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1  General Politics / Political Geography & Demographics / Re: Is America A Natural GOP Gerrymander? on: October 16, 2014, 09:13:31 pm

Well, the objectives usually listed for a non-gerrymandered USA aren't all in alignment.  "Compact districts that preserve communities of interest" doesn't necessarily jive too well with "Maximize number of competitive districts."
2  General Politics / Political Geography & Demographics / Re: Is America A Natural GOP Gerrymander? on: October 16, 2014, 10:54:34 am
Getting back to the original thread question, a "fair" map is an impossibility, but I think we're seeing that a hypothetical fair map would probably still return a GOP congress in a D+2 or D+3 year.  The current gerrymander, though, leads me to suspect that Congress wouldn't flip unless the election were something like D+6 (not entirely random guess, but guess not supported by numbers).
3  General Discussion / Religion & Philosophy / Re: Christianity on: October 15, 2014, 11:42:29 pm
Clark: by the Noble Eightfold Path, I was referring to the eight steps that the Buddha claimed that one needed to follow to achieve enlightenment, not a documentary.  Buddhism is a remarkably strict doctrine coupled with the recognition that very few people in this lifetime are ready to attempt to achieve Nirvana.  That's not a disapproving statement, mind: I don't dislike Buddhism.  It's just stunning to see someone not grasping that it is a far more demanding belief system in terms of its code of conduct than Christianity, a faith whose doctrinal commitments pretty much begin and end at having water sprinkled on one's head and eating a wafer at Church.

Then you mentioned Hinduism, which is frankly baffling because Hinduism is right up there with Judaism on the top tier of doctrinally-demanding religions.  Arguably more so because Judaism never advocated vegetarianism when that, of course, is one of the most radical commitments in terms of shaping a person's lifestyle that a religion could come up with (and a big reason why the Manichean faith isn't around today).  You mention the Abrahamic faiths micromanaging your life when the entire concept of dharma is that there is a divinely-ordained set of actions and behaviors given to you based on the position to which you're born into life.  I don't see how a religion could be more micromanaging in terms of setting out a right way to live than the Hindu faith. 
4  General Discussion / Religion & Philosophy / Re: Christianity on: October 15, 2014, 08:26:51 pm
I have a very negative view of Christianity (like most religions that have stricter doctrines).

Christianity is pretty much the loosest religion in terms of requirements you're ever going to find, which goes a long way to explaining its success.  I don't see how you could possibly interpret it as a strict faith.
Compared to other religions (especially Islam), yeah it's looser. But I feel that most Abrahamic religions suck for a variety of reasons, but here I mean that they tend to not take into account an individual's experiences in life, they dictate moral rights and wrongs, and that unlike Hinduism, Baha'i faith, and Buddhism, there is less room to move around when considering that there may be more than one way to know God (e.g. "you either believe this or you go to hell forever") and concerning moral gray areas. 

On a related note, I think it's a sad testament to the Christian-centric nature of this forum that Christianity has a ~70% FF rating and Buddhism has a ~55% negative rating.


Have you seen the Noble Eightfold Path?  If you actually want to break the cycle of reincarnation and live the life that will allow you to break out, your Buddhist is going to live a life far rougher than all but the most ascetic brands of Christianity.  Of course, few choose to actually pursue such a lifestyle and commit themselves to the monastic lifestyle, but if you read the Dhammapada and look at Theravada Buddhism as it's actually practiced in Southeast Asia it's not a particularly easygoing religion.  Christianity's pretty much total lack of rules governing social behavior beyond all the most obvious ends up contrasting quite dramatically.

