Asterisk Morality

 

Morality with an asterisk differs from hypocrisy in that people engaging in it apply double standards to third parties, and not necessarily to themselves. For instance, when the Reverend Franklin Graham recently called on Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg to repent for his homosexuality, which the Rev. Graham claims is a sin according to the Bible, he appears to have ignored sinning on the part of his favored politician, the current president, who numbers serial adultery among his transgressions. That is asterisk morality.

 

Overlooking sin or defective character when it comes from a political favorite is nothing new for the Rev. Graham, his late father, or white evangelical Christians generally. They do not apply the same standards of forgiveness to their political opponents. When their politician stands accused of misdeeds in the forum of public opinion, the charges are fictional, a smear; but when they have the slightest opportunity, white evangelical Christians do not hesitate smear their political opponents, usually citing the Bible. Where is that Bible when examining the character of Their Guy (almost always a man, and certainly an avowed heterosexual man)? That is asterisk morality.

Billy Graham and Richard Nixon
President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office with the Reverend Billy Graham, father of Franklin Graham, on August 10, 1971. Hobnobbing with presidents who perceive themselves as above the law appears to be a family tradition. Photo from the National Archives.

It would be interesting to see if the Rev. Graham might withhold criticism of Mr. Buttigieg’s personal life if their political views aligned. In reference to the character of the current president, the Rev. Graham appears to have no publicly stated misgivings, and is enthusiastic about him in every respect. All this politicking by the Rev. Graham and other white evangelical Christians is clearly in violation of the 1954 Johnson Amendment to the United States tax code, which was intended to restrict the ability of tax exempt organizations such as churches to engage in partisan politics. It has been laxly enforced. The current president has pledged to abolish the Johnson Amendment. Maybe if Mr. Buttigieg did the same, he too could be without sin* in the eyes of the Rev. Graham and his flock.
— Vita

* As long as he advocates political policies favored by white evangelical Christians. Amen.

 

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The False Witness

 

“You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness.
— Exodus 23:1, from the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible.

The job of White House Press Secretary has always been to walk a fine line between putting a good face on an administration’s policies and actions and lying about them outright. The current presidential administration and its press secretary have no such concerns and are obviously content to lie outright. When the White House released an altered video last week that made Cable News Network (CNN) reporter Jim Acosta the bad guy in an interaction with a White House intern who attempted to wrest a microphone away from him, they obviously cared not at all whether reasonable people believed their lie. They are, after all, not appealing to reasonable people.


Longboots1
Hip boots in the mud. Photo by Booter. Deep, and getting deeper all the time.

The current occupants of the White House offices know they have a third of the country solidly in their corner, people who will believe their lies without question and with gusto. Another third of the country is in the middle, sitting on the fence to one side or another, some of them perplexed or disturbed by the behavior they see from this administration’s people, but few of them willing to act on their apprehensions. The other third of the country consists of people who are steadfastly opposed to the current administration and are willing to resist to some degree its policies and actions and work toward its demise either electorally or by impeachment and conviction. The current president and his vassals care not one whit about the opinions of those people.

What’s particularly galling about the episode with Mr. Acosta is how the current Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a self-professed devout Christian whose father is a minister as well as a politician, a woman who has never uttered any sincere support for womens’ rights otherwise and who works for a reprobate in the Oval Office who openly insults women at every opportunity, suddenly got religion about the issue of men assaulting women and used that as the excuse for revoking Mr. Acosta’s White House press privileges by way of her false witness regarding the altered video. He got handsy and rough with our female intern! No, he didn’t. Doesn’t matter, because the only people we need to convince will believe our version of events, and some of the rest will be so flabbergasted and flustered by the sheer chutzpah of our lying they will be paralyzed into impotence. The other third – who cares what they think?

