Thursday, July 21, 2016

23 Freedom!

Ted Cruz lit up the GOP convention last night, but mostly because of what he did NOT say. Ted though it best to not specifically endorse the official GOP nominee.

Ted told the gathered throng to “vote their conscience”, and did not suggest anyone in particular. Many booing attendees believed he should have suggested Donald Trump since he was the party nominee, and the guy all the GOP money would be going to elect, and this was the GOP’s party he was invited to speak at. I’m not sure what Ted’s “vote your conscience” means in terms of actionable voting suggestions. Much of his speech was devoted to Hillary bashing, and so I don’t think it was a veiled endorsement of Hillary. Maybe Ted wants people to vote for Jill Stein?

What Ted did specifically mention was “Freedom”. He used the word 23 times in his speech. That’s a lot of freedom. Hurray for freedom!

One mention of Freedom was especially interesting. Here is the exact quote:

“Freedom means religious freedom, whether you are Christian, Jew, Muslim, or Atheist.” – Ted Cruz GOP convention 20 July 2016

I would love to know exactly what Ted means by religious freedom for atheists. It is actually a great thing that he mentioned us in a speech. Since Ted has not been a big supporter of an Atheist’s right to live a normal life I am suspicious. However, he did mention us, and not in an obviously bad way. He could have mentioned Hindus or Buddhists, but he mentioned Atheists instead. That’s a couple points for Ted that I never expected him to try and earn.

Ted only mentions God five times, and most of these are in colloquial phraseology like “God bless” or “God willing”. He did not try to outdo Ben Carson’s God/Lucifer rant.

It is also interesting to note that the vice presidential nominee (Pence) also failed to invoke God in any magical way. He was very clear that he is a Christin first, but he failed to mention how any God is suggesting to him that the people of his state would be more blessed if they had a hard time getting abortions or if their tax money went to Gay conversion therapy instead of HIV outreach. Pence is a piece of work. I had hoped he would stand up in front of the RNC and tell everyone how much of a piece he really was.

I suppose there will be time to shake down the TP ticket before November.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Carson - it burns

The RNC is in full swing. Donald Trump has been officially nominated. It is tradition for the nominee to fill many of the slots with speakers from his “tribe”; Mitt Romney filled the podium positions with normal-looking Mormons, and Donald Trump has filled the podium with D-list celebrities. The wife gives a speech outlining the humanity of the candidate, and Melania Trump gave such a speech that was remarkably similar to the one given by the wife of the last successful presidential candidate. The RNC is dotting all the "t"s and crossing all the "I"s needed to make this a successful campaign.

Some of my acquaintances (those who actually waste time thinking about things; I believe they are derogatorily called “elites”) have disparagingly exclaimed things like: “The stupid – it burns!” But many voters in this country already know that the stupid only burns a little at first, and then it cleanses; fire cleanses, and so does stupidity when you open your mind to it.

Open your mind to the stupidity – The burning sensation goes away after a while.

Former republican candidates have taken the stage to throw their support behind Trump. Wednesday Ted Cruz will contribute his vision to the cacophony. Last night Ben Carson spoke to the crowd. These are people who had/have millions of supporters.

Ben Carson spoke out about the danger Atheist ideas posed for the country. He stated that acknowledging god –I assume his god and not FSM- was required for a robust American future. The following is a direct transcript of a portion of his speech to the 2016 RNC:

“This is a nation where our founding document -the Declaration of Independence- talks about certain inalienable rights that come from our “Creator”. This is a nation where our Pledge of Allegiance says we are “One nation under God”. This is a nation. This is a nation where every coin in our pocket, and every bill in our wallet says “In God we trust”. So are we willing to elect someone as president who has as their role model somebody who acknowledges Lucifer? Think about that. The secular progressive agenda is antithetical to the principles of the founding of this nation, and if we continue to allow them to take God out of our lives God will remove himself from us, we will not be blessed, and our nation will go down the tubes, and we will be responsible for that; we don't want that to happen.” – Dr. Ben Carson to RNC, 19 July 2016

Will Ted Cruz one up Carson in the fervor with which he invokes a magic being to save America from Atheist ideation?

