Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Irrational Nation

Is it really possible to have any faith in the things people believe, the things they support or vote for or go out in the street with signs to protest?   Perhaps we can imagine that in our democracy of sorts, the craziness at the extremes will cancel out their opposite numbers leaving some sort of rational center like the fluffy stuff in a Three Musketeers bar -- but perhaps it's no more than that: fluff. Perhaps delusion, blindness and an inability to apply what we know to what we think. Perhaps the whole idea of a center is illusory.

Perhaps the very idea of sides, like the left and right we seem to be consumed with,  is just another irrational belief or worse, a fallacy designed to
reduce the choices, the possibilities and probabilities the way trial lawyers or preachers or politicians do. Is everything binary?  Do we really have to acquit if the gloves shrank when they dried?  But we're dishonest enough with our own decisions that it's not fair only to blame people who try to manipulate us. After all, how many people go out looking for information to test their faith and creeds and political affiliations.  How many indulge in some sort of fugue of denial and assertion when faced with refutation? We fool ourselves better than anyone else can fool us. We indulge in motivated reasoning.  Hey, I'm talking to you!

Ask yourself how much chatter we hear about free spending, irresponsible Democrats who are giving away our (always hard earned, even if your last name is Koch or Walton)  money.  The debt is killing us and it's Obama's fault even if  Obama has been reducing it steadily after his predecessor's thrifty "policies" made it explode. I mean you can't go to a movie theater or send your kids to school any more even though the rate of such rampage shooting is half of what it was 20 years ago. Some of us need to believe things are getting worse and nothing is being done even though the facts are otherwise.  

Facts don't actually matter even when we have all of them and far less so when we have few or choose only the few that support our opinions.  But evidence seems to show that we strongly pick positive links and ignore negative ones.  Negative observations like all the horrifying predictions about explosive inflation, double-dip recession and a host of others we've wet our pants about have never come true at best and have happened in reverse at worst don't matter at all while some shaky or fallacious or fictitious positive link between, say immigration and everything from STD's to universal drug dependence are defended more than we will defend our country.  All the data correlating laws to their effects or lack of effects will take a back seat to firm conviction based on ignorance or stubbornness. No evidence whatever to support Reagan's economics or God's anger or the total failure of  the Affordable Care Act? Ignore that -- talk about  the theory and talk loud.

Media vita in morte sumus

In the midst of life, we are in death, and for weeks of blazing heat and tropical humidity the front porches and Ficus hedges in this manicured neighborhood have been festooned with gigantic fake cobwebs and plastic tombstones and ghosts like tattered laundry sodden in the hot air.  There's nothing intrinsically spooky about an October evening in Florida.  No bite to the air, no naked tree limbs groping at the sky like bony fingers.  It's still a midsummer evening and it smells of flowers and often there's a faint sweet incense of burning cane fields far away. 

We bring these things, the detritus of  alien and Northern cultures with us when we come here from places that get cold, places that have distinct seasons that have been mythologized for ten thousand years.  It takes forever to give up trying to force reality into our ingrained myths and many of us don't seem to try.  We want to feel afraid of the creeping death called autumn, although we tend to confuse it with movie characters meant to be frightening and we've forgotten the old meaning of  that hallowed evening when we might just see the dead again in the midst of life.

Autumn is the season of renewal here, it's when you plant things, rearrange the patio furniture, open windows, paint the porch and wash the car, but it's when the vultures return from wherever they went to avoid the Summer heat, roosting in trees, sitting on fences and sometimes congregating around roadkill to remind us that even in the abundance, the exuberance, the blooming of life -- even in the midst of plastic tombstones, cardboard witches and bedsheet ghosts, in the midst of chaperoned toddlers in princess costumes seeking candy, death awaits 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

As it happeneth

As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; and why was I then more wise? 
-Ecclesiastes 2:15- 


For a long time after I began to write here, it was enough to enumerate the foolishness of the "other side," the Tea Party, the NRA, Fox News. . . and as the man said, the danger is in becoming the monster you oppose, because one gets used to the other side being not only wrong but demonic and at best, foolish.  It does not follow that if mine enemy is wrong, I must be right. It's a vanity we all share. The model of the world we form in our heads; the model we nourish and prop up with facts, with truisms and tropes, with axioms and articles of faith, is not the real world any more than the Tao we can discuss is the real Tao. Can it be that our cherished wisdom is no more than a vanity? 

Watching Bill Maher's panel of the wise the other night was like being at the same circus you've been watching for too long.  When the clown car pulls into the ring, you already know the names and number of the clowns and when the discussion turned to the Washington State school shooting I knew it was only a matter of time until every last one climbed out, from the NRA to Drone Strikes.  But even a circus car can hold only so many.  There's hardly room for objective truth and no part for him in the show.  Why drone strikes When Muslim armies are raping torturing and beheading innocents?  Because the drone strike clown is part of the circus crew and the mission of the crew is assigning blame, prescribing from the official pharmacopoeia as well as to blame everyone but the perpetrators,  and of course he's a distraction, a way of substituting an answer we have, an argument we favor to any real discussion of what happened, its relation to other happenings and a way of attaching blame to what just might be random.

Last out of the clown car was the editor in chief of The Daily Beast to tell us that "surveys show" the people want background checks, which might have prevented this and the NRA was opposed. Facts are that we have had mandatory checks for decades, the gun in question was bought pursuant to one and was registered to a legal owner. But it's a small car and the clown has to stretch his legs.

So it happeneth to the fool and I'm getting tired of it happening to me.  Just what is the risk to any one of us from Ebola, from ISIS insurgents,  Central American child refugees,  racist police -- and how does it compare with the risk of heart disease,  urban street gangs and soccer moms texting while driving?  Don't ask because you'll become the enemy yourself, the enemy of those who insist on there being trends and conspiracies and the ever growing risks of living in America today.  Yes, the subject of drone strikes came up (Cornell West) as supporting evidence of Western sin along with the details of how "we"  arbitrarily created countries to our benefit and thus earned the enmity of the Muslim world.  Did anyone bother to ask if this mechanism made thousand year enemies of Japan and Germany after we conquered and occupied them?  No because that would challenge the model of Islamic innocence.  Do we examine the possibility that the media circus surrounding any of the events CNN chooses to obsess about every week or so, has made it glamorous for disturbed teenagers to become a bright shining star and go out like a supernova?  No, that distracts from the need to obsess about the NRA and to reenact our passion play about weapons of war, spraying high caliber, armor piercing, cop killer bullets and the total absence of all gun control measures. The chess board is set up and only the official pieces can be played.

And how then are we wise?  How do we decide what's true and what the risks are and who is to blame?  There is much written about this question and related questions of  how we see the world as we are, through rose colored or dark glasses.  The psychologist Paul Slovic's oft quoted article in Science, about risk perception theory and what he called affect heuristics, the particular heuristics and biases people invent to interpret the amount of risk in their environment.  Is the risk of Ebola running rampant to be compared with the existing risk of the flu, (about 2.5 million deaths per year) much less all infectious diseases still endemic in the US?  How many die because enlightened people oppose vaccinations?  Indeed fear of science rides in that clown car as it does in the Tea Powered version. Is the NRA opposition to study of gun crimes any different than the steadfast refusal of their opposition to discuss ( or to read or admit the existence of)  gun laws and their statistical correlation to positive results?

Did Florida's revised self defense laws really "Make it illegal for black people to go outside" as one pundit said about a case that did not, by his own admission, involve that law, or is that the result of vision through a bias darkly?  Did a  "gentle giant" really commit a robbery and assault a police officer or is his innocence to be presumed and to the extent that we need no fair trial to hang the policeman?  The answer was in the bias, the affect heuristics of the observer and the judgement to which he is accustomed to snap.  Does the fact that over 90% of the shootings of young black men are by young black men enter into the equation and cause wonder about the lack of  media circuses when that happens?  Can we really not go to the movies any more, or send out children to school where they are statistically safer than they are at home or driving with mom and her smart phone?

Can we see current events and the surrounding hoopla as anything but a cosmic frame shop, selling framed reproductions of  paint by the numbers reality?  Should we look at the news of the day as another day's entry in the logbook of the ship of fools?  Will our inherent nature ever let us be the rational beasts we pretend to be?  

 "For there is no remembrance of the wise more than that of the fool forever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten.  And how dieth the wise man?  as the fool."

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Nothing ever changes

Even when it does.

Oh goodie, we can stop obsessing about Ebola and the Ottawa shooting and renew the obsessive hysteria about school violence until something else happens.  Of course something else is happening constantly, but there's no money in discussing it when you compare it to the blockbuster ratings boost from red-eyed, glued to the tube, round the clock repetition of the same damned video clips under the rubric of "breaking News!"