Ms. Sanders has apparently made peace with her hypocrisy, no doubt rationalizing her aiding and abetting of evil as somehow being in the greater cause of Christianity. It is worrying, though, that a majority of white, middle class women have gone along with her down that road. They may have other reasons than Christianity to justify their support for and following of the Pussy Grabber in the Oval Office, but they all have rationalizations that can’t have much to do with the actual man and his policies. It’s almost understandable why white, middle class men might remain in his camp, because however misguided their wishes are, too many of them surely look up to him as someone worth emulating. But the women are a different story.

Pete Seeger led an audience at the Sanders Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1980 in a performance of Meredith Tax’s “The Young Woman Who Swallowed a Lie”, an altered version of “There was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly”.

Authoritarian Personality Syndrome (APS) and Social Dominance Orientation (SDO) are two of several characteristics that may explain why women follow the current president. Both are predominantly conservative characteristics and, by extension, fundamentalist Christians such as Ms. Sanders. Far more fundamentalist Christians are conservative than liberal. Without delving too deeply into differences in religions, it is safe to say fundamentalist Christians are more patriarchal than the average Christian, and more inclined toward APS and SDO characteristics. Women have to engage in more mental gymnastics than men to rationalize their devotion to the Leader of the He-Man Woman-Haters Club, but they do it, most probably with little introspection, and if his pep rallies are any guide, they are overcome with such starry-eyed enthusiasm they will approve of anything he says or does.
— Vita

 

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Moon Dreams

 

“Who needs astrology? The wise man gets by on fortune cookies.”Edward Abbey (1927-1989)

With the full moon coming on Monday, September 24, it’s fair to wonder how much influence the moon, the planets, and the stars have on earthly lives and events. This full moon is known as the Harvest Moon for obvious reasons, at least in the Northern Hemisphere where the agricultural harvest begins in September. Linking the moon to telling time is sensible considering that through most of history people did not have or require time pieces accurate to minutes and seconds. That would await the Industrial Revolution. Before then, knowing the months by the phases of the moon and the hours by the daily movements (as it appeared from Earth) of the sun and the stars was good enough.


Where things got fuzzy and slipped from astronomy to astrology was the attribution by some people of powerful influences to the celestial bodies. Those influences went beyond gravity and tides to the extent of determining the character and fate of people. What an extraordinary hypothesis! Until the Renaissance, when Copernicus and Galileo disabused humanity of the notion that the Earth, and specifically its Homo sapiens inhabitants, were the center of the universe, people could indulge a belief in astrology and not be out of step with mainstream scientific thought. Now the idea that the moon, the planets, and the stars have any influence on people’s lives beyond the purely physical is magical thinking along the lines of palmistry and Tarot.

Harvest Moon rises over Washington
A Harvest Moon rises over Washington, D.C., on September 19, 2013. Photo by Bill Ingalls for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Most people now believe astrology’s rightful place is in the same pages of their daily newspaper as the comics and the crossword puzzle, and certainly not in the science section. The trouble begins when people in authority ascribe credence to magical thinking, and by extension astrology and other pseudo sciences. The determinism of astrology appeals to people with an authoritarian mindset because it restores a kind of certainty to a life that has become, for them, uncertain and therefore frightening.

“Moon Dreams”, performed by Glenn Miller leading the Army Air Force Band in 1944, was written by Miller’s long time pianist Chummy MacGregor, with lyrics by Johnny Mercer.

Feeling in control is comforting to them, even though oddly enough they are ceding control to an impassive universe. This is where the all powerful leader comes in, to reassure them that they are indeed still at the center of the universe and endowed by it with special qualities, rights, and privileges. The more thoughtful among them might reflect that special rights are accompanied by special responsibilities, but most are not troubled by such an uncomfortable thought, nor by the exclusion of The Other from the universe’s benevolence, as interpreted for them by their leader. What for most people is a harmless diversion in the funny papers becomes for a few true believers another reality, with its own truth they are determined to foist on everyone else. Ordinary people don’t take the true believers seriously at first, and then too late the decent, ordinary folks realize their fanatic neighbors weren’t kidding with their foolish, dangerous nonsense.
— Ed.

