Saturday, April 30, 2016

Can I Get a Witness?

One of the contributing factors in the difficulty (I almost wrote impossibility) of  that "discussion" about race in America we're constantly told we need to have is that victims in America have tended to set themselves above advice or criticism  and thereby gain the right to direct any conversation in it's course or conclusions. "for are we not victims and are not our critics all evil?"  I'm sure that by this sentence the gavel is already descending on the verdict that I'm a racist,  But enough of that, lets talk specifics.

I read in the Daily Kos just now that African American poet Crystal Valentine was deeply offended by Megyn Kelly's assertion that Jesus was a white man. Now any statements about Jesus  need to be qualified as to whether we're talking about Jesus of Nazareth, the failed Jewish revolutionary or Jesus Christ of myth.  Obviously Megyn and Crystal are engaged in equivocation, or more specifically, the fallacy of equivocation.  Those are two different characters.  Those who come to Jesus through Sunday school or through Christian education are talking about  someone either half god or entirely god or even, like Gilgamesh of Uruk, one third divine. He was a man of peace come to mysteriously erase inherited sin that without him could never otherwise be erased.  He died and was resurrected, although the family of myths diverges in the details.

There's absolutely no historical evidence for this Jesus so perhaps one can call him Chinese or a Swede or African with equal authority.  If I were part of that "conversation" I might have pointed out that the Jesus that might actually have been wasn't Celtic or blond, he was a Jew without any physical feature we know of to distinguish him from other Jewish men at the time.

It is this mythological Jesus Ms. Valentine refers to when she says:
“How can she says Jesus was a white man when he died the blackest way possible? With his hands up, with his mother watching."
The answer is easy and history gives weight to her statement, all the poetry and passion, all the sound and fury notwithstanding. It's just as valid and more so to say he died in the most Jewish way possible. In fact the notion that only descendants of American slaves have ever been persecuted and oppressed and no one elses experience can be referenced or compared  is a bit obnoxious. Jewish lives matter.

So I'm sorry, all poetic references to the child saint of Ferguson notwithstanding, Jesus was a Jew from the Northern Kingdom and likely from a tiny hamlet called Nazareth and came to Jerusalem to oust the Romans and their collaborators with divine help.but we really can't be sure.  He may be fictional, he may be a composite of the many rebels seeking God's help by purifying the people.  His ethnic background is not irrelevant, it's essential and the image of him as a persecuted ex American slave is poetic license with no power to influence objective views of history.  Jesus the man belongs to the Jews, Jesus the Savior is anyone's because we make him up as we go along, whether or not you call myth as a witness, and by doing so se forfeit the right to claim that he was or was not anything at all.   

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Common Sense

" No nation ought to be without a debt."

-From Common Sense by Thomas Paine-

But everyone today is an Economist and everyone knows debt is bad and the secret to good government is parsimony.  After all, a government is just like a business, isn't it?

"The world needs more U.S. Government debt" 

wrote Narayana Kocherlakota in Bloomberg View yesterday.  He is the Lionel W. McKenzie professor of economics at the University of Rochester who served as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis from 2009 through 2015.

He feels the immense earning power of the United States allows us to produce the extremely safe bonds the world wants and which are in  short supply. No business would act like this, he says. A corporation with such a safe cash flow and such low borrowing costs would issue debt to pay shareholders and fund expansion.  Analogously, the US government could cut taxes and build infrastructure. Instead market forces steer capital into risky investments like sub-prime mortgages and businesses and households are reluctant to spend, keeping short term rates low.

Every nation should have a debt and yet, because of political pressure from a party teaching the voters that personal debt and government debt are the same thing, artificial  constraints are imposed on debt, contrary to market demand:

" constraints that punish savers, choke off economic growth and could sow the seeds of the next financial crisis."
But of course the ultimate test of policy is not whether it works: whether it increases prosperity  and stability, the test is whether it sells to a public kept on the edge of panic and outrage by political interests.  Platitudes, and attitudes and outright deception rule and apparently we like it that way. We look for leaders with no experience, we look to those with no experience for advice on world markets, fiscal and monetary policy and sleazy, vulgar and misogynistic  real estate developers for advice on social and ethical problems and we develop a debt that can't be repaid and that  keeps us like a ship taking on water with a captain who doesn't believe in bilge pumps. No nation ought to be like this.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Fear and Loathing in Target

Are these the best or worst of times?  Probably the answer is yes, but I have to argue that they are the craziest of times.  Is it a symptom of this  national insanity that any organization with the word Liberty or Freedom or Patriot in the title is mostly about extremist politics?  Of course I have an example:  it's the Liberty Counsel * which of course has nothing to do with Liberty and  advocates for special powers and legal exemptions for evangelical Christians.  Now, when you really think about it, it really isn't about Christianity as that family of religions usually likes to be defined, but about restricting personal liberty when it comes to matters of sex or gender or whatever language is approved by other organizations that aren't about what they're calling themselves.  No, the Liberty Counsel is about restricting personal liberty and substituting a rigid code of behavior derived from. . . well from them actually.

So it's no surprise to read that the president of this august body, one Anita Staver is raving about bringing a gun into the public restrooms at Target.  Target, guns, ha ha ha.   And although in just about any State there's no law against doing that if you have a carry permit, Target has a 'no guns' policy in their stores, so Mrs. Liberty here is openly ignoring the Liberty of Target and private property rights in general and possibly engaging in Armed Trespass in particular.   Of course the Target Crapper Patrol would have to see that gun as well as they would have to see the gonads of  an alleged gender bender and neither is likely to happen as things stand in toilets everywhere.  There's never been a problem except in the evil minds of  the New Inquisition.

But the question isn't the legality but the alleged necessity of doing so, now that Target has made it their policy to allow transgendered people to use the loo of choice.  Yes, I know, there has never been a problem with that. Department store washrooms during business hours are not a dangerous place and  transgendered  or androgynous or even scary people with tattoos  have always used them and you never noticed. I'd worry more about Christ-Crazy gonad obsessed old women with guns and a heart full of hate.

No this grandstand play is about nothing other than a power play by Christo-Nazis who oppose equal rights under the law for people they choose to hate for religious reasons. They have gone to court to protect the right of pubic employees to get paid for a job they refuse to do because of their  twisted religion.  No, It's a threat of armed violence designed to create an atmosphere of fear and face it, Target has as much right to say who uses their toilets as they do to call the cops on old quick draw Staver, and Rupaul has the same right to keep and bear arms as anybody else.

So let me say this about that as Nixon used to say:  I just may begin to frequent the liberty Council and the other organizations it controls: **
  • Luke 18:27 Foundation, Inc.
  • Liberty Counsel Action, Inc.
  • Liberty Counsel Action
  • Freedom Federation, Inc.
  • Liberty Action PAC, Inc.
  • Salt and Light Council

And when I do, I'm going to carry a concealed weapon or two.  And why not?  You're all about Liberty aren't you? That's right Anita, I'm coming soon to a crapper near you and  no telling what I might be wearing or bearing.


* Listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group.

** Also affiliated with Liberty University Law School, which was founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell and Liberty Counsel.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Study This!

Seek, and ye shall find, it says in the Gospels, much to the cynical amusement of those looking for things they never seem to attain, or acquire. If it's freedom you're seeking, your not going to find it if the Gospel Growlers can help it. Freedom is dangerous and so is Democracy and we have studies to show it.

I'm sure Utah Governor Gary Herbert is going to find what  he's seeking in the studies he's using taxpayer money to fund: studies to prove that pornography is a public health hazard which creates a "toxic environment." Of course it's all an attempt to preach religion from the Governor's office and nothing more.  But it's good to know that there is, at last, some notice of toxic environments in Utah, even if  he's not actually talking about the environment we call air or water or land or even  a toxin that actually poisons anything or any one.  No, those nebulous but harmful effects need to be created, hence the study.  We need to start studying  pornography keeping in mind that it's bad, very bad: it's

"a public health hazard leading to a broad spectrum of individual and public health impacts and societal harms."
It reminds me of Richard Nixon's studies of Marijuana intended to back up the bogus claims used to criminalize it.  When the studies showed no harm to the stuff, he fired the researchers.  But this isn't a medical or scientific study and it assumes the conclusion that grows out of the toxic environment we call religion.  Truth by assertion is unassailable. Support by evidence produced by fake studies is simply window dressing. When it comes to research; those "studies" we always hear about find  only what he who pays for them is seeking.  These studies tend to be the building blocks of marketing if not also the bricks paving the road to hell. You pays yer money and you gets your study, complete with an actor in a lab coat and a clipboard. If it's freedom you're seeking, your not going to find it if the Gospel Growlers can help it.

