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One of my pet peeves are people who believe in the literal meaning of almost anything. The argument is that people know what the words mean so there is no excuse for not understanding the clear and obvious meaning of whatever. Where I live the Bible and the Constitution are the most common items where this belief holds sway.  But it can hold true on other topics and areas too.

Just recently, a person used this argument on me in regards to the U S. Constitution. What follows is what I said to this person, in a slightly more organized and cleaned up (grammar and spelling, not what you are thinking) version of that response.

 

DictionaryYes, words do have meanings. However, when those words are applied to specific situations, fuzziness results. For those interested in science, consider it sort of a reverse quantum effect where instead of becoming more defined when measured or looked at, as happens with atomic particles, words become less defined and more fuzzy.

To illustrate this, let’s take a non-political, non-religious, and, hopefully, non-controversial example – colors. Haven’t most of us at some point disagreed with someone on the color of some object?  Is that dress red or pink, or is that car black or grey or Color testspossibly dark green. Some of you may have, at one time or another, looked at one of those  color perception tests where they lay out a large array of color circles– say blue on one end and green on the other with small differences going on in between. At what point do you say this circle is blue green, or that one green?  Yes, people can agree on the definitions of words, on the definitions of colors, but once you start applying that definition to what people are looking at, disagreements come about.

And that is the crux of the issue. Yes, people understand the dictionary definitions of words. But, in applying those definitions to the world and that understanding fuzzes.

It gets worse.

Words make sentences. Sentences make paragraphs. And paragraphs make pages.  Each rise in the number and ordering of words also increases the complexity of the meaning of those individual words since each word is modified and changed by the other words around it.   Because of this, when these masses of words are applied to the real world, greater fuzziness results.

Now, when talking about the Constitution, people who make this literalist sort of argument often also say that the reason people do not read the words as written is due to an agenda or politics or being lazy and not wanting to go through the process that the founders of this country created to change the Constitution.

However, these people never seem to consider the fact that the actual men who wrote Constitution-1250x650the Constitution disagreed, often strongly disagreed, on what those words meant and how they should be applied to real world situations.  One of many examples of this was the creation of a national bank.  Alexander Hamilton believed it to be Constitutional.  James Madison believed it to be unconstitutional.  Yet both men were there and helped in creating the Constitution. This fact alone should be strong evidence that it is not just a matter of reading the words and following them.

For another example, read a good biography of George Washington, especially his years as our first President.  He frequently worried and discussed what this or that passage of the Constitution meant and how it should be applied with his staff and advisors.  Although composed of well defined words, their meaning was not clear and simple to him. And he was the President of the Constitutional Convention.  Again, strong evidence that it is not just a simple matter of reading the words.  Words become fuzzy when applied to everyday life and reality.

This means that a person’s views of the world – of law, of the issues, etc. – are going to play a role in his understanding of what the Constitution means and says in regards to this application of its words or that application of its words.  There is no way it cannot.  But, and this is also important to understand, this does not mean that anything goes.  Fuzzy is not the same as having no shape or form.  A fuzzy boundary is not the same as no boundary.  Fuzzy means that the edges of meanings of the words are not clear and sharp and distinct, but are, instead, vague and blurred. This becomes even more true when they interact with the fuzzy meanings of other words.  In other words,  there is a great deal of room for honest disagreement and dispute.

As a final example of this fuzziness, let me use this a bit of this person’s own words in his comment to me; “we the people”.

This is a phrase used many times by people all along the political and social spectrum.  And each word of this phrase is easy to understand. And even the whole when looked at abstractly can be reasonably understood. But then try applying it to the real world, as I did with this person.

“What does that mean?  Do you include those who believe and think like me?  Or just those who think like you?  Do you mean everyone, rich and poor, educated and non-educated, communist, KKK member, John Birch Society, farmer, scientist, Muslim, Christian, Atheist, and Jew?  Or is its meaning more restrictive?”

Puzzled

 

I am sorry sir, but your meaning is not clear.

 

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I have been told I do nothing. That while on Facebook I talk about changes and issues facing our nation, that all I do about them is blog. I write the write but don’t do the walk. Usually this is when someone is in heated disagreement with me on an issue and are looking for a way to put me down, and minimize what I do.  Which, along with my experiences during Hurricane Harvey, got me thinking, and so this blog.

For myself, my critic is partially right. I don’t do any big earth shaking , country roiling , state rattling deeds. My words and actions are not going to inspire any great movements, or even any memories that will outlast me by much.  Which makes me just like most people.

However, that does not mean that what we do does not make a difference, or that the difference we make is unimportant.  In fact, one way of viewing this makes what we are doing the most important thing possible.

