Sunday, May 24, 2015

De Brevitate Vitae -- A Sermon

Whether or not John Nash's mind was beautiful, it is too far beyond my mathematical  ability to judge, but I'll take Hollywood's  word for it -- and the Nobel committee's as well.

Nash and his wife were killed yesterday when the taxi they were riding in hit a guard rail on the Jersey Turnpike.  They weren't wearing seat belts and were thrown from the car.  Even the best and the most beautiful minds can be as foolish as anyone else and particularly when it comes to the assessment of risk.

I always wear them.  I was in a multiple roll-over 50 years ago.  I wasn't hurt.  Who's the wisest of us all?  But of course he was 16 years older than I and there will be time I tell myself. Time before I have to think of such things.
And time for all the works and days of hands.
That lift and drop a question on your plate.

One event happeneth to us all, as the Bible says.  As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth to me; and why then was I then more wise?

I raced home yesterday afternoon, fleeing a thunderstorm on my motorcycle, passing cars like they were standing still, relishing the blast of wind on a 90 degree day.  I'll shortly be driving my car south on the Turnpike where the traffic moves at 90.  Fear isn't a factor.  I love driving and on such a beautiful morning as this in my shiny automobile I feel  like a kid on Christmas morning, but as the amazing J.L Gates said: Death may be your Santa Claus.

But there's time, I tell myself.

And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

And how dieth the wise man?
As the fool.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Sacred or Senseless

Religion, does it do more harm than good?  Is that even a question that anyone can address without letting their biases overwhelm objectivity?

Watching a program titled The Third Rail on Aljazeera America this morning did little to dispel my suspicions.  Larry Taunton, an Evangelical spokesman, asserted that not all religions are equal in that respect, but Christianity "brings benevolence to the table." Perhaps it does, but it's hard for me to accept that it brings much benevolence to the world,  as the influence, at least in the US on public life is to restrict the rights and political power of certain people while putting a holy gloss on the supercilious condemnations and malevolence.  Democracy and human rights are usually only apparent relative to the rights of the faithful but even then, the rights of women, of unbelievers and the members of antagonistic religions would be rigorously suppressed given their ability to do so. Their god does not compromise or relent and neither do they.  His evidence of course is that Evangelicals give more, or so he says, although again, that they certainly don't give more than Muslims and Jews, but with faith, with arrogance and with dishonesty all things are possible.

"For we have been saved by grace through faith and this is not your own doing it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."(Ephesians 2:8-9)
Yet boast of it they do and most fulsomely. Wars, slavery, tyranny, executions and torture: that some justify them and others do not seems to have little to do with religiosity and more to do with some independent viewpoint that often runs afoul of doctrine and dogma and ecclesiastical authority. One has to ask what their is in Christian benevolence that is absent in Humanist benevolence, Muslim benevolence, Marxist benevolence and most of all, benevolence itself. The answer of course is that religion, at least Western religion, offers exceptions to everything but obedience.

Yes, some people benefit from Christianity says Atheist Dan Dennett, but what bothers him is what bothers me:  the "systematic hypocrisy that almost obliges them to lie."  Indeed it does as we see when Taunton claims that Evangelicals give more to charity that atheists.  The problem is that atheists are not a group and have nothing in common but the lack of credulity to a certain myth. Any statement that puts Karl Marx, Ayn Rand and John Lennon in the same envelope can't be taken to be honest.  And of course that "statistic" confuses donations to institutions that spend the contribution on airplanes for ministers and invest in African gold mines using slave labor with "charity."  Faith requires dishonesty, demands fallacy and ultimately is vanity.   The only one in this conversation acknowledging legitimacy to anyone else is the atheist. If God can't compromise, how can his followers?

 Did Christianity motivate Abolition and has Christianity been at the root of  civil rights reform? Well it certainly allows Christian booster Taunton to claim so and not to be embarrassed when forced to admit that he didn't consider gay marriage to be a civil right because of his Christianity.  Many Christians of course didn't and still don't consider slaves to have civil rights and there is much in the "scriptures" to back them up. His statement is only tautological: Christians support only the rights we support as Christians and no others.  And here's where the argument fails. Christian benevolence is offered to Christians as long as they don't offend Christian authority.  A poor sort of benevolence in my mind and of Daniel Dennett's.who points out the centuries of vicious persecution of those people who see benevolence as innately human and not god given.  We want to be your sole source of morality, say the religion vendors and damn you if you roll your own or buy another brand.

Since the religiously motivated horrors of history are hard to deny (not that people don't try) I have to ask whether religion isn't like nuclear power, gunpowder and sharp objects in general, things that can help us but contain no internal protection against misuse?  Is blind faith of any kind inherently dangerous and does that danger too often outweigh any benefit that is just as inherent in safer things?  One can believe in any god you can imagine, good or ugly, merciful or monstrous, and we always have, but gods are never dangerous.  They have no power, no characteristics not assigned by their believers and being human we create gods in our image, according to our own needs for self justification.  By faith we are oppressed. It's belief that creates gods and only doubt, only disbelief, only reason and honesty can save us from ourselves.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Freedom Fries?

Rand Paul, would I vote for him?  Probably not, but I can't help supporting him this time and enthusiastically.  Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, said he will do "everything humanly possible" to keep the Senate from reauthorizing the Patriot Act.  "Anything" includes a filibuster. 

Is the rest of Congress simply afraid to bring up that notoriously unpatriotic act, which in most cases nullifies the 4th amendment and other civil liberties once bragged about as our birthright.
Perhaps they are, and indeed they should be ashamed of the way it passed through both houses like Montezuma's revenge.   Train wrecks and Texas gun play get far more public attention. Are we being deliberately distracted?  Have we forgotten the words of our forgotten president telling us we now have to give up some of our civil liberties?  Now that the hourly "terror" reports and the force fed panic have subsided, now after 14 years of dong nothing to prevent attacks on our country, 14 years of undermining our former right to be secure in our homes and papers and communications, isn't it time to re-examine the need to allow searches and seizures, confiscations without court order or probable cause? Shouldn't we pay attention to how the PA has allowed the FBI to cover up illegal acts with impunity?  Is it that we always approve of anything with "freedom" or "patriot" stenciled on it? 

The passage of  the "Freedom Act" last week by the House doesn't really address the whole problem and I will support any effort to block the renewal of this truly shameful and cowardly act and no congressman or Senator who gets in the way will have my support.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The age of Bull

Some of the lab-coat bozos who dream up fake "studies" to convince you to eat or not to eat and to spend a lot of your money on buying books related to fake health and nutrition scams would like you to believe that wheat is your enemy.  Unless you have celiac disease, it isn't, but  if you're like most Americans, you don't know science from Shinola, don't know a study from a Studebaker or glutin from glockenspiels and the same goes for history and biology, but that's not what this is about.

A popular fiction is that "studies show" that the advent of  agricultural civilization (is there any other kind?) made people smaller and so you should avoid agricultural products. Of course it's hokum designed to sell product and is popular with inflated airheads from Hollywood, but it's not a study, a scientific, randomized large double blind study, it's motivated speculation -- like all those e-mails I get telling me that some new scandal is going to get Obama impeached any day now. 

Agriculture allowed cities to form.  Cities allowed greater communication and closer association between more and more people and that fostered diseases and epidemics previously unknown or previously restricted in range. Such things had a strong effect on health and disease can easily explain what the diet "doctors" would like to blame, for their own gain, on grain.   Even in modern times, AIDS, which may have been around for a very long time, was spread around the world by airplanes.  Communication has a dark side, just look at what the spread of Europeans and their diseases did to the Americas.  Still we live longer than ever, ae more disease free, are larger than ever and remain active longer, Pizza and TV dinners notwithstanding

Of course if you like to give names to the "ages" of Man, you'd have to consider the title The Information Age.  Could it be however that pernicious, malicious, malignant and dangerous ideas, memes, lies, stereotypes, maledictions and political doctrines are the deadly side effect of  the electronic media, just as cities, ships and Camel trains spread death along with culture and commerce?