I have to wonder if the public health "impacts"  they most assuredly will find will be restricted to Utah, since they don't seem to appear in places where pornography is everywhere and I wonder if the "impact" of  rampant abuse of women and young girls that is ignored or tolerated or swept under the rug in Utah will come under review here.  I suppose it won't yet we can be sure there will be "links" to all sorts of  health risks even if we have to invent consequences to be linked to. Something will be needed if the study bothers to examine countries whe

After all we can start with the premise that "pornography is rape" thanks to extremists of another stripe and after that the only hard part is not to talk about old Mormon men with harems of little girls and other forms of Latter Day female slavery in Utah and elsewhere.

But I don't want to blame it all on Mormons.  The GOP has been straightjacket-worthy for decades, ignoring the real problems threatening our health and well-being, our freedom and survival, in favor of ranting about dirty pictures.  The Tampa GOP convention in 2012 was quite obsessive on getting "tough" about pornography and I'm sure we can remember Ken Starr from previous campaigns attempting to criminalize even medical terminology concerned with sex on the internet.  It's the Republican disease as much as a Christian disease but of course today there isn't enough difference to make it seem constitutional.

I might suggest that Evangelicals, religious fanatics of all sorts and the Republican Party are the real public health hazards: obfuscating public health programs, opposing individual liberty, thwarting science and supporting the oppression of  "gentiles."

Isn't it funny - and by funny I mean tragic - that as a free country we encourage things that have no place in a free country?

Friday, April 22, 2016

Boris the Mayor

It's good to be reminded in these trying times, that American politicians don't have a monopoly or a patent on bigotry, ignorance and plain old stupidity,  much less the diplomatic incompetence to make an enemy of your best ally.

Take Boris Johnson, mayor of London, who tells the world that Barack Obama has an "ancestral dislike of the British Empire."  because his father was born in Kenya.  Now it may be true that there is some animosity in Kenya as there is in so many places where the British Empire viciously suppressed liberty and opportunity in a flamboyantly racist fashion, but Obama could have easily, if such a thing as "ancestral animosity" is a real phenomenon, come to dislike the British Empire from his mother's complex, but partially Irish ancestry.  But do we -- and by we I mean the world -- have to remind  Boris that EVERYBODY HATES THE GODDAMN BRITISH EMPIRE?   The Chinese still hate your guts nor is there any lack of memory in  Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent or Africa of the British scourge.

Of all the stupid excuses to insult someone trying to talk sense into the British.

Boris the Mayor

It's good to be reminded in these trying times, that American politicians don't have a monopoly or a patent on bigotry, ignorance and plain old stupidity,  much less the diplomatic incompetence to make an enemy of your best ally.

Take Boris Johnson, mayor of London, who tells the world that Barack Obama has an "ancestral dislike of the British Empire."  because his father was born in Kenya.  Now it may be true that there is some animosity in Kenya as there is in so many places where the British Empire viciously suppressed liberty and opportunity in a flamboyantly racist fashion, but Obama could have easily, if such a thing as "ancestral animosity" is a real phenomenon, come to dislike the British Empire from his mother's complex, but partially Irish ancestry.  But do we -- and by we I mean the world -- have to remind  Boris that EVERYBODY HATES THE GODDAMN BRITISH EMPIRE?   The Chinese still hate your guts nor is there any lack of memory in China, Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent or Africa of the British scourge.

Of all the stupid excuses to insult someone trying to talk sense into the British.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

On the Money

Sure it's time for a change.  I've been commenting for years that other countries have artists, authors, poets and scholars on their money while we have government officials, symbols of authority.  I've long suggested that Andrew Jackson be the first to go: a miserable racist who deported thousands of people in brutal fashion to miserable concentration camps because he simply didn't want them East of the Mississippi.  Many American Indians have compared him to a certain German leader it's impolitic to name here.

I wish however that there could have been a calm, scholarly but public discussion of  just who most merits becoming the face of the twenty dollar bill, that denomination that dominates the wallets of America.  I know, that's naive. This is America and discussion in America sounds much like the wilds of Montana at night during a full moon.

Harriet Tubman won't be the first female on our currency, that distinction has been had by mythological figures for a long time and of course Sacagawea ( and a baby boy) had a run on a now defunct  dollar coin even though we have no idea what she actually looked like.

So it's mousy, plain and un-heroic looking  Harriet Tubman. we have photographs to prove it.  Of course real heroes hardly ever look the part and for her efforts to save people from slavery at great personal risk, she certainly is as much of one as men like Oskar Schindler and probably greater since she took so many terrible risks with her life.   Good for her. She stood for something, just like George Washington even if she didn't have a white horse to ride on. She not only stood for something truly moral, she broke laws to do it and essentially went to war, which come to think of it was what our founding fathers did even though those were British laws..  I just wish it didn't feel so much like pandering because I know full well every time someone pulls out a twenty in America, there's going to be some comment, some grimace and I'm going to have to distance myself from people even further.  I just don't want to listen to it - idiots demanding that we boycott the twenty. I can see the stickers on all the ATMs.  I just wish it didn't absolutely have to be a woman and a black women, even though  it does, doesn't it?


Friday, April 15, 2016

Firearm Derangement Syndrome

I was watching Samantha Bee gyrating on my TV the other night, dressed an a homemade Eagle costume festooned with plastic guns and made to resemble an NRA mascot. It was one of those Bones and Tambo moments.

She had just finished telling us you could now buy guns on TV and not telling us you still had to go through a Federally licensed gun dealer and complete the transaction including any waiting periods and background checks just as though you'd bought it from his stock.  Guns on TV!  Oh so shocking and when the demo includes using a watermelon as a target, you just know people who own or buy guns are all dreaming of mass murder.  You just know and because you just know, most anything you say that furthers the cause of angry prejudice is just fine. Empty mockery, slander, malicious stereotyping -- no less revolting than a minstrel show done in blackface used to provide.

One of those moments. Do I call it an epiphany? Do I trot out the fable about straws and camels or is it just one of those cases where the weight of facts finally prompts you to admit that your sense of belonging to a group or movement  has been making you lie to yourself?  These people are as crazy as a Trump, I said to myself as I made the decision. These people are no more honest than Fox News.

I'm joining the NRA.

I wonder if the gun control extremists aren't becoming their best recruiters. Yes, I've been laughing at them for years for their constant twisting of every proposed morsel of regulation into a rabid attack on our God given right to own and wave any kind of firearms, but I've been long troubled by their opposition's growing use of false figures, deliberately misleading terminology and refusal to acknowledge existing law and precedent.  All of a sudden, I'm beginning to see that as more than just enthusiasm.  I see it as part of the escalating zealotry and extremism that is prompting what I used to call the Left to cut a swath through the law, the truth and reason to get to the demons they alone see and justify it by the sanctity of the cause. It's become so universal to identify any skepticism about the details and particulars and assumptions of anti-gun crusades with the NRA, one might just as well join them and get the magazines.  They have interesting articles.

A Connecticut judged ruled Yesterday that a lawsuit directed at Bushmaster Firearms International seeking damages for the rampage shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School 5 years ago could proceed.  Much has been made of the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act that protects arms makers from liability in such cases as this, where the legal product was sold legally but subsequently stolen and used to commit murder by a third party. Much will be made of it because Bernie Sanders voted for the PLCAA  and Hillary Clinton did not. This alone may be enough to shift my support to Bernie because I'm angry as hell and I'm just not going to sit still for any more furious and fatuous crusades.

Since Bushmaster broke no law or regulation culpability or "wrongfulness" in this case can only refer to some offense that has nothing to do with the law. It can only be based on some kind of moral offense involved in selling guns and that's going to be very hard to sell to a jury.

“The Superior Court has subject matter jurisdiction over a wrongful death action where the injury arose out of conduct by the defendants,” 
The magic is in the word "conduct."  it puts all conduct into the same box thereby enabling opportunists to sue anyone for anything they had nothing to do with, much less liability for. It's new. No one sued Bruno Magli for selling OJ his shoes, much less the company who made the knife.  It's a precedent not only dangerous to law and justice, but to civilization,  and in this specific case it shifts blame from the adult who allowed a deranged child access to a weapon and trained him to use it.

Is this organized campaign based on passing the very real blame to someone with deep pockets but no legal culpability in order to inhibit the importation, manufacture and sales of firearms in the US?  I think so.  I think, as do most Americans, that this is wrong and who else agrees that has any influence?  Bernie Sanders perhaps, the NRA for sure, crazy as they are about so many other things.

