Monday, April 14, 2014

God, Guns and Hitler

I have certain misgivings about hate crime laws, but we're reminded this morning -- the eve of Pesach or The Passover, and a week before Hitler's birthday, that people who belong to hate-based organizations and creeds, who post virulent hate messages and calls for extermination on-line, need their constitutional right to keep and bear arms infringed.

I feel quite protective of our guaranteed right to free speech and our right to think what we think, but speech that incites to violence, that creates a mortal danger to the public, is something else and that's been established for a long time. Frazier Glenn Miller is a founding member of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and the White Patriot Party.  That's not a crime, more's the pity, nor is shouting "Heil Hitler" from the back of a police car, but perhaps we ought to consider making it a felony to belong to groups who advocate murder because as far as I know, it's illegal for felons to own firearms.

I know -- penalties and restrictions don't prevent criminals and especially psychopathic criminals from committing crimes, but there's something wrong with Mr. Miller or Mr. Cross as he often calls himself, to own weapons.  There's something wrong if  the targets of hate groups need to arm themselves or to hire armed guards or to go about in fear because we elevate and protect a right to be armed above the right to remain alive.  We shouldn't have to wait for people like that to run amok before we do anything. Threatening violence against groups or individuals should be sufficient to disarm someone. 

Lest one think that being a white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant is protection and a reason not to worry, Methodists were shot in this tragedy as well.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Kraut is out?

I'd hate to sound like I'm supporting or dignifying Charles Krauthammer, but he's right in saying that it's time for the Right Wing Wolves to stop howling about Benghazi. The administration has run out the clock and the public doesn't care, he said on Fox News.  Of course the public has moved on to other ruminations about other obsessive speculations driven by the relentless cable news networks which haven't yet tired of the "we know nothing, we have no facts but here's what could have happened"  approach to a missing airplane.  

Of course the implication is that the White House simply stalled until the furor died down and makes no mention of  the Republicans having cut security for the embassy in Libya.  The clock keeps running of course whether or not the Fox Fables have any truth behind them, and this one had little enough, but heresy is heresy whether or not we can prove the age of the universe or the rising temperature of our planet.  Can Krauthammer redeem himself before those wolves tear him to pieces?

 The Heritage Foundation, was shocked, shocked at his comments. The Malkin's website Hot Air blames him for "throwing in the towel on a fact-finding effort because it’s not politically expedient?" even though numerous investigations turned up nothing to corroberate the accusations.  No, this is right wing politics and just as with Right Wing Religion; even if it's over -- long over, it's not over ever.  The World was created by a deity 6000 years ago,  Bill Clinton ruined the economy and committed nebulous sins, Barack Obama is a Muslim, born in Kenya and a Communist and Joe McCarthy's blank piece of paper really contained a list of Communists in the Administration.

So maybe the illusion of Karma gets a bit more support when a wolf  tries to advise the pack for its own good and they turn on him, yelping and howling BENGHAZI, BENGHAZI!  Whether or not his creepy credibility suffers, I have to think it's funny.


Friday, April 11, 2014

God and the Buzzard

He who foretells the future lies, even if he tells the truth

--Moroccan proverb-

I suggest the same is true of those who quote or speak of God's word. Perhaps that's demonstrated by the inexhaustible supply of such "words" and the necessary logical contradictions of all assumptions and assertions divinely attributed. God says this, wants that, does, doesn't, will or won't, can or can't and all in a flood of language that could bring down the tower of Babel -- and yet with little internal consistency and very much in the way of mutually contradictory theorems.  Perhaps that's why "Bible studies" so often consist of isolated and hermetic universes, never compared to others from the same source.  It's the well founded fear of refutation. We hardly need science to make it all unlikely and make much of it impossible and absurd, but arguing with the convinced is a bit like playing Scrabble with someone who makes up his own dictionary as he goes along and has a hidden box of tiles.  Love thy neighbor, seek justice -- kill everything that breathes and rejoice while you dash their children's brains against the rocks.

And they do speak of God's word: the people who insist science is untrustworthy as a method to ascertain truth and far less dependable than the politically selected words of God chosen to justify or demand or proclaim or delude.   But it's not so much the disparity between the vast Universe Science reveals and  religion talks of that disturbs the people who have their own alternate reality to maintain at an ever increasing cost.  It's the scientific method itself they pretend not to understand and need to deprecate because scientifically derived theories must be subject to testing and refutation. Received wisdom and divine authority cannot, for obvious reasons. God cannot, should not, must not be tested.  Yet we hear them insist that there are 'many scientists' that deny Darwin, many scientists that doubt the age and nature of the universe and the changing nature of our planet from people willingly or mendaciously oblivious to the contradictions.  The Biblical God demands we protect him by lying.

"Those among us who are unwilling to expose their ideas to the buzzard of refutation do not take part in the scientific game" 

Said Karl Popper of such people who hide behind Biblical authority and he's right -- by definition. "Scientists" who are cited as not supporting Darwin and doubting the thermometer aren't scientists. The religious opinions  regarding ontology to which we are so commonly forced to listen, usually rely on fallacious common sense axioms like ex nihilo, nehil fit to insist someone must have made everything -- nothing comes from nothing, but the weight of that 'axiom' rests on being ignorant of science since not only is nothing provably something, but things, virtual particles, are repeatedly observed as spontaneously arising and extinguishing without any agency. 