Obama is going to declare martial law, going to take your guns, send you to death camps, murder your grandmother. Apollo 11 never went to the moon, that German plane, that Malaysian plane never crashed, that bomb never went off.  Obama is a Muslim, Clinton tried to have the UN invade the US.  Cell phones will kill you, wheat will damage your brain, cooking your food is bad, The Koch Brothers and Woody Harrelson know what's best for us and Subarus are made with love. Sure, it's the information age, but who can deny, looking at the vast majority of that information, that it's the bullshit age.  Mythology has gone metastatic. It's mass produced for entertainment and profit, for greed and power and even though much of it is benign, much of it is deadly.  It's not only deadly to your health, but to your cognitive, your critical faculties and whether or not it all ends with bangs or whimpers, the cenotaph, the tombstone of our species will be inscribed with these words  STUDIES SHOW.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

His name was NOT Steve

 "When Fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross"

I wish I could say that was Sinclair Lewis, and perhaps he does too, but it seems he never did. Perhaps someone needs to say it however, because there is something coming; something already here dressed in red, white and blue, blowing hard about Christian values and lying, slandering, maligning, dripping with hate and evil and blood and grasping for power enough to make the devil blush.

You can't talk to some people about Allen West if you are objective about him.  To many ex-military people, it seems as though he is some sort of a hero or, perhaps it's more about some sad kind of solidarity than about sympathy.  I saw a lot of that during the Vietnam war:  the way people looked at me when I talked about the My Lai 4 massacre or when others suggested that indeed Lt. Cally was a war criminal who disgraced his country as much as anyone ever had. Perhaps you've read accounts of how he ordered a small boy who had just escaped the bullets, running screaming from the pit of murdered women and children to be shot. The order was carried out. It was outrageous that he was held accountable said my war supporting, true American coworkers -- just outrageous.

We don't burn no draft cards down on Main Street;
We like livin' right, and bein' free.

 I never did quite understand the attitude, but as I wanted to keep my job, I just kept quiet.  By the time  Allan West 'retired' from the US Army to avoid a Court Marshal for abusing an Iraqi prisoner, I no longer was a working man and loudly protested his attempt to become my Congressman.  For many here, the attitude was strangely the same.  He ran as a hero and of course we can't criticize anyone who was "fighting for our freedom" as such things are so grotesquely described.  In fact such people who thought differently then he or John Wayne or the people from Muskogee did, said West, should be deported.

But West's campaign failed and he promptly pulled up his tent stakes and went somewhere else to live and to prosper as the head of something called the National Center for Policy Analysis.  Of course as another failed far-right politician and criminal, he followed in the footsteps of Oliver North and became a Fox News contributor.  

West's current Bogeyman, as is that of his owners at Newscorp seems to be the alleged emergence of Sharia Law under the Muslim alien Obama.  Sadly people listen to him and because there never is a hint of rational cognitive function supporting the claims of the Far Right and the Fox Right you hear it discussed all the time.  Sharia law is taking over, even though it isn't -- not at all, not in Muskogee, not at Wal-Mart.

It's a strange proposition for people who strive with flapping tongues and logic all curled up like a pig's tail to push Christian Values as a substitute for the body of laws we've had since the beginning.  They want Christian law, even though there is no such thing, and they fear Muslim Religious courts that don't exist.  Hell, they think Wal-mart is part of the legal system and they get rich from this stupidity.  But Allen West has announced "Proof" that even without any courts or any mechanism to impose it, even such all-American importers of  foreign goods as Wal-Mart is trying to impose it on its customers.  Yes, that's right and as he observes with ungrammatical and folksy charm:

There was a young man doing the checkout and another Walmart employee came over and put up a sign, “No alcohol products in this lane.” So being the inquisitive fella I am, I used my additional set of eyes – glasses – to see the young checkout man’s name. Let me just say it was NOT “Steve.”
I pointed the sign out to Aubrey and her response was a simple question, how is it that this Muslim employee could refuse service to customers based on his religious beliefs, but Christians are being forced to participate in specific events contrary to their religious beliefs? Boy howdy, that is one astute young lady.
Imagine that, this employee at Walmart refused to just scan a bottle or container of an alcoholic beverage – and that is acceptable. A Christian business owner declines to participate or provide service to a specific event – a gay wedding – which contradicts their faith, and the State crushes them.

Seems the nonSteve checkout boy was a minor.  There was a law, an American, Christian Values law forbidding  a minor to serve or sell alcohol.  As usual the devil is in the details and as the devil speaks through Allen West and his Tea Party hooligans, liars, traitors, schemers, thieves, torturers and war criminals are lying about those details.  His screed was titled, Sharia law comes to Walmart? but he later changed it to More ominous signs of Christian persecution. (Did he mean to say persecution of Christians ?) What does it matter?  Lies have their own grammar, it seems and to the people who are looking to put a rational face on their bigotry, racism and hatred West's face will do fine.   See, we're not racists.

In a way, it's liberating to be old and not to have to give a shit about what the tinhorn patriots and liars for God have to say or what they threaten to do, and there's no reason to refrain from saying that the My Lai murderers and the unnamed perpetrators of similar massacres are no better than the Nazi Criminals we executed years ago, and that Allen West is their brother in dishonor.   They dishonor our country, they dishonor all things honest and true and decent, they dishonor our species .

Sunday, May 10, 2015

All against all

I was going to begin this by asking whether you've noticed the sharp increase in shootings of policemen against the background of hysteria about shootings by policemen, but trying to answer that question myself, I had to admit that all we can know is derived from the sensationalist coverage designed to outrage that plays out in the media.  The first news item appearing on my smart phone this morning was about the shooting of two policemen, there was another about the shooting of an FBI agent.  I was going to base this morning's post on the observation that unscrupulous entities may be trying to create a war or the appearance of a war that can only end in the degradation of the justice system and increase tolerance of mob violence and mob justice.  It's a clumsy attempt because when there is a questionable action by police and those policemen are arrested and charged with a crime, it would appear to show that the system has functioned properly but such is the need to demonize that it makes little difference.  The witch hunt proceeds with the public perception that everyone involved with the police and prosecution and defense is corrupt and murderously racist.  Everyone is stretched and trimmed into the Procrustean bed the media provide for us.

And so I can't answer my own question.  When one incident or two or three incidents in a vast ocean of possibilities is all that's needed and no statistics are provided or referenced, we just can't know.  We're made to believe that real justice comes from the mob and so when the system works, the system is still somehow at fault and more rioting is needed, more public marching and chanting.  Perhaps it would be productive to inquire after the people who benefit most and it's tempting to see a small group of disruptionists, anger mongers and distortionists making a living and making names for themselves by making sure that nothing changes, making sure that improvements are seen as failures, that progress is seen as lack of progress and that everyone is at war with everyone else.

If we somehow managed to get along, if the policeman's lot became a happy one, if petty crime and serious crime stopped being a cultural norm and violence became a faded dream, who would suffer? That's not hard to answer. What's hard to answer is the question of why we get all our information and opinions from them.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Wal-Mart will take your guns

And Obama will whistle at the white girls if we don't act now.

Conspiracies certainly occur.  The assassination of Lincoln involved a conspiracy as did the American Revolution, the Russian Revolution and the Babington Plot amongst countless others.  The selling of something as a conspiracy however has been refined to a formula and indeed the absence of evidence seems to make it all simpler.  An observation out of context, a partially true statement or a totally untrue statement loudly asserted is all one really needs to get the theory rolling and momentum creates enthusiasm which creates more observations and assertions the preposterousness of which are enthusiastically overlooked.  The Internet can produce more than enough "experts" to verify or deny anything and hide facts behind a labyrnth of web links.  I remember a certain white coated "doctor" touting a diet pill that proved not only useless but ineffective and dangerous.  How many people bothered to use the Information Superhighway to discover that the man in the medical costume was a Doctor of Marketing from some college you never heard of?

