Texas sheriff defends Facebook post on Manchester attack
What would a gun ownership rate in Great Britain that mirrored that of the United States have done in this instance? I don't claim to be an expert on firearms, but the last I checked gunpowder doesn't undo explosions.

Yes, you can make the point that if someone had seen the suicide bomber approaching, recognized him for what he was and had a gun on them, they could have shot him, before he made it into the crowd. But that's a heck of a counterfactual that requires a lot of pieces to fall into place. And let's not forget, simply HAVING a weapon isn't good enough. A person has to be ready to use it. (See the Clemmons incident here in the Puget Sound region, where a man was able to ambush and kill four police officers, and get away, albeit with a gunshot wound of his own.)

In the end, Denton County Sheriff Tracy Murphree's Twitter remarks on the Manchester bombing mistake the Culture Wars for security policy, seeking to blame a cultural movement with which he disagrees for the deaths. It may make him a "truth-teller" to his fellow Culture Warriors, but it's a poor substitute for what's already been shown to actually work.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Put a Lid on It

When the Obamas went to Saudi Arabia in January of 2015, Mrs. Obama did not wear any sort of head covering. Donald Trump tweeted:

Many people are saying it was wonderful that Mrs. Obama refused to wear a scarf in Saudi Arabia, but they were insulted.We have enuf enemies
As you might be aware, current first lady Melania Trump did not cover her head while she was there on the first family's trip to the Middle East and Europe, although she did follow Vatican custom of black clothing and a lace veil when the Trumps met with the Pope.

This is, not surprisingly, eliciting howls of protest over President Trump's hypocrisy. Which is a complete waste of time. Because the issue here isn't that President Trump is a hypocrite now, it's that he was a motivated critic then.

It's unlikely, that anything that Mrs. Obama would have done could have denied now-President Trump from criticizing her. Had she gone with a head covering, she could just as easily taken flack for bowing to regressive Saudi gender norms. And given the Mr. Trump was starting his campaign for President himself, he had no reason to let any opening get by him. So rather than calling for consistency with his past positions, a better route is to simply ignore them as the results of political opportunism.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Not a Chance

"I was the first guy on TV to say 'Give Trump a chance.' I f---ed up. Sorry," Chappelle said during a routine at the event, according to MSNBC's Willie Geist.
Dave Chappelle Regrets Saying to Give Trump a Chance: "I F---ed Up"
I don't get it. I don't understand how in effect saying, "Hey, let's allow the President to actually do some things, and then judge whether or not he's any good," counts as "fucking up." Because that implies that the correct course of action was not to extend to President Trump any benefit of the doubt - once the predetermination was made that Donald Trump was going to be a bad president, the appropriate thing is to act as if he's already done it.

This isn't a matter of tit for tat or raising the overall level of discourse. David Chappelle giving President Trump a chance before deciding to criticize him will not make a lick of difference when the political pendulum swings back the other way. I don't believe for a moment that people make their decisions that way. If right-leaning celebrities decide that a Democratic president is the worst thing ever (and I suspect that many of them will decide just that) they'll choose to criticize, or hold their fire based on what they think is best for them in the moment (whatever criteria they use to determine that), not on what others have done in the past.

As far as we in the public are concerned, whether or not we decided to give President Trump a chance or protest everything that seemed to offer a reason was immaterial. Regardless of what one thinks of the republican form of government, the fact remains that President Trump had the support of enough of the Republican voter base that most Republican members of Congress couldn't simply dismiss whatever he put forth out of hand without jeopardizing their own re-election chances. And so to the degree that the viewership of Saturday Night Live leans Democratic, the fact that they are of a mind to oppose the president doesn't matter in the slightest. The election was in November. The shouting that came after the vote tallies was simply the last resort of people who were, for the time being, politically powerless.

And in that sense, declining to "Give Trump a chance," is simply another form of partisan virtue signalling. While that may have its uses, declining to participate in it shouldn't be considered fucking up.

Saturday, May 20, 2017