It's actually a pretty significant doctrinal point that Christianity doesn't really require much in the way of active deeds beyond baptism and (if you're Catholic) the sacraments to achieve salvation.
5  Presidential Elections - Analysis and Discussion / 2016 U.S. Presidential Election / Re: There's only one candidate that can save the Republican Party... on: October 15, 2014, 03:26:34 pm
I've said it before: Newt Gingrich is one of the most bizarrely lovable men in politics.  As strange as it is, try meeting him in person and note the tremendous magnetism he possesses.  I'd never vote for the man, but he's so...self-confident that you can't help but root for the guy.
6  General Discussion / Religion & Philosophy / Re: Christianity on: October 15, 2014, 03:12:07 pm

Furthermore, there's a significant disconnect between someone like Augustine or whomever and how most Christians actually understand themselves. Most people aren't nearly so highbrow in their views, in general. You can argue whether that is good or bad, or value-neutral, but that doesn't change the fact that most people simply don't operate like eminent theologians or philosophers.

Quote from: John Stuart Mill
But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side; if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion. The rational position for him would be suspension of judgment, and unless he contents himself with that, he is either led by authority, or adopts, like the generality of the world, the side to which he feels most inclination. Nor is it enough that he should hear the arguments of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. That is not the way to do justice to the arguments, or bring them into real contact with his own mind. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them; who defend them in earnest, and do their very utmost for them. He must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form; he must feel the whole force of the difficulty which the true view of the subject has to encounter and dispose of; else he will never really possess himself of the portion of truth which meets and removes that difficulty. Ninety-nine in a hundred of what are called educated men are in this condition; even of those who can argue fluently for their opinions. Their conclusion may be true, but it might be false for anything they know: they have never thrown themselves into the mental position of those who think differently from them, and considered what such persons may have to say; and consequently they do not, in any proper sense of the word, know the doctrine which they themselves profess. They do not know those parts of it which explain and justify the remainder; the considerations which show that a fact which seemingly conflicts with another is reconcilable with it, or that, of two apparently strong reasons, one and not the other ought to be preferred. All that part of the truth which turns the scale, and decides the judgment of a completely informed mind, they are strangers to; nor is it ever really known, but to those who have attended equally and impartially to both sides, and endeavoured to see the reasons of both in the strongest light. So essential is this discipline to a real understanding of moral and human subjects, that if opponents of all important truths do not exist, it is indispensable to imagine them, and supply them with the strongest arguments which the most skilful devil's advocate can conjure up.

One really cannot in good conscience look at an intellectual system that produced fruits as varied and wild as Augustine and Kirkegaard, then turn away and look at an asshole like Jerry Falwell and go "Yeah, they're all a bunch of bigoted morons."  When you confront one of the most venerable and influential intellectual and philosophical doctrines in human history, you'd better be prepared to go toe to toe with the shades of Aquinas and Dostoyevsky in defense of your skepticism of the fundamental bedrock of their worldviews.  None of the men I mentioned really strongly agreed on many moral or philosophical points and yet they all shared a fundamental belief in Christianity that should make you consider that, even if (like me) you don't share that belief, that there's something pretty compelling and rich intellectual soil in that direction and that you shouldn't just brush Christians off as ignorant rubes.
7  General Discussion / Religion & Philosophy / What is the significance of calling something a social construction? on: October 15, 2014, 02:53:17 pm
I've seen this with race for years now, and a few days ago a post about sin also used the phrase and it got me wondering on the subject.

People seem to use "it's a social construction" as a way of saying 'it isn't real.'  To my eyes, though, a social construction is necessarily something that was, well, look at the term.  Constructed by society.  To me that implies that it's not necessarily natural, but no less real nonetheless.  Maybe it exists via societal fiat, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.  Therefore, what is the point of attempting to dismiss something by calling it a social construction?  It doesn't mean that the thing is non-existent, and saying that a position is only held by societal fiat doesn't mean that the position is wrong anymore than your father's pacemaker is harmful due to its status as an "artificial" and "man-made" foreign object inside of his body.
8  General Politics / U.S. General Discussion / Re: Polls on Same-Sex Marriage State Laws on: October 15, 2014, 11:34:15 am
Half of the remaining states are southern. I wonder if any of them will have it before a massive national ruling.