The ontological argument for God is a flimsy fallacy but it satisfies a legion of smug folk-theologians and their flocks. The void has properties not dreamed of in the bronze age and still not known about by most. It has properties that seem strange to people who went to Bible College and didn't study physics, and of course physics and common sense were divorced a long time ago. Should I point out that like all 'proofs' of God,  it would, if valid, support an infinite number of gods equally but not any ascribed attributes?  Indeed it can be used to 'prove' virtually anything.  It's hardly the thing to base a religion on since a religion is based not on the existence of a divine entity, ineffable, inscrutable or otherwise, but on it's attributes and attributes that have nothing but tradition and speculation and conjecture and arbitrary assertion as support.

Of course not all religions and denominations or their leaders are equal.  The Vatican has, under several pontiffs, expressed support for evolution and that the observable universe expanded from an infinitesimal point, but then any Pope has likely read Augustine's warning against "utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements" whereas that's not likely to be true of the kind of  Christians who roll on the floor babbling in gnostic ecstasy or insist that God hates Fags and punishes us with hurricanes.  But there's so much wriggle room in Genesis, after all. What is meant by "the heavens" isn't clear.  Is the author talking about our planet and the visible sky or about a universe unimaginable to the writer?  Perhaps the Roman Catholic Church now has genuine respect for the method it once persecuted as heresy, perhaps it's simply exercising Augustinian caution.

The astrophysicist Mario Livio observes that:

"instead of acknowledging  an error in judgement, people tend to reformulate their views in a new way that justifies their old opinions." 

 I can only speculate that normative Christianity, particularly of the American type, is trying to preserve what it can without embarrassment and yet will continue to push the old presumptions where it can get away with it. So it's no surprise that the continuing revelations of science will be trimmed and tailored and offered on the altar of God to "prove" biblical accounts of history. Hence we have the usual suspects asserting that the recent detection of gravity waves or ripples in space-time said to  support the theory of inflation in the very early universe also supports the Genesis account:

In the beginning God (the Elohim) created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

Sorry The Earth wasn't created until the universe was ten billion years old, nor was the universe made of water that had to be separated by a "firmament"  into the waters above and below the Earth -- nor was it divided into day and night of course, or lights placed on the ceiling for our benefit. 

The Earth, even the larger one we learned of long after the current Biblical account was formulated, is so tiny in comparison to existence itself as to totally defy analogy. What we know about the origins of the universe doesn't allow for the specific and omnipotent actions described in the Bible as we have it today much less the essentially infinite size and great antiquity thereof. Yes, both scenarios suggest an existence prior to ours outside our universe but one relies on evidence and the other relies on the will to believe and to believe in a tiny, simple universe designed for a purpose: for human use. It relies on the importance of Man and his actions and thoughts and that demands an egotism, a desperate search for importance and meaning that is as incomprehensibly large as existence itself. 

Of course the promotion of science as supporting The Bible, as contorted as it is, is desultory and opportunistic. In this case, that it gets as far as it does relies not only on the scientific ignorance of the faithful as it does the Biblical ignorance.  A good reading of Genesis, with it's interleaved stories having different names of God and different accounts patched together like a fool's motley is almost as much at odds with itself as it is with science, with it's assertion that God had all kinds of sons on Earth and that they were a randy and unruly lot resembling satyrs or the assertion that animals have souls.  Perhaps the incoherence itself lends a hand to misrepresenting the contents and dressing them up as support for science, but I'm being foolish myself for pointing out mankind's foolishness and dishonesty and delusion.  Not only can't I get there from here but religion of all kinds is 'writ in water,' and like water, it fills in the interstices in truth, settles in the lowest places and flows from one gap to another. 

But neither Genesis nor Science can do much more at this point than speculate about beginnings. The concept of God as we have him in the West presumes that the beginning wasn't the beginning of everything and the current scientific theories allow for other and perhaps prior universes -- even universes to come.  We don't know much at the extreme level of the infinite and infinitesimal and that we don't know is the beginning of belief itself. There will always be more carrion than the buzzard of science can swallow.  It's left to fools like me to dream that it were otherwise.


 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Yes and Noah

"It took 2000 years to find Noah's ark" said Bill Hemmer, Fox News' answer to Barbie's plastic pal Ken ( only dumber.)  Of course it's never been found, although no end of  Believers have assured me it has, but "Bible Bashing" archaeologists, geologists and historians don't want us to know.   I don't know whether Hemmer thinks it was found some millennia ago or whether the mythical world flood occurred back during the Roman Empire, but it doesn't matter since it never happened at all.

Of course writers from St Augustine to Andrew Snelling of Creation Ministries International, good Christians all, have warned believers to please check the facts before erupting in rapturous affirmation of  embarrassingly erroneous faith, but experience has been otherwise and embarrassment is rare amongst prophets and prognosticators of the believing kind.   To America's Christian Right, it's all true even when it contains contradictory claims -- and it does. 

Actually there are two interleaved Biblical versions of the story of Noah, with different names for God and different numbers of animals and different numbers of days it rained. Of course there are very similar flood accounts from other cultures in the region, with different angry gods and different ark builders and different outcomes reflecting the respective religious beliefs and different morals to the story, but we won't get into Utnapishtim and Ziusudra or  Gilgamesh and Enkidu.  This would turn into a long book in short order.