I suppose there will be little or no comment on the likelihood that the massive coverage will produce copy-cat incidents of suicide by shooting spree and the usual refusal to attempt perspective by noting that such things seem to clump, but all in all have been declining significantly - over 50% - for more than 20 years. It's more profitable to claim that schools aren't safe although impartial statistics seem to show it's more dangerous at home and that any one American school can expect to have a gun or explosives incident only about once in 12,800 years.  People are demonstrably terrible at assessing risk and news providers get rich by helping them panic while other institutions of reform and anti-reform distract and misinform to promote their programs, all of them so convinced of their rightness and righteousness, truth can be damned as an obstruction and lies praised as noble.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Bring in the McClowns

It seems I write the same things over and over again because the Republican pattern repeats indefinitely.  It's OK when we do it or say it or demand it, it's anti-American, tyrannical, too little, too late, too much, too soon when they do it. Even if Republicans invented it or pioneered it or used it until yesterday it's different when "they" do it.

How long ago was it that John McCain and  Fox News and the rest of the merry bunch made a circus act with all three rings full of how Obama is a "tyrant" for appointing all those Czars?  "More Czars than the Romanovs," tweets the funny man.  So where's the big red nose and oversize pants when John McCain tells us that hapless weakling Obama isn't appointing the Czars we need?  That's right, John McCain has joined Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), sponsor of H.R. 3226 (111th): Czar Accountability and Reform (CZAR) Act of 2009  in condemning the administration for this egregious failure, invoking the "if it's bad, it's Obama" clause in the Party rules. 2009 is when George W. Bush left office -- just coincidentally -- and of course George had 33 of them, but let's keep that quiet.


Of course there's no public office with the title Czar on the door as far as I know. It's a media epithet that began in the 1940s and of course there's nothing unconstitutional about the President appointing "other public ministers" no matter how much they chuckle and chortle and lie in the Fox newsroom.
But quoting history and public record never seems to have much effect on the magic thinkers and pea-brained partisans of any stripe.  The public's eyes are always on the jugglers and clowns and what they're doing now, not what they did ten seconds ago.

"No one knows who's in charge," says McCain, his face revealing nothing of how his party, with the help of the NRA has blocked the nomination of a Surgeon General, an office designed to take control and coordinate the process of informing the country of what's being done.  Yes, the NRA, because the Surgeon General might just get involved in gun policy.  Can't have that. Better a plague than risk a gun grabber liberal doctor commie near our weapons. Better this country perish from the earth.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Fall

Florida falls into autumn
the way you grow old:
with a sense of change you
may not see in the weather
or on your face in the mirror 
or in the falling of leaves
or ripening fruit,

but you feel in an easing, 

a thinning of the still hot air,
a pause in continuity.

The odor of this morning is different.

Something is changing.

Black vultures in a tree.
An osprey on white wings
screams down at us.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

And they wonder why they're hated!

Said the man taking a video of a police "incident" from his front porch in Tallahassee, Florida.  Apparently a woman walking down a narrow residential street with no sidewalks had inquired something of a police officer, one of a great many who had congregated, their cars lining a narrow suburban lane with lights flashing to arrest three people for being suspicious.  Apparently there was a complaint about a drug deal, but of course no one would know except the officers.  Why not ask about an operation of that size in front of your house? 

But we're only citizens.  Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to obey, to be chased away or be tased in the back while calmly walking from the scene, as requested,  face smashed violently into the pavement,  dragged away in chains for not responding submissively enough to suit a cop assuming the right  to chase her away from a public place she had the right to be.  Sounds suspiciously like a case of the right to stand one's ground against an armed attacker Liberals love to hate.

But of course we don't have the right when it comes to the police.  Ignoring the traditional copscreaming, the verbal abuse and threats we associate with the swashbuckling and bullying style of public relations some cops practice, the woman simply jerked her arm when someone behind her grabbed it -- perhaps something either you or I might have done as a reflex.  After all, there was no "stop, you're under arrest" nor any cause for one.

She wasn't a young woman, perhaps old enough to be your mother or even your grandmother.  She was no threat to anyone, or at least no threat to any sane one -- anyone not in an ecstatic froth of  arrest frenzy so common to police action. Is it an act to justify the systemic disrespect for the citizens they're supposed to serve? Is it necessary to work up courage before shoving women into a police car, like Viking berserkers, like headhunters before a raid?  Are they cowards or do they just love the art of the tantrum? 

And they wonder why they're hated.

Ask yourself  if the constitution and rules of common decency gives a policeman the right to shoot your mother in the back because she isn't walking fast enough to please him -- perhaps because he doesn't want witnesses to what he's doing?  Ask yourself why a cop can assume the right to talk to anyone in such a fashion -- someone not even a suspect.

I think there are bigger questions than the issue of racism. I think we need to remember, before we fools rush in to frame this only in terms of racism, that if they can do this to anyone whether it's because she is black, or lives in a less than affluent neighborhood, or asks an inconvenient question or for no damned reason at all other than he's a cop and he has a gun and he can get away with it -- we need to remember that if he can do that to her, he can do that to you.  It's a crime against all of us. It's a crime against liberty and justice and what ought to be the American way.

Yes, the officer has been suspended, but would he have been without the video?  It's been said countless times that God didn't make all men equal, Sam Colt did.  True or not, the pocket video recorder has made our word the equal or superior word to that of authority.  Video can exonerate, it can damn, it can set us free. It can shine light on ugliness and falsehood as well as on truth.  I wholeheartedly support equipping the police with cameras, but I'm starting to believe that there should be a recognized, guaranteed right to keep and bear video cameras because they are necessary for the benefit of a free society.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Civilians don't salute.

In the 24 hour news world, domestic abuse, particularly athlete and celebrity domestic abuse is the theme of the week.  It's likely to remain so until the abuse stories become so minor it becomes necessary to manufacture them or until some other chew toy is tossed to the media by circumstances.  What that will be, which of many will be picked up by CNN or Fox as the gonfallon of the next cycle is hard to predict.

Today's prime candidate for our next obsession   is the video clip of
Obama exiting a helicopter and saluting the marine guard with a cup of coffee in his hand.  The local Fox outlet took time out from covering wars and calamities and domestic abuse stories to discuss the implied disrespect for the people who sacrifice for "our freedom" or get dressed up to help the president off a helicopter, which ever comes first.

One characteristic of the news in our time is that we get enough information to prop up the theme of the story but never nearly enough to let you speculate on how it fits into the big picture.  Surprise surprise, presidents saluting the military is rather new to be calling it a tradition.  I believe it started with Reagan, who of course served WW II in Hollywood.  Some nations forbid saluting while "uncovered" or not wearing a hat.  According to Marine protocol:

" Marines do not render the hand salute when out of uniform or when uncovered."  

Whether or not an "uncovered"  or out of uniform president,  or any other civilian is required to return such a salute is open to interpretation.  There is no universal rule and one must remember commuting by helicopter is as common as driving to work or taking the bus is for the rest of us -- not much of a public ceremony. There is no rule about doing something because Reagan's PR people told Reagan to do it.

 

"The gesture is of course quite wrong: Such a salute has always required the wearing of a uniform.  It represents an exaggeration of the president's military role."  Wrote author and historian John Lukacs wrote in The New York Times in 2003 when Bush was in the White house and it was un-American to criticize the Warpresident..
It does seem that saluting with a cup of coffee seems a bit thoughtless or impolitic, or while talking on the telephone -- even if you're talking to Putin or scheduling an attack on Syria, but that alone doesn't sufficiently serve the cause of providing fodder for the Obamabashers.  We have to call it a "latte" because coffee with milk in it isn't as funny or as easy a target for scorn.  We must not mention or take note that when Bush saluted with a dog under his arm or when Eisenhower didn't salute at all we didn't melt into a puddle of contempt on the floor. We must not question the fact that the president is a civilian and  doesn't have a uniform to wear even if he is a commander in chief or ask whether he's subject to military protocols.  This is Obama we're talking about and this is the man we must impugn and impede and insult whether the nation is at peril. or not.  

Monday, September 22, 2014

Epawesome

In today's American parlance, or kidspeak as I call it, everything worth mentioning is either awesome or it sucks.  As with some aspects of American politics there's not much in between the extremes of cliche description, although of late some things have become less awesome and more epic. Perhaps the kids are growing tired of awesome as they grow older, some of our kids being in late middle age these days.

Anyway, I have the bad habit of noticing trends and processes in things and I noticed a sign just the other day, advertising a church down here in the Bible belt -- a church where they provide "Epic Worship." 