The lies about selling "weapons of war" are all the more poignant when one realizes that the 2nd amendment specifically references the idea that we need to keep weapons of war available to the public. The plaintiff's lawyers are going to have a hard time propping up the idea that it's immoral to sell the Bushmaster AR-15 because it''s "military" in light of the fact that it isn't. Morality is in the eye of the plaintiff in this case and the plaintiff alone if I read public sentiment accurately.  One of the pitfalls of moral outrage is to think, since you tend to associate only with other zealots, that most people agree with you.  We shall see.

It's appropriate to look at how a legal precedent will affect future court decisions and if it transpires that Bushmaster is held liable for wrongful death without doing anything wrong, then  the manufacturer of anything can be held liable through no actual fault of commission or omission of his own.  Is it appropriate to think about how giving the finger to the constitution and centuries of law might be a bad precedent when that constitution is already under assault by Christian supremacists?

It's not the only about this jihad, there are so many other crusades billing themselves as "liberal" having to do with ignoring evidence, accepting some evidence without question and  ignoring other evidence based on prejudice alone, there are efforts to presume guilt when it involves certain categories of people and  other complaints sufficient to cause me not to  follow the noise and revel in the rage of the mob, but I'm taking it step by step.  Today it's the NRA tomorrow it may be the people who want to tell me what I think because of my skin color or what I can say because of my ancestry. Small steps on a long, long ladder.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Say Hello to the New Boss. . .

I hate revolutions.  They almost always make things worse because they rely on zealotry and anger and revenge. The angriest, the craziest and those with serious problems always wind up as the leaders because the truly furious can't trust the pragmatic and reasonable who might just try to regulate the power they feel is needed to overthrow, to punish, to abolish and yes, even to exterminate.

There's usually fuel and fear enough to consume a culture or a civilization and of course we're constantly improving our fuel production and distribution even though our memories aren't any better than they ever were. We still hear people demanding more oil drilling as the world staggers under a glut of cheap oil. We still hear that Obama is against oil production even after he's expanded it enormously.

The world  staggers under a glut of misinformation and ignorance as well.  We're still howling about government "bailouts" that have been paid back with interest, saving countless jobs and strengthening the economy.. We're howling about things that are getting better as though they were getting worse, as though we feared a loss of purpose, of the self righteous glory of our anger if crime declines, economies improve, criminals are caught and justice prevails. As economies recover we have to hide it, we have to pad crime statistics, use misleading rhetoric, inflated numbers or anything else the end justifies -- even though we won't ever let it end.

Who was so angry at "wall street" when things were expanding like a soap bubble?  Who was so angry at people and entities sheltering capital in tax havens until they were busted and rounded up?  And again, who is paying attention to the serious problems that particular crusade is causing to law abiding "little" people.  In fact I wonder who enthusiastically voted to make all those things banks and finance companies and other entities legal again and why now are they looking for scapegoats when they should be looking in the mirror?

You see, I may hate patriotism and righteousness as much as I hate revolution and for the same reason. It's the passions of people, the passions of the mob and of their leaders I'm disgusted by.  It's hard to think of a good cause that isn't co-opted by zealots and turned into narrow channels that alienate rather than enlist altruism and good will toward man or beast.  The agenda and the power structure of some organization is always more important and always must be protected against, for instance someone who really opposes all racism, all injustice, all discrimination, all greed and all oppression.

We just become what we hate the more we hate it, and we didn't need Nietzsche to tell us, or Orwell to remind us that the rebels become the new oppressors.  So it's not enough to look for effective reform in banking and finance, we have to stuff a straw man full of everyone from the bank janitor to the bank resident. We can't just try to vote responsibly, we have to elect clowns and idiots to "punish" the government.  We can't think of more rational laws, so we have to denounce all of them just because they're laws and whatever we do we have to make everything seem far, far worse than it is even when we lose support from rational people for doing so.

If GM is building and selling cars in China, we have to complain they're "exporting jobs"  If a government bailout proves to have been a good investment, we still have to keep calling it bad names as long as possible.  If a retired school teacher in Mexico gets her nest egg confiscated, we have to ignore it because "wall street" may be hiding money even though the massive crackdown began a decade ago and we ignored it.  If innocent people have their assets confiscated without due process, we don't care because there's a chance they only have money because they're drug dealers.

I hate revolutions because they hardly ever address the real problems, they hardly produce productive change and because they always become self perpetuating: become all about the revolution itself , and because there's no fool like an angry fool.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

That Berning Sensation

I think Bernie Sanders has a lot to be embarrassed about, despite another primary won, but I'm not sure that revealing his apparent lack of  knowledge about just how he would retrieve all that pie from the stratosphere  worries me.  Just how a president makes state college tuition free I don't know nor does he, and when pressed by Bloomberg TV as to just who on "wall Street" should or would be punished for what crimes, he had no answer and  when interviewed by the New York Daily News about how, among other things, he would break up big banks, he sounded very much like a schoolboy explaining why he hadn't done his homework.  It's being called a disaster, but is it?
Donald Trump joked that he could shoot someone and not lose a supporter.  Whether or not it's strictly true, we Americans support candidates without much reliance on objective and dispassionate arguments.  We like slogans, platitudes and promises and the feeling that some buffoon loves and respects us uncritically and will attack our bogeymen and scapegoats in dramatic fashion. I don't think Sanders'  lack of  knowledge about economics, banking and finance hurts him one bit, sad to say, nor his equal unfamiliarity with foreign policy and current world events.  Perhaps his supporters don't want to be informed about those subjects lest they lose the confidence that innocence (and anger) bring.  If your concerns are mostly about tuition and loans why ask the man about a nuclear North Korea or Iran shipping weapons to Yemen and the rise of Neo-Fascism in Europe?  Why care if he answers "I don't know?"
When he rails about the "bailouts" the dogs prick up their ears, because it sounds like somebody got something for free, the scenario that enrages both camps, but  as I see it, the return on that "bailout" has netted a gain - a profit for the nation of nearly 70 billion dollars.  No, that's not a big piece of such a huge pie, but then, remember that an economic collapse as big as the Great Depression was avoided and countless jobs and industries were kept in the United States. A once endangered General Motors is selling cars in China as fast as they can make them.  What else do we sell there?  Mr. Sanders has no interest in telling us that Obama's policies may have saved the country and in that he mirrors the  disloyal opposition on the Right.  What does that say about him?  
I will of course vote for him - or nearly anyone if his opponent is one of the GOP circus clowns, but without thinking of Mrs. Clinton as being the best of all possible candidates, I worry about a 75 year old dog having to learn a whole world of new tricks in a world and a country being torn apart by wild and ignorant armies, day and night, here and abroad.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Safety first

Everything in America is getting so scary - not more dangerous, but more scary.  Parents who back in the 80's managed to fend for themselves are now hovering over their offspring now that things are substantially safer, and municipalities have tried to prosecute parents for allowing a ten year old to walk a mile unescorted. Safety.  Safety above all or ├╝ber alles as the song goes.

A week or month doesn't go by without some official raising of "awareness" and I believe than April is Autism Awareness month.  Of course the danger in raising awareness is that it raises fear without a corresponding  increase in risk and it seems that people 20 or 30 years younger than me are awfully nervous about -- well about almost everything from food to firearms and so often about things that are no longer nearly as risky as they once were.

Even children can communicate with nearly anyone in an instant should they need help, but how many had the freedom I had growing up in the 50's?  Damned few I should think.  It was back when the world, just out of a nightmare war felt very safe but most things were far more dangerous than they are now.  But if some kid was kidnapped, someone shot by a maniac or his drivers license stolen or was run over by a drunk driver in Sandusky, Ohio, neither I nor my parents would know about it.  There was no Autism awareness at all, not even by doctors, but there was epidemic Polio and childhood diseases killed far more children, as did cars and household poisons. It's much safer to be a kid and an adult for that matter.

I'm not saying, by any means, that life is worse now, but the fear factor is greater and the technology that once gave us freedom and safety is now looked at with fear; telephones, WiFi, bicycles and above all CARS!  Remember that freedom you used to feel in a car?  All alone on some lonely highway even if you were only commuting?  You might have to learn how to change a tire, you might have to walk, you might have to exercise some initiative but the taste of freedom!  Now, of course you just call the motor club and your location can be tracked if you call 911 but that's not enough.  It's still possible that you make a mistake, misjudge speed and distance or misread the road surface and you'll get hurt.  Too risk, we need self-driving cars and many if not all automobile makers are putting all their resources in cars that drive themselves BECAUSE IT'S SAFER.