I know that when I view the actions and policies and statements of those who can influence and change the state, the country, the world, the bottom line of my evaluation is how will it affect people. Not people as a massive group, not people as an idea, but people as individuals. As persons.

And it is at that level that everyday people can and do make a difference.

Just a reminder 5

Stopping to help a person with a flat. Seeing a person struggling with a load and offering to help carry some of it. Pausing to let another driver in during heavy traffic.

Small things, everyday things, but they make a difference to that person at that time. They set a tone for our neighborhood, our town and help create our society.  Some examples that I personally know about during our time in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

A neighbor with a well has run a hose from her house for everyone to use since our city water is currently contaminated.

When out scouting for food and water, and too often standing in long lines, people share information and suggestions. There is water to be found there, that street is flooded, avoid it, this store is open until then, that one is not, etc.

People using grocery carts to take their water and food to their car returning that cart to those waiting in line instead of putting them in the parking lot cart corrals since there are no carts at the doors.

A co-worker with a swimming pool letting people know if they need water they can come get some from his pool – this was when we had no water, contaminated or clean.

On the neighborhood website, people in our addition offering help- from going to help clear the fallen tree, to passing on info about where to get water. One guy’s house flooded and another neighbor went right over with heavy duty vacuums to help clean the mess.

One woman got caught away from home when her street flooded and she couldn’t get back in. There was a litter of puppies trapped in her yard.Another woman managed to get through the water to the pups and rescue them.

And of course, this does not include the many people with boats and jet skis who rescued people from flooded homes.

Small things really, overall. Things that will be not only be soon forgotten, but are often not even covered to begin with. But, they helped someone, and made a difference for individual people.  Such actions not only create the bonds of a society, bonds which are essential for the survival of any society,  but are also the result of those bonds.

And this happens everyday everywhere in the US (and the world). It is not limited to times of disaster. Other examples from my life, my wife’s life, and from friends.

Having a stranger stop to help fix a flat on a rental car during a wet night in the middle of nowhere.

Providing a place to stay not just once, but twice to those displaced by tragedy .this-beautiful-random-act-of-kindness-was-photographed-give-this-awesome-guy-a-like-for-caring

Providing first aid to those injured by a tornado that was still there.

When seeing a man who had enough money for a gallon of gas but not enough to pay for the gas can the gas station insisted he had to buy instead of borrow – buying the gas can and the gas.

Paying the difference for a person in the grocery costs at the store when they were short of money.

Helping a neighbor look for a lost pet.

Along with other drivers who stopped, pulling a young man out of a car that had flipped just before it caught on fire.

And the list goes on. Nothing that by itself will change a nation. But done by the tens and hundreds of millions each day, they help cement the bonds of society. In all of the above, there was no concern about the person’s race, religion, gender, employment, or politics. Just a person in need.  And a person willing to help.

So, while it is well worth the time and effort to try to influence the ones who can shape and shift the country, to join together with other like thinking people to advocate and to press for needed changes, you and I can still make a difference on that most fundamental level, the person.

And as for my blog.  Well, even if I can just influence a couple of people with one or two of my blogs, cause a couple of people to think, or maybe even act, that would be enough. Especially since from small beginnings such as this, things can grow and grow large enough to make the bigger differences that so impresses people. But, probably not. And if it does wind up making a larger difference through a chain of hundreds of people, I will probably never know. And that’s OK.   I am fine with the small.

So, no, no earth shaking differences. Just small ones. And usually not original either. In Just a Reminder 2fact, the ideas embedded within my words here are not new, and have been expressed many millions of times by others.  But, then, perhaps they need to be. Just as a reminder.

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The other day I had finished eating my nice healthy lunch at Subway. In depositing the trash in the approved container I noticed a small magazine called Signs of the Times.  On its front cover it had the name of one of its articles, “Christian-atheist dialogue”.  Well, since it was free, I of course had to grab it and look it over.

cover

The article was actually not bad, and not what I was expecting going in.  It was, basically, an article about how too many discussions between atheists and Christians are not truly discussions because both sides are talking “past each other”.  Neither side is understanding what the other is saying and meaning – something that happens in many other areas besides atheist Christian dialogues.  The writer, Ed Dickerson, made it clear that this article was not about debates but about actual conversations.  And Dickerson does a good job of quickly laying out some guidelines for how to have a  meaningful and worthwhile conversation.

First, recognize it is a conversation and not a debate.  In debates most people are not really listening with the intent to understand what the other person is saying, but are, instead, listening for a weakness that they can exploit or a way to counter what is being said.  In other words, no true listening goes on.