Of course certain observations can assist the necessary triage.  Might the theory have merit or not? Should we bother to investigate or can we reject it out of hand -- or is it obviously true?  One helpful process is of course, to consider the source.  Karl Rove, Glenn Beck, Fox News, Ted Cruz?  No, that sound isn't a truck backing up, it's the bullshit alarm. So far not one of the dire predictions have come true, from the "death panels" to the "double Dip' recession to the Communist Agenda.  Is doesn't seem to matter. "Change you can step in" read the bumper sticker I saw yesterday.  Never mind the recovery, the market highs, the unemployment lows, Obams is a "disaster." He went over there and apologized to them and if you can't see that, you're part of the conspiracy.

Consider the "Jade Helm 15" conspiracy theory.  Do we need to read all the web posts, the YouTube clips to reject it?  Do we need to follow the "arguments," look at the pictures, examine the witnesses? Do seriously think Obama is going to use the military to invade the South?  Is he conspiring with Wal-Mart to grab our guns, swarming up out of underground tunnels pushing Wal-Mart shopping carts?  Ted Cruz seems to doubt it, but as the government is "untrustworthy," we have to give it some credence. Of course when Bush suspended Posse Comitatus and made it legal to use the Army to invade the US, we didn't hear a peep or a whimper, but that's different.  It's OBAMA who is untrustworthy and we know that because Ted Cruz tells us, because the Texas Governor tells us the invasion is imminent The wolf is coming, never mind those ten thousand mistaken cries and when this passes away and nothing comes of it and when the whole thing is denied, there will be no shame and you will believe the next one.

One might consider that since this latest is so similar to the propaganda that reached a crescendo during the Clinton years and has yet to diminish, it has no more merit than the Vince Foster Murder or Clinton's plan to turn the armed forces over  to the UN and furnish them with nuclear weapons stored in tunnels and bunkers under Philadelphia.  I can't list them all but suffice it to say it was all hokum.  Too bad we don't remember and like an old man with advanced dementia, every morning in America is a new day.  You can be wrong every day for 25 years but we will believe you again and again.  Every Democrat is all about inviting the foreigners to take over, to bankrupt us by supporting the "takers" and grabbing our god given guns.  Have we been wading through the bullshit so long we can't smell it any more or is it just so much fun to suspend disbelief?

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Your day will come

Being of a certain age, I take offense at being called a "senior."  Since I'm a half century away from being enrolled in a school, I find it to be inappropriate, but of course the real offense is the carefully crafted image of anyone over 65 as a doddering, inept, technophobic imbecile.  For years, Mammon, in full knowledge of my age (and everything else about me) has been sending me advertisements for burial insurance, walk in bathtubs, old age homes and most annoyingly, special idiot phones designed for people held to be less able to make phone calls than those "tech savvy" younger people who rarely can tell a NAND gate from a flip-flop, a J-FET from a Unijunction or a beam tetrode from a tea caddy.

In my experience most of those TS people couldn't tell you how any of their prized electronics work, but that's another matter. Yes, of course more people of my age are in poor health and some have passed away, but the 70 and 80 year old folks in my circle of friends hardly fit the image designed to make the young and inept feel as superior as apparently they need to do.  Not only do few of us have problems with our smart phones, many have had careers designing complex equipment. Friend Walter helped design and launch the first communications satellites, Friend Will helped design the Lunar lander and other fellow codgers of my acquaintance are building a private wireless network using old WiFi routers so that we can phone each other outside the apparatus of the phone companies. All of us of course enjoy being talked down to by 15 year olds who assume we're unable to comprehend the miracle of text messaging.  PSK, RTTY, PACTOR?  Huh? Wazzat?

Sometimes I think I'm of the last generation that knows how things work, but wait, there's more.  Yes, I design and build electronic equipment for fun. Yes, I still ride a heavyweight motorcycle, I still navigate a yacht crammed with electronic equipment and I know people in their 90's who do as well: who build and race cars  and fly planes. Of course some don't, but who the newborns choose as a comical stereotype has more to do with ego boosting than reality -- and age being the last socially acceptable characteristic to mock.

So if you will forgive my digression, I have to turn my ire toward those that corporation named so aptly for a fruit, for making "special" iPads for "seniors."    Your day will come. Some kid now stinking up his diapers will in a few years time, joke about you wearing diapers, call you a Senior and ask in a loud voice if you know how to use something you invented.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

To Every Thing, there is a Season

Well maybe not to everything, but to some things there is a season.  The Flu comes around in the Autumn, at least in South Florida when the tourists arrive with their runny noses. Hurricanes come around in the Summer.  For other things, like bigotry and propaganda however, like ignorance and intellectual laziness it's constant.  Other things come and go but the bullshit never stops.

Got an e-mail today with a massive address list.  It began HOORAY and told the recipients that we had narrowly escaped a fatal attack on the sacred second amendment when the Senate voted down a UN treaty that would demand confiscation of guns.  Of course the Evil Black Man was behind it but we should remember all those Democratic Senators who voted against our divine right to run guns to terrorists and vote them out of office. 

Strange to say, that vote was in May of 2013 and unfortunately many of those Senators now have to work for a living.  Did this fabricated charge  help the GOP hijacking of the Senate?  And of course the treaty in question would have no effect on domestic gun laws or rights whatever. It was aimed at restricting international arms trade -- and remember the US is a major player -- to prevent sales to terrorists, insurgents and to countries violating human rights treaties. HOORAY!  Hooray for the liars and Hooray for the damned fools who support them at their own expense because there is nothing too stupid, too dishonest, too ridiculous for the moon motivated morons of America to believe. No conspiracy too unlikely, no slander too foul to attribute to the gun-grabbing, big spending and N**** loving Democrats

You have to wonder who supports arming ISIS or Boko Haram or any such groups, but of course the answer is right in front of us:  the NRA and the GOP and all the ignorant, hate-filled and demented Americans who spread this crap like special sauce on a shitburger in the hope of poisoning Democracy and ousting the Dreaded Black Man in the White House.

Remember when Clinton secretly turned over the command of our armed forces to the UN?  Of course not, because, like all the other lies, slander and libel it wasn't true and so far all the predictions, accusations and "revelations" about Obama have not and likely will not materialize, but when this country finally fails, and the Bible-quoting, weapon-waving big buck barbarians pick over the corpse of American liberty and prosperity who will remember that they supported it?


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Sophistical Refutations and the Supreme Court

It's too early to predict the Court's ruling on gay marriage, of course, but it's tempting to look at what's been said so far. Perhaps it's impossible to resist it. 

Chief Justice John Roberts:

"You're not seeking to join the institution, you're seeking to change what the institution is. The fundamental core of the institution is the opposite-sex relationship and you want to introduce into it a same-sex relationship."

"If you prevail here, there will be no more debate. I mean, closing of debate can close minds, and it will have a consequence on how this new institution is accepted. People feel very differently about something if they have a chance to vote on it than if it's imposed on them by the courts."

"If Sue loves Joe and Tom loves Joe, Sue can marry him and Tom can't. And the difference is based upon their different sex. Why isn't that a straightforward question of sexual discrimination?"

(on the question of forcing states that ban same-sex marriage to recognize those unions formed in other states.)

 "It'd simply be a matter of time until they would in effect be recognizing that within the state, because we live in a very mobile society and people move all the time. In other words, one state would basically set the policy for the entire nation." 

Justice Samuel Alito:

"Suppose we rule in your favor in this case and then after that, a group consisting of two men and two women apply for a marriage license. Would there be any ground for denying them a license?"

Justice Elena Kagan:

"It's hard to see how permitting same-sex marriage discourages people from being bonded with their biological children."

Justice Anthony Kennedy:

"The word that keeps coming back to me in this case is millennia, plus time. ... This definition (of marriage) has been with us for millennia. And it's very difficult for the court to say 'Oh well, we know better.'"

"Same-sex couples say, of course, we understand the nobility and the sacredness of the marriage. We know we can't procreate, but we want the other attributes of it in order to show that we, too, have a dignity that can be fulfilled."