I've lived too long.  I haven't had an accident since the 1960's and it was a minor scrape, but how can you trust me now that awareness has been raised?   Fortunately I have a motorcycle and a self driving bike probably isn't in the 5 year plan for Harley Davidson., but  the "American Road" will soon be as safely dead as Kerouac and Dean Moriarty, and I might as well be too, because even though it gets safer every year, it's too dangerous.  Will by grandchildren inherit a world without cash, with curfews and where all social interaction is on the Internet?  I don't want to find out.



Monday, March 28, 2016

The Sashimi Solution

 We've all heard the joke about the statistician who drowned in a lake with an average depth of 4 inches and we've all heard the Mark Twain quote that he attributed to Benjamin Disraeli: there are three kinds of lies:  lies, damned lies and statistics.  Is there any way other than appeals to faith used more to bolster weak arguments than a graph, a chart, a string of numbers?  It's so common we don't notice and worse, we don't check facts.

I read an article the other day which began with the observation that Japan has a higher life expectancy than the United States.  That's probably true, but the article went straight from there to a rhapsody about the Japanese diet and that theme, that Meme so adored by Americans: our food is poisonous and full of  "artificial" ingredients which are killing us.

Being a skeptic by nature and particularly as concerns any article about health and nutrition or food chemistry I took the trouble to look at the WHO statistics by country and yes, it's true about Japan, but when you note that number 2 is Spain, followed by Andorra, Singapore, and Switzerland -- Australia, Italy, San Marino and Monaco all with essentially identical numbers, I had to ask myself just what similarity in diet there is between these and the 39 countries between Japan and the United States.  Not much, I fear, so perhaps the unmentioned assumption: that the primary factor in national longevity expectations is diet, must be questioned.  Something the article does not do but rather taps into our national hypochondria. Is it wrong to observe that all those countries have far greater access to health care?  Are suicide rates taken into account? Accidents, homicides, numbers of people incarcerated, infant mortality, quality of health care and emergency services, elder care?  How many people ask?

People who use statistics to sell things often leave large gaps in their arguments which are filled with unsupported assumptions, as does this one.  Is a fish based diet good for you?  Quite possibly if you don't have allergies to sea food, but you can't get to that conclusion with this argument, which in fact starts with that  assumption. Do genetics play a part in longevity?  From what I read they do and the US is far, for more genetically diverse than Japan or Andorra and in fact so is the American diet.  So should I seek salvation in Sushi or is there more to it than that?


Everybody does it, and particularly those bodies that have elected themselves to speak for causes, from product safety to immigration to gun control.  Facts are easy to fudge, to select from, to edit and redact.  It's easy to confuse "linked to' and "caused by."  Is the fact that there is a link between marijuana and crime the result of marijuana being illegal in teh first place?   The argument for it being a "gateway drug" depends on not looking at the "link' between alcohol, cigarettes and in fact almost anything we all do and drug usage.

Complex causes and simple or single causes. Who likes to confuse them fallaciously more than activists who aren't often quite as rational or honest as you might expect. As I said, there are more ways to increase life span than to eat Sashimi and sea weed.  Want to cut the US gun related "murder" rate?  Stop lumping suicides in with murder.  According to the New York Times 60% of what we call murders are suicides.  Would the corrected number still be too great? sure, but making things seem worse than they are is the practice of every political organization on Earth. Is Trump lying about swarms of Mexicans crossing the Southern border?  Sure, there are more going the other direction?  Is there an Autism epidemic?  Real statistics seem to refute it, anti-vaccine people counter with anecdotes and anger.  It's endless, it's pervasive, even ubiquitous. It's lies, Damned lies and statistics.



Friday, March 25, 2016

It's Only Natural

I don't feel safe in this world no more,
I don't want to die in a nuclear war.
I want to sail away to a distant shore and make like an apeman.


-The Kinks-

The allure of nature, the yearning to get back to some other time and place when things were natural.
It's part of our American revulsion for technology and science and the way they interfere with our animal emotionalism and recreational anger.

 In man's evolution he's created the city 
And the motor traffic rumble. 
But give me half a chance and I'd be taking off my clothes 
And living in the jungle. 
Cause the only time that I feel at ease 
Is swinging up and down in the coconut trees.

in some other time and place when things were natural.  It's a thing of our time and yet it seems almost a feature of the way we are built and the way we think. We want to go back and we always have.

I'm no more immune to nostalgia than you are, but having been a nostalgic person since childhood I've learned much about how life was without the romanticized view that  commerce and politics use to make us spend and vote and sing about. Yes, indeed we have lost a great deal of both beautiful and ugly things over time, but we have gained far more than we're aware of.  Your favorite Tiki Hut restaurant on the beach becomes a soulless chain restaurant serving fish from New Zealand, that peaceful country road triples in width, sprouts ten thousand traffic lights and strip malls. The little seaside fishing community sprouts "shoppes" for people from New Jersey.  I hate it more than you do and yes it does feel like all those artisanal and natural, organic and authentic things are something devoutly to be wished for, but Capitalism has the ability to mass produce romantic ideas and sell them to us as the real thing We can't tell the difference any more.  Even Starbucks seems real to some of us.

How many TV "reality" shows are there about surviving without technology, living "off the grid" and how many "lifestyles" do we buy into that include the pretense of living like a "caveman" and eating a "paleo" diet as though all our ancestors lived in caves or ate the same things.  I fear that most of it is only theater and most of the science adhering to it isn't much different than Dr. Bonkers' elixir.  But we can't get away from it.  The modern world is scary, complex and lacking in some ineffable quality we think we want.

We want things that are "Natural" and we are afraid of anything that smacks of  the lab coat whether the distinction is real or not.  We'll spend more for something "artisanal" a word that's hard to define and you never used to see and we love the word so much you'll spend more for the product of a 'bread artisan' than of a baker although there's no difference.  We just know that preservatives are poison even when they're not.  We just know that  Ammonium Nitrate is "artificial" unless you extract it from manure and that "organic" food is healthier and tastes better even though all evidence is to the contrary. We're afraid and looking for the soothing lap of  mother nature to comfort us and commerce is happy to dress up in a mommy costume and charge us a fee.

I once had a heated argument about milk with some quite intelligent friend who assured me it was bad because only humans drank milk as an adult which shows it's not natural.  Now of course that definition of natural as something which our species is not involved in is contrived.  We are,, as all things are part of nature, but as we're the only species that brushes our teeth, removes the offal from our prey, boils water and millions of other things, it doesn't follow that all such things are harmful. Yet the urge is to deny all the science that proves milk does not make you phlegmatic, because science isn't natural and fear is.

But it's an old argument, used frequently by religious bigots.  Homosexuality isn't "natural"  there are crimes against nature that must be punished.  Ben Franklin was vilified because lightning rods are an unnatural interference with nature, just as Dr. Frankenstein was punished (in the movie version) for learning and doing things man was never meant to know or do.  Yes, it's an old story and older than the Bible which tells us that knowledge is sinful to acquire.

Man made is bad, technology is bad and frightening, and so science is not trustworthy or wholesome.


In man's evolution he's created the city
And the motor traffic rumble
But give me half a chance and I'd be taking off my clothes
And living in the jungle. Cause the only time that I feel at ease
Is swinging up and down in the coconut trees.

But the naive and the fearful and the nostalgic are the prey of bad people and bad science and the sellers of "lifestyles."  Billions are made by telling you to fear radios and anything not found lying on the ground because it's not natural. An anti-oxidant is bad if it's used as a preservative. Nothing artificial is good even if identical to the "natural" version.  Pesticides are bad unless you get them from a plant or mineral even though they may be quite deadly.  We're convinced because we hear this on the Internet or from some TV pitch man or read some charlatan's book.  We have to worry about hormones from chicken and phlegm from milk and about the antibiotics in the pig food getting into our bloodstreams, even if we can't assimilate DNA and all those "toxins' are destroyed by cooking if they exist at all.. We have to worry about grain brain and wheat belly and the equally non-existent danger of gluten or bananas or any of the "seven foods you should never eat." We don't care how much evidence refutes it.

We don't care that Autism isn't expanding and that vaccination doesn't cause it.  We don't care that all our food sources are things that don't exist in the wild and that we are the only animal on earth that cannot survive without technology and that our dominance is entirely due to technology -- like cooking your food or brushing your teeth or wearing clothes or reading a book or making music -- like human inability to tell reason from emotion -- it's not natural.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Talking to ourselves.