Through small, regional rulings.  South Carolina will likely be fully onboard pretty soon, for example.
9  General Politics / Individual Politics / Re: Opinion of Christopher Columbus on: October 15, 2014, 08:46:47 am
Michel-Rolph Trouillot's Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History is a good book about how Haitian history and its absence in the global historical narrative is used to silence certain agendas.

Anyway, the last chapter of the book involves a riot in Haiti (which, of course, is on Hispanola) that grabs a statue of Christopher Colombus and tosses it into the sea.  Deeply resonant passage.
10  General Politics / Political Geography & Demographics / Re: Is America A Natural GOP Gerrymander? on: October 15, 2014, 08:41:08 am
As an aside, I wish you Americans would name your districts. Do you know how bloody annoying it is to hear TX-3 or whatever and have to look it up on a map every time? Just call it Dallas-East or something Tongue

Hearing Sam Johnson's district described as Dallas-East is just bizarre to me, given that the district is almost totally located in the suburbia north of Dallas.
11  General Politics / Political Geography & Demographics / Re: How the Town of Spadra Disappeared. on: October 15, 2014, 08:32:31 am
Your introductory paragraph needs to do a better job of conveying to the reader why he/she should continue with the article besides idle curiosity...you lay out your case pretty well in the conclusion, but I admit I was thinking "why do I care about a deserted railroad town in LA County when there are hundreds of them across the country?"

That said, well done on the actual content.
12  General Politics / U.S. General Discussion / Re: hello I am calling out wormyguy for a detailed response to this on: October 14, 2014, 04:20:45 pm
Most of the arguments I've heard, from people across the spectrum, agree that while Stalin did get a somewhat better deal than he had been hoping for with regards to the European settlement, it would've been a matter of Stalin getting 80% or so of what he wanted rather than the 95% he ended up getting.  Given the position of the Red Army, Stalin's fundamental strategic aims of A. guaranteeing the Soviet annexations of 1939-1940, B. the annexation of parts of East Prussia and Bessarabia, and C. compliant puppet states in Poland and Romania to guard the two approaches into the USSR were completely non-negotiable.  That was Stalin's base-line goal.  The eventual Communist regimes in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria and the East/West Germany division were extras on top, and the Czechoslovakia one especially was totally avoidable. 
13  General Discussion / Religion & Philosophy / Re: Is Homosexuality a sin? on: October 11, 2014, 10:26:07 am
If anything is socially constructed, I would say "sin" is.

Does "socially constructed" mean "nonexistent" now?
14  General Politics / Individual Politics / Re: Opinion of Oliver Cromwell on: October 11, 2014, 10:23:51 am
With regards to Ireland, it's pretty reasonable to say that the Protectorate was simply following the path that their predecessors had blazed out and their successors would continue. 
15  General Politics / Individual Politics / Re: Opinion of Oliver Cromwell on: October 09, 2014, 04:32:53 pm
It's a false choice, given that Charles I was actively moving away from the de facto tolerance of Elizabeth I's reign and even his father's in attempting a more uniform and less varied church and in trying to extend that church's reach to Scotland, where it had never held sway before.  I don't see how you can interpret the monarchy's moves in the 1630s as anything other than a move against religious tolerance and diversity of tolerated opinion within the three kingdoms.

EDIT: You do remember that Charles called Parliament into session in order to vote him the money he needed to forcibly convert Scotland at gunpoint, right?

EDIT 2: I really don't get how anyone could look at the career of Charles I and go "Here's a friend of religious diversity."  Right from the beginning he was plotting with Bishop Laud to harmonize every Anglican Church and crush the regional diversity within it as an institution and to extend its hegemony north of the border into Scotland where it had never held sway before.  That's, like, the opposite of tolerance of religious diversity.
16  General Politics / Individual Politics / Re: Opinion of Oliver Cromwell on: October 09, 2014, 03:12:48 pm
The claim that the Stuarts were instituting "tyranny" by attempting to allow a limited measure of religious freedom is something of a 17th-century mirror of the modern argument that allowing same-sex marriage is "tyranny." Complete with the role of "activist judges" replaced by "absolute monarchs."

