Friday, July 29, 2016

"It's a big club. . ."

By Donald Sensing

From Unfunded Opinion

Bookmark and Share

America is facing a banana republic moment | Ottawa Citizen

By Donald Sensing

America is facing a banana republic moment | Ottawa Citizen

"I wish this was stupid and wrong, but it's not" - Michael Totten.

If you’ve lately come to conclude that American democracy has degenerated into a hopelessly dystopian reality-television spectacle and it seems as though we’re all teetering at the abyss of a broken America that is no longer a force for good in the world, you are wrong. It’s worse than you think. It’s later than you think.

That’s the good news.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

What we know about 2017 and beyond

By Donald Sensing

We do not know who will take the inaugural oath come January. Or who will head the various federal intelligence agencies or the Congressional oversight committees. But:

What we know is that the people in charge will possess the capacity to be tyrants -- to use power oppressively and unjustly -- to a degree that Americans in 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, or 2000 could've scarcely imagined. To an increasing degree, we're counting on having angels in office and making ourselves vulnerable to devils. Bush and Obama have built infrastructure any devil would lust after.
James Madison understood the danger more than 200 years ago:

Now go and read the whole source article of the above paragraph, "All the Infrastructure a Tyrant Would Need, Courtesy of Bush and Obama."

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Jesus does not endorse your candidate

By Donald Sensing

Earlier this month, columnist Richard Fernandez wrote,

The problem may turn out to be not whether Christianity can survive the modern world, but whether the modern world can survive without Christianity. The naive assumption of 19th century Marxists was that after belief was abolished, what was essentially a Christian morality would continue to guide the world though without its religious overtones.

They thought that even without God men would not kill or steal or lie or covet their neighbor's wives. Through the operation of some sort of "decency" things would go on much as before, but with electricity and central planning. They thought this because they had lived in an immersive religious system for so long they were no more aware of it than fish notice water.

But as it turned out "decency" was much more fragile than they thought. If the 20th century showed that man unfettered could create monstrous totalitarian belief systems, the 21st is rapidly demonstrating that rather than accept an inner vacuum millions would rather fill it with strange gods if the gods of their fathers were no longer on offer.

Fish may not notice water when it is there. But they do notice it when it is gone.

Perhaps the major challenge of the 21st century is to reinvent Christianity or something like it. Man does not live by bread alone and if that hunger will not be met by God it will be sated by the spirit of darkness.
And so, in a different context than Richard wrote, we come to this year's presidential election. The problem, to paraphrase Richard a little, may turn out to be not whether Christianity can survive modern America, but whether modern America can survive without Christianity. 

There is no "Christian" candidate

The naive assumption of many religionists on both side of the American political aisle seems to be that their only one candidate, but not the other, can sustain Christian morality in the national polity.

It beggars words to describe how foolish - indeed, how un-Christian - this belief is. I find it impossible to affirm even in the smallest way that either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump care a fig about the Christian religion at all, no matter what they claim, and at least Trump has the forthrightness not to claim any particular religion at all. Trump's religion is Trump. There is almost nothing I have seen about his platform that bears the imprimatur of orthodox Christianity or its inheritors. I am dismayed that so many prominent Christian figures have endorsed his candidacy. It is more than merely distressing to observe what even conservative commentators are calling, "The Moral Collapse of the Republican Party." 

That said, exactly what is the actual evidence, not rhetoric, but evidence, that Hillary Clinton cares a fig about Christian religion herself? Sure, she claims Methodist affiliation, but exactly what does that mean when examining her truly dismal, spectacularly failing record as a public official? Claiming a religious affiliation does not confer competence, and even MSNBC's in-the-tank hosts were forced to admit one day that they could think of nothing of note that she had ever accomplished. This is a woman whom FBI Director James Comey, under oath before a Congressional committee, confirmed repeatedly had lied over and over and over about handling highly classified material but just wasn't "sophisticated enough" to know the severity of her actions. So yeah, sure, that plus Methodism qualifies her for the presidency, of course. Hillary Clinton's religion is Clintonism. There is almost nothing I have seen about her platform that bears the imprimatur of orthodox Christianity or its inheritors. As one commentator said, Hillary's real objective is inauguration day. She has no goal beyond then. 