It's not that epic is a bad or lesser word for what goes on in churches.  The Bible after all is truly an epic: an historical and poetical narrative or tradition.  For those who worship the Bible or the characters in it,  the experience might indeed be awesome in the true sense of the word if I might be permitted to suggest that words have true meaning or history.

Perhaps awesome has lost a bit of its panache, having effectively replaced a large portion of the vocabulary although, like the other cute, cliche manifestations of eternal youth and hipness we cling to, perhaps not. Such things have an extraordinary life span, after all. Backwards hats are entering the second half century of  cutting edge semiotic splendor seen at the country club as well as the convenience store dumpster late at night.  Who knows how much longer things will be awesome or how much longer we'll be content with saying it as though we were Oscar Wilde uttering some fresh, novel and awesomely trenchant witticism.  I suspect one of those syncritisms we see when we study ancient pantheons or senescent dialects: Amun and Ra become Amun-Ra and gigantic and enormous fuse together to make the user feel ginormously less illiterate.

In short, how much longer before we hear epawsome?

Friday, September 19, 2014

The story of the day.

Bleary-eyed, the zombie turns on the TV, holding the antidote, the cup of coffee in one hand hoping to see whether UK retains it's U.  "After the break we're back with the story of the day" says the talking head, or the panel of happy-talk bobbleheads.  The story of the day, of course is the new iPhone.

The latest thing from Apple, the news from McDonalds, the celebrity "selfie" of the day. No point in checking the Benghazi channel. It's back to Al Jazeera where I get my answer and am reminded of the size and complexity of our world.  All sorts of things going on, scary stuff, important stuff Americans never hear about unless it happens to coincide with the story of the week, which seems to be the NFL and domestic violence.  We'll be clucking and squawking about something else as the flock follows next weeks' theme. Some other occurrence will convince us that something which is actually getting better is getting worse or that some one in a hundred million happening means we can't go outside anymore -- at least on the side of the news I watch. On the other side it will still be Benghazi and the milquetoast Muslim tyrant and how he's mishandled this or that.

In the trade, they call it "native" advertising.  The movie where the ultramacho hero always drives a Audi or BMW, news stories straight from the press releases of  video game vendors, the latest shake from McDonalds or of Miley Cyrus' ass.  And of course most of the news network's day is advertising and most of the actual news has to be sufficiently sensational, captivating, outrageous or otherwise sufficiently fetching to make the other glassy-eyed zombies sit through the endless bits of theater where toady, underpowered souless and boring econoboxes are made to seem like race cars and other products are equally misrepresented as the goals of all your pathetic worldly aspirations.

Scotland?  Oh yeah, they're still part of the UK for the time being and some 80 or 90 percent of the voters showed up at the polls. I guess those people don't have anything better to do in their sad little world.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Alice in Foxland

When the Mad Hatter asks why a raven is like a writing desk, we recognize that the question is intentionally absurd.  What about the question of why Fox News seems to have given more coverage to the attack on the Benghazi embassy over 2 years ago than to anything in recent memory?  As it relates to the Republican refusal to allow spending on embassy security, we might as well find some connection to ravens and writing desks because the relentless hammering on the importance of  the incident isn't about the administrations "policies" as concerns terrorism, it's about Hillaryphobia. It's a coverup for their own negligence and misdeeds and failures. Steve Benin writes that the Fox aired nearly 1,100 segments over 20 months without any substantive revelations of any culpability and has yet to reveal any reasons to be horrified about anyone but the Republicans in Congress.  

I read in Media Matters that Foxed and Cloroxed host Elisabeth Hasselbeck tweeted the demand for the same transparency about Benghazi and the fake IRS scandal as we demand from the NFL.  Why is it so hard for the rear end of America to see the absurdity of this obsession, the need to connect everything to Benghazi and the cover-up that never was.

I could go on about the efficacy of the Big Lie, the oft-told lie, but  it doesn't help.  I had reluctantly to 'de-friend' someone I've admired on Facebook the other day, when he replied furiously to my comment that there was no scandal there and he'd have to come up with a better reason for his Obamabashing.  It won't be the last time I have to do that, I'm sure, because it's an article of faith that has to be protected from the heretical truth.

Is there a treatment for our national mental disease? Is everything  about Benghazi because nothing is about Benghazi?  Is it all because the people with desperate need to hate him and his party have such a hard time finding reasons after all these years of dire and disastrous predictions yet to come true? 

Why is Fox like a news network?  Like the Mad Hatter's riddle, it isn't a riddle at all.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The man who would be king

President Obama wants to be a king, you know.  We hear that all the time.  He's a tyrant, he appoints Czars to run things, but of course he gets nothing done and plays golf while hordes of armed terrorists cross the borders disguised as children he invited here with his "policies." Never mind that the influx peaked in 2008. 

His policies -- his executive orders -- you know he's issued more of them than any other president and he's trashing the constitution by doing it!

Rand Paul, the man who would be president says his first executive order would be to repeal all previous executive orders, doesn't seem to see that particular order as trashing the constitution or indicating royal presumptions of his own and perhaps because he also asserts that revoking all previous orders would be his only and final order.

Of course the entire premise, that our current executive branch operates primarily by autocratic executive order and in disregard for the "will of the people" (as ignored and filibustered by Congress)  is false.  In fact Obama and his predecessor issued far, far fewer of them than any president in my lifetime.  If the facts don't fit, you're full of shit as Mr. Cochran might have said -- and he would be right.

But Paul's presidential campaign is not about truth or even about Democracy.  It's all about appealing to the irrational and fact-free passions of  the Party and apparently he had to think for a moment about repealing Truman's integration of the military and indeed Lincoln's executive order freeing of the slaves and Eisenhower's desegregation of schools before saying he would repeal and re-instate those which had some saving grace.  One can only imagine the debate about re-instating those three, but I have to wonder about the Napoleonic ego of someone who would repeal all the executive orders of the Washington administration onward and using his own judgement, re-order those he agreed with.  

To the people who cheered and applauded this proclamation without bothering to check any facts or perhaps to those who care little for facts or are able to dismiss them for some metaphysical reasons President Paul is a prospect devoutly to be wished because to those who really would be kings, all that which stands in the way must be done away with, whether true or false, good or bad or disastrous.



Friday, September 12, 2014

All roads lead to damnation

At least they do if you're Barack Obama.  Threaten to impeach if he intervenes in Syria or Libya and threaten to impeach if he hasn't.  I keep saying it but now perhaps I don't need to illustrate it. Representative Jack Kingston, R-Ga shouts it from the rooftops the day before yesterday, or at least from the Capitol steps.  Anticipating the presidents speech, and a great one it was, Kingston told reporters it doesn't matter how it goes,

It’s an election year. A lot of Democrats don’t know how it would play in their party, and Republicans don’t want to change anything. We like the path we’re on now. We can denounce it if it goes bad, and praise it if it goes well and ask what took him so long.” [italics mine]

There you have it, the Republican strategy in a nutshell or the Republican turd in the punchbowl if you prefer.  Sure some people see these saboteurs and insurrectionists as patriots simply because they hate civilization so much but sorry, I'm not drinking that punch.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

9/11/14

Riding my new bike yesterday, an elderly driver decided that the exit ramp was no longer the place for her and suddenly swerved back into the left lane without looking.  It just so happens that's exactly where I was.  I managed to avoid her at some risk of falling, but it happened so fast there was no question of using my horn and she simply continued on her way somewhere at ten under the limit. Why do I mention this?  Because it's 9/11 again, the day of self pity and choreographed mourning and as the fellow on the news this morning said, "I used to feel invincible but now I feel so vulnerable."

Do we need a better example of how erratically, erroneously and stupidly people assess risk?  If we were to make a statistically accurate list ranking the possibility of being harmed by a terrorist attack on any given day, would it be below a list of thousands of possibilities -- tens of thousands -- hundreds of thousands?  But I didn't look over my shoulder in fear and dread getting on the bike on a sunny Wednesday afternoon and I'm not expecting an airplane to crash into my house in rural Florida today either. The chances of getting hurt by some nice old lady just a mile or so from home is almost incalculably larger, yet still small enough that I don't tremble in my steel toe boots thinking about the danger stalking the roads.  Heart attacks, cancer, strokes, a fall in the bathroom, these are all things I legitimately worry about at my age and try to avoid.  Terrorist attacks? Really?  Isn't that an insult to people who wake up every morning in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Palestine, Israel, Lebanon? 

But self pity and self absorption are so American.  Beheadings and the other horrors of the day don't count so much unless it's an American head rolling and thousands dead anywhere hardly count in comparison to one possibly unjust American death.