The rhetoric presented by the podium fodder at the RNC does not simply echo the passive prayer circles of salt-of-the earth Americans who are simply exercising their individual beliefs; these are the voices of an activist anti-science socially repressive agenda. These voices have succeeded in filling the GOP platform with language that guts environmental regulation, and even calls for the essential dissolution of the EPA. There is special contempt for the idea of climate change, and this rejecting of the science behind climate change is stronger than it has ever been; the more we discover about climate change science the stronger the GOP’s rejection of it has become.

On first read the platform does not look like it contains any support for some radically ignorant ideas like intelligent design. This does not mean that the ideology of the party figureheads has strayed from the woefully stupid set of ideas embraced by young earth creationists. It simply appears as if the strides made by LGBTQA+ groups in the past four years has created a warm living group to serve as targets of religious hate. Here is Ben Carson on the “absurdity” of transgender identity:

“It is silly for us to engage in something that we have known for thousands of years. We have known what a man is and what a woman is for thousands of years. All of a sudden, we don’t know anymore. I said that is absurd.” -- Dr. Ben Carson interview with Katie Couric 19 July 2016

While there is enough in his stance on transgender identity, and he goes on, to get upset about, I would like to put your focus on the repeated assertion of a timeframe for the knowledge he cites. Humans have only known for “thousands of years”. He did not evoke “tens of thousands”, or “over a hundred thousand”. If he wanted to bring in the collected wisdom of a larger set of evolutionary branching he could have said “millions”. However, the world is only a few thousand years old according to Young Earth Creationist wisdom even if a longer earth history might help make hateful rhetoric sound a little more powerful.

I have been told that the foibles and incredible stupidity on display at the RNC are evidence of insiders destabilizing the Trump campaign from the inside. Some long-term republicans I know have openly endorsed Hillary Clinton. Unfortunately pandering to stupidity and ejection of establishment republicans may only help to strengthen the Trump campaign.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Durban Ohio

The GOP (Grand Old Party or Republican Party) convention opens in Cleveland today, and half a world away the International AIDS Conference opens in Durban South Africa. The contrasts between the contexts that these two gatherings are taking place in are striking. The AIDS conference proclaiming the possibility of a future free of one of the most damaging scourges the world has ever known while standing atop a mound of damage caused by years of denialism fueled by misogyny, homophobia, and organic ignorance. The GOP appear to be standing on a lump of damage proclaiming how, by making that lump a mountain, they will be able to see into the future.

In the mid-2000s South Africa placed itself at the apex of world HIV denialism. The president of South Africa - Thabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki- was claiming special knowledge of HIV/AIDS to whomever would listen. His views were echoed by the Minister of Health - Dr. Mantombazana 'Manto' Edmie Tshabalala-Msimang - he had appointed. Mbeki’s denialism went beyond a basic refutation of the link between HIV and AIDS; Mbeki had a sure-fire cure for HIV infection that would prevent AIDS.

Mbeki had served as Nelson Mandela’s deputy for his five years in office, and would go on to serve as president for nine. Manto had used her medical training and public heath degree (from The University of Antwerp) to nurture the health and wellbeing of ANC militants in Tanzania. Manto went on to serve a year with Mbeki’s successor. These were not marginalized or unrespected individuals; they had served with distinction in the ANC, and were leading the ANC in the creation of a post-apartheid South African nation.

Nelson Mandela did little to address the AIDS epidemic in South Africa during his five years as president (1994-1999), even though the prevalence of HIV positive people in the country had ballooned from about 1% when he was released from prison in 1990 to 10% when he left office. Mandela identified AIDS as a problem after he left office, and in 2005 he made it the very personal focus of the last chapters of his life; in 2005 he announced to the world that his son had died of AIDS.