26 dead in Brussels, reads the sign. 26 dead in Newtown.  It isn't something meant to inform us. Close the borders says the rubric. Get used to it says the counterpoint. Forget for the moment that this is a conversation between two straw men, their lines scripted by someone with a purpose -- and forget that the death toll in Belgium has escalated beyond that number and is only a small part of a much larger number, this isn't about accuracy anyway.  It's about energizing the base, giving them something to contemplate with masturbatory self-satisfaction while mocking an opposition created of straw  for the purpose. But wait, there's more.

Focus on the false equivalence.  Is the international threat of a fanatical, well-armed and well-funded army of tens of thousands that's already killed many thousands of innocent civilians really in any way equivalent to the threat of a disturbed teen taking a gun to school?  Of course not. Yet some will read this, will nod together in warm solidarity and feel good about themselves. Many will feel superior to those other people, whether they exist or not.


Welcome to politics in the 21st century.  From the grotesquely infantile Ann Coulter quote: "Liberals go Wah.  They go Wah, Wah, Wah."  to the  straw words to the effect that "white people think there's no more racism."  one could make a case that there are more straw men then real men in our country and that anything worth stating is worth expanding or reducing to an absurdly smug and factually inaccurate generalization.

It's done not to convince an opponent, to inform or to answer any questions but to unite a group and to unite it under the aegis of some entity, consolidating it's power and authority to speak for all those concerned with, for instance, armed violence, police brutality, civil rights and many other valid concerns. It's there to make it all seem simple and to stifle other approaches to such problems. Quibble about any detail of  the canon and you're the enemy.

Straw man arguments, false equivalences, they're part of a larger constellation of  sophistical arguments. Oversimplification, the idea that one factor is the only factor, the sole cause of a complex problem. "Speed is a factor in all traffic accidents"  so all efforts to make driving safer must be based on speed limits, never mind the tautology and never mind all other factors.  "Air bags save lives" but never mind how very few or how many are killed by them.

 Is that just how it is in America?  Should I just get used to it?  If it weren't for the possibility that  progressive ideas make themselves poisonous to the public using obviously misleading and manipulative techniques: name calling, weak and fallacious arguments and obstinate repetitions of well known falsehoods and more.  We don't argue to persuade, we argue to show people how morally outraged and angry we are and how afraid they should be.  We encourage people to support demagogues and their lies  We encourage Republicans to vote against us.

Every time we call a well-intentioned person a racist.  Every time we call a sportsman a gun nut, every time we elevate a problem every time we shout down a valid question we energize a Republican. We distract from their excesses and their deceit and instead of creating unity we fragment ourselves.  We so rarely put up a united front. We go Wah.  We go Wah, Wah, Wah.-

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Continuity With Change



Fans of the Emmy winning HBO series VEEP may recall the slogan used on Julia Louis-Dreyfus' campaign bus "Continuity with Change." In our brave new world such things tend to creep off the screen and into that other world of entertainment: politics. Was Australia's Prime Minister quoting consciously or unconsciously when he said " Continuity and Change" in an interview yesterday?
Perhpas to him it gave the feeling that he would be changing things but not too much. Who knows, but of course the phrase was selected by the show's writers for being as meaningless a statement as they could find in order to typify the state of American political rhetoric. The "most meaningless election slogan we could think of".said writer Simon Blackwell.

So far we haven't heard it from any of the clowns in America's two ring circus, but then it conveys a sort of vapid optimism rather than the furious and outraged invective more common to our politics.

Politics mirrors the art that satirizes politics. As circular as a circus ring if not as vicious.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Midas Touch

"Everybody lies" said Hugh Laurie as House.  Everything goes to shit, says the Second Law of Thermodynamics, or "entropy increases" which is the same thing without the smell.

You can't trust anything and no matter how good a thing, a quality, a group of  people out to do good may be, lies and exaggerations and hyperbole creep in, things fall apart and the jerks, the zealots, the fanatics, the self righteous take over. That's how we got where we are, but never mind. As bad as it is, it's always going to get worse. Entropy increases. Religions and causes and principles become atrocities -- always -- and the best of intentions become heresy, error, treason and sin.  If you're not one of us you're one of them and because we're right, nobody else can be. Truth is tribal. Some truth is more true than other truth and some truths are lies.

So it is with humanistic principles, like the sanctity of human life.  If it gets in the way of a group fighting police brutality, the noblest of principle becomes heresy, becomes racism. Truth is only a tactical position. If it serves your position in some battle, it's true enough even if it isn't.  If it does not it can't be true if it shows we're wrong and we can't be wrong because truth is only a tactical position , a fortification, a weapon that serves our group, our tribe.   Good becomes bad, humanism becomes racism. Everything turns to shit.

Entropy increases: disorder, dispute, disrespect and thus defeat.  Good intentions are self destructive.  Preach peace and and start a war, preach love and engender hate, preach respect for all and it all shatters into warring states, groups, tribes, faiths, races, The end justifies the means, the rhetoric, the damage done.

Found the first secular democracy in the world to affirm that legitimacy in government comes from people not from gods and before you know it, the people are interpreting that to mean Theocracy.  Freedom to persecute becomes freedom of religion. Freedom of religion becomes freedom to believe only what we tell you to believe and so any self-contradiction, any forgery, fallacy of invented fact is permissible in the fight for freedom and so freedom is slavery and vice versa.

On the Animal Farm, four legs good - two legs bad becomes Four legs good, two legs better.  Preach love for one group and you offend another that's out to improve only their own lot.  Numbers are never convincing enough so you tune them up, you gerrymander comparisons, add irrelevant numbers and false analogies and you add real fallacies to real data to make it all seem better and soon enough you've polarized instead of convinced and it all breaks down into insult and strife - forever.

You want to improve the atmosphere by mandating smaller cars and we wind up with huge trucks instead.  We want to improve driving safety so we reduce speed limits on the safest roads and when it doesn't work, we lapse into denialism and accusation and draconian enforcement, just as we did with the Volstead act. That it doesn't do what it was supposed to do means only that someone must be blamed, not that we were wrong or naive or stubborn.  You say the cause of accidents is mostly bad drivers and not bad cars?  You'll be run over by righteousness, a victim of the inertia of zeal.

We want to make cars safer in collisions and we mandate one technology and ignore better technology and accuse the inventor of being against safety.

 Alcohol is bad for society say the righteous. it ruins lives and spurs crime, so we ruin even more lives and create vastly more crime.

When it doesn't work, we look for scapegoats and we increase punishment. Cannibis is bad for society and that must be true since the police tell us and there's a powerful group of civic minded citizens to back them up.  The war on drugs doesn't work, vastly increases crime, vastly increases incarceration, ruining lives, destroying families and communities and when it doesn't work?  we try harder. We create numbers to scare people and when the numbers aren't scary enough we tune them up, we shuffle the shells, we deal from the bottom of the deck and if anyone notices or questions, we cry heresy, we call names, we polarize we feel good about it, because it's all in a good cause and the nobility of the cause justifies all tactics, sanctifies the lies, vilifies objectivity, stifles creativity and again the high minded becomes teh simple minded, becomes denialism, becomes persecution.

We want to protect children so the kid who takes a naked picture of another kid goes to jail and becomes a pariah for life and if you say "wait a minute" why, you must be a pervert too!  Everything turns to shit because the notion that something must be done gets reshuffled and twisted to support any solution, any approach, any law or bill or policy and if you question, you're a spokesman for the devil, the bogeyman, the NRA, the KKK , ISIL or worse.

Everything turns to shit, because everyone lies, misrepresents, exaggerates, redacts, edits and feels good about it and why not, because good causes make for good outcomes, don't they?


Saturday, March 12, 2016

Beer Halls, Brown Shirts and Trump

Oh my!

I haven't lived in Chicago for a long time, but I don't think the big Windy has seen a Friday night like this one since 1968.  I don't think our dear country has been as divided since the illegitimate war in Vietnam that killed tens of thousands of my generation and set the "Love it or Leave it" thugs against the rest of us. Chicago of course has a history of public violence, like the Haymarket affair in 1886 or the gruesome 'Red Summer'  race riots of 1919.  It's no coincidence that St Louis also erupted in violence that evening and it set me to wondering whether those folks, if they're still alive, who blamed the Chicago race riots of 1968 on Martin Luther King would now blame this affair on Donald Trump. King, of course continued to denounce such actions for as long as he lived and as far as I know without once  bragging about his penis.