All that said, I will emphasize that in fact a presidential candidate's religion is a matter of low importance to me. I want a president who is a Constitutional originalist, religious denomination irrelevant. But we pretty much gave that up a century ago when we elected the proto-progressive Woodrow Wilson. And so here we are:

The dens of thieves that run our country

Now that I've got past that rant, let me ask, "What would Jesus do with national American politics?" Probably this:
Jesus at the Republican National Convention, or maybe the Democrat one. 
Hard to tell since they are both dens of thieves.
How bad has political thievery become? James Bessen of Boston University Law School says it is so deep that political lobbying is now the second-largest influence on profits for America's large companies. 

Government gets bigger and more powerful, which lures companies into viewing Washington as a profit center, which then leads to more policies that expand the size and power of the federal government, which leads to further opportunities for rent-seeking behavior. Lather, rinse, repeat.

That's 4.5 billion of your dollars and mine. This is why Elon Musk's company, Tesla, never has to sell even one electric car at profit and he still becomes wealthier and wealthier. Our taxes pay his profit. This is crony capitalism at it worst (or best, if your name is Elon Musk). 

What kind of national economic model is this? Tom Wolfe once observed that, "The dark night of fascism is always descending in the United States and yet lands only in Europe." Yet Wolfe surely knows that before fascism was anything else, it was a national economic regime. Its features were not exactly original; what was novel was the inclusion of Marxism and whole-country integration by its modern originator and premier practitioner, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. In 1932, Mussolini wrote this definition of fascism:
The foundation of Fascism is the conception of the State, its character, its duty, and its aim. Fascism conceives of the State as an absolute, in comparison with which all individuals or groups are relative, only to be conceived of in their relation to the State. The conception of the Liberal State is not that of a directing force, guiding the play and development, both material and spiritual, of a collective body, but merely a force limited to the function of recording results: on the other hand, the Fascist State is itself conscious and has itself a will and a personality -- thus it may be called the "ethic" State.... ..The Fascist State organizes the nation, but leaves a sufficient margin of liberty to the individual; the latter is deprived of all useless and possibly harmful freedom, but retains what is essential; the deciding power in this question cannot be the individual, but the State alone ... .
It was further explained in 2010 by the "Classic Liberal" blog
A popular slogan of the Italian Fascists under Mussolini was, “Tutto nello Stato, niente al di fuori dello Stato, nulla contro lo Stato” (everything for the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state). I recall this expression frequently as I observe the state’s far-reaching penetration of my own society.

What of any consequence remains beyond the state’s reach in the United States today? Not wages, working conditions, or labor-management relations; not health care; not money, banking, or financial services; not personal privacy; not transportation or communication; not education or scientific research; not farming or food supply; not nutrition or food quality; not marriage or divorce; not child care; not provision for retirement; not recreation; not insurance of any kind; not smoking or drinking; not gambling; not political campaign funding or publicity; not real estate development, house construction, or housing finance; not international travel, trade, or finance; not a thousand other areas and aspects of social life. ...
Feel familiar? It ought to: this has been the economic policy of both parties for at least the last 50 years, with different emphases by one party or the other. American federal polity long ago became centrally located on a less-lethal version of Lenin's question, "Who? Whom?" For Lenin, the question was about who would die and who would live. But for both the Republicans and the Democrats it is about money and power:
  • Who will receive the largess they will use tax dollars to provide?
  • Whom will be the class they plunder to get it? 
  • And how will they spend it to suborn, corrupt or crush so they can keep power?
That is not merely the primary principle of American federal governance today, it is almost the only principle there is. Bernie Sanders notwithstanding, the American Left is not socialist at all; it is fascist, which began in and never departed from Leftism. (Mussolini had been an active member of the Communist International before resigning to start the Fascisti party.) The Republicans are fascist, too, just not as much. But give them 15-20 years and they'll catch up. 

How to vote

So to my fellow Christians who will vote this November I say: Vote for the candidate of your choice. Vote your conscience. Vote your convictions. But do not pretend for even one second that it is even possible to vote the Gospel this November. 

John Wesley had some excellent advice:

Fellow clergy, please: 

Your presidential candidate is not going to inaugurate the eschaton. Not even the Millennium. Not even a decent mimic of anything Jesus imagined the Kingdom of God to be, nor even the faintest shadow. There is no divine endorsement - none whatever - of even a single word in the platforms of either the DNC or RNC.

I am not so dismayed that millions of American, Christian laypersons may think this. I do not think that all do, perhaps not even most, anyway. But I am dismayed that there are a large number of Christian clergy, especially of my own United Methodist denomination, who (to judge by their own online posts) actually seem to think that Christian discipleship actually equates with voting for one party and necessarily excludes ever voting for the other. In fact, one of my UM colleagues told me bluntly before the 2000 election (so this has been going on awhile) that is was not possible for a Christian to vote for any Republican candidate and that voting for a Republican was certain proof that the voter was not Christian.

