Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Few Random Thoughts on ISIS

1.  As bad a guy as Saddam Hussein was, he would have cleaned ISIS's clocks by now.  Sometimes leaving bad enough alone really is the best solution (especially if there really aren't any weapons of mass destruction).

2.  It's not that long ago that John McCain was blasting President Obama for not helping the Syrian opposition, which mainly consisted of ISIS.  Now he's blasting President Obama for not going to war against ISIS.  Sometimes, leaving bad enough alone really is the best solution (especially if the choice really is between Bad Guy A and Bad Guy B).

3.  Of course, "the best solution" doesn't imply that there actually is a really good solution.  Sometimes there isn't.

4.  The older I get, the more convinced I become that the overwhelming majority of people in the world just want to quietly live their lives in peace and security, and would happily do so if they didn't keep getting stuck in the middle of one band of thugs or another.

5.  The majority of the world, who just want to quietly live their lives in peace and security, would consider money spent on education, infrastructure, medical and scientific research, and other quality of life stuff far better spent than the trillions of dollars spent on war over the past century.

6.  It's been said that people get the government they deserve.  I think that's nonsense.  There is absolutely nothing so bad, so horrible, so despicable that the poor people of Syria and Iraq could possibly have done that would be bad enough that they would deserve what they've got.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Why Men Hate Going to Church

Why Men Hate Going to Church is the title of a book by David Murrow, which I just re-read.  Murrow's thesis is that the church doesn't do much for the needs of most men and that as a result, organized religion has largely become (or is in the process of becoming) a female institution (which is not necessarily the same thing as a feminist institution).  He argues that unless this trend is stopped, disaster looms, and the church has to do more to attract and keep men.  You can check out his Web site at

Let me posit an alternative theory, in two parts.

First, there is really no good reason to go to church unless you take the theology seriously:  God exists, you're not him, he has certain expectations for people's conduct which people are obligated to comply with.  If you don't believe that to be the truth, then there really isn't a good reason to go to church, since everything positive that the church does -- charity, building communities -- can be done equally as well, if not better, by secular institutions.  So the first reason men are dropping out of church in droves is that they never really did take the theology seriously.  That's also the reason, by the way, that liberal churches are dying at a much faster rate than conservative ones:  If the theology isn't true, then who needs church?

Frankly, I'm not sure that men as a group have ever taken the theology seriously, which segues into the second part:  For what may be the first time in the history of Western Civilization, there is simply no downside to not going to church.  Once upon a time, there was huge social pressure to go to church.  Being openly irreligious was bad for one's career, bad for one's social life, and bad for one's marriage prospects.  In places where there was no separation of church and state, the state often compelled that religion be practiced.

No more.  Even in the South, there are no longer any consequences for not being religious.  Even in the Bible belt, one is just as likely to see one's neighbors spending Sunday morning mowing the lawn, jogging, or going to brunch as one is to see them loading the kids into the car to go to church.  This phenomenon has accomplished many things, one of which is that the church has lost an awful lot of members who, by their own choice, never would have gone in the first place.  Which probably includes a lot of men.

So what we are really seeing is that for the first time, religion has to compete in the free market with all the other things a guy might enjoy doing on a Sunday morning, and it isn't doing very well.  Contrary to David Murrow, it isn't that guys are dropping out so much as that they never really were a part of it in the first place, and no longer feel the need to play charades.

Now, none of this should cause the true believers to lose so much as a wink of sleep.  If God exists and if his moral instructions must still be obeyed, then their task is to do what they think God wants them to do and not worry about what other people are doing (or, in this case, not doing).  That doesn't mean, though, that Murrow may not be right and the institutional church may not be headed in the direction of becoming mostly a women's club.  If so, that, too, will be a first in Western Civilization.  Being naturally curious, I only regret that at my age I'm not likely to live long enough to see the results.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Three Musketeers

I'm currently reading a 660-page book about the antics of Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, and Truman Capote, arguably three of the most influential openly-gay writers of the last century.  I'll sum it up for you so you don't have to read it yourself:  They were heavy abusers of drugs and alcohol, they were wildly promiscuous, they were mostly unhappy with their lives even though they had more money than the gross national products of some third-world countries, and the fights they had with each other (mostly because they were competing for the same men or the same literary rewards, or both) defined viciousness.  There are interesting stories and amusing tidbits here and there -- I did not know that Errol Flynn met his second wife when she was working at a courthouse snack counter during one of his statutory rape trials -- but in the main, that about sums it up.  I'm about halfway through and haven't decided yet if I'll finish it or not.

There seems to be a pattern that the most wildly successful among us are also the most wildly self destructive.  Examples abound, from all fields of human endeavor.  At this point, one almost expects someone at the pinnacle to possess some self destructive trait or other, and one starts to wonder if those who don't display such maladaptive traits are merely better at hiding it.  On the other hand, I haven't seen any empirical studies on it, so maybe this is just confirmation bias.  If it's not confirmation bias -- if there really is something about the personality required to achieve great things that carries with it a greater chance of self destruction -- then one wonders why that might be.

Once upon a time, I aspired to great things.  I wanted to be president.  I wanted to be chief justice of the Supreme Court.  I wanted to be chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.  And I didn't.  I found contentment doing useful, steady work that will never get my name in lights, but which gives me satisfaction and keeps food on my table.

A part of me still wishes I had accomplished great things.  But there are worse things than a quiet and peaceful existence.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Primary Day

John Conyers was first elected to Congress from Michigan in 1964, meaning he has been there now for going on fifty years.  If he wins re-election this year, he will be the longest-serving member of the US House of Representatives.

John Conyers nearly didn't make the ballot this year.  Michigan has a requirement that congressional candidates submit 1000 signatures to qualify for the ballot;  Conyers' efforts fell short.  And not just a little short; I believe that when the dust cleared he only had about 600 valid signatures.  That should have been the end of his candidacy.

It wasn't; Conyers succeeded in convincing a friendly judge that Michigan's signature law is unconstitutional.  So Conyers will be on the August 5 Michigan primary ballot.

If I lived in that district, I would not be voting for Conyers.  The fact that someone who has been in Congress for half a century is so grossly incompetent that he can't even put together enough of a political machine to collect a thousand signatures tells me that it's time for someone else to represent that district.  And in fact, Conyers does have a primary opponent who is making much of Conyers' inability to perform a simple political task like get enough valid signatures to be on the ballot.  The one time I ran for public office and needed a thousand signatures, it took me and a couple of volunteers a grand total of two Saturdays at the mall to collect them.  It makes one wonder how many other basic competencies that office is allowing to slip.

Dear Congressman Conyers:  It's time to go.