 

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The Impossible Takes a Little Longer

 

You can fool most of the people most of the time, and whoever is left will fool themselves the rest of the time. A great many foolish beliefs are relatively harmless, such as the idea that handling toads will give you warts, though the toads may hold different opinions. Other opinions are foolish and yet not harmless, among them the idea that climate change is not a real threat, and anyway it’s not caused by human activity. Again, the toads may have opinions at variance with that.

Don Quixote 1
An 1863 engraving by Gustave Doré (1832-1883) used to illustrate an edition of Don Qixote, by Miguel de Cervantes. The caption for this plate is taken from the text, and reads “A world of disorderly notions, picked out of his books, crowded into his imagination.”

Scientists and journalists have been tap dancing around the reasons why some folks seem more susceptible than others to fake news stories, especially ones that confirm their beliefs about a subject. They refer to the lack of “cognitive ability” in people who have “confirmation bias”. In plain English, stupid people will believe what they want to believe, and they don’t want to be confused with the facts. Is the Earth flat, despite readily available evidence that it is a sphere? You betcha it is! Is the Earth a mere 6,000 years old, according to some Christians? You know it is, and pay no attention to all those much older fossils – they’re fake news! Is Spanky the Pussy Grabber, aka the Philanderer-in-Chief, getting a free ride from the same white, evangelical Christians who roasted Bill Clinton at the stake for similar behavior 20 years ago? Yer darn tootin’ he is, and he will continue getting a pass as long as he stocks the federal judiciary with anti-abortionists and signs off on tax breaks for rich, white, evangelical Christians.

There’s little anyone can do to convince some folks, roughly a third of the population, that truth, justice, and the American Way exist outside their bubble, and that they’ve been falling for one April Fool’s joke after another much of their lives. Such folks will stubbornly burrow even deeper into their bunkers, popping out occasionally to take pot shots on Twitter at the latest targets of their fevered conspiracy dreams, up to and including schoolchildren who survived a mass killing taking a stand against America’s fetishistic gun culture.

The Smothers Brothers deliver a sideways take on “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha.
As with everything in life, there’s a sliding scale to the relative harmlessness or harmfulness of foolish ideas and impossible dreams. Shades of gray can be difficult for some people to adjust their eyes to, and they would no doubt prefer the ease of differentiating black from white and leave it at that. Believe in the Easter Bunny? Fine; it’s hard to see how anyone’s hurt by a bunny heralding spring. Believe that Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate for president in 2016, was so evil that, based on rumors on internet forums, she was in charge of an indecent criminal enterprise based in a Washington, D.C. pizza restaurant, and in consequence grab a gun and barge into the restaurant to break it all up? That’s delusional thinking, and combined with some other poisonous ideas, it’s dangerous. Next time, take a little longer to stop and think whether something is impossible, or even likely.
— Techly

 

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Slowed to a Trickle

 

There’s a story of how in eastern Siberia in past centuries, where the people often partook of the fly agaric mushroom, Amanita muscaria, for its mind and mood altering properties, the rich often hoarded the supply and the poor had to do without until the rich threw a party such as a wedding, at which event they could be counted on to ingest some mushrooms and, when they ventured out to urinate, the poor would somehow capture the rich people’s urine, which was still loaded with the psychoactive ingredient, and the poor would drink it for their own trippy experience. The difference between that old story and modern trickle down economics is that in the story, if true at least to some extent, the peasants actually did reap some kind of reward finally. No such evidence exists for the modern economic theory.

Gary Cohn at Regional Media Day (cropped)
Gary “Hands Up” Cohn, Director of the National Economic Council.

 

It’s a good line to trot out as cover for tax cuts for the rich, apparently, and that’s why to sell the latest tax cut package it’s been used again by current presidential administration flacks like Gary Cohn, Director of the National Economic Council and former Goldman Sachs executive. The package passed the U.S. Senate on December 2, and now it awaits reconciliation with a similar package already passed by the House of Representatives. Republican leaders in Congress hope to have the bill ready for the president to sign by Christmas. Happy Holidays! Or Merry Christmas, if you prefer that with your egg nog.