Attempting to impose the Book of Common Prayer on Scotland was a "limited measure of religious freedom?"  Huh

Yes, because unlike the Dissenters the Anglicans were not (or at least not nearly as much) in favor of running the country as a hellish theocracy where any deviationist religious views, or anything fun for that matter, was met by being tortured to death, as evidenced by their views on such matters as "we don't like your book, so let's go kill 300,000 people." If the Dissenters had their way we wouldn't have had Shakespeare.

I'm seriously drawing a blank at how imposing episcopacy and Anglican prayers on a deeply Calvinist Presbyterian Scotland to which those things were deeply hateful is an act of religious toleration and liberty.  I fail to see how William Laud's scheme to impose the Church of England upon a Scotland that was not at all ready to receive it, to the point of having Charles invade his own kingdom of Scotland at gunpoint to enforce this situation, has anything to do with toleration.
17  General Politics / Individual Politics / Re: Opinion of Oliver Cromwell on: October 09, 2014, 02:55:33 pm
The claim that the Stuarts were instituting "tyranny" by attempting to allow a limited measure of religious freedom is something of a 17th-century mirror of the modern argument that allowing same-sex marriage is "tyranny." Complete with the role of "activist judges" replaced by "absolute monarchs."

Attempting to impose the Book of Common Prayer on Scotland was a "limited measure of religious freedom?"  Huh

18  General Discussion / History / Re: Discuss ancient history with an unqualified fool on: October 09, 2014, 01:01:35 pm
(Posted solely to make Al laugh)

You have succeeded. That's... amazing.

It's cool how the Hwan Empire ceased to exist just before the invention of writing.  Very convenient.
19  General Politics / Individual Politics / Re: Opinion of Oliver Cromwell on: October 09, 2014, 12:42:04 pm
Genocidal maniac (sane, normal, blah blah).

Not sure about the maniac part.

Cromwell has a number of issues, even setting aside the elephant in the room that is Ireland. 
20  General Politics / Individual Politics / Re: Opinion of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade on: October 09, 2014, 12:39:45 pm
While it's usually hard to generalize about groups, it's especially hard with something like this, given the wildly different motivations that led people to join the International Brigades, some for quite good reasons, others for quite horrible reasons.  One can't deny that they were all very brave, but I'm not sure I'd put a stamp of approval on the whole lot of them.  After all, someone who volunteered to fight for Franco would still be "brave."
21  General Politics / U.S. General Discussion / Re: In Defense of Obama on: October 09, 2014, 12:34:14 pm
I give Obama a huge amount of credit for appointing Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court.  At the end of the day, Supreme Court appointments are the single most important part of the Presidential post in terms of long-term consequences, and Obama nailed both his shots.

In terms of policy his record is paltry in the first two years and nonexistent in the next four, but the latter part of that is due more to Congress.  The first part is on the White House and Democratic Congressional leadership, though.

His foreign policy, though it has had some setbacks, is still a net positive by any reasonable standard.

Barring events (and events will happen over the next two years) I would be surprised if Obama is considered below a C to C+ president, and could well end up in the B- or B range.
22  General Discussion / Religion & Philosophy / Re: Christianity on: October 09, 2014, 12:27:02 pm
Negative, as it has led to ignorance, hate, and a loss of the ability to think critically in so many of its followers.

Roll Eyes  Yes, the six hundred page brick that is the City of God is the embodiment of ignorance and lack of critical thinking.  Augustine's view that the Gothic sackers and the Romans victims of the fall of Rome might well find themselves on the same side in the coming Heavenly city is truly the most vicious message of hatred and not a glowing call for reconciliation.  I admit defeat.
23  General Discussion / History / Re: Discuss ancient history with an unqualified fool on: October 08, 2014, 11:39:30 pm
I have come to the belief that there was likely significant civilization predating recorded history.  How crazy am I? Smiley

A lot of earlier people lived in ways that didn't exactly leave a lot of archaeology-friendly junk lying around to dig up, and with non-literate civilizations that weren't in contact with literate civilizations, the only way we'd know you ever existed is if we dug up your stuff at some point.