Suffice it to say that there is no geological evidence, there is not enough water anywhere to flood the earth that deep.  Suffice it to say that there are far, far too many species "clean" and "unclean"  to have fit on any boat, whether two by two or six by six, nor is there any way that they would somehow have been dropped off in their respective and far flung habitats.  Is there any reason to ask why the salt water fish didn't die from the fresh water or the fresh water fish didn't die from the salt?  No, because no matter how much you yell and scram, rage and shout, your belief is entirely, wholly and completely ridiculous and you know it.  It's absurd both from the claim of worldwide "wickedness" to
 the mechanics of flooding to a depth of  30,000 ft without leaving a trace.  Believing in the literal although contradictory truth of the Genesis stories fits every description of insanity I can think of.

So you'd naturally assume that the righteously ridiculous religious Right would be very dissatisfied with  "Noah," Darren Aronofsky's $130-million blend of both El and YHWH versions of  the Hebrew flood myth.  Like the truth itself, it's not "Biblically faithful," no matter how faithful it is to what the Bible says.  You can't please everyone -- not the Evangelicals and certainly not God, whether he's the Elohim or YHWH, or Allah, or the entire Babylonian pantheon even though he feels bad afterward and promises never to do it again if we'll only give him another chance. It's not just the Christian Taliban issuing proclamations and fatwahs, of course.  NOAH has been banned in Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and condemned elsewhere in the Muslim world. What else can you expect in  a world where organizations think they own a copyright on lies and can't abide anyone else telling them.

 

Monday, March 24, 2014

The takers

What do you call people who are exempt from taxes, get big government handouts and have a hugely disproportionate influence on the way government spends and our representatives vote?  What do you call people who somehow seem to be able to tell schools what to teach and what not to teach without seeming to care about historical, mathematical and scientific truths or the methods that revealed them?

I call them takers.

No, I'm not talking about people who don't pay much or sometimes any Federal Income Tax.  Not the people the Tea Party Republicans like to portray as leeches even though most of them pay out as much taxes percentage wise as the wealthy do.  I'm talking about the Christian Right for the most part.  Those folks who get federal support and public respect for schools that teach lies, fallacies and disrespect for logical thought processes. Those folks who somehow escape punishment for shouting down nearly every intellectual achievement since Aristotle.

I'm not going to exempt other religious organizations that take school voucher and tax-credit scholarship program  money to teach paleolithic superstition rather than mathematics and science, but few can come close to matching America's Children's Crusade.

Raw Story quotes one school as asserting:

"Our understanding is not complete until we filter it through God’s Word,”

It's not so much that I despise liars, cheats, perverts, idiots and child molesters, although of course I do, but that I despise people who make me pay for it -- who make all of us pay for it more.  We pay not only some billion dollars in subsidies to religious lie factories, we pay for it with our declining educational standards, with a generation less and less prepared and less willing to live in the real world. As Liberals, we oppose factors that put minorities and the poor at a social and educational and legal disadvantage but we're strangely silent on one of the most sinister assaults on education and on freedom, truth, justice and what we fatuously describe as the American Way. Frankly if you're cowed by self-appointed authority, afraid of  what might happen if we're allowed to follow truth where it takes us, we're not anything like a Liberal and we're part of  the empire that has opposed Democracy and freedom of thought for millennia.  How many of the world's greatest evils were not sold as God's word?  No wonder we're not supposed to respect truth.

Whether or not God is a lie, everything you say about him/her/it is filtered through someone's words and someone's agenda and usually it's the desire for power, for control that lie behind the words, the exhortations, the threats, the prophecy.  The easiest to control are the ignorant, the outcast, the troubled and afraid and such marginal people are what Big Christianity wishes to produce by teaching fear and lies and promoting ignorance and poverty.

Anyone who quotes God's word is a liar, even if he's right and any nation that allows its children to be lied to and misled by the Pat Robertsons, Oral Roberts's and all the other greedy perverts and child molesters of America has a grim future.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Face in the Stone

 There are many metaphors for the human tendency to assemble an argument from useless or irrelevant fragments. "grasping at straws" comes easily to mind but the desperation of a drowning person isn't a prerequisite to finding order, a coherent narrative and even 'proof' of a conjecture in randomness.  At breakfast every morning I stare at a granite counter top with as yet uncaffeinated eyes and see a myriad of faces and recognizable forms.  Evolution has designed our brains to identify faces in the weeds and  probably to identify other things that are not there. Better after all to flee the tiger that isn't there than to be eaten by the one that is.

Once you see that face, it's hard thereafter to see it as random assemblages of feldspar or mica or other minerals.  The eye hangs on, the way we hang on to other constructs we form out of the randomness of  being.  Once you've had Orion pointed out in the sky, you'll always see those stars as the hunter that isn't there and who never existed -- and apparently, once you decide that some sentient physical entity caused for instance, a particular Uranium nucleus to fission, it's nearly impossible to see it any other way, even though it's so random there's no way to predict the phenomenon. "If it happened, something caused it to happen" is the genesis of  theology and science emphatically does not support that assertion. Something indeed does come out of nothing and "nothingness" itself  is a condition we imagine but does not exist.