We have to allow that some questions that seem to show a negative attitude may simply be of the Devil's Advocate variety, challenging the proponents to present their case differently, but we have to suspect that the preponderance of the Argument from Tradition, generally classed as a fallacious one is being used as a cause to restrict what many if not most see as part of an assumed right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness as well as equal protection under the law.  "It's always been done that way for a long time and who are we to question it?"  

It doesn't take a wit or a historian to suggest the traditional practices of slavery and segregation or debtor's prisons (or worse if we want to look at the Western World of past millennia) persisted mostly because of such arguments.  The difficulty of ruling against tradition is hardly an excuse and in my opinion explains the need for an independent court: a court independent of politics as well as of tradition and religious bias.  "you're seeking change" is hardly an argument for the status quo.  

What about two men and two women?  Well what about it?  Is this the time-worn slippery slope fallacy?   

Roberts argues that recognition of marriages made in other states is likely if not inevitable, which is equally an argument for a positive ruling as a negative one.  Is it like claiming that because murder is on the decrease we don't need to forbid it. That's a fallacious argument and once was used to argue against the emancipation of slaves.  Nobility and sacredness? Are these matters for the courts or for preachers?  What about the nobility and sacredness of the "Rights of Man" that we once defined ourselves as defending?  God is not a citizen, has no Human Rights or rights as a legislator or judge allowed under our laws. God has as many opinions as people put in his mouth and cannot be relied on in questions of law and government. 

People don't like court rulings, says Roberts as though that were an excuse for not making them.  Indeed a constitutional amendment would be one possibility, but it's very difficult and has at least once required bloody war to bring about. But the case is being made on existing law and it would seem to some that the ball is in the other court - the Supreme Court. The question is "why not?" and perhaps the answer has to be better than "Tradition."  All the great advances in liberty have required unpopular, bold and difficult decisions; have involved all sorts of legalistic and casuistic debate, but if the manifest destiny of us all is to advance the cause of personal liberty against the bulwarks of ecclesiastical tradition -- and I think it is -- it's time to just do it.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Bonfire of the Vanities

Private morality does not seem to me to be the state’s business unless it compromises the public welfare.

-Bishop Shelby Spong-


It's not the sort of thing that demands a reasoned response, but a local Catholic priest has been buying a lot of ad space in the local papers to excoriate Humanists, Atheists and free thinkers for being the main reason for the world's wars, persecutions and acts of genocide. Heretics and unbelievers you see are attacking "freedom of religion."

I used to say the ability to feel shame was the first victim of  authoritarianism but the ability to see irony obviously rides the adjacent horse. Religious freedom is under attack from those who would extend it to all, he says, quoting the party line. Why put forth such fraudulent history and demented reasoning, why demand that we persecute good people for their thoughts and beliefs by stripping them of their guaranteed rights and protection under the law? Why now?

The Beast is running scared now that 36 states recognize the right to marry whomever we wish and the fear is that freedom of  worship will be broadened to protect those with any beliefs at all, including the belief in reason alone or a belief in the dignity and freedom of mankind.   It takes a certain kind of mind to see freedom as the enemy of freedom, but as I said, shame and irony, those two things that can lead one towards legitimate morality have left the building -- or left the Church if you prefer.

But here I am, leading up to the obviously useless argument from reason and fact.  As any  historian should know, it takes violence and threats of violence to convert us, there being no valid arguments for what they've been selling for so long. The appeal to the ignorant and tribal mob, to the tinhorn crusaders against the fulfillment of the promise of liberty is of course an attempt to bypass the Supreme Court, which is scheduled today to hear a case that could result in a decision to extend marriage rights to all, regardless of  one's State of residence. I can smell the desperation and fear and it smells like burning witches.

The argument that the Federal Government does not have the right to overturn state restrictions on personal choices would seem to have been rendered moot or at least Stare Decisis after the 1967 Loving V. Virginia ruling but the persistence of ugly, irrational and often vicious tyranny is the nature of churches as Thomas Jefferson and his friends often and emphatically noted. They will not give up if they have to cut a swath through the law and decency itself to get at the devils they see everywhere and the demand that states be able to nullify Federal Law ad libidum  or according to their Bibles will not disappear any time soon.

Religious leaders are urging "liberal" members of the court to recuse themselves from hearing today's arguments in a move that seems unique to me. Asking a judge to refrain from using the law as a basis for decision is arguably bizarre if not shameful and ironic, Demanding that the courts not be able to allow sin and heresy is illegal, shameful and ironic, but as I said. . .

The Restrain the Judges on Marriage Act of 2015 -- The Protect Marriage from the Courts Act: bills to forbid "Liberal" judges from ruling on cases that might lead to decisions unfavorable to the dictates of  certain Christian churches have been introduced in the Senate and the House by the usual religious wackadoodles like Ted Cruz.  Evidently it isn't only the job of President they wish to take over by fiat.

No, I'm not trying to argue with madness, it would be madness again to do so. I'm only begging you to write your senators and congressmen and demand they respect the letter and spirit of the US constitution and vote against turning over the reins of government to would-be tyrants, waving flags, carrying Gospels and shitting on Liberty.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Kings of the road

"Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask and he will tell you the truth"

-Oscar Wilde-

The world we all take to be true isn't the real world and you don't have to be a Taoist to know it.  The real world is what we see in advertising and it's hard to find anything we hear or see that isn't in part or wholly a marketing venture.  The things we least need but spend too much money on are the things we seek to define ourselves with because image is everything, what's under the hood means nothing.

That adventure movie where the action hero drives an Audi and nobody can catch him?  The whole movie is an advertisement produced, directed and  payed for by Audi AG.  Audi (German Engineering, innovation) and BMW (German Engineering, innovation) and Volkswagen (German Engineering, innovation) have their respective images mostly to do with quality and performance, in some ways deserved and in others profoundly not and at least since the late 1970's the first two have shed their economy car image and taken on the robes of holier than thou status symbols, to be parked with pride and hipster panache in front of South Beach clubs or where your neighbors can see it.  They're hardly the only ones to be emblems of arrogance, even now that the BigFuckingTruck era shows signs of fading, but the priesthood of aspirational sales at Audi (German Engineering, innovation) have big ears, as the name suggests. They're as aware as I am of how drivers of aspirational vehicles behave, harassing drivers and assuming their 150 or ohmygod 200 horsepower cars are so much faster than 750 hp racetrack dominating domestic offerings and need to demonstrate it to my amusement and annoyance. As with all problems in the world, the best and cheapest way to fix them is with advertising.  The car kills people?  Advertize the Star Safety System, but don't say what it is.

All those purchases we make, those we aspire to make. Aren't they like masks or costumes, props we use to buttress the walls we hide behind?  It isn't a car riding my bumper until it goes into the ditch at the first corner. It isn't a car trying to jump in front of me at the exit ramp only to slow down, who has to add 2 MPH toe any speed I am driving at no matter the danger.  It's you.

If you don't read German, I'll tell you that the clip above says the most dangerous drivers in Germany are in BMWs (German Engineering, innovation) and that amongst all the colors offered, the black ones are the worst. But you knew that, even if you didn't know that you can use a Nissan 4 door sedan as a snowboard and that notoriously boring Toyotas are as thrilling to drive as a roller coaster. Hide behind the black mask and the real you comes out. You won't push and shove in the check-out line or on the sidewalk, but when we can't see your face? King of the road.

Have you seen the ad Audi (German Engineering, innovation) is running where the Audi (German Engineering, innovation) driver, without the traditional blacked out windows, offers the right of way to others and steers around the puddle so as not to splash the peasants on the sidewalk?  Yeah right. Sure, of course. And coincidentally he's followed by the black BMW (German Engineering, innovation) who overwhelms them with a wall of water.