Almost in response to Mandela’s heartfelt plea the Mbeki administration released a list of common items that could prevent HIV infection from advancing to “AIDS defining conditions”. These items included:

  • Garlic
  • Lemon Juice
  • Beetroot
  • Olive oil
  • Onions
  • Certain alcoholic beverages

Magic concoctions were also being “made available” for a fee. One of the most famous was a proprietary mix of 89 herbs called “uBhejane” that was promoted throughout the early 2000s by Obed Mlaba while he was mayor of Durban.

The current AIDS conference laments the over 350,000 deaths attributed to adoption of these irrational and ineffective treatments, and the explosion of new infections facilitated by the large infected population. It is believed that as many as one in five people in South Africa are HIV positive; giving it the highest infection rate in the world.

Mix stupidity with real world problems, and the results can be HUGE.

It is a shockingly similar toxic mixture that being presented in Cleveland this week.

I do not know whether to be encourage or disheartened by the idea that so many major figureheads of the republican party are boycotting the convention. Do they think that by not showing up the possibility of a Trump presidency will be substantially reduced? Do they think that without their input the party platform will be less egregiously damaging to the advancement of western civilization?

I would think that responsible republicans would show up and try to clean up as much of the euphemistic crap on the metaphorical red carpet as they could before it festered into the possibility of law.

They could do a lot without showing up. How about filling a Supreme Court vacancy or passing some kind of immigration reform?

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Marquis de Cottonwood

Yesterday I successfully made it up Little Cottonwood Canyon in the heat of the day (Just over 100F at the base of the canyon) and, as should be evidenced by writing this post, I did not die. This was done to celebrate the Bastille Day Tour De France stage up Mount Ventoux (Thursday July 14th).

Bastille Day is a big celebration in France, and the TDF stage is often part of the national celebration with some feat of over-the-top cycling effort by one or more French nationals marking the date. This year all Bastille Day celebrations were upset by an act of violence in the French city of Nice that took the lives of at least 84 people. Despite that attack TDF stage 12 will be a stage that contributes both to the wonderful history of Bastille Day stages, and to the lore of stages on Mount Ventoux.

I know this one story about Bastille Day, and I like it enough to be hesitant to check it out much because I suspect it is just apocryphal invention. Bastille Day is the day that the prison of the Bastille was stormed during the French revolution, and the prisoners held therein freed. The story has one prisoner –The Marquis de Sade- screaming at the attacking crowds from inside the Bastille; “Storm The Bastille!” he screams. In other words the Marquis de Sade, having grown uncomfortable with his bondage, invented the first recorded instance of a “Safe Word”; although in this early instance it was a “Safe Phrase”.

I was literally shaking from the effort when I pulled over at the 2nd entrance to Snowbird Ski resort. I wanted to take this picture of a sign pointing to the medical facility so I could add it to the blog. I took off my jersey to cool off for a moment too. It is in this picture, but it may be difficult to make out. It is the red thing that looks like it has a picture of a mushroom cloud on it; that’s right I have this jersey with a f**king picture of a mushroom cloud on it!

This year’s Bastille Day TDF stage route was shortened because Mount Ventoux was experiencing 125 km/hour winds. This is a lot of wind. Too much to bicycle in, and maybe too much to stand around in. The crowds found themselves crammed down the mountain into a much tighter space, and the riders found themselves bicycling though crowds crammed into a much smaller space. The camera crews on motorcycles found themselves barely able to pass through the crowds, and at several times were stopped dead by the throngs. The camera crews on motorcycles often try and get good photos of the race leader, and at one dead stop the race leader –Chris Froome- crashed into one motorcycle and fell over, and then his bike got run over and broken by another motorcycle. Unable to continue on bike, and with a replacement bike delayed by the same throng of fans that caused the accident, Froome did the only thing he could do, he ran up the hill.