I'll leave the question of whether those events were part of the "great" period of American history to which our GOP would like to return us to you, but as the New York Post tells us:

The scandal is that a man who aspires to be leader of the United States of America and a role model to its children has behaved like a soccer hooligan, gleefully stirring up violence rather than seeking to calm it.

Of course it's not just the Chicago riots of 1968 that come to mind, but I'm afraid the passionate rabble of  today doesn't connect  its tactics with the passionate rabble in the beer halls of Munich in 1923 or perhaps they don't think history repeats itself if you ignore it.  Who knows, but I'm hardly optimistic about the future of our Republic even if our next president isn't one who promises to wall out minorities, close houses of worship, punish dissent with thuggery or to base our legal system on the "Body of Christ" whatever the hell that means. Indeed the party of Trump, Cruz and Rubio, the one that told us only a few years ago that America's biggest problem was pornography and freedom of the press  is trying to sanctify our traditional bigotry by mumbling about Jesus and freedom of religion (for Christians only) What would the USA be like, it's Humanist and secular government based on the will of the governed be like, transformed into whatever it is that these heroes have in mind?  Perhaps I'll read about it in Costa Rica.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Bad is Good, but Badder is Better

Imagine a world without one single fail, epic or otherwise, where you gave presents instead of gifting them.  Wasn't it just yesterday when there wasn't a genius toaster or tennis shoe in the world? Seems like that world never existed to most Americans, their Business or Journalism diplomas framed upon the wall.

So listen here kids, I'm going to tell you about a time - a time not so long ago when a macchiado would have sounded like something you'd get from a woman in black leather, and a barista was that floozie who was always still sitting  there at closing time. No, I'm not gonna tell you it was the good old days because those days were no better than these days, just different. Back then we laughed at out-of-date hipsters  who still started sentences with saaaay and ended them with seeee. We giggled at people who thought things might be swell instead of cool or maybe even neat. We laughed at people who still wore fedora hats or worse those little porkpie hats like Norton from the Honeymooners and we laughed all the harder when they turned the brim up like a total loser. Wear your hat indoors?  Hahahaha!  Not one science fiction writer ever imagined that there would be passionate arguments about whether your backwards hat should have a flat or curved brim or should be over-sized enough to cover your ears.

Once upon a time, not everything was awesome, you see.   Gilgamesh was epic, your lunch probably wasn't.

I heard some period drama recently in which a Victorian character says "the disease impacted her brain" and it was like an alarm going off.  We just don't remember how different our language was, or is it that directors are afraid of confusing the tattooed multitudes by saying it affected her mind?  and then there was the CNN News item about concussions impacting brains -- and said without a smile to indicate the news parrot recognizing that impacting the brain causes concussions.

No, really there was a time when people distinguished between because of and due to: a time when we waited for things and waiters waited on us. If my high school chum had talked about his selfie going viral or his tweet was trending on Twitter, he would have been sent to the school nurse, but it couldn't have negatively impacted on his record since that convoluted and pompous metaphor hadn't yet graduated from business school and shuffled toward CNN to be aired..

Sure, life has changed and so have the requirements of language.  Who needed to call his Timex an analog watch back when John Cameron Swayze showed us how rugged they were and digital meant something entirely different, particularly in the doctor's office, But do we have to confuse meaning with metaphor?  Do we have to accept manipulative marketing blather so eagerly? Do we have to make fools of ourselves trying to sound adolescent, to sound educated or just to sound hip?  Are all of those motivations internal or are they implanted to direct and misdirect thought, stifle perspective and make us pay ten bucks for a cup of coffee?  a Senator wants to refuse to do his job but keep his pay and benefits? A deserter wants to be commander in chief?  All things are possible when  we twist the language.

I remember a decade of hearing how history wasn't as important as "what's happening now baby" and the results of that is a population full of fake and distorted history.  Are we doing the same thing to English by stressing the primacy of slang and jargon and needless complexity posing as erudition?  Listen to a presidential "debate" and tell me why the barking of dogs is less meaningful. Could it be that Orwell's Newspeak is becoming a reality?  Is language being stripped of precision, are words being identified with their opposites and is the function of language to sell, to indoctrinate to simplify past the point of  incisive or trenchant protest?

Why do I keep hearing patriotism used as a synonym for gun ownership? Why does Liberal mean totalitarian and Conservative mean radical revolutionary and why do Family values mean intrusive Theocracy?  Why is a blastula a Baby? What does Organic mean? What does Processed mean? Why is universal healthcare Fascist and Communist at the same time?  Why is any war about fighting for our freedom?  Why is bad good and badder better? Is it for the same reason that war is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance strength?

I suspect something of the sort and the fact that every English teacher I know thinks there should be no dictionaries and all that is required of them is to teach spelling and the proper use of possessive apostrophes, makes me wonder, and by "wonder" I mean I'm certain.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Monkey's Uncle

Religion, Politics, love and the Origin of Species.

 Many Americans are convinced that human beings came into existence in a flash and appeared as they do today, except perhaps for dark-skinned people, who in a Biblical tale that might have come from Aesop, became black after Ham, was cursed for some vague reason that's been the subject of rabbinical debate for a very long time.  Those of us not cursed with a religious brain blockage might speculate that some advantageous mutation allowed some ape to pass on his genes as our hairyness declined millions of years ago in sunny Africa: as we began to separate from furry arboreal apes and walked away on two legs.

The same sort of  religious fugue that makes people deny our evolutionary origins as one of many sorts of apes which no longer exist makes them deny all sorts of things and like someone who is losing parts of their memory, make things up to fill in the gaps.

some of our fundamentalist presidential candidates who balk at admitting the evolutionary origin of our species  might explode to find out just how much of our genetic makeup is shared with some deep sea Acorn Worms because we both descend from a common ancestor a billion or more years ago. Some 70% of our genes are shared it seems. Of course many things now alive share a large part of this wormy genetic makeup which evolved during the Cambrian period and subsequently proliferated through the many periods of extinction  These worms' genes are shared with many current species from all vertebrates to octopuses.  You may in fact be more than a monkey's uncle -- you're also the umpteenth cousin of a banana if the idea of common ancestry of life is correct. The Popol Vuh says we're all children of the corn.  It's sort of true.

I'll delay rhapsodizing about our common heritage  and the reverence for all life one might therefore feel, and get to the point: which is to say that what we are and what we look like is the product of certain building blocks and how they interact to produce an organism.  Obviously the genes that many creatures of today have inherited are turned on and off  differently and expressed differently and by more than one process.  The ancient genetic patterns that form the legs of a lobster may form the ribs of a vertebrate.  The similar structures that appear in flowers and mammalian reproductive organs aren't accidental.   That's why the argument for the genetic identity of humans across gene pools falls apart.  We all share the genes for melanin, but some have a mutation that limits the expression of those genes and others do not. All those with blue eyes probably descend from one person, That holds true for other features one finds in long separated gene pools. That mutation, recessive as most mutations are, will not likely appear in a population not descended from the original blue-eyed gal. You may remember reading about Gregor Mendel and the distribution of recessive characteristics,  If God turned Ham black, he couldn't pass that on any more than Aesop's leopard could pass on his spots.

Such mutations may be so small: one out of billions of base pairs, that the practice of  saying we are all genetically identical based on percentages of genes is one of those stories we make up to prop up a political or religious prejudice.  I'm not really 98 percent Chimpanzee or only 30% different from an Acorn worm, gene percentages notwithstanding.  I don't know about you and I don't know about Donald Trump, but I do know that Lamarck was wrong as was Aesop, the science of epigenetics notwithstanding.

But the entire science of genetics as it appears in our culture has been warped by normative beliefs. Opening a box of crackers yesterday I was assured by the box that no genetically modified grains were used in making them.  OK, so my mother warned me if I ate any more chocolate I'd turn into a coco bean, but she was wrong.  You are not what you eat and genes are not transferred from flour to the eater thereof. Relax, there is no DNA in your toast and  We won't turn into a chicken if its genes have been tampered with.  We already have most of its genes anyway and all the chemical components thereof.