So, the first requirement for having an actual conversations is to listen and understand before responding.  The next requirement is to avoid harsh language.  So far, so good. And it is good advice for any true dialogue on anything.  Dickserson also ends it well, with a bit about “respect versus ridicule”.

If that were the whole article then this article would fit nicely in my recommended reading list as a basic primer on how to have a dialogue.

But that is not the whole article.  There is a bit next to the end  where Dickerson takes a wrong, but instructive turn. It is, of course, his section on “facts versus assumptions”.

Dickerson starts out well, saying that the scientists use of naturalism has worked well – “If you don’t think so, try taking a ride on an airplane!”.  However, after this he veers off.  Which is to be expected I guess since it is a publication that supports young earth creationism.

Dickerson veers straight into the both sides rely on faith on some issues view.  Namely, in this case, the origin of life on earth.  Yes, says Dickerson, Christians have to accept on Rauserfaith the Bible’s story of divine Creation, but so too do scientists.  After all, there were no humans around to see it happen.

This statement is instructive in that it shows a basic misunderstanding of science and how it works, one that is very common among creationists, especially among the young earth variety. What is instructive, and frustrating, is that they honestly believe it to be true and do not see how their assumptions has caused them to support a false narrative.

Yes, no one was there. But that does not mean we cannot know anything.  Actions have consequences.  The eruption of a volcanoes leave their mark  The decay of atoms can tell us many things about the objects they are part of.  Skeletons leave fossils behind, and even soft parts can be fossilized.  Yes, we can only see things directly today. But the things we see today were formed by processes acting in our yesterdays. What we see today can be combined with what we know of physics and chemistry and geology to provide very good evidence of what happened in the past. Even as long as billions of years ago.

So, no, science does not have to take it on faith.  They take it on evidence.  And, although this was the only place in this article that broke down, it is a major break down, and instructive. It shows that there are times when we cannot even agree on what is fact and what is assumption (something that is not unique to just Atheist/Christian dialogues).   When that happens, it becomes much harder to bridge the divide on that issue. Note though my words at the end of the sentence; “on that issue”. Not agreeing on what is and is not fact on one issue does not mean that all issues are going to have similar divides.

Overall, it was a good piece about how to have a constructive dialogue.  As I said,  I find it interesting that it falls down in regards to what is fact and not.  I find it of more interest that in a publication in which I expected this article to be about converting the atheist, it was, instead, about how to have a “meaningful conversation”, “a respectful conversation, the purpose of which it to exchange ideas, inform each other, and clarify issues”.

In my last blog The Emptiness of Atheism, I had a bit in there about how it is not only possible, but likely, that there will be times when an atheist may have more in common with a theist, including Christians, than they do other atheists.  Christians who have the sort of goals in mind exhibited by the writers of this article may be one of them.

 

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Recently the library where I work finished installing new carpeting  as well as upgrading the building in other ways such as moving shelves around.  In that three month process we, myself and the other librarians, wound up moving the books numerous times; over here, over there, over here again, then over somewhere else.  In doing so I got to see in more detail how our books were organized.   And it got me thinking.

library-future

Let me start those thoughts with what I encountered when moving the African American fiction.  While doing that move I came across a book that had not only the author but who it was edited by, which gave me pause.  I had never seen a book, a novel, which had an editor’s name attached to it also.  In looking at it I found that The Bondswoman’s Narrative, by Hannah Crafts, edited by Henry Louis Gates, is the first novel written by a black women slave.  It is the only novel by a fugitive slave woman.  And it was written sometime between 1853 and 1861.

My first thought was to ask why this was put in African American fiction.  I would think this would be something that people beyond just African Americans would enjoy.   While a novel and fiction, it was based closely upon events that the writer actually experienced as well as the experiences of other African American slaves.  Although very much a product of its times, it is fascinating reading, both intellectually and, more importantly, emotionally.

I am not going to review it here, other than to say that if you are interested in people, the effects of slavery on people, and the human condition, then this is a book you should read.  Just as the Diary of Anne Frank’s appeal goes far beyond Jews and being a Jew in Nazi Germany, so too does this book have a message beyond just being a black slave.

And that is why I wondered why it was buried under African American fiction, where its light could not shine for those who may need to read it the most.

Then I came across Toni Morrison.  The Pulitzer Prize and American Book Award winning writer. The Nobel Prize winner.  A writer who I greatly admire and whose works I have enjoyed.  Why is she in African American fiction and not among the broader category of novels?  As if what she wrote could only speak to African Americans and not to all of humanity.  As if writers have to be first and foremost categorized by the color of their skin rather than the quality and scope of their writings.  As if blacks and whites and Asians and Native Americans and Hispanics, as if people, do not have a shared core created by all of them being human.