I did not have to run up LCC, but I did lose the replaceable heal to my now old SIDI bicycling shoes. I am hoping to find a suitable replacement.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Cottonmouth Tom

49 years ago today (13 July 1967) Tom Simpson (1965 World Champion) fell off his bike a kilometer shy of the summit of the famous Mount Ventoux in France. The mountain is a scant 1,912 m (6,273 ft) high, but its peak is scoured by winds that can be unimaginably brutal. Venteux is French for “windy”, and the winds on Mount Ventoux have been clocked at up to 320 km/h (200 mph). The winds did not push Tom Simpson off his bike on that fateful Thursday.

This Thursday the tour De France will revisit Mount Ventoux; the finish line for stage 12 will be at its summit. The Tour will use the Bedoin route, which is, of the three routes, the most widely used by the tour, and arguably the most difficult. About 7 kilometers north of the town of Bedoin the road kicks up to a punishing 9ish percent, and then continues to be steep all the way to the top. Interestingly this is similar to the stats of a local(ish) Utah climb; that of Little Cottonwood Canyon.

In 1970 Eddy “The Cannibal” Merx, often called the greatest cyclist of all time, collapsed after a summit finish on Mount Ventoux. He required oxygen to be revived. Then he went on to win the Tour De France for the second time, and he also won the polkadot Jersey (maillot à pois rouges or King Of the Mountains) classification that year. Just a few weeks earlier, on June 7th 1970, Eddy had also won the 53rd edition of the Corsa Rosa (Giro d’Italia). He was not known as someone who casually passed out after a hard effort.

I am thinking of riding up Little Cottonwood Canyon this Friday in honor of Tom Simpson. I will be severely undertrained as a way of simulating the crippling diarrhea Tom had been suffering since a disastrous setback a few days earlier on the Col du Galibier. Unlike Tom I will not be compensating for my physical condition by filling my water bottle with brandy or taking large amounts of amphetamines; I will probably have a pre-ride quad espresso though.

Many cyclists have quit on seeing the bald top of Mount Ventoux. Although geologically part of the Alps it is the tallest mountain for many miles, and the bare white rock of its summit makes it look imposing and snow-covered all year. Few make it to within a kilometer of the summit and quit. Tom insisted he be put back on his bike, and he was.

As he rode off his helpers heard him saying “on on on”.

These would be Tom’s last words.

Tom’s handlers were concerned with his drug usage, but they were mostly concerned with the descent of Mount Ventoux. The potentially hallucinogenic combination of heat (it was over 120F at times during the day), amphetamines and alcohol could have made for difficulty on a fast windy descent. The stage did not end on the summit like this year’s stage will. It descended the other side and ended in the town of Carpentras. Pope Clement V (first of the Avignon Popes, died 5 April 1314) and his Roman Curia were the most famous residents of Carpentras. Julio Jiménez Muñoz would win the 1967 stage, and go on to win the 1967 polkadot Jersey, and come in 2nd overall in the 1967 TDF.

Tom never made it to the summit.

About 500 meters from the summit Tom fell off his bike again. He never recovered. His hands were reportedly gripping the handlebars so tightly it took considerable effort to pry them loose before CPR could be started.

There is an unassuming monument to Tom Simpson on the slopes of Mount Ventoux. It is more than a monument to a doping athlete who blew himself up. It is a monument to cycling. Everyone who has ever cycled up a grade that was way too steep for them to do (like my potential assault of Little Cottonwood Canyon on Friday) knows how foolishly painful that amount of pointless effort can be.

Tom Simpson’s death on Mount Ventoux is not a cautionary tale about not pushing yourself too hard; it is a message from the past that others have tried even harder than you are willing to.

Tom did not have to worry about getting run over by a car though. One does not want to ride up Little Cottonwood canyon on weekends or holidays.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Limerick Maximus

There once was a theologian named Maximus
 Who preached there were two kinds of Jesus
 So they ripped out his tongue
 And he died in August of sepsis

In 662 they actually cut off the hand of Maximus the confessor in addition to ripping out his tongue, but the rhyming scheme of the limerick was already so off I did not want to put a hand in it. Maximus proclaimed that Jesus was both human and divine in order to make sense of the Filioque (literally “and the son” added to some Latin creeds). This was the wrong kind of Jesus to some powerful folks so they mutilated him to prevent him writing about (it was his right hand) or speaking of his heresies. If he had died right away he would be remembered as Maximus the martyr, but he lingered for a little while and so he is called Maximus the confessor.