It becomes increasingly obvious that what we call the "Big Bang" occurred nearly 14 billion years ago and what we now see as the Universe expanded from a singularity at an incomprehensibly high rate: so much faster in the first instant that it's current limits are far beyond the distance we will ever be able to see. A discovery announced Monday of ripples in space-time or gravity waves are said to be evidence for that brief time of rapid inflation in the nanoseconds after "the beginning" which seems to be another piece of evidence that Einsteins predictions were right and "inflation" occurred. It's said to fit in with models including multiple universes.  It's a profound moment for cosmology and for the prevailing model of how the universe we perceive began.

But wouldn't you know it, the faithful see it otherwise -- as proof of the idea that a sentient entity who looks like us is behind it all.  It's proof, says Leslie A. Wickman, special to CNN.com of the Biblical Genesis story.  It's nothing of the sort, of course, but in a construct some will not recognize as a decoy, Wickman asserts that the results of this new development offers "strong support for biblical beliefs." and that "it adds scientific support to the idea that the universe was caused – or created – by something or someone outside it and not dependent on it."

If in fact some argue that universes arise from some  random fluctuations in other universes, inflating into themselves as they separate forever from the host universe, it hardly fits the assumption of a God of any description. No condition that created all we see can persist as an entity today any more than we can travel to another universe. It's more than a stretch to say that the observations of polarized light through an Antarctic telescope have anything to do with a god, anthropomorphic, Biblical or not. But such is the parasitic nature of  religion, changing our eyes to see prescribed patterns in randomness, to see proof of God -- of a certain God in yet another piece of evidence that there is nothing even vaguely like that in this universe or elsewhere, nor is such an entity necessary or even useful to describe it's origins.  The implication that we can somehow attach all the ancient baggage we are liable to find in the Bible to a fallacious fabrication erroneously based on intentionally misunderstood scientific observation gives, I think, "strong support" to the idea of  our precious and often beautiful theology as hokum riding on conjecture born of blind ignorance.

The notion that the increasingly substantiated model of  the Big Bang answers any kind of ontological question like "who caused it," stems from the  assertion that for something to happen, something or someone must cause it, is the kind of common sense notion prevents us from seeing beyond our tiny frame of reference. Just as I see faces, usually human faces in the stone, we see in nature what isn't there and what we see is a reflection of us. In fact the stone contains nothing, and we are not able to see in it what we can't recognize elsewhere.

If it's indeed possible that some human may be able to create a new universe that immediately detaches from ours and inflates into itself like ours, it doesn't suggest that he who flips the switch is God or that she has any further influence on the course of history contained in that new place forever inaccessible to us.  Even less does the possibility that this is a natural and universal condition with universes budding off into some unimaginable hyperverse argue for "Biblical Beliefs."  It argues for some staggering sense of awe inherent in the infinite not in how we reduce the infinite to fit our biological limits.  If there is some universe of universe that may even be a mote itself in other universes -- if there is a reality in the infinitely small where nothing is true and everything is permitted, it hardly argues for anything whatever in our religions.  It argues instead that what we see has mostly to do with what we want to see. We want to see our significance and the significance of what we do and think and what we are.

So is there a God?   Is that in fact a question or an attempt to package a vast number of conjectures as an answer?  Maybe the answer is in the question: "what do you mean by God?" After all, the very word God is a concept smaller than the limitlessness of reality. Do atheists believe in nothing at all?  As Frank Moraes says so pithily: "So we have our gods, they just aren't anything that would be recognized by theists."   Perhaps reality itself isn't recognizable by Theists or the the faces in the stone aren't faces or in the stone.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Liar's Crusade

Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.

--Saint Augustine:  De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim --

______________________

Well you knew it was going to happen.  When it comes to a vessel big enough to contain the egos of the illiterate Biblical literalists, the world is not enough and if anything can expand, can inflate faster than the early universe, it's those very egos who insist we consider their idiotic, superstitious, fatuous and fact-free delusions to be reasonable alternatives to demonstrated and proven physical law.

Too bad that moronic mob of pretenders to received authority know as little about Christianity and its foundations as they know about nature as revealed in science and mathematics. Anything once rational and functional in early Christianity seems to have shed those attributes as vestigial organs, like the hip bones in a whale as an example of just how evolution works in all things.

There is nothing about the origin of species in the Fox TV series Cosmos that is without massive evidential support or that hasn't been thoroughly and repeatedly demonstrated in the fossil record and in the laboratory. The truth is that DNA based life forms not only can and do but must evolve over long periods of time into quite different life forms because of the mechanisms involved.  To argue otherwise is either dishonest or stupid or pathological.  Face it, only if one is staggeringly uninformed about basic physics and chemistry, geology and paleontology or mentally impaired and basically dishonest, is there any need to treat the fundamentals of science and mathematics as "opinions" that can honestly and reasonably be held by honest and reasonable people.

Few people would take the argument that because one can't come up with a final figure for Pi all numbers are so equally probable that I can't be mocked for saying it's 4 or worse. Would anyone honestly assert that I must be allowed in every classroom to insist that it's 4 because there's an old paleolithic legend I choose to delude myself with?  But it seems that there are more than a few who will, for many sinister and stupid reasons, tell you that facts are irrelevant and demand the right to interrupt your evening's entertainment and your offspring's education to demand respect for stupidity.