Yes the rapidly advancing science of genetics Is transforming everything and yes, the inevitable reaction to having to change our  views because of it is creating the same sort of  disturbances in the farce we call culture as other new avenues in science have done, from telescope to telegraph. If we're confused and afraid of the new it's because we all have it in common, my dog and I and you. We may look radically different, dogs and cats and Canadians, but we still can feel love for each other and when we don't it's because we're a monkey's uncle and the scion of a tube worm and the love child of a lobster. I have so much in common with my dog that I love him like a child. He likes me too.  How much more do we have in common with all mankind?   Are we so afraid that that's still not enough that we have to hide behind mythology?  Is the difference between male and female greater than between a black man and a Chinese man?  The Y Chromosome that makes me a man constitutes 2% of my DNA - a greater percentage than the difference between species, yet men and women are more alike than either is with a Chimp.  There is much more to what we are than gene percentages and  admit that our genetic differences don't make us different enough to matter. Our true differences are manufactured, taught and learned and very often they are wrong.




Thursday, February 25, 2016

The eye of the cynic


“Things are not always what they seem; the first appearance deceives many; the intelligence of a few perceives what has been carefully hidden.”
-Phaedrus-

I never thought I'd be saying this, but it just may be that America needs to be more cynical.  Our time is a time of crisis to crisis, calamity to calamity and outrage to outrage  with no intervals in between when  things aren't quite so bad and aren't getting worse. All in all, things may be better than they were for most people on most days, but how often are we prompted to contemplate it?

I wake up on a sunny morning in paradise and tuning in to get a weather report, the first thing I hear is MURDER! RAPE! ARSON!  Is it real or is it manufactured?  Nearly all the other 11 million people in Sunny Florida are having an ordinary morning hearing about little else but car crashes, electrocutions, inexplicable shootings and "isn't it getting worse? "  Did that "double dip" recession ever happen?  Did Obama take away a single gun from a single law-abiding citizen?  Did the markets recover?  Did that horrible scandal that would soon drive him from office materialize?  Who wastes a second talking about that. Who bothers to compare racism 50, 75 years ago to what we're anguishing about today? I keep seeing figures from reliable sources telling us of a downtrend in shootings. Is that a motivation for those who need to distract us from it to keep the spotlight on some subset and make a case for its increase?  Where there's motivation there's a manifestation.  Sometimes only a cynic will notice.

        "There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact" 
-Sherlock Holmes-

Our opinions, our fears and our serial episodes of righteous indignation may just be manufactured, cultivated and fed because it's not only big business, but it's an instrument of control and power. One after the other we hear clusters of stories that seem alike:  Pederast priests, brutal, racist cops, shooting sprees,  Innocent Black "children" being senselessly murdered.  It's normal to ask whether the scenario is being arranged, tuned up, framed to fit the model. Is someone arranging or even fabricating anecdotes because he wants some law changed that really has no bearing on events?   It's not completely out of the question that incidents are being assembled and connected to make the latest campaign of some group newsworthy.  It's not to say there are no trends, no clusters no increases of this or that -- it's to say that it's very difficult to tell when there are serial obsessions caused by regular and sequential news blitzes where on story is told over and over for weeks and connections are made to similar stories or stories made to seem similar because if America isn't glued to the tube, revenue at Fox or CNN is going to fall short of projections and hell will have to be paid.

How long have young women and boys been abused by the Roman Catholic Church?  Hard to say, but you only hear about it in outrage clusters even though it's probably been a steady thing for centuries.  Is violence on the increase in America?  It certainly seems so if you don't look back to those "better times" and read papers full of  riots, shootings and rampant violence. It's hard to tell if someone is trying hard to generate a sense of crisis.  It's hard to tell when these little campaigns, crusades and jihads are professionally stage managed and you can be swatted like a fly if you buzz too much about it. Say that human life matters and you're a racist, not that it doesn't or that you are, but for interfering with some organization's agenda of making racism seem on the increase.


"When it is not immediately apparent which political or social groups, forces or alignments advocate certain proposals, measures, etc., one should always ask: Who stands to gain?”
-Vladimir Lenin-

I can only speculate, it's an experiment that would be very hard to carry out, but airing a cluster of completely fake stories - about young people jumping off bridges, for instance, might just cause young people to jump off bridges.  Certainly I've read about how how some young rampage shooters have studied and taken notes about others so as to exceed their "scores."  But such things are difficult to arrange although we can do research, we can talk about it.  We can look a bit harder for invisible hands pulling invisible strings. Cynicism!  We can peek behind the curtain and pay attention to the little man. We can ask Cui bono? -- who benefits from our outrage and is motivated to make the level of crisis high enough to meet his political purposes.



Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Me, Myself and Guns

A year or so ago, I was talking to someone about a fellow in a popular reality show about alligator hunters in Louisiana.  We share the same name, but  he lives in a homemade shack in the Bayou and lives by hunting and fishing.  Someone chimed in with "isn't it great that we live in a country where you have the freedom to live that way?"   In fact I think it is.  Looking at the success of the dozens of "off the grid" shows and books and movies, Others probably do too. Looking at the number of "survival" shows, I think many of us wish we had the skills and the opportunity -- and the nerve.

"I love the power of guns and the elegance and precision of the engineering, especially in the revolvers and side-by-side shotguns. The machining is so fine, the fit of the parts so precise, the movement of the parts so smooth. The gun itself can be a work of art, whatever you might think about its purpose, usefulness or danger. For an admirer of the mechanical craft, a well-made gun is a thing of beauty."
Juan F. Thompson: Stories I tell Myself

I really have no recollection of it as I was less than a year old in 1945 after the War ended,  but my Father, still a naval officer, and my young, city girl mother would take target pistols and go out to a creek and shoot at bottles in the water.  There apparently was little  else to do in that  remote area of Northern California and since my dad grew up in Wyoming, that's the sort of thing a boy and his girl did on a sunny weekend. If you've never done it, you'd be surprised at how relaxing it is.  But I was exposed to the sound of gunfire early in life and like an old  gun dog.  I've never been gun shy.

The quote is from Juan Thompson, the son of the famous and notorious Hunter S. Thompson; Gonzo journalist, Colorado ranch owner, Liberal Activist and aficionado of recreational shooting.  One of the few ways they could endure each other's presence was while shooting or cleaning firearms.

My dad collected antiques and antique firearms for many years.  He still has some of them, hanging on the wall of his den.  Few if any, are operable and those which are,  haven't been fired since he acquired them 50 years ago. They accompany an interest in 18th and 19th century American history which we have shared, but I'm interested in fine mechanisms in general, tools, cameras, knives. Vintage motor vehicles:  I have and have had a whole lot of those things as well as some firearms, most of which are historical items.

When I dare to mention that I have  perhaps 75 vintage cameras: finely made and finished metal objects by Leica, Minox, Hasselblad, Linhof, Nikon, Rollei, etc. most people think it's odd to cherish those obsolete things.  My hundred or so pocket knives make me only a little bit more so, but guns?  Face it, after years of demonization, after a long, steady and often virulent association with madmen and especially rampage shooters there's a stigma, attached not only to me, but to the objects themselves. I'm not a guy nostalgic about things, I'm a menace, a potential murderer and madman. It was not always so.

When I went off to summer camp and when I became a Boy Scout in the mid 1950's one of the primary lessons one was expected to learn was  how to shoot safely. It was one of those "pioneer skills" one was urged to acquire. Like making fires or shelters, it was a useful survival skill and a discipline akin to archery or fly fishing.  When I visited Colonial Williamsburg in those years I fell in love with the handmade flintlocks being made with antique tools and I never lost my affection.  I still have a couple which have,not been fired since we sold the farm 35 years ago.  It would be tough to part with them.

But the focus of life in this not-so-brave new world is Not the world where people live off the land and with nature, it's urban.  Our paradigm, our standard American is urban, works in an office. Perhaps he commutes, but he's far more Bourgeois than Bayou in fact if not in appearance.  He's more likely to be surrounded by huge numbers of people all the time.  When he thinks of something that shoots lead and goes bang, he thinks of bloody crime and wanton destruction.  He's been taught that association all his life despite endless TV and movies where guns are universally there. He has fear and all out of proportion to the risks, yet there's a titillating fascination. He's no longer the man of open spaces or endless forests and mountains for whom living as he pleases is a matter of pride and joy.  We're suspicious of such men these days. Suspicious and contemptuous of his unfamiliarity with the urban slang, the street culture, the popular fears and obsessions.  In the city, guns are sinister things.

Are we in greater danger of being shot in our daily lives than we once were?  Probably not.  But fear is in the air. Fear is in the marketing of everything from food to constitutional law.  It's not the Daniel Boons, the Meriwether Lewis and William Clark we Liberals admire, it's the deliberately helpless passive vegan gluten avoider who won't own a car, is terrified of "preservatives and cooked food and is made nervous by a Swiss Army knife..  It's the guy who thinks of cars not as liberators but polluters, it's the mother who thinks of cars only in terms of crashes and their survival and safety above liberty..