Alternately, there's this hypothesis:

(Posted solely to make Al laugh)
24  General Discussion / History / Re: Chat with The Mikado about cool history topics that interest you on: October 08, 2014, 11:02:22 am
Which was more important to the development of Jewish religion, culture, identity, etc.: the mythical exile in Egypt, or the actual exile in Babylon?

This is a loaded question, but I think it boils down to the question of whether subjects of the Kingdom of Judah prior to the Babylonian sack were recognizably "Jews" or whether "Judaism" as a religion only developed in the aftermath of that event.  Is this more or less what you were trying to ask?  I'll come back to this one later.

The heart of my question was, How does the importance that the Babylonian Exile had on the development of modern Judaism compare with the importance of the Exodus mythos on the development of Judaism in its embryonic stage, and which one was more influential? My hope in asking this question was actually that you would talk about how Judaism developed, which is a topic that's captured my interest lately.

OK, let's take a shot at this.  First off, I'd say that this is an impossible question much in the same way as asking if the Trojan War or the Peloponnesian War was more significant to ancient Greek development: you cannot just contrast two events that are separated by over half a millennium, one of which is a deep-seated cultural icon important to the formation of the mythos of the people and the other an (albeit spottily recorded) historical event.  I'm choosing to interpret this question as A. How important is the Exodus story to Judaism, and B. how fully-formed was Judaism prior to the Babylonian Exile vs the extent to which it was created by that epochal event.

A is probably the easiest one to dispense with.  If Moses is a fully legendary figure, which seems very likely, he is probably the single most influential fully legendary figure ever, rivaling King Numa and the Yellow Emperor and surpassing figures like King Arthur and Lycurgus.  The Exodus narrative is critical to the way that the early Israelites saw themselves and their place in the world: as exiled refugees and therefore outsiders in the land of Canaan, as a people who had formed a divine contract with a God far more powerful than the gods of the locals (let's sidestep the issue of whether the earliest Israelites were monotheists for now and focus on that they saw Yahweh as the all-powerful creator of the universe and therefore far superior to any other god that may or may not exist), as a people who had been plucked from the lowest ranks of society to a grand divine mission.  One could easily make the case that, while the Exodus myth faded from the consciousness a bit and was revived by Ezra etc. after the Babylonian Exile as a precedent for that event, the story was still one everyone was familiar with: a people exiled from the land of Egypt are given a set of laws and purpose by their relationship with their God, have violated that relationship, and met with calamity at the hands of the Assyrians and later the Babylonians.  The famous story of Ezra reading the Torah to the recently-returned first wave of Jews back in Jerusalem is a story of the Jews seeing how their ancestors had ignored these rules and disaster had struck.  Would this generation risk the same offenses?

For B. I'd like to address terminology a bit.  There is a difference between the word "Jew" and the word "Israelite," despite their frequent conflation.  The Israelites refer to all twelve tribes at first and later to the inhabitants of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and its ten tribes.  The Jews are the heirs to the Judahites, or inhabitants of the Southern Kingdom of Judah, after the other tribes seceded from rule by the heirs of David in the days of Rehoboam and Jeroboam, according to the Biblical narrative.  Whether the United Monarchy itself was a myth or not, the existence of the the two rival kingdoms is real enough, and until the wars with Assyria, the word Israelite is useful because the Northern Kingdom has radically different views on what the religious practices of the cult of Yahweh entails than their southern cousins.