Danny Falkner, of Answers In Genesis showed up on the "Christ Centered" Janet Mefford Show  yesterday to accuse the Fox television series and its host, Neil deGrasse Tyson, of "marginalizing" those marginally rational and totally dishonest delusionals with "dissenting"  views on accepted scientific truths, reports Right Wing Watch. They say it's only fair to be allowed to refute the irrefutable -- and because they "believe" and belief is all they need to shut you up.

“Boy, but when you have so many scientists who simply do not accept Darwinian evolution, it seems to me that that might be something to throw in there, you know, the old, ‘some scientists say this, others disagree and think this,’ but that’s not even allowed,” 

Said Mefford, and presumably there were nodding heads all over the halls of idiocy and  cesspits of mendacity.   It's frightening to think someone can think of getting away with asserting that we have "so many scientists" and can't see the inherent contradiction.  (If you prefer unsupportable tradition over science, you're not a scientist)

So perhaps we have so many football fans who think the Seahawks lost the Superbowl, that the Sun orbits the flat Earth and Methusala lived 900 years. I have the right to interrupt anyone to assert this and for free.  May I demand the right to show up in any church on any Sunday to insist that there is no Yahweh, no El or Elohim, no trinity, no creation and never could have been?  That Jesus was nothing but another of many, failed anti-Roman zealots, that there is no heaven, no hell, no sin, no forgiveness, no resurrection -- no spirits, demons, angels and no souls?  Do I have the right to set up an altar to Zog in every Church, synagogue, Temple, Mosque and public school?

And why the hell not? 

Because it's not about fairness. It's not about honesty, it's certainly not about freedom of speech or of belief .  As Salmon Rushdie said of Fundamentalism: it's about power. It's about bringing untold trouble and sorrow, it's the idiot's crusade.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The extraordinary deeds of ordinary men.

I won't comment on the proposition that the men who were honored with the Congressional Medal of Honor yesterday had been overlooked because they had been identified with some less favored ethnic group. It takes away from their individual stories and suggests that by honoring them we're doing them some sort of favor by elevating them to the level of  "regular" Americans. 

Having listened yesterday to the long recitation of the deeds of these belated medal recipients, I don't doubt that they all earned the long delayed distinction in full.  In fact I felt that although I had only turned on the TV for a quick check of the stock market, I was duty bound as an American to watch the entire ceremony -- and I did.  None of these men seem to have borne a grudge for having been overlooked and that's more to their credit and speaks more to their character, but no one who endured such risk or paid such a price should ever be forgotten even by those like me who may not have approved of the actions that put them in harm's way and cost so many of them their lives.

We're a nation that loves to say "support the troops" instead of supporting their interests while they serve and afterwards.  There's far more to support than pestering anyone in uniform with applause while voting for politicians who constantly attack their benefits.  Applause is cheap, medals are inexpensive. Remembering what happens when we go to war; remembering what apparently ordinary men have done and can do when something needs to be done and despite the danger or the personal consequences, is a part of the obligation they place on us and the least we can do in return. 

Of all the things we are urged never to forget by people who foment wars, such men, such deeds are the most often and soon forgotten.  I would remember them individually if I could, but not so much as heroes but as another reminder of the value of human life; of how much an ordinary man can do, of how far beyond common experience he can rise and of how little his value has to do with the petty ways we measure our fellow Americans.

None of the survivors became millionaire industrialists or could afford to purchase political favors. Perhaps some could be described by the 'Patriots' on the Right as takers looking for handouts from the government at our expense. Can we ignore the lesson that the measure of a man is not money, nor knowledge, nor industry?  Can we remember that the man who mows your lawn, fixes your BMW or drives a school bus -- even the man who has never been able to hold a job may be, in such a staggering way, a better man than we are, that I am?


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

They don't want you to know

I'm probably repeating myself by warning you that a sales pitch insisting that the item or idea or information you're selling is something someone doesn't want you to have or to learn about is a marker for hokum and perhaps outright fraud.  Similar marketing techniques include warnings that you must get this or read that or go to the website "before they ban it" or that scientists, or historians or doctors or liberals are hiding the real truth from you about things like magic beans or  some dietary trick that will block the effects of eating ten thousand calories a day -- or that some common ingredient is making you sick or pumping you full of  obscure 'toxins'  you can only get rid of if you buy my book.

Such marketing, if you can call it that, is so pervasive that it might seem as though the truth about most things has been hermetically
encapsulated in an impenetrable shell of propaganda: websites, infomercials and advertisements designed to misinform and mislead for profit.  We recognize some of it, tolerate much of it as just hyperbole and humor, but sometimes too much flim flam will send you to the slam.

Kevin Trudeau, whose Natural Cures "They" Don't Want You To Know About is a prime example of health and nutrition hokum, just found out the hard truth the hard way and will have ten years in Federal prison to meditate on life.

Do booksellers who feature and promote such books bear some responsibility for misleading millions into harming or at least neglecting their health?  As far as I know there have been few cases like it. It seems to be a rarity and there are no end of fraudulent sales pitches for water "with a different, non-toxic hydrogen bond angle,"  bracelets and pendants "tuned to natural frequencies" and books that assure you it's only the gluten-containing bun on that triple bacon chili cheese megaburger with cheese fries making you sick and giving you "grain brain."  Caveat Emptor after all, is part of the Tea Party Utopian dream where allowing anyone to cheat anyone else leads to liberty and justice for all -- and of course enforcing any kind of truth in advertising law would run up the debt and cost jobs and place an unnecessary regulatory burden on business.