Now, I know that there are reasons, and some good ones at that, for having a separate African American section.  But, I think those two books also show the limitations and problems that doing so creates.

There was one other categorical head scratcher for me that I think worth mentioning. That was when I found Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karina” when moving the Romance books.  I know that the plot contains some elements of romance, but come on… Anna Karina is considered to be one of the best novels ever written.  Would you classify Romeo and Juliet under Romance?

But, there it was, with a call number of ROM TOL on its spine.

My thoughts on this paralleled that of finding Morrison’s and Craft’s books in African American fiction, how limiting.  But in thinking about it I began to wonder.  Would more people be  willing to pick up and read Anna Karina in the category of Romance than they would if it were in the category of Classics?  Instead of limiting the potential readers of Anna Karina, could this categorization of it., instead, expand the number of readers?

If true, then Anna Karina being categorized as a romance would be a good thing in that it would expose this novel to more people.  With Toni Morrison and Craft though, the opposite is happening.  Not many people other than African Americans look at the African American section, limiting these books potential audience.

Which got me to wondering how best to balance these needs, categorizing works so that those who are interested in one area but not the others can still easily find works that interest them while, at the same time, providing those who are just looking without a fixed goal in mind, a chance to read something outside their norm.

The problem with the easy answer of not having categories is that categories are useful.  There is a reason they come about.  If I am in the mood for a Science Fiction book, I really do not want to spend time finding the science fiction novels amid all the mysteries, classics, African American novels,  mainstream novels, romance, westerns, and religious novels.

Besides, creating and dividing things, and people, into categories seems to be a basic human trait, one that is not going to be going away until humanity is gone too.

That being said, the real question then is not how to get rid of all categories, but rather how do we create and maintain categories?   How to do so with the recognition that, like life, there is considerable overlap from one category and another, that the same book can be categorized in many different ways, and that all categories share the trait of being novels.

For example, in the library, perhaps it would be better to have all novels grouped together, but have the call labels be color coded to designate African American, Romance, Classics, Science Fiction, Mysteries, etc.  Yes, people would browse looking for the color code of their interests, but in doing so they have a better chance of seeing something, seeing a novel or author, that they might not have ever noticed before.   Proximity creates opportunities for something new.

The downside of doing it this way though is that those who come in and want to read only mysteries are now going to have to go through and look at those books that are not mysteries too, and in the process of using up precious time, you might not find that one mystery that would have made your year.  The upside is that they will have to go through and look at those books that are not mysteries, and so perhaps come across a treasure that they never would have encountered otherwise.

To me, since we live in a world that offers only imperfect solutions to societal issues and problems, this trade off would be a good one.  We need to learn to re-categorize things in order to grow.  We need to also learn that there are few hard and fast categories.  Instead, categories, especially as they relate  to humans  are fluid and overlapping.

For fun, here are the links to two videos, video one and video two, that highlight the fluidity and overlapping nature of human categories.

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Recently I got into a discussion with some die hard Hillary haters about Hillary’s honesty.  In some ways debating these people reminds me  of the days when I debated creationists; their use of cherry picked facts and evidence, the omission of relevant information, the slanting of the evidence, and most especially the overly simplistic and black and white nature of their views.  And just like creationists, if you concede a point they often take it and run with it, proclaiming victory is ours.

Lies

Which is one of the reasons why I got myself into the mindset of not ceding any ground in this debate about Hillary’s honesty, even at the expense of being completely truthful.

Another reason for why I let myself get into this position is that the truth is often complicated and takes some time to explain fully.  It is rarely purely black and white and even more rarely simplistic as the Hillary haters and creationists like.

So, for both of those reasons I overextended myself in my claims and defense of Hillary’s basic honesty.  Hence, this long mea culpa post – to more fully explain why, while not perfectly and totally honest, I consider Hillary a basically honest person and politician.

At the time of the aforesaid discussion with the Hillary haters, I had already pointed out that Hillary did not lie when she claimed in her website bio that “After law school, Hillary could have taken a high-paying job in Washington or New York. But instead, she went to work for the Children’s Defense Fund.”

As evidence that this was a lie the Hillary haters cited part of her memoir “Living History’ where she wrote:

“I had taken both the Arkansas and Washington D.C. bar exams during the summer, but my heart was pulling me toward Arkansas. When I learned that I had passed in Arkansas but failed in D.C., I thought that maybe my test scores were telling me something.”