There is a famous incident in the Second Book of Kings where King Josiah's men tear down an interior wall in the Temple during a renovation project and uncover an ancient "scroll of the law" containing various divine decrees that the Kingdom of Judah had never carried out.  There's a long-standing and rather convenient scholarly interpretation that that scroll was the Book of Deuteronomy, potentially forged by those scholars in the context of the crises of the late 7th century BCE.  If so, it reflects just how important the name of Moses was to the Judahite clergy: a forgery in the name of the grand lawgiver would give them all the excuses they needed to implement a program of radical monotheism, iconoclasm and destruction of pagan shrines, and the consolidation of all legitimate religious practice in the Temple of Jerusalem.  Of course, when the Northern Kingdom of Israel had existed, it pointed to the many designated holy spots in its territory (most famously the shrine of Beth El, where Jacob had had his vision of the ladder) as equally legitimate places for worship and sacrifice to God to prevent pilgrims from having to leave the country, but now the Judahite elite could firmly denounce any shrine to God that was not the Temple in Jerusalem as idolatrous and centralize legitimate worship in one Temple, a move that would prove dangerous indeed when Nebuchadnezzar razed the Temple a few decades later.

Pre-Exilic Israelite and Judahite faith had been marked by a strong rivalry between priests who claimed religious authority through their hereditary roles and rituals, and "prophetic" figures who claimed to circumvent all of the pomp and circumstance by speaking directly to the divine.  From the moment Isaiah had his vision of leaving the earthly Temple to enter its divine doppelganger, seeing God in all his splendor with the heavenly host crying "Holy Holy Holy is the Lord of Hosts!  The whole of the Earth is his glory!" the priests had a powerful rival message.  Isaiah's radical egalitarian message is deeply at odds with a hierarchical religion: in light of the recently passed Day of Atonement, a fast day in Judaism, this passage is always appropriate.

Quote from: Isaiah 58

3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
    ‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
    and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
    and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
    and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
    and expect your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
    only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
    and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
    a day acceptable to the Lord?
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Figures like Isaiah pointed to the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel to the Assyrians as punishment for its disloyalty to God and threatens Judah with the same fate if it continues its immoral politics.

Quote from: Isaiah 10
5 “Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger,
    in whose hand is the club of my wrath!
6 I send him against a godless nation,
    I dispatch him against a people who anger me,
to seize loot and snatch plunder,
    and to trample them down like mud in the streets.
7 But this is not what he intends,
    this is not what he has in mind;
his purpose is to destroy,
    to put an end to many nations.
8 ‘Are not my commanders all kings?’ he says.
9     ‘Has not Kalno fared like Carchemish?
Is not Hamath like Arpad,
    and Samaria like Damascus?
10 As my hand seized the kingdoms of the idols,
    kingdoms whose images excelled those of Jerusalem and Samaria—
11 shall I not deal with Jerusalem and her images
    as I dealt with Samaria and her idols?’”

Of course, after the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, the Southern Kingdom of Judah became an autonomous, humbled vassal of the Assyrian Empire.  King Hezekiah sent the golden doors of the Temple to the Assyrians as a surrender tribute.  Isaiah's successors, especially Jeremiah, bear a similar message in the time of the last generation of the Kingdom of Judah.  Jeremiah reminds the Judahites again and again that it's not obedience to rituals God wants, but true good deeds and faith, and the faithless hard-hearted indulgence of the Judahites are leading to imminent destruction.

In short, already before the Exile you have a strand of people (Isaiah and his successors) reinterpreting God from being a tribal deity who will win wars and vanquish his people's enemies, to a universal deity who has a contract with one specific people but is willing to aid its enemies in smashing them if they refuse to hold up their end of the contract.  This shift of God from God of the Israelites to universal deity with a special contract with the Jews, a God who has an emphasis on righteous conduct and care for the impoverished rather than solely interested in rituals, is well underway in pre-Exilic Judaism.  The Exile forced the issue: there is no longer a Temple to sacrifice in or to worship God in the proper way that Deuteronomy suggested.  How can one still be a follower of Yahweh in the city of Marduk?  The messages of the prophets, both radical monotheism and an emphasis on conduct rather than sacrifice and prayer, helped provide an answer to that question.
25  Presidential Elections - Analysis and Discussion / Presidential Election Trends / Re: Gallup: "Texas likely to stay red for the foreseeable future" on: October 08, 2014, 09:56:06 am
Barring significant changes, even when Hispanics become a flat out majority they'll still only be casting <30% of the vote in the state, just like they cast <20% now.
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