Sure, it's the BMW, or anything else for that matter, not the AUDI  when it comes to aggressive, selfish, arrogant and obnoxious behavior. Sure. But of course Subaru drivers know how a Subaru means love and Nissan sedan drivers know their cars can easily make it on the NASCAR circuit, just like the Honda drivers feel like incredible hulks with their OMAGAWD 200 horsepower.  That's how you sell cars to the aspiring, striving, suffering servants of  the machine. Not by telling them one single thing about the real world, where Ferraris don't win races, and those "race inspired" vehicles aren't inspired in any way and those safetycars built with love are only as safe as the damned fools who drive them.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Obama makes voting mandatory!

Or not.

I'm waiting in line for a hot dog. To me, it's the best of times.  I'm at an annual event put on by Amateur Radio enthusiasts with seminars and a flea market selling all sorts of things only understood and desired by techno-nerds like me. But it's the worst of times too of course, and you can't go anywhere where people congregate without seeing people with pamphlets and bumper stickers, whispering and nudging about the bad news:  "Obama is going to" do this or that or has already done it.  Some of it is distorted truth, much of it, nearly all of it is unadulterated bullshit.

So this raggedy looking guy wearing a filthy Yaesu hat is chatting up the woman handling the cash box.
 "Did you hear that Obama is going to make voting compulsory? The next step is universal military service and. . ."
"Bullshit" I said.  "He doesn't have the authority or any reason to do either of those and he isn't running for office or starting any wars."
" Executive order!" he replied. Yaesu boy seemed taken aback to have anyone fail to answer, "yeah, that Obama. . ."  Not in these parts, not in rural America.
I seem to remember Rush once telling us that the president had arranged to allow only black people to vote in some town or other, but hey. . .

Last week a flatbed truck passed me on the Interstate and yes, I was doing just under 90.  It had a large plywood sign across the tailgate declaring that THE BIGGEST DANGER TO OUR FREEDOM IS THE WHITE HOUSE. The word 'white' was printed in red. Get it?  Red, 'cause ya see he's a Communist, hahaha. . .

Somehow the building at 1600 Pennsylvania seemed less immediately dangerous than a filthy truck full of angry and deranged rednecks weaving through traffic at nearly a hundred.  The quick eye could see the rear window bearing vinyl letters saying " Muslims killed 4 Americans and he went over there and apologized to them"

Of course he didn't nor did he seriously declare a mission to make us vote or to draft us into the military but facts never matter, do they?

Wednesday's paper had a political cartoon showing something that looks like Daffy Duck declaring that Obama's desire to force us to vote stemmed from the truth that the only people who would vote for him were lazy, shiftless parasites. I know what it would have said had the editor not balked at the n word.  Was he elected twice by a majoity of voters who DID turn out?  Bullshit heaped on bullshit, smeared with racism and served on a steaming bun of self-contradiction. Think Obama would want these people to vote? Get it? 'Cause they're psychotic idiots!

Want some Freedom Fries with that?

All Lives Matter

There was a thing called the Niagara Movement.  Founded over a hundred years ago to make a case for a confrontational approach to the problems of segregation and against the idea of negotiation, accommodation patience and compromise that the movement's leaders associated with Booker T. Washington.

In a way, it's typically American and we can look at the way we sing "Bomb Bomb Iran" on one day and try to negotiate a rational outcome on the other and seem not to be successful either way except to argue about what can be said, and how and by whom.

There is another thing called the Niagara Principle, according to which a single episode implies widespread occurrence. Movements of all sorts use it, to cherry pick examples and make them the paradigm and usually without statistical support. Having become cynical in this age of warring movements, I'm tempted to distrust them all and see a nest full of baby birds, mouths open and competing for attention.

So it is with war, revolution, genocide and the proliferation of nuclear weapons in a world shuffling toward armageddon, the question of which puppets and patsies and spokesmen for which warring movements will be selected to be our next president?  -- we're not going to hear about it for another period of time.  A black man was shot in the back by a South Carolina cop and the national passion play will begin anew. Entropy increases and in America, so does partisanship. When those things increase, so does the power and influence of those who profit by it.

We'll be told the call and response  is a "conversation" but anyone attempting to make it one may well be called a racist and have to tearfully retract such an eminently Humanist statement as "all lives matter" because it does not fit the mandated terminology of some movement dedicated to promote one problem and one view of it over another. Stick to the slogan. That's all, and it's not a subset of a greater, nobler and more enlightened principle.

I'll be blunt. We have a problem with over-armed, under-trained and fearful police. It's compounded by the fact that the police have to deal with a high percentage of poor and minority criminals and that leads to prejudice. We have a problem with indigent populations having inadequate opportunity for advancement or even the will to hope for it.   But it isn't enough to recognize this or to attempt to improve it, we have to use prescribed language, we have to ignore, forgive or explain away crime insurrection, rioting and violence and we have to stress that any picture must have a prescribed frame.  We can't call it prejudice, it has to be racism and we can't call it that unless we dictate who the target is. Shut up  -- we're having a conversation here.

We have a problem with every moral and legal and political principle and the language we use to describe it being hijacked by self-appointed authority. We have a problem with honesty and zeal and distortion and hyperbole and tunnel vision and  partisanship and  most of all, we have a problem separating the cause from the leaders and the institutions. Stating the case isn't making the case and the case we state isn't always more than a small part of a great Niagara washing us all to hell and oblivion and chaos.

If all lives don't matter, then life doesn't matter, yours or mine.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

To the Flag

Adam Crapser is an American but like John McCain or Ted Cruze, he wasn't born within our borders. But he's had a rough life, unlike those men who consider themselves legal and potential Presidents.  An abandoned child, he was adopted from Korea by American parents who apparently were abusive and neglectful and failed to fill out the citizenship papers.

I pledge allegiance to the flag. . .

The reason I can't force myself to regurgitate that fulsome and illegal oath of allegiance I'm prompted to do at every turn these days isn't just the "God" bit but the Liberty and Justice for All. Today may be April Fools day, but we're a nation of fools all year. 

The damn government wants to send him back after 36 years of living here, marrying and trying to support a family -- to deport him  to a country he doesn't know or belong to or speak the language thereof because he's "illegal."  Because he's "illegal" he's found it very hard to find employment in the land of Freedom and Justice and when they send him back to an alien country, his wife and children will find out the hard way, what a sham American Liberty is.

Small minded, bigoted, petty, afraid -- perhaps. All too willing to hide behind walls and punish people who say a word in some language other than English or Starbucks. The free and brave have no compunctions about tossing anyone on the trash heap because of some paperwork he was too young to fill out.

And it's likely to stay this way because of the mean-spirited bastards who call themselves a political party, call themselves "Christian" and demand protection for morality and decency and humanity because of their "faith" and "family values."  By mean-spirited bastards I mean, for the most part, the Republican Party, but their opposition has to share some blame for the bickering, parochial, short-sighted behavior. We're against this or that, but only after you agree it's only our subset, our group who is the victim of this or that, that our particular problem is the one and only and most important, or that our most dire and pressing issue is this or that or the other thing to the exclusion of all else and we won't support candidates who don't agree, who aren't obsessed with our obsessions.

When someone comes here involuntarily as an infant, is educated here, speaks English as a first or only language and is part of our culture, what does it cost us to treat him better than a dog - to allow him to work, pay taxes, start a business, educate his kids and contribute to our society?  What do we gain by sending an American to Mexico or Korea to perish there?  Nothing at all is the answer and God might as well damn any country that acts this way, for we've damned ourselves.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Wacko Birds

Ted Cruz is now, by his own admission, a candidate for President. Can we safely say that the right wing of the right-wing party is still Conservative except in it's vague longing for something vaguely related to a mythologized and phantasmagoric past?

As he said in his announcement at Liberty University, which students were compelled to attend or be fined, he wants to restore the constitution that Obama, not the color of man we traditionally select, has "stolen" and restore that "shining city on the hill" our former President-in-dotage liked to dream of.  Whether or not you consider him to be a conservative, or a "Wacko Bird" as John McCain called him, the guiding light behind the delusional wing of the GOP is that old Will O' the Wisp, or Ignus Fatuus common to such diverse cultures as Sumerian Mythology, Judaic Mythology, and the Tea Party: the lost paradise we can only regain by abolishing liberty and the pursuit of happiness in favor of  authority and returning to the past. Freedom is Slavery?  We don't ask, our faith (meaning greed) is all we need. Of course, to the wackobird, the notion that we can abolish the IRS and yet receive tax payments voluntarily and honestly through the altruistic and enlightened grace of the public is never questioned. Faith.  They're people of Faith.