The Hillary haters argued that this showed that her working for the Children’s Defense Fund was not a choice but a necessity since she could not have taken a ‘high-paying job in Washington or New York” since she did not pass the Washington D.C. bar exams.

However, these Hillary haters overlooked some facts in their rush to severe judgment.

First, read the bit from her memoir again.  Did you note that she said that her “heart was pulling me towards Arkansas”?

Now, combine that sentence with these two facts.

Fact one, anywhere from 10% to 40%, dependent on where it is being taken, of people fail the bar exam the first time they take it. Many subsequently go on and take the bar exam and pass it a second time.  This is not a one time test.

Further note, that she did pass the Arkansas bar exam.  I am not sure how many people take two bar exams at the same time, but very few I would imagine since the material covered and needed to be studied would vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.  And I would also imagine this would increase the percentage of those who fail at least one of the two.

Fact two, her interest in children and working with them goes at least back to her high school days where she volunteered to baby sit the children of migrant workers.  During law school Hillary volunteered at Yale’s Child Study Center to learn about childhood brain development.  Further, she also took up cases of child abuse at the New Haven Hospital and provided free legal service to the poor.

In other words, working with children has long been a strong passion for Hillary.

Now, putting this all together, the one sentence and two facts, I would say it would be reasonable to believe that she purposely decided NOT to try for the Washington DC  bar exam again.  I would also say it would be reasonable to conclude that she chose not to at least partly on the basis of following her heart.

Which means that there is no rational basis to say that Hillary lied on this.  Unless, of course, you already have a strong aversion to all things Hillary.

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The other area where I felt I successfully defended Hillary’s honesty is, of course, Benghazi.  Specifically on the claim about whether Hillary told Patricia Smith, the mother of Sean Smith, one of the victims of Benghazi attack, was the result of a video.

Fact one, while Mrs. Smith and some of the other families did say that Hillary did mention a video as the cause of the attack, several of the other families do not remember her talking about a video.  They do, however, remember Hillary crying and being sincere in her sympathy.

Fact two, the family of Ambassador Chris Stevens have come out strongly in support of Hillary on this and on the whole Benghazi issue.

Fact three, after this meeting with the families of the victims Hillary did state:

“This has been a difficult week for the State Department and for our country. We’ve seen the heavy assault on our post in Benghazi that took the lives of those brave men. We’ve seen rage and violence directed at American embassies over an awful Internet video that we had nothing to do with.”

Please remember there were attacks on two embassies that day, one in Cairo which most definitely was caused by the video, and the other by terrorists, although at the time she made this statement the idea that the video had a role to play in this attack was still in play.

Fact four, at the time of Hilary’s meeting with the families, the situation surrounding the attack at the compound was still unclear.  In fact, according to multiple investigations run by Republicans, the cause of the attack was not totally resolved until the day after Hillary’s meeting with the families.

Yes, but what about Hillary’s e mail to Chelsea stating that the attack was carried out by terrorists.  Well, that brings me to fact five.  Initially an al Qaeda affiliated group claimed 65989-56396responsibility for the attack.  This was the basis of Hillary’s e mail to her daughter.  However, this group later retracted their claim.

 

Fact six, there were several bits of conflicting information in the immediate aftermath of the Benghazi attack.  I know, because I was trying to keep up with them in real time.  Further, the multiple investigations also showed this conflicting information.

In fact, what is of interest is that Hillary, while believing that Benghazi was a terrorist attack does believe that the video did have a role to play, probably as a motivating factor.  A belief several other experts share, probably because of the fact that some of the actual attackers stated that the video was part of their motivation for attacking the compound.

So, I believe that Hillary sincerely believes she did not say anything about the video being the cause of the Benghazi attack.  However, in this emotional moment with the tears and the sorrow and the seeking of answers, Hillary may have mentioned the video without saying it was the reason for the attack.  Or, this could have been woven into the memory of those families who remember the video being stated as the causes through other sources, possibly even Hillary’s comments after the meeting that I quoted above.

Memory is not a fixed thing.  Our brains do not faithfully record events as they happen.  This is especially true when there are strong emotions involved.  Mistakes are made and remembered as true when they are not.

In this regard, it is important to note that someone can be mistaken and still not be a liar.  In fact, that is what Hillary has said of those families who remember her blaming the attack on the video, that they made a mistake due to the confusing and conflicting amount of information going around at a time of strong emotions.

Perhaps a simple example would help.  This is something that happened many years ago to my father.  He and a friend were walking in a city park (I cannot remember which) when they saw from across the park a car hit another car and then drive away.  When giving their statements to the police they both said they clearly remembered the color of the car that did the hit and run.  My father said one color, his friend said a completely different color.