Besides selling the bald-faced lie that the tax package is somehow supposed to benefit any other economic group but the wealthy, through the voodoo of trickling down, Republicans are cramming in several other things before they tie up the package with a nice bow. One is the repeal of the individual mandate from the Affordable Care Act, which will leave 13 million people uninsured. Another is the authorization of oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. And a third is the destruction of the Johnson Amendment, which will be like a Citizens United watershed moment for right wing churches, allowing them to flood political campaigns with money from their congregations without endangering their tax exempt status. Of course, other churches, left wing or neutral, will be able to do the same, but it is the religious right that has long scorned the Johnson Amendment as an impediment to its agenda. Indeed, all three of these additions to the tax package will scratch itches conservatives have been worrying over for years or decades.

 

There are other items added to the basic tax package that will satisfy many conservatives, though surprisingly not all, and not because the tax cuts don’t go far enough, but because they go too far or are misplaced. At a presentation before an auditorium full of CEOs in November, Gary Cohn stressed that the corporate tax cuts in the new package should spur investment, and to prove his point he asked for a show of hands from those present who would increase their company’s investments. A few raised their hands, but not the majority, and certainly not as many as Mr. Cohn apparently expected, because he asked “Why aren’t the other hands up?” before quickly moving on to other business. CEOs elsewhere have also questioned the necessity of the corporate tax cuts, which is to their credit considering how greedily corporate America generally behaves.

Steven Mnuchin official portrait (cropped)
Steven “Mr. Cruella De Vil” Mnuchin, Secretary of the Treasury.

No, the corporate tax cuts in the latest bill are intended to benefit the financial sector, Wall Street. That’s why people like Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Gary Cohn, creatures of Wall Street, like the bill and defend it. They understand it. It means more money for themselves and their colleagues. They talk about how it will help producers of things produce more and better things, and how it will improve life for the lower orders. They believe none of that, nor do they understand it. They never produced anything. They have no interest in producing anything. They can barely conceal their contempt for people who produce things, and particularly the ones who get their hands dirty doing it.

From the 1940 Disney film Fantasia, the Chinese dancers of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker ballet envisioned as mushrooms very much like the fly agaric kind.

People like Mnuchin and Cohn and the Supreme Leader who appointed them understand only money, meaning the more of it for themselves the better, especially if it means less for everyone else. To move economic metaphors from the latrine to the marina, from trickle down to a rising tide lifts all boats, the Wall Street Greed Heads could follow a better model than trickle down by investing in the bottom, the rising tide. They don’t understand that, however, nor can they spare what little empathy they have for it, and that leaves 99 percent of the country coping with the trickled down policies the Greed Heads do understand, which is all for the few, the one percent.
― Ed.

 

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Mnuchin in Love Nest with “Actress”

 

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and his new bride, “actress” Louise Linton are the very latest models of a Washington power couple. The two gaga lovers tied the knot in June in a ceremony attended by Washington, Wall Street, and Hollywood elite. You were not invited. Mr. Mnuchin, fresh off his stint foreclosing on old ladies for his company, OneWest bank, was sworn in to his new gig as Treasury Secretary in February in an exclusive Oval Office ceremony attended by only a select few. Ms. Linton was there, because even though she and Steve hadn’t gotten hitched yet, she was still his very significant other.
Steve Mnuchin swearing in
Steve Mnuchin swearing in, with P. and V.P. in attendance, and the fabulous Louise Linton looking on soulfully. Now that’s acting! Wish you could’ve been there – not!