Whenever someone claims that supporting this candidate or that one is based on Christian imperatives, that person instantly loses credibility with me. Zip, gone, vamoose, nada. Because what is really being said is that corrupted political ideology (which is all of them) suborns Christianity and that the work of Christ necessarily is done through the corrupt organs  (which is all of them) of a corrupt political party (which is all of them). And never is this more so than this year and this year's candidates.

I neither demand nor expect that any American political party will ever base its platform on the Sermon on the Mount. It cannot be done anyway. But I long for a day when Americans will awaken again to the supremacy of Christ over the self.

I pray our polity this year is not a bellwether of the years to come. If so, we as a people are too very close to losing our goodness. God help us.

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

"Why our problems are insoluble"

By Donald Sensing

Why our problems are insoluble

"Civilizations are created by religion, and destroyed by politics."

HT: Gerard

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, July 17, 2016

This what happened in Baton Rouge this morning

By Donald Sensing

Heart stopping:

From Earlier today, President Obama made the following statement on the attack on law enforcement in Baton Rouge, LA:

"I condemn, in the strongest sense of the word, the attack on law enforcement in Baton Rouge.  For the second time in two weeks, police officers who put their lives on the line for ours every day were doing their job when they were killed in a cowardly and reprehensible assault.  These are attacks on public servants, on the rule of law, and on civilized society, and they have to stop.

"I’ve offered my full support, and the full support of the federal government, to Governor Edwards, Mayor Holden, the Sheriff’s Office, and the Baton Rouge Police Department.  And make no mistake – justice will be done.

"We may not yet know the motives for this attack, but I want to be clear:  there is no justification for violence against law enforcement.  None.  These attacks are the work of cowards who speak for no one.  They right no wrongs.  They advance no causes.  The officers in Baton Rouge; the officers in Dallas – they were our fellow Americans, part of our community, part of our country, with people who loved and needed them, and who need us now – all of us – to be at our best.

"Today, on the Lord’s day, all of us stand united in prayer with the people of Baton Rouge, with the police officers who’ve been wounded, and with the grieving families of the fallen.  May God bless them all."
Bookmark and Share

Two papers, one town

By Donald Sensing

Headlines this morning in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times on the topic of oil prices, as presented in my Google News feed:

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Tesla's controversial "autopilot"

By Donald Sensing

Retrospectively, it was a boneheaded move for Tesla to name it's driver-assist module "Autopilot." Autopilots have so far been found only on aircraft and as an airline pilot once told me, his real job is not to fly the plane but to monitor the computer systems that fly the plane. In fact, he said, once GPS came in to commercial use, a modern airliner needs only to be pointed down the runway and told to fly to the destination and it will take off, fly the programmed route, and land there without a human hand or foot on the controls.

But Tesla's autopilot is not nearly that advanced for a car. It's a semi-autopilot at best. It looks impressive, without doubt:

Lately, cars with AP (henceforth) have been involved in crashes, a few resulted in deaths. In one crash the AP (reports say) failed to distinguish between the sky and a white truck cutting into the lane ahead and so did not brake.

The BBC has reported on this problem in Britain, too. Tesla of course says that AP is not to blame, that drivers are still responsible for safe operation of the cars even with AP engaged, and that this is new technology that will get better over time. All of that is quite sensible, really, but for now Consumer Reports says that Tesla must deactivate Autopilot steering.

Here is the Tesla autopilot presskit page. What AP is designed to do is:

  1. Maintain driver-set speed with a cruise control that automatically adjusts speed to account for traffic ahead.
  2. Maintain the car's position in the lane by steering itself. 
  3. Change lanes with the driver doing nothing but activating the turn-signal lever, and the car will wait until its sensors tell it the move is safe.
  4. Parallel park itself when directed by the driver. 
The car will not navigate itself; it has GPS but Tesla has not announced that the GPS interacts with the AP. Tesla's page does not say so, but one assumes it will auto-brake to all the way stop to avoid a collision.

This is certainly new technology in the automotive world, but not Tesla's alone. I drive a 2016 Honda Accord equipped with Honda Sensing (how could I pass that up?) and at a far lesser cost that car does much, but not all, that the Tesla does

That's not me, btw.