After all, if we started going after scam artists, perpetrators of fraud and lie merchants we'd have no room to lock up the politicians.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Sometimes a finger is just a finger.

" So long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe, so long will they be a little people, a silly people - greedy, barbarous, and cruel,"

Who knows what T.E. Lawrence really said, but Peter O'Toole delivered that line in the eponymous movie.  I can't help recalling it when listening to the God Damned Republicans trying to blame the situation in the Crimea on President Obama and trying to make sure it all goes badly for everyone so that Americans will come to their senses and elect some silly, greedy and barbarous puppet to represent crackpot religion and klepto-Capitalism. Why not? We're already silly, greedy, barbarous and cruel: a little people with big rhetoric, a cruel people with small minds and big guns.

It's not because of Republicans -- it's because of us, because of who and what we are and it shows in everything we do, well-intentioned or not.  It shows in how we latch onto theories and justify them with good intentions and use them to make things worse.  It shows in how we alienate allies by making good causes less about goodness than about rhetorical conformity, it shows in how we make facts bow to theory and let the theories we obey make things worse.

So how do you make schools safer?  Does it help to reduce tensions, make students feel less alienated and helpless and marginalized to expel one for pointing a finger at another student?  Of course not, but "we have a rule" against even pretending to be using a weapon and so because a student could conceivably think of his finger as a gun barrel, pointing it at someone is, in some mystical way punishable. A thought -- a presumed thought is magically identical with action.

We may laugh at the assertion that minimum wage laws stifle job creation because the State with the highest has the highest rate of job creation. We fail to laugh at our attempt to reduce school violence by insisting that a hug is assault, a kiss is rape and a finger is attempted murder. Silly, barbarous and cruel.

When an aspirin is "drugs;" when a nail clipper is a "weapon" -- when punishments explore the far reaches of what is reasonable and effective and meaningful and are defended with all the passion of a Spanish inquisitor without any  reference to the consequences --  so long as we continue to marginalize the reasonable for not adhering to formulas and incantations -- as long as we continue to marginalize decent, ordinary, well-intentioned people for saying the wrong word or pointing the wrong finger we will continue to be a little people: silly, greedy, barbarous and cruel.

Can I lay the foundation of this at the feet of a religion which equates "sinful" thought with sinful action?  Or is it just the nature of the self-righteous beast?  Perhaps the Devil makes us do it but I don't think it matters.  The enemy is us.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Crimean War II?

I admit, that my eyes rolled a bit when I noticed Wikipedia just entered some lines of disambiguation to their page on the Crimean War so that the flood of inquiries into just what and where the Crimea is would be directed elsewhere.  Yes America, there was another Crimean War and it's beginnings involved Russia claiming the right to "protect" Orthodox Christians in the peninsula as they apparently claim to be doing now by "protecting" ethnic Russians. Should we say Welcome to CW II?

I wonder how many of us will be prompted to recall how Hitler claimed to be protecting ethnic Germans in Poland.  There's not a hell of a lot new here and that's scary.  Weary and broke after years and years of ongoing and unnecessary war with no end apparent, we hardly need to get involved in yet another unwinnable contest with a major nuclear power.

That doesn't stop the Goddamned Republican Party from using the opportunity to accuse Obama of weakness, perhaps for not ramping up the chest pounding anthropoid display of  bellicose bravado those self-destructive bastards are so fond of.  Of course even though he's a chickenshit coward, a wimp and a trembling little girl, he's still a tyrant, right?  No, a real man, a real American hero like John Wayne would already have his finger on the button and the red phone in hand threatening Putin with annihilation just like Reagan would do.  No I don't think they want a nuclear war any more than you and I do, but they do want the humiliation of Barack Obama at any cost and at any risk -- all else be damned.

Look, Territorial aggression by Russia is a scary thing, but even scarier is the prospect of suddenly being carried back to the dark days of the Cold War and backyard bunkers simply because the Goddamn Republicans think they can use this to bash Obama and don't give a damn about the consequences.  We don't need the Incredible Hulk in the White House, we need a cold, calculating chess player.  We don't need more inane accusations of  "appeasement" and "Communist sympathies."  We need a supportive, helpful, informed  GOP  more concerned with our national future, security and the survival of  Democracy in the world than with promoting small minded bigotry and corporate feudalism.  We don't have it. We have the excremental Lindsey Graham  blaming Russian aggression on the premise that " We have a weak and indecisive president that invites aggression" while simultaneously blasting him for talking tough to Putin because after all, we can't do anything.

Perhaps we can't stare down the Russians, at least not in the short term.  We can do something about the saboteurs, the public enemies and the organized crime syndicate pretending to be patriots.  We can simply vote them out.  We have no other choice, we barely have time.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

I sing the body mechanical

"America's love affair with the automobile" used to be the most noticeably overused cliche in the the American idiom and indeed, starting with the 20th century few things transformed private life and personal liberty like the automobile. Few things contributed so much to economic growth From the end of  WWII and through the 1960's everything was about cars.  If you're one of the dwindling part of the population who remembers first hand, I don't have to explain.  You'll remember the car culture and you'll remember how it made the USA run.  Our youth was about the freedom cars brought.  The status of our families was displayed in the driveway and our introduction to love had a lot to do with the freedom of the road and the secluded areas it led to. It's gone. It's strip malls and plastic signs and Japanese designs. It's people locked safely inside, staring at little screens.