The two lovebirds have been caught up in controversy lately – oh, that liberal media! – which really amounts to nothing to people who know what’s really important, like shopping! First, the Mnuchster had to fend off a plea from his Yale (only the best schools) classmates asking him to consider resigning from his post in the administration due to some unfortunate remarks made by his boss – again, it’s the liberal media stirring up trouble! No way, he replied, I’m in this for the long haul and there’s plenty of draconian fiscal measures I have yet to implement with the boss’s blessing. Besides, all that brouhaha was stirred up by the liberal media mischaracterizing the words which spilled out of El Supremo’s mouth. The words (only the best words) would seem to indicate he is a white supremacist and a neo-Nazi sympathizer, but that’s only if you slant things by listening to the words in the order he said them.

Lionel Barrymore as the greedy, unscrupulous Mr. Potter tempts James Stewart’s George Bailey in the 1946 Frank Capra film It’s a Wonderful Life.

Shortly after that kerfuffle, the newly minted Mrs. Mnuchin, “actress” Louise Linton wrote some things on Instagram that the plebeians expressed indignation about, and Louise had to set them straight. To paraphrase, she told them to eat Little Debbie snack cakes, or whatever horrid stuff you working class dullards stuff in your mouths with your pudgy fingers. Louise and her figure are too fabulous to touch that kind of ick! Anyway, it all started with a plane trip to Fort Knox in Kentucky that Louise and hubby made – coincidentally! – on Monday, the day of the solar eclipse, in a place where the eclipse was near total. Fabulous! but a total coincidence, mind you! So there was a government plane involved, the shopping and eclipse viewing were fantastic! Eat your Little Debbie fudge fingers, or whatever they’re called, and shut up!

The talented and charming Eva Gabor sings the praises of luxury while Eddie Albert sings of integrity and honest toil. It’s not so much that they were giants in those days of the late 1960s, as that we have sunk to the bottom of the barrel since then.

That’s the news from the upper crust, your fabulous betters. You may return to your hog slopping or whatever it is you do, you pathetic prole. And pay up on that mortgage, slacker! Now go away.
― Ed.

 

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The Skimmer Scam

 

Thieves have been using the latest technology to quickly install ever more undetectable credit and debit card skimmers at gas pumps, and even at the card reader inside the gas station. Parts are available cheaply on eBay, and the risks are low while payoffs are high. Installing skimmers on isolated Automated Teller Machines has always been popular with thieves, but now with newer technology that takes mere seconds to install, the greater exposure to detection from passersby at gas pumps over ATMs is not as much of a factor as before. A skimmer placed on a gas pump can offer a larger payoff than an ATM because of the generally higher amount of customer visits.

Diners Club Regular Japan 2016
Diners Club Regular Card with Integrated Circuit, issued in Japan, 2016;
own work by Hitomi

The new smart credit cards, which are the ones embedded with EMV (Europay MasterCard Visa) integrated circuit chips, are far less susceptible to skimming than cards with magnetic stripes only, but while the new cards are rolling out, businesses need to maintain backwards compatibility with magnetic stripe cards, and that makes the United States fertile territory for card skimmers. The United States has also been slower to implement EMV technology than other countries because of the huge cost of replacing all the card readers. It wasn’t until the impetus provided by the high profile Target stores identity theft case in 2013 that US businesses and card providers started moving earnestly toward the new standard. Liability shifts by providers, meaning whether they will reimburse losses by card holders to fraud and identity theft or shift the liability to businesses, are slated to begin for the old magnetic stripe cards in October 2017 generally, although some providers have implemented shifts for some types of card readers as early as October 2015, and other card readers won’t incur a liability shift until October 2020.

 


One to four years until full implementation of the new EMV-only card readers is an enormous window of opportunity for thieves armed with the latest skimmer technology. Gas station owners are trying the low cost stopgap of applying stickers to the pumps for evidence of tampering, but those can only help detect the installation of internal skimmers. Users of the gas pumps will have to be aware of anomalies at the scanner, the keypad, and the pump generally. They should also be aware that using a debit card is riskier than using a credit card, and to keep a close eye on their card statements for suspicious activity. The surest safeguard, of course, is to pay cash. It might be worthwhile for customers as well as business owners to remember the old saying immortalized by the humorist Jean Shepherd in the title of his 1966 novel In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash.
– Techly

 

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