The Man Behind Trump

As usual, Trump is in the news for incredibly childish antics and unfounded claims. Trump has shown himself, predictably, to be a bumbler and a buffoon. But not everyone in his immediate circle can be described that way.

Trump’s chief adviser is Steve Bannon of Breitbart infamy. And unlike Trump, Bannon does have a worldview, although it is an especially frightening one.

In brief, Bannon’s belief is that “white, Christian civilization” is locked in a death struggle against the brown, black, and other non-white races of the world. Not surprisingly, Russia is seen as an important partner in this fight, because ethnic Russians are white and Russia is heavily Orthodox Christian. This would explain much of the Trump Administration’s positive orientation toward Russia (though of course, there might be a lot more going on).

This viewpoint is irrational and disgusting. Certainly, it would be wrong to make such accusations if there were no supporting evidence. But there is. One pathway into Bannon’s mind is to analyze what he reads and, in this instance, a specific book he has cited on many occasions. I encourage everyone to read this piece at the Huffington Post:

Time to Stand

I tried posting on this blog earlier, but it didn’t work, so I wrote the following for my personal blog. So this is a test: let’s see if this works!

Time to Stand
Posted on January 28, 2017 by Brian Vroman
So over the last several months I have gotten a bit lazy and have ignored this blog, but now it is time for anyone with any kind of a voice — no matter how small — to speak up. Trump and his minions are already doing great harm, and present an enormous threat to American democracy.

I could write about many issues — his stance on immigration, his orders to expunge facts he opposes from federal websites, his vanity, his unfounded assertions that over three million “illegals” voted for Hillary Clinton, and on and on. But today I want to discuss the Voice of America.

The VOA is a venerable organization that has historically played the positive role of providing reliable information to those in other countries where the media is controlled or intimidated by their government. VOA was presided over by a non-partisan board of directors. But now, buried deeply in a defense bill, was a provision which changed VOA in two important ways. First, the board of directors was replaced by a CEO who serves at the pleasure of the President of the United States. Second, VOA will now be authorized to broadcast to the American public.

What does this mean?

The Trump Administration is doing all that it can to discredit the media, because the media is in a position to question what he says and does. So it appears that as part of this war on the media, Trump and his henchmen are creating their own, separate “media” organization which will be under the direct control of the POTUS. In other words, they intend to use a once respectable organization with its fine public image to further propagandize the American people. We do not need a state controlled media outlet — we need an independent media that will hold Trump, and anyone else who holds power — accountable.

This is all part of a larger right wing War on Truth. For many on the right, when the facts don’t conform to your beliefs, you don’t modify those beliefs, you change the facts. Thus, when science shows that species evolve and that climate changes as the result of human activity, you don’t take those things into account — you trash science! Likewise, when the media broadcasts inconvenient truths, instead of responding appropriately, you work to undermine the media.

It is almost certain that some leaders on the right know good and well what the truth is, but see it as opposed to their interests. For example, there is a lot of money to be made by ignoring Global Warming, even though human society will ultimately face a reckoning. But one suspects that the rank and file on the populist right — as well as, quite likely, Trump himself — either no longer no what truth is or never did. For them, there is no objective set of facts, just assertions, which allow anyone to have their own “alternative facts.” Thus, rules of logic and evidence no longer matter, and we find ourselves ever more adrift in a sea of nihilism.

So it is time for everyone who can to stand and be heard and to push back against this nonsense any time we have a chance

Facts vs. Faith — Which Will Win?

I came across this quote in a column written by Charles Blow for the New York Times, but he was quoting Joe Keohane of the Boston Globe, so that is the original provenance:

“Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.”

Blow was writing about Donald Trump supporters.  But if this is true with respect to “ploitical partisans,” why would it be any different when it comes to dogmatic religious believers?

This is disappointing, because it suggests that our favored tools, logic and reason, will not avail against belief.  In other words — excuse the awful pun — faith trumps facts.

Of course, we can hope that even if this is true in the short term, in the long run, ideas based on reason will permeate the public consciousness, and for pragamatic reasons (such as the efficacy of medical science — all but the most deluded believers go to doctors rather than faith healers because they are more likely to find effecive treatment with the latter than with the impotent and ineffective layer on of hands), change will come in the future as it has in the past.

Still, it is depressing to think that our best arguments and the most effective presentation of evidence may be likely to fall on deaf ears.

A Dubious Saint

Many of you are no doubt aware that the woman known in her life as Mother Teresa has been canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church.  The process of canonization is filled with woo — of course, what else could it be — requiring “proof” of at least two miracles.  But this is not what concerns me at present.  The credulity of believing in “miracles” is matched by the credulity of an uncrtical public.  Among probably the majority of Westerners, Mother Teresa is uncritically accepted as a kind and compassionate person.  But this was not the case.