Of course the shining city was founded on a purloined hill rooted in genocide, slavery, corruption, conquest, despoilation and oppression, but none of the traditional Wackobird constituency will tolerate any measure of truth when looking at the past or the present. Evidence and anyone who points at it is the enemy.  The insurgent Bloggers are already shouting "NO - YOU'RE the wacko, McCain!"  Nolo Contendere.

Of course If you're reading this you're probably all too aware of his pandering to the werewolves, zombies, ogres and other things that bump around the crepuscular forests of the night. I see it as pandering because Cruz after all, went to schools I couldn't get into with a battering ram and presumably graduated.  So I have to suspect that he wears his prophet's robes like sheep's clothing ( or Halloween lunatic costume if you prefer.)  But what strikes, and scares and disgusts me for that matter is the crazy credo that  "Little Black Barack" is tyrannically ignoring the constitution, assuming illegal powers, spending and taxing and all that nonsense that so adequately describes his predecessor.  We've had a 6 year bull market, deficit spending has been strongly reduced, energy independence is at record highs and unemployment is at near Clinton levels.  There couldn't be a more striking reversal of Bush's disastrous results.

Religious leaders have never had a problem with telling us that things are worse and worse and only a "return" to the past can save us and neither do Cruze or Rand Paul or other birds of that flightless feather throughout the red end of the political spectrum.  They get away with it because so many Americans are simply oblivious and unwilling to be otherwise. They go on howling about Obama not being eligible for the presidency, but not about how Cruze was born in Canada with only one American parent. Making foreign policy and negotiating with foreign countries is only "tyranny" when Obama does it and only a short time ago the loudly stated position was that "if the president does it, it's ipso facto constitutional and if some of us complained, we "hated America" and were collaborating with the enemy. 

Double standard?  Not so much as a totally ad hoc and shifting standard that can contradict itself without contradiction.  Is this the stuff of  all the tyrants of the past, real and fictional? Of course! A style that enlists the disgruntled, delusional, angry and yes the wacko into the battle against their liberty and prosperity and health.  I don't think you can reach them and our future as a free and influential country depends entirely on our ability to get off our asses, stop squabbling, having national "conversations" and staying away from the polls. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Christian Nation in Indiana

It's another token of our "changing" language. I put the word in quotes because it's so strange to see things like the weaponizing of words described in such benign terms, but "religious freedom" simply hasn't meant the right to perform rituals, say prayers or build places of religious exercise without restraint except to a few for a long while. 

In Indiana, or to the Indiana chapter of the Christian Caliphate in America it means the right to do any damned thing you want as long as "Christians" like the Robertsons: Phil and Pat or Reverend Phelps or a majority of the Indiana General Assembly approve. No one really, no one at all is in any doubt that, as it has in other religions, the militant wing of American Christianity is rising in power and rising in the lust for control and domination and the ability to punish people of other beliefs or thoughts or perspectives. No one fails to see how such assaults on liberty tend to thrive in places of ignorance and religious passion (you may find some correlation if you like:) places like Indiana.

No one has any doubt that if the shoe were on the other foot, and there were significant numbers of people who would refuse to service cars with those chrome fish, or religious bumper stickers or serve them at drive-through restaurants,  the Christian Nation  folks would hesitate to stand up for that kind of religious freedom and certainly they would be raising hell if "Muslims only" signs were to appear in Indiana.  No Yarmulkes inside, no cross, no service, no Irish need apply, only church goers in this neighborhood. We do not serve people with tattoos. We've been there before. We've had those tradinal values before.  Perhaps those who keep telling me we've made little progress aren't entirely wrong.  Certainly the spirit of hate and exclusivity thrives, along with talk of beheadings and rape and castration, damnation and brimstone by bearded zealots, to the cheering of the mob.

So yes, freedom of religion now means something close to its opposite and to be evil, nasty and mean --  contemptuous of  truth and justice is to have Christian values, to have "faith."   None of the claims made about life liberty, the pursuit of happiness, about freedom and justice for all are in any way compatible with the goals of the Christian Nation in America people any more than they are with the Islamic State people and yet the damnation is so faint and public discourse so filled with pop culture, celebrity surgery, the latest product from Apple, transportation calamities and the angelic innocence of Michael Brown.  Not only the language has been prostituted, but so have our thoughts and concerns, at least that's the goal. Denialism, lack of definable terms, amorphous logic, conspiracy theories and fear are the means, tyranny is the end.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

It's a conspiracy!

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
Alive as you or me
Says I, "But Joe, you're ten years dead,"
"I never died," says he.
"I never died," says he.

No sooner does something happen in this world, but that it didn't and in a strange quantum physical way, nothing itself is reason to believe something. The bomb wasn't a bomb, the flight never flew, Saudi terrorists didn't hijack those airplanes and neither Jesus nor Mohammad's nephew nor Elvis nor Joe Hill actually died.  There are many reasons for it, but Humans being creatures for whom faith is always tempting, need something to anchor it, a substrate to mount it upon like a plaque on the wall. Every article of faith, every statement of belief requires a denial.

The anguish of grief, the horror of circumstances, the shock of sudden change; these things cause us to deny, at least for a time that the beloved leader and voice of God has been murdered and his mission has come to nothing. We see them in our dreams, even when we're awake. But as with any human weakness, the inability to accept invites explanations of why reality isn't real for the purposes of exploitation. We want your support so Joe hill lives on in spirit.  Jesus came to Jerusalem to restore the divine dynasty and throw  out Rome, he was about mystical forgiveness of sin. The Hidden Imam is just around the corner and will come back to bring justice, or was that Jesus or was that Tammuz?  Denial is power, but power over us by someone else.

Why are conspiracy theories cropping up like mold stains after a flood -- even with a level of evidence never before possible?  Perhaps simply because of the entertainment factor now that everyone knows everything instantly. It's fun to be the one who knows differently, even though that same thought has caught on with billions of others. Perhaps that's not all.  It's easy to postulate that our refusal to see what we saw and heard and experienced as reality is more than some artifact of our human nature and the result of someone elses will to power. Has there been a cult leader, religious or secular who has not suggested that outside influences and conspiracies are trying to delude them?  Jim Jones, David Koresh, Kim Jong-Un?  But other popular, less dangerous theories, tales of cover-ups from the petty to the gigantic are harder to explain.

That the real cause of Weimar Germany's woes may have been the very patriotism and nationalism and sense of duty that so much pride was taken it rather than some nefarious international conspiracy is an easy explanation for the deadly scapegoating that ensued, but it's hard to see why the US had no sooner landed on the moon but that it never did or why the US got all this interstellar technology from the strangely humanoid aliens but never found a use for it: why the Incas and the Egyptians got help from flying saucers who never left a single artifact behind. yet we believe and passionately.

Is there some vast evolutionary cultural movement toward a neo-Platonic metaphysics wherein reality is unknowable? Is the only reality what we read on the web, on the TV, on the blogs and Twitter?  The incessant roar of advertising hype and misrepresentation? Is there some Über-conspiracy universe in which smaller conspiracies bud off without end?  If so can we write it off to that pesky human love of  being esoteric, hip and just a bit holier than thou or is it a conspiracy by those who benefit greatly from making everything plausibly deniable in their lust for wealth and influence?

George Bush and the Neocons didn't destroy any chance for peace in the middle east. Republican economics didn't cause a worldwide recession, The innocent are to blame, the guilty are not.  And We the Believers?  Step this way.  Work will make us free. Who stands to gain the most from our refusal to consider that what is might actually be what is?  Yes, that's rhetorical. World commerce and politics depend on being able to make us unable to tell real from imaginary, freedom from slavery, war from peace, proof from fallacy, science from fable.