I don't know how much Cola and shoes and Toyotas the obsession of the day will sell on CNN and Fox, but it sells fear by the carload.  It sells so much fear that most of us still haven't noticed that we -- or our congress, that is, signed away the 4th amendment for the great majority of the country, that we began pumping up our police departments with heavy weaponry even in remote places like Wyoming in order to equip them for the hordes of Muslims falling from the sky over the Cheney ranch. It sold domestic surveillance, it sold countless quasi-military weapons. It sold the longest and  most expensive wars in our history. We went to war with an uninvolved country and created so much chaos and so big a power vacuum that Iraq became helpless to keep out Al Qaeda and now ISIS.

But we still feel not only sorry for ourselves, but guilty for not feeling sorry enough.  Eventually 9/11 will go the way of the Alamo, the Maine and Pearl Harbor, but not soon enough for me because as long as we weep and moan and fear to turn our heads lest a fearful beast pursues us, as long as we continue to conduct our petty civil wars,  we won't do a damned thing about the real world and its real troubles.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Some thoughts on prejudice

 Well, if you told me you were drowning
I would not lend a hand
I've seen your face before my friend
But I don't know if you know who I am
Well, I was there and I saw what you did
I saw it with my own two eyes
So you can wipe off that grin,
I know where you've been
It's all been a pack of lies

 -Phil Collins-


What is an observation without a frame of reference?  We like to think we can observe facts and make rational deductions, but we can't.  Anyone with training in psychology as it pertains to law enforcement  is likely to tell you that eye witness accounts of the same occurrence will vary markedly and it's been clearly demonstrated that observers concentrating on one thing will be completely unaware of  important people and objects in their direct view.

When I read about an unarmed African American "child" kneeling with his hands up being shot multiple times, I was truly irate, I was ready to write off reports of his just having perpetrated a class B felony and his having charged a policeman who had ordered him to stop as racism. It fits with my habitual beliefs about the police and racism.  I may well have been totally wrong and it may not be the first time, but if it turns out that the 6 foot 4 200 pound "Child" did in fact charge the officer, things might just be other than I was primed to believe.

You might relate it to the halo effect: the tendency to have a view of people and things because of, in this case, his being a member of a traditionally disadvantaged class We do after all read about all sorts of injustice based on race and racism seems to explain a lot. But sometimes, of course we're wrong. Sometimes we fail to see things through the eyes of people who run stores and gas stations in "bad" areas whose lives are in danger every day.  Is it too easy for me  to condemn it from the safety of my gated community and the comfort of my air conditioned office? It depends on your viewpoint, your frame of reference, the things you associate with other things because your human and you have a memory.

For most of my life, I was firmly convinced that Julius and Ethyl Rosenberg were framed.  I galled me that they were Jews and their trial and execution would reflect on me.  I found it easy to find detailed opinions as to their having been innocent. There were lots of people who agreed, lots of signs and protests from lots of convinced people. People I despised were convinced of their guilt. I was ready to see the whole sad affair as yet another example of the persecution of liberals and most of all Jews.  In fact I was passionate about it. I was wrong.

But we see connections between things, relationships, reminders and all the things that lumped together are called bias and prejudice.  Watching the endless coverage of the gruesome and heartbreaking killing of Stephen Sotloff -- the tall dark man with the knife condemning Obama, blaming Obama for what he was about to do and threatening to do it again and again, in the name of peace and freedom  My rage and loathing must surely have been augmented by the years and years of hearing similar rhetoric from Republicans of all sorts, from Fox News to barber shop conversations. It's going to be hard to temper my rage at the endless Obama bashing and ceaseless hatred of human values. These things are inexorably linked in my mind.

And what do we think of Vlad the Invader?  Putin is an arrogant, dishonest, power hungry autocrat, contmptuous of  Democracy, decency, human rights and Liberty. Contemptuous of us. Have you been listening to how Fox and its followers have been praising him as the kind of bold, confident leader American needs?  If you're a Republican you will have forgotten this instantly, but you'll still be contemptuous of Obama and blame him for being weak, for not waving our nuclear penis around. I still remember though and every time I hear you barking about strength, I will associate it with your fascination with tyrants. Evey time you call Obama a tyrant I will remember. Every time I hear you call him weak and indecisiveness, I will associate it with your praise of ruthless aggression.  I will never, ever trust you to tell us the time of day even if my watch confirms it. I know who you are and what you've done and it's all been a pack of lies.

So, yes, I'm human.  Yes, I know there is wisdom and enlightenment in trying to see things through other eyes, but there is discomfort in equal amounts from remembering, from associating or correlating one thing with another. I suffer from rage and closed mindedness and prejudice like everyone else does, so when I see bloody handed monsters I will think of Republicans. When I hear the word "conservative" I think of hate, of tyranny, of  arrogance -- of evil.  the camera can't show it, but I know that face behind the black mask and I see him everywhere.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

I have seen the future

Or the selfie of the future, that is.

Selfie of the day, selfies of the week -- we can hardly breathe with the effort of working selfie into every page, every story, every moment of news.

6 uses of the word in a 15 second news spot and it's hardly unique. They're trending on Twitter and I effort to litter every page with SELFIES!

How did we ever get along without that word in those dull, crepuscular days without hashtags when only birds would tweet and that picture you took of yourself was a picture you took of yourself?  No,  selfie is here to stay and there is a future to come when old men in tattered backwards hats sit on park benches sharing shaky-handed selfies and  blowing farts through their boxers, belts around ankles and tweeting about efforting their bowel movements. Tattooed nonagenarians with Titanium hip replacements and gold-rimmed bifocal Google Glass, sharing selfies.

I have seen the future. Androgynous naked teens, covered in genetically engineered cat fur, brains wired together by the web, trending. They hide in the trees, laughing and taking selfies for their friends on the moon.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The conundrum of memory

Sometimes I get to wondering, sometimes I get confused about what our conservative brethren are trying to tell us.  I was reminded recently that my former Republican congressman Tom Rooney (R-FL) amongst others,  vociferously  threatened to impeach the president for having provided air traffic control for the UN incursions into Libya; for having exceeded his constitutional authority by arming Syrian rebels.  Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) back in June of 2013 threatened to impeach President Obama if any U.S. troops are killed in Syria.  Is there a relationship between rhetorical amplitude and political passion and the shortness of it's half-life? 


I ask because currently the same party is chastising him for not having gone into Syria thus allowing ISIS a breeding ground. We need those airstrikes -- why didn't he make those airstrikes?  We need airstrikes, says John McCain, in his time-worn tradition of  damning Obama if he does or if he doesn't.  Lindsey Graham (R-SC) wants to commit ground troops. This is all

 "due to our total inaction. And it's going to be one of the more shameful chapters in American history," says John McCain

Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire said the President's limited foreign policy is no longer acceptable. I have no idea whether that refers to the hundred airstrikes the Obama administration has unilaterally launched into Northern Iraq to help the hopelessly rickety and incompetent government Republicans bragged about setting up not long ago, but we can be assured of at least one thing: Republicans will damn him for doing it and damn him for not stepping in earlier back when they were trying to impeach him for it.
 .


Sunday, August 24, 2014

What happened was. . .

It's been said so often we might as well attribute it to everyone: "we don't see things the way they are, we see them the way we are." So much in life hinges on tiny details. Things nearly identical can be seen in such enormously different fashion and we rarely seem to ask ourselves what the difference is. Sometimes the only difference is the way we are.

In a small Texas town yesterday, the Sheriff pulled 24-year-old Joshua Manuel Lopez's car over in a suburban neighborhood. Lopez had an outstanding warrant for graffiti. There was a scuffle, Sheriff Michael Pimentel was fatally shot.

What we think happened has so much to do with who we are. Much has to do with how the story is presented to us and this time, for some reason, CNN only gave us the bare bones facts, no a priori conclusions were jumped to. But there were so many ways of presenting this and as the metaphorical butterfly can set off a hurricane, it's the minute subtleties of our perception and the writer's perception that determine whether we sigh and go on to the next story, whether we feel bad for the officer, whether we see it as police brutality -- whether we talk about the way police treat minorities, write headlines about an innocent murdered for a misdemeanor or about those probably illegal Hispanics ruining America. There is far more than beauty in the eye of the beholder.

I doubt that the president will show up at the funeral or that the streets of Elmendorf, Texas will see loud and violent protest and I have to ask just how different is this case from other cases. Might it have been different if the ethnicity had been different, if the presumption of malice had been inserted in the coverage, if the trajectory of the bullet had varied by an inch or two? But my perception is meaningless, it's what the public thinks that matters. This is not an art museum and whether the painting is a Picasso or a Pissarro is not determined by the frame. It's determined by you and with whom you choose to side; by what causes you identify with, what party you belong to and what news you listen to. Perhaps the Buddhists are right and it's all an illusion, a great emptiness we fill with ourselves.

