Look: I am eager to learn stuff I don't know--which requires actively courting and posting smart disagreement.

But as you will understand, I don't like to post things that mischaracterize and are aimed to mislead.

-- Brad Delong

Copyright Notice

Everything that appears on this blog is the copyrighted property of somebody. Often, but not always, that somebody is me. For things that are not mine, I either have obtained permission, or claim fair use. Feel free to quote me, but attribute, please. My photos and poetry are dear to my heart, and may not be used without permission. Ditto, my other intellectual property, such as charts and graphs. I'm probably willing to share. Let's talk. Violators will be damned for all eternity to the circle of hell populated by Rosanne Barr, Mrs Miller [look her up], and trombonists who are unable play in tune. You cannot possibly imagine the agony. If you have a question, email me: jazzbumpa@gmail.com. I'll answer when I feel like it. Cheers!

Monday, May 27, 2019

Memorial Day - Who Should We Remember?

This is the day we quite properly remember those in our various military services who lives were lost in either gaining or preserving our freedom - the American revolution, civil war and world wars I and II. We’ve lost many more service people since then, including over 4000 in Iraq. Sadly, all of these lives were lost in vain. Our freedom was never an issue in any of these incidents. They were fought for a variety of far less worthy reasons. Perhaps the best of them is due to an ideology. Though that is far from noble. The worst of them is to line the pockets of war profiteers like Dick Cheney.

So I honor the memory of those who died in a noble cause, but grieve in profound sadness for those whose lives were not only lost, by wasted for poor or terrible reasons.
And who else should we grieve for? How about the innocent civilians - men, women and children - of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden and My Lai? And the many 10’s of thousands of Iraqis who were victims of our unjust and unjustifiable aggression?
What about the Japanese and German soldiers who gave their lives for their respective countries? Should we spare a thought for them? Didn't they have mothers, fathers, siblings, children, lovers?
Consider the kidnapped Africans and their generations of offspring whose freedom was taken for our economic benefit. Shouldn’t we honor their memory as well? Their lives were also sacrificed for us and our freedom.
Let's also not ignore the genocide our government and military perpetrated against Native Americans. Wasn’t that a part of American expansion? Weren’t those lives given for our benefit?
So my feelings are mixed on memorial day. Pondering these questions makes me deeply uncomfortable.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Life, the Universe, and Everything

I'll start off saying that I'm an agnostic with atheistic tendencies.  Only my general skepticism about everything keeps me from being a complete atheist.  I do believe that if we happen some day to discover that there is indeed such a thing as a God, She/He/It/They will have scant, if any, resemblance to what is portrayed in any of the religions popular among humans.  Given all of that, though, I can call myself a Christian, in complete sincerity, and with no sense of irony.  More on that later.

Way back in the shrouding mists of prehistory, early man started grappling with the important and ultimate fundamental questions of life, the universe and everything.  These are, in my estimation --

1) What in the hell is going on here?

2) What am I supposed to do about it?

Two approaches to grappling with these vexing conundrums are science and religion.  Some people don't like the idea that these two vastly different approaches spring from the same basic human quest for knowledge, and I've been ridiculed for proposing it. This is generally because someone has a personal bias toward one or the other.  But if you think in terms of the fundamental questions, it all makes sense.

Science seeks to understand the universe through rigorous systematic empirical observation, reason and logic.  It's pretty good at addressing the first question; but might not take us very far in addressing the second.  Of course, the scientific study of the results and effects of human actions can reveal some knowledge of what appropriate behaviors ought to be.  Natural phenomena like plate tectonics or global climate change, and policies like supply-side economics can be studied and understood.  Sadly, though, humans are only semi-rational beings, and the clear conclusions of scientific inquiry can become clouded by bias, epistemic closure, and contrary economic or political interest.

Religion on the other hand, seeks understanding through observation that is less systematic and more anecdotal, introspection and mysticism. It involves the assumed validity of prophecies, omens, and the interpretation of natural phenomena as signs from God.  As such, it has a lot in common with superstition - but that is not the field I intend to plow today.  Religion addresses the first question via creation myths - which in themselves can be quite creative, but not particularly useful in obtaining a greater understanding of the physical world - and observations which are far too often seen through the distorting lenses of religious bias, magical thinking and denialism. The second question leads to inquiries about human beings' relationship with and responsibilities toward God, God's relationship with and responsibilities toward human beings, and humans' relationships and responsibilities with each other.

Since the nature of God is unknowable, speculations about any relationship involving Her/Him/It/Them are ultimately totally subjective.  This is why there are so many radically different religions and God concepts around the world and throughout history.  In one aspect, though, almost all God concepts share a single, specific characteristic: the Deity is remarkably human-like.  God may be conceived of as all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful, but still shows disturbing signs of human frailties like anger, jealousy, tendencies toward wanton destruction, grudge-holding, and an intolerance toward contrary points of view.

So the logical person can justifiably look upon religion with some contempt.