  • Obama didn't reduce deficit spending, didn't kill Osama bin Laden, wasn't actually elected and   wasn't even eligible. 
  •  Americans blew up the WTC -- the kind of Americans we don't like and don't want you to like.  
  • Obama went over there and apologized to them.
  • The Jews screwed Germany with the Treaty of Versailles, not the Germans. 
  • The Americans forced Japan to kill tens of millions of civilians, they're not to blame.  
  • Capitalist Roaders were behind the monstrous failures of Mao's revolution and how better to sell it than to attack the notion of truth and the ability to determine it.

The climate isn't heating up, crime isn't on the increase, vaccinations don't work, cell phones are killing the bees. There's a conspiracy to poison Wheat. A 4 door Nissan sedan is really a race car.

We can't know the truth so anything I propose is as true as anything the evidence shows or doesn't show. Cast doubt on reality and the lie becomes credible.  It's the old argument from ignorance and as the man said: Ignorance is Strength.

Nothing is true and all things are possible, said Hassan, or so they say.  It's the kind of metaphysics in which facts become fungible; wherein is and isn't  and might be are the same thing and the transgressors of the world can wash their hands of any kind of causation or blame and smile -- after all, they ask us:  what is truth?  Listen and Big Brother will tell you.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Big Brother and Targets of Public Outrage

Idiotic and often disgusting stunts by college students and at college fraternities and sororities seem as regular and inevitable as stupid statements by politicians and questionable actions by police officers and if we were so inclined, we might spend our days ranting and raging about it.  Sometimes we do that, but what we choose to obsess about seems chosen for us rather than a spontaneous reaction to circumstances. The American public is an orchestra, a chorus, a marching band and those things have their conductors, their choir leaders and drum majors to produce and direct passion on demand, outrage on cue.

So the University of Houston suspends Sigma Chi for hazing practices so dangerous as to be criminal whether or not the pledges voluntarily submit. The District Attorney may press criminal charges.  You didn't hear about it through the week long din of  gnashing and wailing and rending of clothes over rude comments made on a bus at another university. Boys will be boys and at least they're not racists. We're only accepting racism outrage this month and next month will be reserved for Hillary's e-mail.

So two cops walk into a house in Dallas.  There's a man standing there with a screwdriver.  His mother tells the cops he's mentally ill and wants help getting him to the hospital. "we don't have time for this" says one of them.  They shoot him repeatedly until he's dead.  That's right, CNN is not covering this round the clock, there are no nationwide demonstrations reminding us that bipolar lives matter. Call me a racist, and some have, but the struggle for justice and equality for all isn't well served by ignoring anyone's liberty and civil rights. Human life matters.

So a guy gets a phone call from a neighbor.  His house is surrounded by 40 police cars, SWAT team with rifles and battering rams. There's a remote control bomb disposal robot, there are armored assault vehicles.  Returning home, the parents of the teenager inside are told not to enter "the kill zone."  Later they're told the kid "is deceased."  They could only get details from the TV news the following day.  It was claimed the kid had a long police record.  He didn't.  A neighbor saw the plainclothes officers approaching the young man and thought they were robbers. It's likely the victim did too.  They jumped the fence, tackled him and when he defended himself, they killed him.  Happens in Phoenix all the time: the mentally ill, the poor, the Hispanic, the innocent, the harmless. We tend not to demonstrate round the clock, not to burn cars, rob liquor stores, loot businesses. We tend not to notice. The conductor's baton is pointing elsewhere. This is what it means, all that it means and nothing else is pertinent, anything else is out of line and racist.

 Last year the police story about the homeless New Mexico man who pulled a small knife when ordered to move along and had to be killed, was contradicted by video that shows he was complying, not resisting. His life mattered and his "white privilege" availed him not. 

The U.S. Justice Department issued a report last year documenting that the Albuquerque Police Department  has for years engaged in a pattern of excessive force that violates the U.S. Constitution and federal law. The mentally ill, ethnic minorities, the homeless, the poor, the helpless: 

     officers too frequently use deadly force against people who pose a minimal threat, said the report.

     Albuquerque officers use “less lethal” force, including Tasers, on people who are non-threatening   or unable to comply with orders. 

     Encounters between APD officers and persons with mental illness and in crisis too frequently result in a use of force or a higher level of force than necessary. 

Police brutality, excessive force -- it seems to correlate more with helplessness than with anything else, but that observation departs from the official line, deflects anger from the target we're given. It flirts with racist thoughts. It admits shades and colors into our prescribed, black and white arguments.  In fact we have a problem with the way the police sometimes treat people in general. and for those without such effective advocates and agitators, their plight is worse. Black, Brown, Indigenous and indigent people all suffer from  official brutality as well as from official lack of concern and it's time to step out of line and take a stand against the incompetence, the bias, the anger and increasing militarism of our police. But for the love of justice, let's stop forcing our force-fed examples to monopolize the news while ignoring the real problem.  All lives matter!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Ye Olde Artisinal Computer Repair Shoppe

Looking through the kitchen cabinets yesterday for that bag of cookies I knew had to be there somewhere, I spied a box of bread mix, the kind one uses with an automatic bread machine.  It's made by Pillsbury, a former rival to General Mills until they were bought out and then spun off. Pillsbury baking products are now sold under license to Smuckers. I point this out to make it clear that we are not talking about some 19th century, brick-oven and portly bakers in white apron bakery, but giant factories processing raw ingredients in giant stainless steel, computer controlled and antiseptic machinery.

I think that 20 years ago or more, the readers' eyes would have tripped over the word "artisinal" and to old times like me, an artisan still seems to be the description of a craftsman of a superior sort, the kind of carpenter, for instance who makes elegant furniture rather than the one who frames out houses or installs windows.  At the behest of our friends in marketing, the world now only exists as ornamentation, to provide something manufactured by soulless machines in vast and shiny metal machines run by computer without human interference or oversight.

Marketing of marketing, all is marketing. We speak no word and have no thought without it being the product of some marketing effort and so a box of bread mix, produced and packaged by machines to be used by another machine becomes artisinal.  Hence we have Pillsbury Artisan Bread Mix sold, one imagines, with a straight face.  The handy home artisan does, after all, have to open the box, add water and push the button on the bread machine. Place the machine on some bricks for added authenticity.

Words today are here mostly to cover, adorn, spruce up and make things from the banal to the shoddy seem appetizing. We so long for the sense of authenticity and reality our world has stripped us of. We hate to think that it's true that we're only here to consume and die and make money for someone else in the process and so we snap at the pathetic and tawdry simulations of the way we wish it still was. I've noticed that in any town of recent vintage here in coastal Florida, the use of  subdivision names containing words like cove, sound, harbor or bay seem to increase with the distance from the coast. There's nothing to spruce up the image of any strip mall like calling them "shoppes" so we can pretend we're in 1740 London down here in the tropics.  Nothing to improve the obviously raw newness of a development built on newly drained alligator swamp like naming it something "upscale:"  Kensington or worse Billingsgate or Dartmoor -- names that would only appear posh to a striving arriviste from the Heartland.

Hell, providing simulated authenticity is an artisinal industry in itself, from amusement parks to trailer parks full of "estate homes."  Soulless economy cars and ponderous trucks are sold as racers, pudgy middle-aged men sport backwards hats and wear sneakers with suits to their cubicle jobs and patronize fake European cafes where they pretend to be speaking some foreign language ( and paying a hefty price for the privilege. )  Are we immune to the pathos of modern pretense?  Apparently, and Ye Olde Renaissance Faire awaits you and the less you know about the real artisinal past, the better.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Smile, you're on Candid Camera

(and nobody's laughing)

"Frat Boy" isn't a term used in praise or admiration or affection very often and if you went to college where fraternities flourished, you'll know why.  Perhaps you have embarrassing memories. Fortunately for us old folks, none of it is likely to have been recorded for posterity in the days when nobody had a video camera in their pocket.  Boys will be boys you know, and by "boy" I mean drunken irresponsible idiot.