Will someone accuse me of racism here? of being unsympathetic? It doesn't matter and the "I" who wrote this is the you who are reading it. Nothing is true, all things are permitted.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Rush to Judgement.

Zeus has led us on to know, the Helmsman lays it down as law that we must suffer, suffer into truth. We cannot sleep, and drop by drop at the heart the pain of pain remembered comes again, and we resist, but ripeness comes as well. From the gods enthroned on the awesome rowing-bench there comes a violent love.

-Aeschylus: Agamemnon- 

We hear on the TV that most arrests in Ferguson Missouri are of  African Americans but we don't ask if the percentage given relates to the percentage of African Americans living there.  I don't know the answer, but I'll bet few people bothered to ask themselves because it complicates things and we're looking for "proof" of something we know a priori. Most of us would be very disappointed at anything in the way of opinion or conjecture or documented proof that things aren't the way we thought and perhaps not the way we hoped.  We want that cop to be guilty and his whole department complicit. It's plausible after all and that's enough for most of us.  Thank god for the law and the courts or we'd become what we think we oppose.

It's well documented by many scientific studies that people will believe a simple, plausible story with few selected supporting facts, or even fallacies for that matter, before they will take the trouble to sort through all the verifiable facts and analyze how they relate to our chosen opinion. Occam's razor cuts both ways and after all, our brains have evolved as machines for jumping to conclusions, not as calculators or statistical tabulators.  Hell, I suspect most people simply latch on to the opinions of the mobs they belong to, or aspire to belong to.  Far more witches have been burned than have been burned by witches.

I think there's great wisdom that comes with self doubt -- the ability to ask oneself  "what if everything I believe is wrong or absurd, or not worth consideration." What if the case is far more complex and the certainties for less clear? If we're lucky we have one of those epiphanic moments when it becomes obvious that we were wrong and we learn from it. We find out someone we were sure was guilty is innocent or vice versa. We find out we're not who we thought we were, that something we believed without question is demonstrably false, that someone or something we had confidence in didn't merit it. We find we've misjudged someone and we're forced, to go out and rage in the storm like Lear.  We suffer into truth and the truth is that if justice is to be served, we wait for the evidence and we look at all of it without prejudice. It's not easy.

The simple plausible truth behind the acquittal of O.J. Simpson was that he was the victim of racism. He's black, the LAPD has a history of  brutality against minorities,  one of the investigators was once heard using the N word and so when his defense attorney told the jury they had to send a message to "the Man"  all the endlessly damning evidence was forgotten.

When Trayvon Martin was killed, so many of us, so well aware of  racism in small town police departments instantly assumed that a "child" was murdered by some racist intent upon hunting innocent black children and were appalled by the jury's decision, because after all it was impossible that the innocent child jumped out of hiding in the dark at a "creepy guy" 4 inches shorter than him. Teenaged boys never do impulsive things, do they?  Impossible because we don't want to consider anything but black and white both in a real and metaphorical sense. We wanted to tie it to our mistrust of guns and laws that had no part in the trial and so we did rightly or wrongly, guilty or innocent -- case closed, minds closed.

When we heard some "child" was shot in Missouri. We saw the inevitable graduation picture wearing a mortarboard hat.  It was just so obviously a racially motivated murder to consider otherwise and of course if we want to pause and wait for more than confused and conflicting eye-witness reports we display endless anecdotes about racism in Ferguson.  So just as we as good liberals shouted "rush to judgement" at the lengthy Simpson trial, we turned about and rushed to judgement even before any investigation in those other two affairs.  Who wants to suffer? Who wants to be seen as a racist?

For those of course, of a different political persuasion, quite the opposite is true and Timothy McVeigh is a hero but Dr. King is not.  But enough about Fox News.  Enough too about questioning the need for the National Guard to stem the violence -- it's necessary because we think the situation is obvious and we are sure that nothing will be done if we don't demonstrate and exhibit our credentials as racism fighters before we really know what happened.  We don't.  We've just assumed and just decided what's obvious.  We get angry because we assume a cop assumed and because we assumed that cops always assume and we make sure that everyone knows every thing that might be construed as evidence  of racism so that we don't pause to reflect that sometimes we're wrong when lives hinge on our being right.

No it's absolutely certain that someone reading this will call me a racist or apologist for racism because I'm attempting to temper your crowd-sourced certainty.  If you do, you're not a liberal nor a defender of human rights or of justice but a prejudiced partisan a long way from wisdom.




Monday, August 18, 2014

Madness

Browse around the web and you'd think the world was going crazy and no, I'm not talking about Ferguson, MO.  Perhaps it is and perhaps we're all crazy too, but within a couple of minutes looking for stories other than about Ferguson, I found out far more than I wanted to know about a morgue attendant indicted for having sex with a hundred corpses of crime victims. Good thing I skipped lunch today.  But on any particular day you'll get demented Christian leaders telling us that public nursing causes people to become gay. Maybe all those baby Jesus pictures in churches do the same thing or maybe they cause people to become psychotic like this guy, but who knows?  It's a mad, mad, mad world and it's all Obama's fault for playing favorites with his black cronies.  

Larry Klayman, who is not a racist, is surprised that Obama isn't calling it the black House yet, but no, he's not a racist and Florida Governor Rick Scott whose company stole hundreds of millions from Medicare and who  takes personal credit for the economic recovery he had nothing to do with blames his opponent, former governor Charlie Christ for the recession. You know, the one that ended under Obama.

Think he's embarrassed by a campaign endorsement from a convicted slave trader or taking money from a contractor Florida employs to run prisons?  Nah and nobody else cares because Obama is on vacation while there are so many crises going on!  Really, and even though Obama had cut it short to be in Washington the other night, I broke off a long friendship with someone who didn't think it was fair mentioning the all time presidential vacation record holders, Reagan and Bush.  Bush took 879 Vs. Obama's 150 of course and I seem to recall a few crises during the Bush years. 2 1/2 years of vacation time but never mind -- Obama is just Obama and facts don't matter.

Of course there are crises galore in Ukraine and Africa and Iraq and Obama is being blamed for all of them by people who essentially don't give a damn about any problem but the one that suits their agenda and so it's hard to feel too much sympathy for anyone, crazy or sane.  Yes, it's a crazy world, a self obsessed and heartless and insane world with enough pain and suffering and grief  to fill a hundred worlds for a million years, but to most of us, it's our problem and it's who we can blame it on that matters. It's how much we can hide behind the smoke screen of bogus outrage that matters, because if blame were assigned fairly -- well we can't have that, can we?

You'd think we'd find a way to do something about it, but really, how many sane people are there other than you and I and besides, that damned Obama is on vacation.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Studies show

Studies show.  How many fraudulent arguments and political pieties begin with that statement?  Milk produces phlegm, Gluten causes inflammation, calories don't count, Obama caused the recession, money trickles down from the "job creators"  human activities don't affect the climate.  No matter how many large, double-blind studies are published in peer-reviewed journals, these flawed "Studies" many of which are speculations and fabrications or selected anecdotes persist.

Nobel laureate psychologist and Economist  Daniel Kahneman's book Thinking Fast and Slow posits that we have two ways of making decisions: fast and slow as you might suspect from the title, or as he calls them: system 1 and system 2.  Reading it might just cause you to reevaluate a lot of  things you've been led to believe because people who want to enlist your support, sell you their products, receive your donations and secure your votes make skillful  use of this knowledge.

We have statistics thrown at us every day and we make decisions based on our statistical illiteracy, our intellectual laziness and the tendency to make decisions based on limited facts and wishful thinking.  So much of Kahneman's work applies to how we choose investments, but it applies to virtually everything we prefer to approach with the unreliable "system 1" rather than to wade rigorously through volumes of data until our heads hurt. In a large part, "studies show" is enough for most of us.  there's always a study, an authority, a  book and it's usually enough. We prefer to judge, to evaluate on limited evidence and we prefer intuition over analysis and when we believe something to be true, whether it's because we identify with a party or an organized faith or an ethnic group, we are

"very likely to believe arguments that appear to support it, even when these arguments are unsound.  If system 1 is involved, the conclusion comes first and the arguments follow."

That doesn't sound very profound or startling and yet we virtually always fail to detect such tendencies in ourselves, perhaps more so when we think we are highly intelligent.  As Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory says "If I were wrong, don't you think I'd know it?

We tend to disallow legitimate science and valid statistical conclusions out of hand if we are engaged in politics that argue to the contrary and apparently intelligence has less than enough to do with it. The difference between that quoted statement of the obvious and the body of work summarized in the book is an enormous amount of documented science.  ( I'll mention the Nobel prize once again.)