Honda Sensing offers lane-keeping assistance, not auto steering. I have found that on the interstate there is no curve that the car will not steer itself through, even at the speed limit (or higher, but I didn't say that). On other roads it will auto-steer curves depending on the car's speed and the sharpness of the curve, usually no more than half the time. Even with this feature turned off, the car still warns me if the car starts creeping toward the other lane.

Honda Sensing does have adaptive cruise control, same as Tesla's. And the Honda package also has auto-braking (with brake warnings to the driver) and avoidance of running off the road. The Accord does not park itself, though.

But ISTM the main difference between Honda Sensing and Tesla's Autopilot is that the Honda's system goes limp if the driver fails to hold onto the steering wheel. When the Honda's sensors detect no hands on the wheel for a number of seconds (I have not timed it, but I'd say 5-7) then a bright "Steering Required" warning lights up and the activated Sensing systems cease operation. The car still runs, mind, but all the driver assistance systems stop (except I presume auto-braking, but I am not willing to test it!) That's what Consumer Reports says must be modified on every Tesla AP-equipped car, that the AP require the driver's hands on the wheel to operate.

Tesla has announced that its AP was never intended to relieve the driver of actually driving the car, only of operating the basic controls all the time. But that is what calling it "autopilot" strongly implies. One fatality, a former Navy SEAL, is reported to have been watching a movie behind the wheel instead of driving it.

I strongly endorse Honda Sensing if you get a Honda. Other makers have similar systems with other names. Only Tesla calls it an autopilot. But it's not. Don't let a computer drive your car.

Update: This is a good video about the tech features of the 2016 Accord, too, including its full integration with your smartphone via Apple Play or Android Auto.

Bookmark and Share

Apple Computers to be sold like Glocks

By Donald Sensing

In the memorial to the slain Dallas police officers, President Obama said,

Outraged at this unacceptable situation, Apple Computer CEO Tim Cook announced that beginning Aug. 1, all teenagers and adult customers of Apple computers and devices will be able to buy Apple products as easily as they can buy a Glock pistol.

"It will be very simple," said Cook after touring the Glock factory in Smyrna, Ga. "From now on Apple products will be sold to teenagers using the same criteria used for them to buy a Glock. It's only fair and I am sure the president will agree."

Apple's press release summarized the new purchasing rules as follows:
  1. No straw purchases: Any person who attempts to solicit, persuade, encourage, or entice any Apple dealer to transfer or otherwise convey an Apple product other than to the actual buyer, as well as any other person who willfully and intentionally aids or abets such person, shall be not be allowed. 
  2. Furnishing a computer to a Minor - No Apple dealer will sell or give an Apple product to a person under 18 years old. All purchasers must sign a statement before the sale that they will not sell, give or otherwise transfer the computer to a Minor.
  3. Apple dealers must complete and have the buyer sign Apple Form 4473, Computer Transaction Record. 
  4. The dealer must verify the identity of the buyer through a government–issued photo identification. 
  5. No Apple product will be sold to any person who is not a legal resident of the state where the sale occurs. Purchases may be made online but the product must be personally picked up by the buyer in the buyer's legal state of residence. Before transferring the computer to the buyer, all procedures stated herein must be in compliance.
  6. No Apple device may be sold to any person who has previously been convicted of or previously entered a guilty plea to one or more of the offenses of murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, rape, aggravated child molestation, aggravated sodomy, aggravated sexual battery, or any felony involving the use or possession of a computer and who shall have on or within arm's reach of his or her person a computer during the commission of, or the attempt to commit:
    1. Any crime against or involving the person of another;The unlawful entry into a building or vehicle;
    2. A theft from a building or theft of a vehicle;
    3. Any crime involving the possession, manufacture, delivery, distribution, dispensing, administering, selling, or possession with intent to distribute any controlled substance
    4. Any crime involving the trafficking of cocaine, marijuana, or illegal drugs.
  7. The dealer must contact local law-enforcement offices (LEO) to ensure that the buyer is not disqualified from buying or possessing a computer. A dealer may not transfer a computer unless the dealer receives a “proceed” response, or three business days have elapsed since the dealer contacted the law enforcement office. A dealer may not sell a device when a “denied” response is issued by LEO.
"These are only common-sense measures," Mr. Cook said, "and they will make sure that every teenager, especially in Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore and other Democrat-administered cities in America, will find it no  more difficult to get their hands on an iPhone or MacBook Pro than on a Glock." 

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Hillary's lies

By Donald Sensing

Bookmark and Share