What would have happened to Jack Kerouac, who would have heard of Ken Kesey if this had been a nation where people gleefully chose some soulless transportation appliance chosen for cheapness and that simply took you places safely and economically without your participation?  Where do you find America, how do you get there but on the road?  Why even have a road if we can live in a hive?

I can't understand the mania for taking away our cars, for looking forward eagerly to cars that differ from Subway cars only in the passenger capacity, that run on electronic rails?  Safety and economy and the vision of  a future without back roads, the crunch of gravel, the wind in your hair on Summer nights, the smell of gumbo in road houses you pass as the V twin rumbles between your knees or the V8 sings as you change down from 6 to 5 to pass that Toyota safetybox with blacked out windows nd the 'Star Safety System' and the airbags.  I sing the body mechanical -- the music of the night and of freedom. The poetry of machines.

Soulless appliance, we don't know how it works and don't care -- a place to wait and text message and facebook and link to Linkedin and watch American idol as the soulless matrix sucks the life out of you in perfect safety.  What the hell has happened to us?  Are we really heir to the termites, the moles -- timid troglodytes  living in plastic tubes and breathing filtered air -- too timid to take control?

Pardon me, I'm making myself sick.  It's a beautiful Saturday and in the garage, my new Harley gleams, a symphony in Blue -- and route 714 waits, just over the bridge, leading west out to the big lake under miles of  trees, arched over the asphalt like a cathedral knave and the air smells the way most of you have never smelled it.  South along 441, along the levee, the live oaks and Spanish moss and fish camps and orchards and road houses and kids that still wave from front lawns as you ride by.  America, I'm still here, and I still remember. Of thee I still sing.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Hitler, Newton and Barnum

I. Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it. 

That's true for things above the level where quantum physics makes hash of such laws but for things which are not things, but lies, it has no bearing.  Promoters of things for which there is no evidence whatever and promoters of lies, hoaxes and propaganda rely on the fact that no external force will impede, delay or arrest the appointed rounds of  lies while truth often demands too much of us. Every day a new crop of gullible witlings and angry little twits is born to be deluded. Call it Barnum's Law.

I saw this once again the other day, it's been defaming anyone with any intention and a great number of people without the intention of  modifying the national policies on private ownership of firearms.

One might expect that anyone trying to equate Hitler with liberal philosophy isn't dealing with words as we generally accept them and is using definitions of terms like "liberal" that steer us away from rational dialog and into the corral to be fleeced.  and like all humans those who don't like liberals and don't want any interference with gun ownership will simply latch on to anything that seems internally cohesive in some blurry way without further question.  We're all guilty of it to one degree or another, but in this case it's more likely to be questioned by the people it's directed against and guess what.  There isn't a germ of truth to it.  There is no evidence that Hitler ever said it and the history of Post WW I German gun laws contradicts it.  Hitler in fact made guns much more available (except to Jews) in 1938.  The Weimar Republic required registration but that was only some time after the Victorious allies forbade Germans to have guns at all.  Some one made this up, probably during the Clinton years, and no opposing force has been able to stop it.  Facts don't matter. Barnum's Law prevails.

Fact is never the test of belief, if it were, this thing wouldn't keep appearing all over the place.  I've been seeing it for years and so far it seems more ridiculous every day, but as long as the need for Obama to be scandalous exceeds the supply of  scandals, it might as well be a perpetual motion machine.

There's as little evidence that it will cease to orbit and burn up in the atmosphere as there is for any actual scandal to have occurred, but it doesn't matter in a nation where half of us are so greedy for scandal, desperate for outrage and hungry for something, anything to anchor our prejudice and feed our greedy need to feel superior by knowing things we don't care enough about to research. 

So sure, Hitler will always have said what he didn't say and the Obama scandal will always be quickly approaching and  your God and your Guns  and your freedom to ignore decency, the law and the tenets of both Capitalism and Christianity will continue to make a stink that no fact will diminish and no test of logic impair.

Playing God

Everyone worries about unemployment, particularly the party occupying the White House, because whether or not the executive branch does or can do anything to change the employment rate, they get blamed for it.  Some people worry more about God's job description which, you must admit, is much skimpier than it used to be.  What will we do when he retires entirely, perhaps moving to South Florida to one of those '55 and older' communities like the one across the tracks from me?  Are we going to have a problem with the old crank pestering the neighbors about leaving garbage cans out or making noise?

Worst of  all, will ordinary people start doing all the things that used to be the Divine prerogative?  Of course nearly everything used to be God's sole bailiwick at one time, from throwing lightning bolts, to determining the sex of one's offspring, to starting and ending natural disasters.  The advance of science and technology has of course allowed us to do a better or at least more rational, equitable and even moral job of it and this has always worried people.  After all, "let there be light" is something we all do every evening without a second thought, thanks to Mr. Edison and keeping lightning from burning down the barn hasn't been so much of a worry since Mr. Franklin invented the lightning rod, but both those things were once described by the timorous and superstitious  as "playing God" and the fear was that God, rather than being grateful for a little help would go on strike.  And then, if God wants your barn burnt, should we be interfering? 