But this is not a book review and what I'm getting at is not another Lefty attempt to show the shoddy thinking and fallacy filled folly of the Right Wing. I'm making a case for divorce.  I'm just not getting the kind of liberal thinking out of the Democratic party I need.  I feel neglected and betrayed, ignored and saddened at the endlessly tainted logic, the misused statistics and conclusions supported by faith and gerrymandered facts. I want a divorce. Let me explain.

I got an appeal yesterday, to rethink my position on the legal modifications to prior self defense laws the press likes to call "stand your ground."  Places that have such laws have more murders, states the pleading, and not just more murders but more murders of  African Americans because non-African Americans tend to see dark skinned people as hostile and dangerous and likely to be carrying weapons. But don't take their word for it and you guessed it: studies show.

It so happens that I took part in the cited study which consisted of  pressing a key with either the right or left hand  to show whether the small black and white images of human eyes belonged to white or black people. Small images were also displayed which included items like crossbows and maces.  Delays in pushing either key determined whether or not I was a racist and wouldn't you know it -- I am a racist.  The study shows  and never mind the various possible reasons for time delays. Never mind any other study.

The problem from my standpoint is that it was impossible for me to determine the 'race' of well more than half of the eyes much less analyze the emotion  and there was a greater delay in pushing the key when I had that problem.  The delay is said to be proof that I associated black people with weapons and hostility, albeit mostly medieval weapons.  Seriously, but none the less, studies show. 

Now from this study, taken to be conclusive and irrefutably so, comes the leap of fallacy that I cannot be trusted to determine whether or not someone is a threat to my life because I'm a racist and by extension, no other whit person can be trusted because white people are racists. I would expect Liberals to gasp and perhaps to gag, but Democrats don't.  Democrats cling to this conclusion because studies show it's safer for to require me to run away from the attacker with a gun, white or black, and because they're Democrats after all. The conclusion comes first and the arguments follow.

Back when the Feds finally killed the 55mph speed limit, there were impassioned arguments from self-styled liberals like Alan Dershowitz telling us that there would be a bloodbath and indeed for a very short time there was a slight increase of highway fatalities. It was a statistical blip and those fatalities have continued to decline. Dershowitz made the mistake of taking statistically irrelevant data as proof of a trend -- of ignoring, as most of us do, regression to the mean and of choosing facts to fit the prior conclusion .

So my first reaction to the "states with SYG laws have more. . ." statement was the question: did they have more beforehand? and has the alleged increase been long enough to have statistical significance?  Will Regression to the Mean make this increase go away?  Without answering that question I'm supposed to hear Studies Show and jump on the bandwagon.  Sorry, I can't and because it's nearly universal in political advertising to play games with statistics, I have to side with Dr. Kahneman again when he explains that a few facts and a plausible story tend to trump informed and rational conclusion. WYSIATI he calls the gambit: "what you see is all there is" and we're all prone, in our laziness and longing to belong, to fall for it. If we fear guns we won't ask questions.  If we are invested in guns and gun rights, the opposite is true. First comes the conclusion.

The problem with interpreting statistics isn't just the pervasive ignorance of statistical method, the confusion between context and causality, but the laziness we're encouraged to cultivate in our consumer society. The vast majority of educated people will read the syllogism:

All roses are flowersSome flowers fade quicklyTherefore some roses fade quickly.

says Kahneman and agree, but of course it's not true, because it's possible that there are no roses among the some flowers that fade quickly, but my head hurts when doing the work needed to analyze it. It looks plausible,  the statements before "therefore" are true even if they are not the only facts that need to be considered and therefore we settle for "it's true" and will defend any argument based on it's truth. What with our liberal backgrounds, it's easier to agree that all white people are racists and defend policies based on it than to question Liberal authority. Easier to explain gender differences on society than on science and therefore it's fine to suppress data and prevent studies which might show. the studies that agree with us are always right.

Because it gets cold outside and insulation is necessary to sustain life, no one should interfere with our right to own warm clothing.

Does that mean that we're not allowed to own a coat in Key West but only where it gets cold? You know what I'm getting at here. Context means more than what's actually said. We see what we want to see, believe what we're disposed to believe.  We're not afraid of mittens, but still we think we're rational. We think we're guided by science and are objective, independent thinkers.  If I am actually to be all that, can I still be a Democrat?  Can I still be a Democrat if than now means I can't trust anyone in any way, that heresy is everywhere and the job of Democrats is to root it all out and punish it  even if we have to cut a swath through truth, science and  humanist values to bring the unbelievers to the stake?  No, I think I need a divorce.




Sunday, August 10, 2014

Shame

People get killed in almost any kind of racing and everyone knows it. It's a rough sport, like the sports Americans love the most.  People get hurt playing football.  People get killed on ski slopes and while surfing and  skateboarding.  People go out during hurricanes to kite surf and board surf and when they get killed in the process the responsibility is usually clear. People run out into highways, people walk around on railroad bridges and they get hurt and nobody blames anyone but the fools who do it, but that's in the real world, not the strange world of journalism where it becomes necessary to ask whether there will be criminal charges against Tony Stewart who ran over and killed a teen age driver who deliberately ran out on a race track fired up with childish egotism and deliberately stepped in front of his race car, finger held high. "Will he face criminal charges?" asks CNN?  Do you ever feel shame?  I have to ask.

And speaking of shame, can we write it off to early stages of dementia that John McCain can get away with blaming the raging barbarians now running loose in Iraq on President Obama's having pulled troops out on a schedule agreed to by George Bush and at the demand of the incompetent, ill-prepared Iraqi Government set up by George Bush that alienated a large portion of  the population? It's time for the public to ask, but it's time for the Media to start asking out loud since unlike the rest of  us, they remember all the details about a war sold on a false pretext with the full cooperation of  armchair heroes and war profiteers and in which so many people died.

 It's time to ask how much the American public would have supported keeping thousands of stoops there for another decade or longer since it's unlikely that the schisms going on in Muslim countries are going end or stop taking advantage of the kind of power vacuums provided by people like George Bush and Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, inter alia for no other reason than the love of  conquest. I'm sorry, Mr. McCain, but you backed the destruction if Iraq and you asked for the destruction of Iran from the comfort of your own safety.

You've blamed Obama for the results of the laws of supply and demand in a free world market.  You've been offering predictions of all kinds of disasters, military and economic and have been proven wrong -- and indeed nothing you've been warning against has happened. The "everything is Obama's fault" has disgraced you and any sympathy you may have earned for having been a prisoner of war and if I do not call you unscrupulous, dishonest and dangerous to America, it's because I think you're demented and to be pitied.  It's time for him to retire from public life, but it's time to ask why the media gives such credit and support to a man who has stepped in front of truth in a fit of childish egotism and does it without a hint of shame.

And speaking of shame, can we direct further disgust toward the media for the shamelessness of asking why a tiny supply of a highly risky and experimental serum was given to two Americans instead of selecting two Africans somewhere?  How disgusting to talk about racism when we know full well they'd have been asking whether there should be criminal charges had the serum, never tested on humans or monkeys, proved fatal.







Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Obama's Policies

Obama's 'policies,'  we hear so much about Obama's policies and so little about what those might be that it puzzles me. If we're talking about any policy he might have been able to persuade congress to implement, we have only the Affordable Care Act which was supported by a majority of Americans and still is when you ask them but isn't when you ask them if they support "Obamacare."

Of course "Obama's Policies" is a metonym -- a stand-in word for a Black man in the White house -- and not as a servant.  Very often the dung flung at him is recycled from accusations fairly made against his Republican predecessors and just as the amorphous Whitewater investigation was an attempt to pay back the Democrats for Watergate and successful attempt to handcuff Clinton -- just as Bush was called the worst president ever for bankrupting the economy, destroying the job market, lying to get us into the longest and most expensive war in our history that ran up unprecedented debt, they try to retaliate and pin the tail on the Negro.  Obama is the worst president ever, Obama started the Recession, Obama, despite 6 years of steady recovery is all to blame for the lack of recovery. It isn't true and it can't be argued for, so Obama's Polices usually go unnamed or falsely attributed. "Obama's Policies" used without specifics identifies the user as a coward, a scoundrel and a liar.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Stay inside, hide under the bed and play video games

Because life is just too dangerous to live!

Really, this is the safest time to live in the United states there has ever been and I'm guessing that's true of  the civilized, "first-world" in general. Your kids are more likely to grow up big and strong and to live longer than you do, just as you're likely to live twice as long as folks did a hundred or so years ago, but you'd never know it to listen and to read and to feel.