But doing so, at least in the context of Christianity, is often based on reading the Bible literally, and assuming it is - or is professed to be - the inerrant inspired word of God.

I see lots of criticisms that implicitly rely on this kind of reasoning.  Here is an example that generated a long discussion on Face Book.

Source not known

I objected to this as being ahistorical and misleading.  Slavery existed among the Israelites, but it had little in common with the chattel slavery that is such a horrible blight on our own American history.  It was more similar to indentured servitude.  Other New Testament writings refer to what were likely other forms of slavery in the Roman world, giving behavioral advice to both slaves and masters.

But put yourself in the position of someone proselytizing in a world where slavery is a reality, and your ability to change it is exactly 0 to an infinite number of decimal places. What do you do then, as a practical matter if your goal is to bring the world more in line with the teachings of Jesus? [If you are unsure about what these are, the short answer is found here.]  You admonish the masters to treat their slaves humanely, and the slaves to not do things that will incite the master's wrath.  This is simple good sense, and it is the message you find in the Bible.

So this meme is fundamentally unfair on at least two levels, and - in my opinion - is dishonestly motivated.  First, it misrepresents the nature of slavery that the O.T referred to.  Next, it criticizes moral admonishments about attempting to improve current reality from a 2000+ year later perspective.

But it's actually worse than that.  There is an explicitly stated error of composition, assuming that even IF the Bible were morally deficient in its commentary on slavery, that the rest of it's collected writings - assembled by a wide variety of writers over many hundreds of years - would be invalidated.

And still even more worse - to get back to my original point - the meme only makes sense if the Bible is taken to be the literal word of God rather than the situational best efforts of imperfect human beings.  In this way, some critics make the identical error that the fundamentalists and evangelicals make.  As an aside, this argument was not well received on FB, but I'm sticking by my guns - both there and here.

So, what does all this have to do with my claim to be a Christian? First off, though I'm not a believer, I do take seriously that there is - along with a lot of dross - some real wisdom, some valid moral pronouncements, and reasonable advice for living an enlightened life in the Bible, and most particularly in the teachings and example of Jesus. [See the link above.]

I recognize that I am an imperfect human being, with my own sad litany of vices, personality defects, episodes of faulty reasoning and lapses in judgment.  But I look at the way Jesus admonishes us to live and take that advice seriously.  Of course, I sin and falter.  But I get up, dust off, and try to better tomorrow - which is really all anyone can do.

In conclusion, I'll point out that there is no historical proof that the person we call Jesus ever did tread the dusty roads of ancient Palestine with his band of merry men.  Further, the gospels were written no less than 3 decades later than the events they allegedly portray - and almost certainly not by actual eye witnesses.  So the whole Jesus myth might well be a complete fiction.

But - and I mean this with total sincerity - it doesn't matter.  The message, wherever it came from, and by whatever suspect and convoluted means it came to us, is a good one that provides valid guidance for leading a life that respects the lives of others and improves the quality of human life in general.

And that's what counts.

The Tigers - 47 Games In

The Tigers have scored in double digits this year only twice - a 12-11 loss to the White Sox a month ago, and a 10-3 win over the Angels on May 8.

They've scored 9 runs twice, and won both of those games, giving up 7 to the White Sox on April 18, and 8 to the Mets last night.  Scoring a boat load of runs to eke out a close win might be exciting entertainment, but it's not very good baseball by either team.

The Tigers have been shut out 5 times, and blown out [losing by 6 runs or more] 9 times.  They recorded a 2-0 shut out win on opening day vs the Jays, but none since. They've only blown out an opponent once - that 10-3 victory over the Angels mentioned above.

They are scoring 3.55 runs per game to the opponent's 5.53.  Last night's home run derby added about 0.2 to each of those numbers.

Their current win percentage still projects to a lousy 62-100 season.  But their dreadful run differential suggests a horrific 48-114.

The team batting average is a dismal .224. Cabrera has been hitting well lately and has brought his BA up to a more Miggy-like .306. Two weeks ago, it was .286.  But it's a big drop-off to the next best - Castellanos at .267.  Ronny Rod, after going 0 for 5 last night, is at .250.  The rest of the team - you don't even want to know.  Unless you want to count pitcher Gregory Soto who went 2-2 last night and is batting 1.000. Case in point - Josh Harrison went 1 for 5, and his BA increased by a point.

Jacoby Jones, whose BA is measured in milligrams, went 2 for 5 with a home and a double, driving in 4 runs.  So there is your unlikely hero.

Soto did ok on the mound for 3 innings, but the wheels game off in the 4th when he gave up 4 runs, and the lead, giving him an ERA of 11.2.  I thought the Tigers were done at that point.  But they never gave up, and their 3 run 7th secured the win, despite giving up a run in the 8th.

The win went to Buck Farmer, the 3rd of 6 pitchers.  Shane Greene registered his 16th save in 17 attempts. That's pretty amazing on a team with only 19 wins.  What it indicates that almost ever one of those wins was a squeaker.