I have no way of knowing whether the SAE brothers at the University of Oklahoma will look back 40 years hence with embarrassment or anger at the day when their fraternity was shut down following the surfacing of a video showing some of them on a bus chanting: “There will never be a n***** in SAE.”  Perhaps that's a self fulfilling prophecy as the University immediately closed the fraternity despite the formal apology by the fraternity.

I never pledged a fraternity although I investigated a number of them, preferring the increased freedom, or license if you prefer, in finding my own housing off campus.  I do clearly remember visiting one frat and hearing the song "There'll never be a Jew in Sigma Nu" which, as you might expect, disappointed me a bit, even though I still suspect the implied anti-semitism wasn't all that deep.  But there were no consequences back then, in the tumultuous early 60's.  There were only short term consequences when some black students ran into similar and worse attitudes in other places, but the repercussions were short lived and involved deep snow drifts and frat boys in their underwear, but I won't elaborate.  The school took no actions I'm aware of.  Of course there were plenty of  fraternities free of such retrograde nonsense and with diverse memberships as I'm sure there are at Oklahoma.

But things are not the same, despite the bizarre assertions by some that Selma changed nothing with regard to racism, our tolerance for it and the consequences of  racially motivated actions. Of course today, conversations about race and many other issues across the political spectrum are dominated by institutions, which seem to demand that we use only certain terminology, accept certain axioms and discuss things only within a certain framework before beginning.  I'm sure someone reading this will already be writing something about how I'm just an old white man and don't understand my privileges -- or copying it from some pamphlet or tract. I'm too old to care, but old enough to remember well when the consequences of  racist epithets and actions were few to none and denigrating jokes were many and frat houses mostly Caucasian.  

Face it, it's better now.  It's a lot better and if progress threatens those who prosper by protesting the lack thereof, perhaps it's time to shut down other fraternities on and off campus.

Friday, February 20, 2015

So what does it mean

Not to "love" America?  The question is unanswerable without asking what is meant by love, because in the era of accepted error, of laissez faire definitions, it can mean anything. So why ask? Certainly the intended audience of the assertion that Mr. Obama does not "love" the country that elected him aren't asking because their reasoning is circular, or perhaps because their ability to question things has been eroded by the linguistic dumbing down of our speech. In the mouth of Rudy Guiliani, I'm deducing that love means something rather nebulous and involves jingoistic nationalism, selective memory, denialism, a dash of megalomania and a psychopathic lack of conscience. 

During the Vietnam years, the trope: 'loving America,' became a euphemism for blindly supporting the war, its conduct, it's stated goals, it's dishonest reasons against any and all criticism. It included defamation of all those who did not blindly follow. It included death threats, sometimes implemented against those who had doubts.  According to a large number, you either "loved" America or you were advised to leave the country. Some of us did. 

Many of us who were raised in the post war atmosphere of America as the savior of freedom and the leaders of the "free world" began to smell something as the flag marched by and the bombs fell and a generation was decimated and thought of Orwell.  Love is hate, war is peace and freedom is slavery.  Indeed, when people fling loaded words around like irritated apes fling dung, that famous quote from 1984 seems less cynical than it once did and more of a sad acceptance of hopelessness. Language has to change as the needs and wants of the oppressors and exploiters require it.  Freedom fries, pre-owned cars, processed foods, assault weapons: define and conquer.

Indeed anything can mean anything and so language no longer guides our thoughts or acts as a structure or armature upon which to build and with which to communicate the truth. Perhaps it never has been otherwise.  Arbeit macht frei, after all and it's our manifest destiny to take whatever we can get away with taking.

"Obama doesn't love America" is a statement without reference to evidence, dependent on idiosyncratic and plastic definitions and without any hint of supporting evidence.  It's so much like statements insisting he's a Muslim, or that he's just like a king or that he hates white people.  Such things depend on what the meaning of is is and nobody is asking.  Is is as likely to mean isn't as bad is to mean good.

Of course Rudy and many of his compatriots simply have so little in the way of valid criticism that they must keep their maledictions on the level of the subliminal. The half-unconscious associations that words are surrounded by become definitions. Just ask your kids' English teacher. Ask the people who tell you pornography is rape, who call a trailer an "estate Home" who call that package of bread mix artisinal.

Murdering two million civilians becomes a noble cause and we do it out of love. We love America, the greatest country that ever was, is or will be! We kill, exploit, deport and impoverish under the rubric of love and freedom.   Freedom?  Well it's what we support in any military activity. Hence  anything done to make our country safer, healthier more decent or anything else we associate with a loving attitude is by accepted definition: Not Loving America. No real explanations are needed, because love means anything the abuser intends it to mean. Language just has to change and if you question that?  Why, like that colored fella in the White House, you just don't love America!

Monday, February 16, 2015


Back in the 1930's, it seems to have been common to start one's sentences with "say," sometimes drawn out for emphasis as we do with words and tropes we use to emphasize our own connectedness with the segment of popular culture we have chosen, consciously or unconsciously. Picture Jimmy Cagney as a gangster: "saaay, you  dirty rat. . ."  Hey, don't laugh. Do you drop the R in gangster or whore and think it makes you hip?  Tell the truth, white boy.

Perhaps you've observed the phenomenon in the way we use the word "selfie" with  gleeful ostentation -- the way my dog runs up and down the hall with a stolen sock. "I'm using it!  I'm saying Selfie!" It's the word, not the picture. The very first pictures taken were self portraits. But try to find a home page in the last year or so that doesn't display the word and a list of the week's best selfies.  Haven't you been trying to work it into your conversations so that people will know you're no outsider to the hip world, the hip-hop world, the world of constant contact, constant entertainment and  Cell Phones -- the real world, that is?

The real world, not that stuffy world where the discomfiture of Napoleon at Waterloo sounds like his boots were pinching his toes and  not that he was routed. We don't want you reading that slop anyway when the interests of this or that special interest group are what matters. We will tell you how to think about the very, very rich by proclamation, by definition, by calling them either plutocrats or "job creators."  We'll tell you whether you're a racist, an antisemite, a Communist, misogynist or a fascist by fiddling with the terms. And they do tell me.  I've been chastised recently for calling one of those conical straw hats a 'coolie' hat. Perhaps in India, Hindi speakers are racists for calling day laborers coolies, the Hindi word for it or perhaps not. Perhaps Joe Biden is a racist for using the word Orient  to describe Singapore, perhaps not. It all depends on what and to whom we're selling and to what purpose and not on the feelings or intentions of the user. After all, we're the police and we'll tell you what you are, punk.

I digress.  My intention was to point out that there is a fairly sudden and fairly recent tendency to start sentences with  "so." So I'm just pointing it out, and perhaps you'll notice it too.  So perhaps your grandchildren will, if it persists, giggle about the dated idiom:  "so I'm like" instead of  "I said" So have you noticed? So I'm just sayin'. Language gotta change and so everything you say will mean something else by Thursday next and everything you write down will be laughed at or called communist or fascist or something else depending on what the language police are yelling about.

So there he goes again, old Fogg, harping on the way language changes and spitting in the eye of the "language gotta change" school of English that encourages you to ignore and accept in the same way as one might encourage another not to get out of bed in the morning -- because after all, "people gotta die."

People like me: people who love language and the freedom available to those who master it are not appreciated by the "lets let the dog choose what we have for dinner" school of rhetoric and perhaps it's because such arguments feed the dogs of  commerce, propaganda and mind control.  Those who control definitions control minds.  So isn't it strange that the people who sneer at "language police" will beat you as  senseless as Rodney King if  you question the definitions of words like sex and gender?  So isn't it strange that we can sternly be told that making a joke about Chinese speakers not being able to pronounce the letter R is racist  as though speaking Chinese made one Chinese?  The language actually uses a harder R than American English, but that's beside the point.   Not strange when you consider the goal of defining nearly everything as racism in order to bully the populace into supporting your fight against racism.

So is it that precise language, as Orwell told us, is the enemy of  verbal manipulation?