Now, do I believe that one of them was lying?  No.  One of them had made a mistake, something quite common with memory.  In fact, it is quite possible that both of them are wrong.

The take away from this is that one can be wrong, but still not be a liar.  That applies to my father and his friend,  to those families who remember Hillary stating that a video was the cause of the attack, and to Hillary who states she did not say that.  For that matter, it applies to all of us.

Bottom line on this, I do not believe that either Hillary or the mother,  Mrs. Smith, are lying.

 

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Now, we come to my mea culpa.  The point at which I defended that which I should not have.  A lie of Hillary’s.  This lie involves her statements about not sending confidential e mails on an unsecure server.

Part of what makes this an interesting question is the Hillary haters have been using it to say that Hillary lied and perjured herself in testimony before Congress.  My answer was and continues to be that she probably did not.

What? I can hear you say.  This is the bit where you are supposed to be writing about Hillary lying.  And so I will, because I do believe that she is lying now in regards to not sending confidential e mails.   The reason for this distinction lies in FBI Director James Comey’s statements regarding Hillary’s e mail system, both his initial statement on the findings of the investigation and his subsequent testimony before Congress.

What is of most relevance here is that in his statement about the investigation and in later Congressional testimony is that only a few of these confidential e mails were marked as classified.  Further, the way they were marked is with a small “c” beside the classified material rather than a header proclaiming it classified.

In his Congressional testimony Comey further testified that if someone is not familiar with the rules regarding the handling of classified information, it is entirely possible that they may not have known what the “c” stood for and assumed that if it did not have Classified at the top that it was not.

As he said, this was sloppy and careless.  However, it does mean that Hillary may have honestly testified before Congress that she did not send any classified e mail.  At that time, she believed she had not.

An aside here – there are some Hillary haters that take being sloppy on security means being sloppy in all areas, a generalization that is not justified.  Especially since Comer in his report and the internal audit done by the State Department showed that the State Department had been rather lax about classified material.  This includes the time period before Hillary became the head of the State Department.  This would have also contributed to her belief that she was not sending classified material.

However, this was at the Congressional Hearings which were held before Comey released his findings and recommendations.  And this is where we now get into the bit where Hillary is lying.

She is still saying that she did not lie and was absolved.  Not quite.  And with Comey’s statement before her she knows it.  So, today she is lying.

And this is what I tried to defend.  I included it with my arguments about the Congressional testimony when I should not have.

So yes, Hillary is lying today when she talks about not sending classified material.

Now, what makes this instructive and interesting is the light it sheds on certain political truths.  This sort of lying is called spin and all politicians engage in it.  The only real difference is in how they engage in it and how often.

Hillary has taken note of part of Comey’s report while ignoring other parts to provide a narrative more favorable to her.  As I said, this is something every politician does and that every politician in a democracy has to do to a greater or lesser extent.

In fact, in my next blog I plan to argue that in any democracy – no matter the country, no matter the time – politicians have to lie.  It is an integral part of being a politician in a tumblr_m5hfehtGNj1r7wa9pdemocratic system.  I will only put this out there for your consideration here and wait for my blog to develop the argument for this claim.

However, that means that the divider between politicians is not between whether one is totally honest and the other lies, but, instead, between how often they lie and about what subjects.

As I have discussed above, on two out of three items in which Hillary haters have claimed she lied, she actually hasn’t.  On the third one, she probably was speaking truthfully at the Congressional hearings, or at least there is enough information from Comey to raise a reasonable doubt in any impartial jury looking at criminal charges for her for perjury.  But, she is not now when discussing these e mails.

Using that criteria, how often Hillary lies, Hillary is actually one of our more honest politicians.  According to Politifact, of all the Presidential candidates both Republican and Democrat, Hillary was the most honest (although both Bernie Sanders and John Kasich came very close to being as honest).

And that is part of why I believe Hillary to be a basically honest person.  I also believe this throws some light on something most have overlooked about our political system.  Namely that dishonesty is a basic part of the process and has always been so and will probably always be so.  But more on that in a later blog.

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I watched part of Trump’s speech on Thursday. Read about the parts I did not see, or saw some video clips. The thing that struck me most forcefully is the picture of America that he painted. Let’s call it Trump World to distinguish it from the real world.

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In Trump world crime is rampant in America and no one can walk the streets safely anymore.

In Trump World America is facing an imminent existential threat from ISIS and terrorism.

In Trump World America’s economy is collapsing and almost totally destroyed.

In Trump World America is despised and loathed not respected even by our allies.

In Trump World America is on its last legs and gasping out its last strangled gasp.