How much of our changing perception of safety and civilization are really changes in us, not in circumstances?   Is the fear that someone will shoot us today really on the same rational level as the fear that headache is brain cancer or that pain a heart attack or that we're likely to get diabetes or any of the things that are certain to kill us?  How more likely is it that Mom in her SUV will kill me than some crazed movie theater shootist?  A lot. Are we after Detroit to stop selling these things?   How much gun violence is alcohol violence?   I could go on, but not one person anywhere will consider his founding rears or attitudes and no one wants to leave the safety of his opinions and certainties and so we have more anger, more shouting, more malediction and denunciation  and more fear. Fear that makes us line up to buy more guns and fear that makes us terrified about other people who own them. Fear that makes us dress up the story, makes us frame, makes us present things tactically rather than objectively. It's fear that will end our idealism and our love of democracy and our passion for freedom and the ability to live the way we want rather than the way some corporation wants.

I have a dream.  No really I have it often and usually I'm walking on  a dirt path in what looks like my old farm or crossing that ruined stone bridge .  I'm always carrying a rifle, like the "boys" rifle I had a lifetime ago, or that 1873 Remington I never actually fired and I'm at peace with the world as I never am in reality.   I don't have the farm or those rifles any more or the dog who sometimes appears.  I'm afraid I don't have the country where those things still happen, but the dream never dies..

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Brilliant! Just Brilliant.

I wonder what the world "Brilliant" means in our time. Lately I've heard it applied to people who insist we drill enthusiastically for oil in the midst of a glut which has disrupted the world economy. I've heard it applied to a mind convinced the Great Pyramid is full of wheat, to a candidate who thinks  that the Constitution allows us to outlaw a religion and round up its adherents. I heard another talk about winning "for the greater glory of God."  I've heard all sorts of puzzling words and I might speculate that things have become identified with their opposites, not only in our popular usage but in matters of law.
Not only does shall not mean must, but the strict interpretation of the Constitution's intent according to a prominent legal mind is to praise God and  it never was intended to protect the citizen from the requirements of a religion not of his own choosing.  Nor should the government grant as much freedom to those of non-established beliefs as it does to the favored faiths. I'm talking here about the brilliant legal mind of Antonin Scalia.
"I think the main fight is to dissuade Americans from what the secularists are trying to persuade them to be true: that the separation of church and state means that the government cannot favor religion over non-religion… We do Him [God] honor in our pledge of allegiance, in all our public ceremonies. There’s nothing wrong with that. It is in the best of American traditions, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. I think we have to fight that tendency of the secularists On this day, when we’re celebrating our constitutional heritage, I urge you to be faithful to that heritage – to impose on our fellow citizens only the restrictions that are there in the Constitution, not invent new ones, not to invent the right because it’s a good idea.o impose it on all of us through the Constitution."
He's concerned here with the argument that having an official US religious oath is legal because of a tradition from the 1950's and that those who object to acknowledging someone elses god as America's official god need to be "fought." We need, says he, to persuade people that the prohibition against the government taking a position on one religion or another, is something else -- something that favors one religion or category of religions over another according to the acceptability of its beliefs. If you have a god, you're OK, if you have something else; a philosopher, a hero, a stone tablet an idol or an ethical principle. If you have faith in the teachings of the Dharma and the Buddha to lead you to the extinction of your ego -- if you have the body of science and the blood of mathematics within you, that doesn't count. Secular views are not protected because it's not a religion unless we officially establish it.  Establishment clause?  Maybe you're not Brilliant!
So OK, we can't establish a religion, but we can establish its tenets, myths and superstitions because, well, it's traditional and it's all our responsibility to honor a God we may not believe in -- and honoring God is a good thing because the Constitution says so, doesn't it?  So making my kids bow to your god and have an allegiance to it and perform public ceremonies honoring it is within the government's power and not within my power to prevent. Yes, indeed, the government may function as an instrument of worship, and of course that's the original intent of the Constitution, never mind what its creators said. A fine legal mind indeed. This is the incisive, sharp-edged razor that tells us so often that the United States is based on Christianity and therefore its laws must be interpreted, not by the firmly secular writers' intentions but by some ecclesiastical kind of ventriloquism where Tony's God speaks through the law. A brilliant mind indeed,  if dishonest and a bit stupid.
Its a word game. It's equivocation, it's a trick. It's flim-flam.  It's taking a theistic belief to be a religion and another belief to be the antithesis instead of an equal alternative. It's a deceptive way to call one belief legitimate and another not. Neither is actually constitutional. It's our right to have a government with no religious affiliation. Preaching from the bench is Judicial affiliation with a religion. It's unconstitutional.
"On this day, when we’re celebrating our constitutional heritage, I urge you to be faithful to that heritage – to impose on our fellow citizens only the restrictions that are there in the Constitution, not invent new ones, not to invent the right because it’s a good idea."
Apparently some of us - people like Jefferson and Madison have invented a provision that forbids the government to say one belief, one idea, understanding or philosophical orientation is the official government one and informs our laws. No, don't look at that piece of parchment, you're not qualified to understand it because you're not an official State priest like Scalia. The government never guaranteed you freedom of anything. This is not the Bill of Rights you're looking for.
"God assumed from the beginning that the wise of the world would view Christians as fools…and He has not been disappointed. Devout Christians are destined to be regarded as fools in modern society. We are fools for Christ’s sake. We must pray for courage to endure the scorn of the sophisticated world. If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world."
So let's simply ignore the "sophisticated" world - God loves a foolish judge. God smiles when the Judge lies. Let's tell ourselves that error is virtue, that blindness to the truth and to the law is blessed. But sorry, God may give free passes to the fool, but the law does not. The law requires that justice be unbiased, disinterested, that Judges know the law and precedent and not be carrying a cross or a Crescent or a Torah or a book of any other laws than those of the United States of America. And how would any know what God assumes but from some other foreign code of law? In what part of our body of laws is God's law found?  In what part of our law is it said that arguments need make no sense because God said Christians look like fools?  And where most of all, I ask, is the job description of a Federal Judge that he in fact be a fool?

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Surfing the Universe

Well, it seems that we have experimental confirmation that cataclysmic changes in gravity ripple across space at the speed of light, just as Einstein predicted. This will cause many to feel elated but to most, it's meaningless, their universes being more circumscribed than the one cosmologists and physicists live in. Everyman's concerns for the way science can confirm or deny opinion and common sense don't run deep..

Our four  dimensions  are expanded or shrunk a very tiny bit as a gravitational wave passes through.  A very tiny bit, a fraction of the width of a proton, which is far too small for the average person to get involved it, or to attach any importance to.  But it's just one small step away from the kind of consciousness Americans want to retreat into, and I'm not only talking only about the Evangelicals with their young and small universe run by miracle and designed by a consciousness.  Americans are searching for, longing for a world without harsh and rigorous scrutiny -- a world trending back to "nature" and away from technology which is somehow safer and healthier, and where  things have meaning on a human scale.

The parts of our brain that run on superstition, snap judgement and frighteningly huge oversimplifications really are in charge and nearly all the time.  Like "outer space"  the views of reality put together piece by piece by scientific method is far away, and abstract and a little silly to most people.  If the LIGO experimental confirmation of the spreading ripples in space-time from a collision between black holes billions of light years away and billions of years ago ever makes it into the public consciousness it will be to sell us gravitational wave receivers, tuned to natural frequencies which will improve your sex life and help you shed unwanted pounds.  People will claim to be getting signals from the universe through gravitational waves and will help you do the same for a fee.

It's certainly been several lifetimes since we proved that Tetanus is not caused by rust and rhinoviruses not caused by drafts of air. It's been enough time for the proof that milk doesn't promote phlegm or that gluten has no negative effects on 95% of the population or that Dr. Oz's weekly miracle discoveries are worthless.  But we know our inherited weaknesses never completely go away. Prayers and curses, personal rituals and lucky socks still matter to us. We still talk of mysterious toxins and desire to have our intestines flushed and something or other done with our Chi or our Chakras. Hardly one in a million will bother to question that the culture of marketing and entertainment is anything but an exploitation, using lies and deception and distraction.

So gravity is associated with a particle and particles have a wavelength and propagate at a finite speed across an infinite void and so we don't care, except possibly to cause us to ask the universe to help us with our love life and to choose a more ritually pure, vegan, paleo, gluten free diet free of "chemicals.".  Science doesn't really mean shit to us and as the men who wrote Ecclesiastes told us, our entire culture and view of ourselves and the universe are just vanity.