While he was alive, Christopher Hitchens delved into the life and actions of the supposed saint.  His findings were compiled in his well – known (and infamous to Catholics) Missionary Position.  Hitchens’s findings have since been verified by scholars.  Rather than give a litany of them, here is a link to an interview with HItchens conducted by “Free Inquiry” magazine.

Hitchens on Mother Teresa



Are Terrorists True Muslims?

Often we are told, mostly by liberals (and I will state right away that I am an unabashed liberal, but this does not mean liberals are above criticism), that “Islam is a religion of peace” and that “terrorists are not true Muslims.”

But it seems to me that this is a resort to the “No True Scotsman” fallacy.  So what is this all about?

This fallacy involves changing a definition to avoid criticsm.  Regarding the origins of the term, RationalWiki has this to say:

“The term was coined by [the late philosopher] Antony Flew, who gave an example of a Scotsman who sees a newspaper article about a series of sex crimes taking place in Brighton, and responds that ‘no Scotsman would do such a thing.’

When later confronted with evidence of another Scotsman doing even worse acts, his response is that ‘no true Scotsman would do such a thing,’ thus disavowing membership in the group “Scotsman” to the criminal on the basis that the commission of the crime is evidence for not being a Scotsman.

However, this reasoning is fallacious, as there exists no premise in the definition of ‘Scotsman’ which makes such acts impossible (or even unlikely, in the case of Scots). The term “No True Scotsman” has since expanded to refer to anyone who attempts to disown or distance themselves from wayward members of a group by excluding them from it.”

As with Scotsmen, so with Muslims.  Perhaps there is a core set of beliefs that one has to have in order to be a “true” Muslim, or Christian or Buddhist or whatever.  But from my perspective at least, what is going on here is an attempt, perhaps understandable due to a desire to get moderate Muslims to cooperate with the West and to prevent outbreaks of anti-Muslim violence in western nations, to define a term in such a way that one’s ends can be achieved without having to take into account thorny criticisms.  There are probably as many ways to inerpret the Q’ran as the Bible, and some of those interpretations lend sanction to violence.

An Inappropriate Act

As many of you know, my mother passed away a few days ago.  Let me first thank all of you who have expressed sympathy — it means a lot.

We have also been receiving sympathy cards from various friends, relatives, and acquaintances, all of which, again, have been welcome and much appreciated.

But in the stack of cards in the mailbox today was a letter that was not so welcome.  We received, unsolicited of course, a form letter from a local Jehovah’s Witness activist who stated that she wished to “comfort”: us with scripture.  I have no idea who this prosyletizing busybody is, but she was sloppy in her editing, and one portion of the letter still included the names of the previous recipients rather than being switched to our names.

Can there be anything more inappropriate?  Does this woman read the obituaries each week and send out her nonsense (there were some Watchtower Society tracts in the envelope as well), hoping to win converts from among the grieving?  Perhaps this person is well intentioned, but I certainly question her judgment.  I don’t for one minute profess to speak for all the bereaved, but I consider it incredibly poor taste to try to push religion on a total stranger at such a time.

Poped Out?

I will agree that the current pope is better than many of his predecessors.  But the new media are treating him like he is Christ himself (whom of course does not exist).  Does the pope’s visit really merit the wall-to-wall coverage he is getting from CNN, MSNBC, and elsewhere?  Do professional journalists really need to get starry-eyed and sometimes even teary-eyed over the visit of the pontiff?  And yes, it is true the Francis has shifted focus to social justice, do we really need to laud him for that?  Shouldn’t the Church have been focused on these issues long ago?  And the pope remains very conservative on women’s issues.

In short, though he is a step up from some of his predecessors, by maintaining the authority of the institutional Church, the pope remains an enemy of free inquiry and unfettered rational thought.

At any rate, I am feeling a bit “poped out.”  I am sick of hearing ad nauseum about every trivial detail of the pope’s visit to the US east coast.

A Quote From Voltaire

I was just over at the “Positive Atheism” site, and I came across this quote from Voltaire, which appeared in a letter to an interlocutor following the catastrophic Lisbon earthquake, which killed thirty thousand people, with another seventy thousand lives snuffed out in the ensuing Tsunami:

“My dear sir, nature is very cruel. One would find it hard to imagine how the laws of movement cause such frightful disasters in the best of possible worlds. A hundred thousand ants, our fellows, crushed all at once in our ant-hill, and half of them perishing, no doubt in unspeakable agony, beneath the wreckage from which they cannot be drawn. Families ruined all over Europe, the fortune of a hundred businessmen, your compatriots, swallowed up in the ruins of Lisbon. What a wretched gamble is the game of human life! What will the preachers say, especially if the palace of the Inquisition is still standing? I flatter myself that at least the reverend father inquisitors have been crushed like others. That ought to teach men not to persecute each other, for while a few holy scoundrels burn a few fanatics, the earth swallows up one and all.”

Voltaire went on to write the moving poem “On the Disaster at Lisbon,” as well as his magnum opus, the novel Candide.