But, that is Trump World.  One that he created out of words; short words, dramatic words, emphatic words, words of lies, of falsehoods, twisted words depicting a twisted reality.  All spouted with vim and vigor and certainty. Words rooted loosely in some bits of reality, but made huge, made big, made worse, made lies.

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Trump World is not the America that I see. It is not the America that is see in the numbers, in the statistics, in my daily life, in reality.

Yes, we have problems. We always have. With countries as with life, there are always problems.  And yes, some of those problems are serious. That too is a constant with countries.  At no time in our history have we not been faced with problems. Serious and numerous problems.  Out time in that regard  is no different than other times.

The fact that there are serious problems facing our nation is nothing new.  Nor is it cause for despair and doom.  The problems we face today, while serous, are not even close to being the worst we have ever faced.

I think of the time I grew up in, the 60s and 70s. While today there are definite and serious issues with our justice system being able to dispense justice impartially and being blind to a person’s race, our racial problems when I was growing up were worse.  Much worse.  And what it took to correct many of those problems entailed more violence, more riots, more disruption even to the extent that the National Guard had to be called to escort children to schools just because they were black..

Compared to racial discord at that time, what we face today is civil. And, like it was then, this discord today is necessary. Yes, it is not comfortable and yes it is at times divisive.  And yes, there is violence when there shouldn’t be, and pain and suffering of victims and their families. But that is part of change. It was when I was growing up and it is now.

Yes, we have blacks being unjustly treated and killed too often. We have police being murdered on the streets. Yet, the number of police killed is down from past years. And although we desperately need to correct the unequal justice we still have, it is better than when I was growing up. And Black Lives Matter a far more peaceful group than many others that existed when I was growing up.

Further, there is more and more dialogue between groups that has resulted in change. Not enough yet, but still there.

And yet Trump would have you believe otherwise.

Our economy is among the strongest in the world. We have recovered from the great recession faster and better than most other nations. And our economy is growing. It is not growing for all, but it is for most. It is also not growing as fast as we would wish, but it is growing.

It is also changing, changes that are the result of our growing technology. And change is painful. But, we are not in danger of economic collapse. Indeed, the world thinks we are a rock of stability that they invest in during times of trouble by buying US bonds. Our currency is the bedrock currency of the world because of their regard for our economy.

Yes, our economy has problems. But we are nowhere near economic collapse as Trump would have you believe.

Crime, crime is not running rampant. Our crime is the lowest it has been since the 60s. There has been an uptick in some cities, but if you look at trends you see ups and downs due to a variety of reasons. The uptick in some cities is not enough to say crime is running rampant, or at least not to say it truthfully. Especially since even counting the uptick, we are still far below the levels of the 90s. As for crime, we have rarely been so safe. But not to hear Trump talk.

ISIS and terrorism. Yes, they are serious challenges. But they are nowhere near an existential threat to the US. ISIS is losing ground in the Middle East. The country they said they were going to create is being whittled away. Their idea of a  powerful global caliphate is being destroyed before it is even created. Which is why they are changing their nature to one like other terror groups. They are changing because we are winning there, so they have to change the battlefield.

But the nature of the threat here in the US has not been direct action from ISIS. Nor has it come from immigrants or refugees. Instead it is the lone wolf terrorist, someone who is acting on their own and who has become radicalized. In fact, most of the attacks both here in the US and in Europe are from citizens. Not outsiders, not immigrants, and not refugees, but citizens.

As for the US terrorist attacks, while horrific and we need to take what measures we can without losing who we are in doing so, they are small scaled, especially when you look at what happens in Turkey, Iraq, and other places.

Yes, terrorism and ISIS is a danger. But not one that is going to destroy us unless we let unreasoning fear guide our actions.

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In other words, America is actually in good shape. Not perfect. There are flaws and problems, some of them being severe. We have many challenges and problems that need to be worked on. And the working out of them is going to be accompanied by pain and sorrow, suffering and hurt. But also by joy as we do solve them and then move on to the next set of problems that our solutions will inevitably create.

I do not recognize the America Trump has created. I look at our past and see the present America in largely better shape than our past. I look at the world, and I see the US holding its own with any other country.

And as for respect, respect for the US is up and strong in most of the world.

When I was growing up we had riots and demonstrations and blood being shed over the war in Vietnam, over the accumulated weight of hundreds of years of racial injustice, over women finding their voice and their power.  Presidents fell.  And yet the United States continued on and did not collapse.

And my times were  far from the most challenging the US has ever faced.