To the inquiring Atheist the history of theology is a sputtering continuum of subtle and confusing questions. Most, like how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, are settled only when time buries them under the accumulated realization of just how trivial they are. Many have implications in the lives of real people, and are made non-trivial by the suffering caused by knowing a particular answer to a particular question is true.

The philosophical gymnastics needed to “understand” the Filioque are among the more intractable questions in Christian theology, but their historical context makes them appear important. Christian scripture, especially Catholic and Orthodox scripture, contains canonical texts not assembled into the bible. Arguably at the apex of this pile of non-biblical scripture stuff is the Nicene Creed. Originally written in 325 it was officially amended in 381, and sometime over the next couple hundred years the word filioque was added to the Latin translation. In context the addition stated that: “And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father 〈and the Son〉.”

Maximus was a rather severe Ascetic. Among his most famous writings is a dense piece entitled “Centuries on Love”. This contained 400 paragraphs (centuries) about love where the annoyingly repetitive theme is: “don’t do it if you want to get to heaven”. The Calvinists love Maximus. He is very concerned with perfect love; a type of love that does not involve people, and where the less human you are the better. He sounds like he is no fun at all. I even had a hard time skimming through his nonsense to find some kind of usable quote about love. Here is one:

“First the memory brings up a simple thought to the mind, and when it lingers about it arouses passion.” – Centuries on Love paragraph 84 Maximus the Confessor

This sounds like the warm afterglow of a recollected encounter. I can picture looking into eyes that turn from brown to green, and then back again; see a night’s sky of lights reflected in an upturned smile. Unfortunately the context Maximus chose for this quote makes it clear that arousing passion is a bad thing. Luckily you have me to free this questionable gem from its prudish context. Let it fly free! You are welcome.

Here is another quote from Centuries on Love where Maximus talks about dreams:

“When the soul begins to feel its own good health, then does it regard as simple and undisturbing the images which take place in dreams.” – Centuries on Love paragraph 89 Maximus the Confessor

The context this was chiseled from makes clear the fact that maximus did not have the same kind of dreams I do. He would probably have found my dreams disturbing. Especially the ones that bring the simplest of smiles to my sleeping face.

To the atheist the question of whether magic spews from one or two imaginary spigots is not a very important question. This is mostly because it does not mean anything when examined rationally. For Christian theology this question was significant enough to mutilate and kill people who thought about it in the wrong way.

Maximus’s contribution, which now has him venerated by several Christian groupings, was to state that Jesus and god could be many things. They could be both divine and human, and could be somewhat interchangeable as a result. This sort of fluid description is central to the modern protestant idea of using biblical descriptions of a corporeal Jesus to determine what the magical Jesus in your own mind wants to talk to you about. In an interesting resonance with the bulk of Maximus’s writings the Jesus in your head is supposed to tell you not to let yourself or anyone else touch your genitals for fun.

Many modern apologists have posited that this dual nature of Jesus contains the kernel of understanding the dual nature of particles/waves. “Perhaps” I have been told “If you let Jesus into your heart you would really understand and know the standard theory of quantum mechanics”. Fortunately nobody who really understands the standard model has ever said that to me so the fact that it is a statement crafted from complete bullcrap remains pure and undiluted.

Unfortunately for Maximus his “everything can be everything as long as you do not love anything but God” approach to the single word amendment of the Nicene Creed was not seen as a happy compromise to everyone. So they ripped out his tongue and cut off his hand. I do not really know if he actually died of sepsis, but it was a good bet and it almost rhymed enough to make the Limerick almost work.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Great Spinning Freedom

 With political propaganda spin one should only feed at a rate of spin that can be reasonably assimilated. The information spins about; the listener should not. As we approach the political conventions, and the presumptive nominees for the two main parties become the actual nominees, we will be entering a time when many facts will be spinning out of control. Social media will be dizzy with half-formed opinions, and the sense of some imminent crash, with burning, will color most reasonable dialog about the future. 