Have you seen the recent car commercials where the distracted young mother with child in the back seat ( kids can't ride in the front seat any more) nearly rear-ends another car but is saved by automatic braking? Last night I saw another one where Young Mother gets into oncoming traffic on a bridge but the car saves her at the last moment.  Self-driving cars are being tested now and self parking cars are a reality. Cars warn you of other cars in your "blind" spot you would have seen anyway if you were looking and we're supposed to be as giddy and elated about it as an American who just worked "selfie" into a sentence for the first time. We're in terrible danger because learning to drive safely is beyond us and the future must be about cars that drive themselves without participation from you. Driver training?  What?

 Oh, brave new world that has such cowards in it!  What a wonderful world where no risk of any kind is permitted or tolerated outside the world of video games, where a woman can be arrested for letting a 7 year old walk to the park.  Yes, arrested, not scolded or cautioned -- and she faces 5 years in the slam. Maybe she should tke the kid with her -- it's safer behind bars.

No, the joy of driving an open car, a sleek powerful masterpiece of engineering down a country lane, the joy of riding a bicycle unsupervised when you're 7, of walking to the park on a Summer day -- there are parents who won't let their kids play in their own suburban yards unsupervised, whose every moment is scrutinized, analyzed and proscribed lest there be any danger at all of any kind.


How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in't.

Brave New Words

Ever notice that look people get when they've just said "Selfie?"  It's like they've been waiting for an opportunity so long and it feels just so hip and with-it and just like the cool kids at the cool kid's lunchroom table even though people have been taking pictures of themselves for 275 years?  Historians 275 years hence will be able to date articles with reference to the year of the Selfie just as they will mark the moment that "awesome" exploded into hip American English or the "like" outbreak of the 1990's.

I wonder how long saying selfie will require the micro-skit behavior, the little grin and shrug it requires. The requisite tonality of  awesome still persists after more than a decade.

But sure, language has to change and always will change and probably will hereafter be changed by the
Peter Pan syndrome and total disrespect for education that characterizes modern life. I mean who reads literature any more? Who looks anything up in a dictionary?  Not when you can take awesomely impactful selfies and post 'em.  I mean like it never gets old.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Free range, organic, natural and unprocessed idiocy

Life must be frustrating for Neil DeGrasse Tyson.  Hell, life is frustrating for most of us, but his problem is us because he's just so damn much smarter.  The anti-science bozos just can't leave him alone as evidenced by a video of him responding to a French interviewer and defending Genetically Modified Organisms and the right to profit by patenting genomes.

To me there's little difference between flat-Earth Biblical Bullshit and the kind of twaddle we read every day about "processed" foods and "grain Brain" and "paleo" diets and the world being destroyed by seedless watermelons, drought resistent corn and zombies, because not only do people cling to hokey pseudoscience, paranoia and processed opinions, they're just stupid.

But what can I say, I've probably got Grain Brain from the gluten in that half bagel I ate this morning and the coffee I drank made from water processed by boiling, and beans processed by roasting and grinding when I should have dug up some organic and unprocessed and all natural grubs in the back yard and eaten them raw. Of course chewing them is processing them, isn't it?  I guess you just can't win

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Florida Libertarians want to eat your flesh!

If there's anything left worth eating after reading the Daily Kos.

Florida-bashing has become a popular sport and of course there's plenty to bash, it being a Red State. It's a corrupt state as well, but then Florida is not unique in either respect nor are we unique in supporting parties and agendas that don't benefit and do harm our quality of life.  But sports and parties take on lives of their own and like all things that live, the prime motivation is to live and prosper at all costs.  So when we run out of  Flori-Duh stories, we confect some tasty and blog-nourishing stories out of a few carefully selected observations and peddle them everywhere. The Daily Kos ran an article the other day putting forth notion that because, in the heat of  tropical Summers, a kind of dangerous bacteria knows as vibrio vulnificus can be found in ocean waters.  It's warm in Florida in the summer, this is not news.

Now if  this "necrotizing" bacteria gets into a cut or scrape it can begin eating your flesh.  If it gets into your blood stream, it can kill you.  Hot climates everywhere have certain dangers and every year we read of  all the many children and dogs that die from being left in hot cars and every year we're made to think there's something new about it. We're never told whether the long term trends, if there are any, are up or down.  In fact we're usually made to believe there's a crisis at hand and that we need to be afraid or angry or motivated to read all about it: motivated to vote one way or the other. Florida is deadly! Says the Kos and the comment section is full of hissing hatevipers.  Never mind that you can get the bacteria anywhere the ocean is warm, at the beach in Texas or from eating raw oysters in Mobile Alabama. Never mind that you can die from Naegleria fowleri, the brain-eating amoeba, anywhere: at  a Kansas swimming hole or a Minnesota water park, but Florida is dangerous, let us scare you, let us not inform you of the risks or whether it's getting better or getting worse, let's blame it on someone we don't like. You know, there are more boating accidents in Florida than in Utah -- must be the politics.

Perhaps the major difference between the swimming pool drownings, the lightening strikes, the heat stroke deaths, the shark and alligator attacks one finds more of in this climate, and the ordinary risks of disease and accident that account for so many deaths everywhere, is that they can be pinned like a paper tail on that old donkey, Florida by any half-baked  blogger or scandal hungry TV station and so all the media needs is some mold to press it into and sell it like candy. Florida is dangerous whether because of the lightening or the gun laws or the sharks or the bacteria or predatory racists.

You see all these people - all 11 of them are getting sick because of the Libertarians in Florida.  It's their fault that we don't test the waters at the beaches says Kos -- on our entire  2,276 Statute Miles of tidal coastline, the bays and estuaries although they offer no evidence of it.  Of course we do -- of course bacteria levels are monitored constantly in populated areas and beach closings and openings are announced all the time. When someone contracts the disease, it makes headlines even in right wing newspapers.

 Water pollution in fact is a very political and very hot issue here, with huge quantities of toxic industrial and agricultural waste being dumped into heretofore pristine waters, but even the Republican populace, if not the Republican representatives, is up in arms about cleaning it up.  Fishing and all water sports, in fact, are a very major support to the local economy.  The current Gubernatorial race seems to be all bout who will spend the most money on the environment, but nobody in Keokuk, Iowa or Manhattan will question the story and particularly not if they're jealous of Florida's climate or if they just need cheap reasons to be smug about living where the sun don't shine.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Gun Culture

It felt strange, even for someone who has owned some kind of firearm for more than 50 years, to open the trunk of my car, take out an assortment of rifles, and openly walk through the parking lot with what any newspaper reporter would love to  describe in lurid verse as an "arsenal" and including of course "weapons of war."   Wars are wars after all, even those that ended 150 years ago.  I was hardly the only one with an armful of expensive  hardware of course, it being a gun show. There were acres of cars that the acres of "gun nutz" had arrived in, but if I had been expecting vintage Dodge Chargers with Confederate flags or jacked up trucks with nasty bumper stickers and layers of mud, I would have been disappointed.  No Daisy Duke. I was parked between a Prius and a Cadillac.  After having  my relics examined by a nice chatty fallow to be sure they weren't loaded, to insert plastic zip ties to be sure they couldn't be loaded, I was advised not to take any less than $900 for one rifle.  Welcome to gun prices.  Welcome to the gun culture.

Lots of army surplus clothing, holsters, belts, boots --  even bulletproof vests on display. Booths from a local gun range offering senior discounts on Tuesdays: booths full of sporting goods and bow-hunting items, a booth with costumed civil war reenactors who kept me there a long time talking about my 1863 Tower carbine.  Some of the gun culture, a large part of it, is history culture.

Tables and tables of new commercial ammunition, hand made cartridges, surplus ammunition which usually comes in boxes of  100, or 250 or 500 rounds and would having even one box delight those people who write howling headlines?  A couple of hours at the range?  Hell no, it's an arms cache suitable only for a mass murderer.

And of course there was a large, well staffed NRA booth with a bowl of Tootsie Rolls and piles of safety pamphlets.  Maybe they were perverts and murderers and closet Nazis -- even the ladies -- but they didn't look it. Still I walked on.  Well dressed businessmen, an off-duty cop I know, some guys in camo, some guys in Army uniform, a fellow Ham and pillar of the community Sunday School teacher type just there to buy a few boxes of ammunition for cheaper than Wal-Mart sells them.  It's the South and everybody loves guns. Even your mama.

All in all, a nicer looking crowd than I see at the barber shop and some of the restaurants I frequent.  I spent more time talking about history and historical weaponry and to people making sure I knew what my stuff was worth,  than I  spent conducting business and met several history buffs but not one snob and not one unfriendly person. No swastika tattoos, no white sheets, no one talking to himself. What can I say?  I may do it again.

I sold most of what I brought and all to licensed firearms dealers who yes, despite what you hear, really do conduct background checks  and boy, were my pockets  bulging when I left.  Did I mention that gun prices have soared and continue to soar?