I can only conclude that Donald Trump must believe that the United States has become a wimp if the challenges we face today are going to lead to its imminent collapse.  But then, I don’t really think Trump believes this.  He has created Trump World not because he believes it to be real but because he believes he can profit from it.

Trump’s America is not the one I see or live in. It is a fear plagued vision created by him in order to use fear and anger and hatred to win first the Republican nomination and now trying to win the Presidency. Trump World has very little contact with reality.

I wrote this first as a posting on my Facebook page, but decided to revise it for a blog.  The reason is that Trump World bothers me.  In fact, it frightens me. Actually, it is the fact that so many are starting to live in Trump world instead of the real one that frightens me.  The actions needed to solve the irreality of Trump World would only create a true existential crisis in the real one.

Let me just end this with the fervent hope that we will reject fear, reject anger, reject hatred and reject Trump’s vision of America for one of hope, respect, and reality.

 

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Words. I am amazed at how many people seem to believe that words mean something apart from how we interpret them. Yes, sometimes the interpretation is easy. Most often though, especially with those words whose groupings are considered to be among the most important, they are not.

Power of Words

Two recent claims of a belief in a literal view of words was brought to my attention recently. Or rebrought rather since I was already aware of them. And both dealt with the U.S. Constitution.

The first dealt with the 2nd Amendment and its use of the word “infringe”. As in “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

This person had posted the dictionary definition of infringed in an attempt to show that our Constitution is against any sort of gun control and that all laws regulating the purchase of firearms is an attack on one of our most fundamental rights. Now, I don’t remember exactly which dictionary this person used, but its definition was similar to if not exactly like this one from the Merriam Webster dictionary.

“to wrongly limit or restrict (something, such as another person’s rights)”

Of course, this person was focused on the words “limit or restrict” and interpreted “wrongly” as meaning all attempts to limit or restrict. However, I had a different take on this definition. Mine, and I believe most people’s, interpretation would be that “wrong” described a type of attempt, not that all attempts at limiting or restricting are wrong. In other words instead of any attempt then, wrongly means that some attempts are wrong but also strongly implies that there are also correct ways to limit or restrict.

I also pointed out to this person that they were ignoring the first part of the amendment, “well regulated”. Words when used in sentences or any other larger grouping cannot be understood fully in isolation Those other words can and usually do change or modify their meanings.
In this case, the dictionary definition supports the idea that there are ways to correctly “limit or restrict” this right, and when added to the words “well regulated”, then gun control laws are not unconstitutional. Some can be, others are not. This is recognized even in the recent Supreme Court case, McDonald v Chicago, that recognized an individual right to own a gun.
The other words under dispute was the phrase “separation of church and state”. As is usual for so many extreme conservatives, they like to point out that this phrase is not in the constitution. They then point out that what is in the Constitution instead is “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” Words known as the establishment clause.

And they are quite right about this. However, where they go wrong is in claiming that the establishment clause of the Constitution has a plain and literal meaning at odds with that of the phrase separation of church and state. They act as if the establishment clause needs no interpretation. And to add to the fun, they then often then go on to interpret it as meaning to establish a state church and nothing more.

To cap it all off, their interpretation flies in the face of how the word establishment was used during the time of the writing of the Constitution.

It ignores the fact that the man most responsible for writing the establishment clause and getting it passed, James Madison, also used this phrase of Thomas Jefferson to describe the intent of this clause.

They also ignore the history of the ratification of the Constitution and how, although its writers and promoters were justifiably gravely concerned about it being ratified, they did not respond to the many criticisms hurled their way that the Constitution did not contain a reference to Christianity or Jesus or even to just God.

They further ignore the historical fact that even after its ratification attempts were made to correct this supposed deficiency, attempts which were always defeated both during the time immediately after the Constitution and for all the years afterwards – during President Andrew Jackson’s presidency, during President Abraham Lincoln’s presidency and on into the 20th century.

So, in their attempt to say that it does not need to be interpreted, they interpret it in a way at odds with the writer of those words and with history. Seems to me that their view is more the result of their ideology than any sort of reality. Or laziness. After all, it is much easier to look at a word, put your interpretation to it, pretend it is THE literal meaning of the word, and then be happy that it confirms your own biases and prejudices. Look at how much easier that process is than the one I used in the last paragraph above, wherein I had to find out how the word establishment was used in regards to religion at that time, at who wrote those words and how he described the meaning of what he wrote, and at the history of the Constitution.

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Of course, the greatest argument against this idea of a literal reading is the fact that those who claim to believe in such so often disagree on what those words mean when applied to life and when enacted in the world. This is true whether the words in question are those of the Constitution, the Bible, the Qur’an, or any other set of words.

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