“A spin is a special category of stall resulting in autorotation about the vertical axis and a shallow, rotating, downward path. Spins can be entered intentionally or unintentionally, from any flight attitude if the aircraft has sufficient yaw while at the stall point.” – 1943 Navy Pilot Training Film

Spin is a type of misdirection that falls slightly short of a boldface lie. Narcissists who live in a world centered about themselves might score every morsel of communication for spin. Sociopaths who critically need to control the thoughts of others will tally up the positive and negative spin in a conversation, and apply pressure to move interpretation of information in whatever way they had preciously decided the data as a whole should spin. The political spinner will compare discovered facts to a prepared tactical outline, and gather up the details that appear to augment some milestone communication goal. Positive-spin facts become part of a constant refrain; while negative-spin information gets lost or buried under trivia and euphemisms. Political propaganda during a presidential election year can sound like an extended conversation with arguing narcissists.

When piloting a plane it is possible to enter into a spin state where the aircraft cannot regain the attitude of normal flight; in a natural fully-developed uncontrolled spin in the Earth’s atmosphere the pilot experiences a maximum of only 1G of force.

Two of my favorite euphemisms that populist candidates trot out are “freedom” and “great”. I received a letter from one of the two major presidential candidates that had words to the effect of “Make America Great Again” on the outside of the envelope. I suppose America was, and can be again, “Great” because of “Freedom”, but I will have to open the letter to maybe find out. I am a little afraid that there will be no understandable description of anything a president might actually plan to do in the letter.

The term “spin”, as a way to describe a type of political propaganda, actually comes from the saying “To spin a tall Yarn”, and not the uncontrolled motion of a plane before it crashes. I think the idea of a plane crashing and burning resonates more with the current political climate in the USA.

In interpersonal dialog a sociopath or narcissist will blow through extended parts of a conversation using euphemisms to confuse discussion of any negative-spin data. They will repeatedly benchmark and define a term until it has meant several different –often incompatible- things in the conversation. “Great”, which does not sound like a typical euphemism for anything, can be benchmarked to the point where a set of circumstances can only be considered literally great if sifted through a filter of pretzel logic; it becomes, in the narcissist’s vocabulary, a euphemism either for a particular real set of events or an undefined fantasy condition.The candidate who wants to make things "great" again does not want to recreate a previous condition.  He just wants some kind of great that once was; great as in something good only HUGE. 

Freedom is worse as it can be used almost like an adjective-noun-verb to describe all sorts of things American, or maybe, more specifically, a junior high school version of American reality. We have freedom, or there is a freedom lifestyle, or I feel freedom. In a literal world freedom is defined by the lack of constraints, and implies some level of change in level of control or restraint. In the sociopath’s world it becomes a wish-washy feel-good term that is used to cloud any uncomfortable actual data.

The American Propagandist Edward Louis Bernays is credited with developing political spin into the modern artform it is today. Technology has certainly added a lot of leverage to what we experience as spin today (Bernays died in 1995), but Bernays’s post WWI epiphanies held the seed of what we now call spin. He was the nephew of Sigmund Freud, and was assuredly primed to view the effects of his WWI propaganda as a mass psychology event. Give people large doses of the right kind of information while repressing the wrong kind, and their opinions start to turn; get them to turn fast enough and you have spinning.

The American public "could very easily vote for the wrong man or want the wrong thing, so that they had to be guided from above." – Anne Bernays quoting her father

Spin was a way of feeding people the right kind of attitude along with their information. Enlightened despotism became the model for a working American “Democracy”. People would get facts, but in such a way as to secure eventual opinions (and –of course- votes). Each camp has its spin doctors and spinmeisters, and it might be impossible for anyone to get elected without these professionals. However, spin eats up conversations with its reliance on obfuscation and misdirection.

If a conversation gets to spinning things too fast I feel nauseous.