I don't know, maybe it's like my experiences with the scary "biker Culture" that have had nothing whatever to do with the stereotypes we fling around.  I've begun to suspect that there are so many gun cultures that don't resemble either the others or the stereotype as there are kinds of Liberals or Conservatives or Bikers or Bookworms or Bloggers.  There might be a lesson about lumping people together, stereotyping people and making cheap shots here somewhere, but it's time for dinner and I'm part of the food culture too, doncha know.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

39 bullets?

I suppose I should be used to it by now, but such is the state of journalism these days that you can be sure that most of what you see and hear and read is not only in error but usually tendentious, intended to mislead, to create an impression, to add emotion for a purpose.

Whether it's about automobiles, health and nutrition and especially if it's about firearms, you can almost be sure the story is misleading and often intentionally so.  Certainly every story about firearms needs to be salted with buzzwords even if they don't apply. Anyone with more than two guns, for instance has an arsenal and even though it's common to buy ammunition in boxes of 250 rounds or more, the story must always stress how many "bullets" the owner has, (most often they're "high caliber, high velocity and armor piercing) and how frightening that is.  

So although there are several important things to discuss, several questions to be answered in the story of a Darby Pennsylvania shooting of a social worker and a psychiatrist, the headline reads that the deranged shooter was carrying "39 bullets" in his pocket and obviously intended to reload his ".32 caliber revolver."  Now to me, the question worth asking is how a convicted bank robber with many felony firearms convictions in his portfolio was walking about free, had a gun at all and got into a hospital with it.

Frankly I'm suspicious that the writer really doesn't know a revolver from an autoloader since .32 revolvers tend to be antique and use ammunition that hasn't been made in a long time, but it doesn't matter, the man had a gun, took it to his psychiatrist's office, flew into a rage about signs prohibiting firearms, shot a social worker at close range and shot the Doctor too, but only wounded him.  Now if you believe the story, he was attempting to reload says the story but he was also tackled by two men and he was also shot three times by the psychiatrist (with a .32 autoloading pistol.)  Will the real story please stand up?

Why did he need to reload after two shots?  Was he really using a two barrel Derringer?  Was he tackled after he was shot three times and critically wounded?  Will the psychiatrist, who had a concealed weapon permit get into trouble for having a gun in a restricted area? Will he have to face trial, lose his job for saving his life?  Do Pennsylvania laws require him to have run away instead of standing his ground?   Perhaps he will be prosecuted, perhaps not, but our Federal and State gun laws are very complex, very tough and often punish the innocent, despite what you hear.

We can be assured that the NRA will use this to argue for more guns in hospitals and we will guffaw in righteous indignation, but the fact remains that Dr. Silverman saved his own life and likely that of others by having a gun, terrible shot although he appears to be.  Democrats will fail to be embarrassed by the axiom that people cannot protect themselves with guns.  We'll be demanding "tougher" and more strict laws without really having an idea what they might be or knowing what already is in place, but apparently we won't be asking why all those regulations designed to keep guns from crazy people with violent and lengthy criminal records are walking the streets and finding ways to get and carry guns illegally, seem no more effective for all the severity. Some will go on insisting there are no regulations or restrictions of any kind and perhaps one of those will post an angry comment, as they so often do.

It's not about 39 bullets, it's not about the childish terminology, its about the reliance on legislation to make crime stop, it's about reliance on severe and inflexible sentencing instead of  spending money on security and enforcement. It's about refusing to look at statistics concerning types of weapons used in real crimes instead of hypothetical and highly inventive speculation.  Everything this killer did was illegal and I want to know if he bought this weapon under the table and if so, from whom.  I want to know if he passed a mandatory background check and waiting period -- if so, why and how and I want less hooha about ending crime by making it illegal. Murder has been illegal for a very long time.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Please sir, can I have some more?

Pecunia non olet said Vaspasian, or so they say. Money doesn't stink, or so you'd think looking at the way Florida governor Rick Scott laps it up like a cat with spilt milk. Showing up Monday at a  Boca Raton, Florida home of GEO Group CEO George Zoley for his $10,000 a plate fundraiser ( another $3K if you want to come to the reception) would suggest that Scott can't  smell dirty money, as Zoley's company is in the business of running private prisons -- some say the worst in the country -- that squeeze the life and health out of prisoners as well as exposing the guards to unnecessary danger.

Of course it may be that Scott smells it all too well and, like a culture, is attracted to the smell of graft and corruption and human suffering. You'll recall his involvement with the largest Medicare fraud ever exposed. You may not recall that Zoley gave Mr. Scott $20,000 to add to the $800,000 of taxpayer money to pimp up the governor's mansion. Yes, it was a drop in the bucket compared to the great flood of lobbyist money soaked up by the Governor, but Scott is not one to forget his obligations to contributors.


No money doesn't care who owns it and it doesn't stink even though the people and deeds connected to it may reek. The dollars saved by understaffing prisons and serving substandard, sometimes maggot infested food to prisoners adult and juvenile affirm his credentials with his party and particularly because so many of the inmates rotting and starving and being beaten in GEO prisons are immigrants. Last year a group of protesters  chained themselves to the doors of the GEO Group corporate headquarters in Palm Beach in protest over  GEO's "pivotal role in promoting discriminatory laws that target people of color,
immigrants, youth, transgender individuals, and the poor."   There have been hunger strikes.  There have been investigations looking into accusations that inmates were being served rotten food and suffering from food poisoning at the Broward  County, Florida facility. There were also allegations of sexual assault among detainees and reports of several suicide attempts says the Broward/Palm Beach NewTimes blog.  Did I mention that Scott is a Republican?

But we can't accuse old snake eyes of total blindness to appearances.  After all Zoley was a second choice after it became known that the original host, real estate mogul James Batmasian, was convicted of tax evasion in 2008. Batmasian, who spent eight months in federal prison and completed a two-year supervised release program, also had his legal license suspended in Florida. That stinks, even if his money doesn't.   It stinks almost as much as his rather dishonest and scurrilous accusations made against his likely opponent, Charley Crist, but to his supporters it doesn't matter any more than facts do. Rick Scott saved us money by abusing prisoners and a penny saved is a penny you can spend on yourself.  And besides, prisoners can't vote.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Who fired that shot?

Another Malaysian plane goes down, but this time we know why. We don't know who, because Putin denies it, the Russian separatists say it wasn't them and the Ukrainian government says it was. All of them are wrong however and we can be sure our friends the Republicans will soon let us know that this crisis, like all crises can be charged off to Barack H. Obama, the Kenyan born, Madrassa educated, communist Muslim jihadist demon.

What did you think? After all he didn't invade and his sanctions were either too little or too much and that's impeachable. Just as George Bush's decision to allow minor immigrants to have a hearing before deportation was Obama's fault -- just like The Republicans refusal to beef up security at the Benghazi embassy was Obama's fault and the deplorable conditions in Central America have never had anything to do with any Republican administration or policy.

Isn't it amusing -- or perhaps disgusting, but we can be sure that our Republican Congressional hostage takers will take precious time out from doing nothing but Obamabashing to bash Obama, but hey -- at least we'll know whose' fault it is.

Monday, July 14, 2014

What a piece of work is Man

Lovely meal, nice restaurant, best company, but the people at the next table were telling each other just what the Universe thought about this or that and how the Universe had solved some problem one of them had had. You don't get this at the Taco truck or the Wendy's drive through.

Perhaps they were Northerners.  The locals would simply have substituted the word God with no embarrassment, or perhaps they were the last holdouts of Deism, the folks who seek God in nature and not in churches or scriptures.  Who knows? But I hear this a lot.  I'm even wondering whether our practically  infinite universe is large enough to contain an ego of the size required to believe it had such significance in comparison to all there is or was or ever will be.  I'm guessing none of them were astronomers or astrophysicists or even of sufficient awareness to question the idea that something of the nature of nature itself was sentient or of  good intentions toward men -- men of good will or otherwise.

But say for the purposes of cynical condemnation, that the universe was a brain that somehow coalesced from a primal particle of infinite energy and infinitesimal size.  What can be a brain like that be composed of? Given the speed of light, and make no mistake, the universe does give us the speed of light -- given an all-there-is, the extremities of which can never, ever be reached in an infinite amount of time,  the allegedly sentient universe isn't old enough to have noticed us yet and never could be, even if somehow it were interested in our dining pleasure or our marital problems.  That which we can see of the universe is 30 billion light years across, a combination of  absolutely nothing and absolutely everything: violent on an unimaginable scale, both random and predictable and driven by principles we don't fully understand - but it can suggest to Shirley that she break up with Dylan or Cody or that I buy a new car. A sentient universe must need be speechless.

What a piece of work is man -- what quasi-demonic deity could match us for arrogance, for self-importance?