Of course when it comes to preventing unnecessary death, the "playing God" worries are most prevalent.  I mean if God wants a plague we ought to let him have one, right?   If God wants your kid (the human kind or the goat kind) to inherit a disease, should we interfere -- is the decision a moral dilemma?  People make a living telling us we should worry about such things, people like  Robert Klitzman,  professor of psychiatry and director of the Masters of Bioethics Program at Columbia University.

So if someone with a family history of Huntington's disease wants to have a child without passing along a fatal gene, is making sure the child won't inherit it a moral dilemma?  Is it "playing God and does God give a damn if we do?"  Well if that's the sort of thing God wants to do and doesn't want you to do: to roll the dice with your genes, perhaps it's time to put him into managed care before he hurts someone.  Perhaps it was time a long time ago.

Now we can argue that if he's really got the "oms" like omniscience and omnipotence, he might have been behind the development of  pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD or at least allowed it to happen, but that's a dead end or endless loop argument and it's more fun to view him as that demented old man whose lawn we dared not play on as kids.  Say hello to a moral dilemma we invented to make ourselves afraid.

Season this sort of  aged beef with a bit of reductio and ask yourself, if we're playing God by wearing clothes against the cold or putting a roof over our heads against God's own rain then don't  we have to conclude that God wants us to die and to die miserably?  After all, to a Biblical follower, there is no hint that anyone ate from the tree of wanting to stay alive and that such urges must have been molded in the clay by the divine hand.  The same goes for wanting our offspring or even to those of a Liberal bent, our fellow creatures to survive and prosper and occasionally have a nice day.  No, the Biblical character may want us to suffer a bit and have pain in childbirth and sweat a lot, but there's no commandment that I know of  along the lines of  "thou shalt not avoid fatal diseases, for I am a jealous God."

What I'm waiting for is for one of the "don't play God" partisans to extend the argument to condemning the Death penalty as logic and honesty would demand, but we're not dealing with the logical and honest are we?   Appeals to a higher power are religious practices and we're not dealing with a religion designed to improve the human condition, but one designed to terrorize people into obeying the world's oldest profession: the prophet or the priest and if people have to die in the process, well then let there be suffering and pain and disease and war and famine and pestilence, Amen.  As to questions about passing along fatal genes to one's offspring, that sort of  moralist, the traditional Christian sort of moralist would prefer that one simply not have sex, that practice being an end in itself.  Now as to playing God, if it were up to me as director of this movie, I'd direct such moralists to swear off sex and procreation entirely so that after a while, we'd be free of them at last.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Party like it's 1964

If you haven't been so immersed in sports and entertainment that you haven't read or listened to the news, you probably know about the rash of  state level legislative efforts to affirm the "right" of business owners to refuse service to people whose private lives include amorous proclivities inimical to religious bigots.  Yes, if you won't give a glass of water to a thirsty homosexual person you're a bigot and most definitely not the sort of Christian who credits the canonized teachings of Jesus. If you don't agree, I maintain the right to call you a bigot anyway and worse, actually. 

"I think anybody that owns a business can choose who they work with or who they don't work with, but I don't know that it needs to be statutory. In my life and in my businesses, if I don't want to do business or if I don't want to deal with a particular company or person or whatever, I'm not interested. That's America. That's freedom."  

Said Arizona governor Jan Brewer, obviously a Republican, who has not yet signed the bill and  has, to her credit, vetoed a previous effort. The question of course is whether freedom really means the right to do anything one wants without concern for the freedom of others. There are other questions as well and amongst those might be the question of how absolute personal freedom for one person affects or relates to the personal freedom of all others.  After all, if  no one will do business with me, I'm no longer free to live in the place where such "freedom" prevails.  A comparison to the freedom of wild animals seems inviting, as well as a discussion of whether this kind of liberty is compatible with any definition of civilization, much less a Democratic one.

Of course on the practical level, such a business model will not favor businesses who refuse service to any significant group and I certainly wouldn't patronize any establishment that decides that no Irish may apply and neither would a a significant number of others -- and that doesn't offer a bright future to any business that restricts itself to skinheads, Nazis and Reverend Phelps types?  Government sanctioned discrimination would of course bring down the Federal government on Arizona like a wolf on the fold as such abuses have been illegal for longer than many of us have been alive and hard fought for it was.  It would be likely to make Arizona a laughing stock and certain to clog the streets with protests and sit-ins if not riots, and certain to clog the courts with sufficient lawsuits to bankrupt any hotels, restaurants, gas stations and convenience stores stupid enough to demonstrate their "freedom" in this way.  Lets not even discuss doctors, clinics, drug stores and hospitals who decide to seceed from civilization and all semblance of decency in favor of practicing their "beliefs."

Actually I would rather welcome this dying gasp of the ultra right and the pseudo-right who support them the way Hindenburg supported the Nazis, as I would welcome anything that displays their true and swastika emblazoned colors and hastens their ignominious demise.  Of course it won't happen, but wouldn't it be nice to see Arizona legislators  jailed for passing laws that are illegal in full knowledge thereof?  Ah well, it's a beautiful warm, dreamy Florida Saturday morning and perhaps I can be forgiven a flight or two of fancy.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

God hates freedom

Or so the Christian right says


I'm sure you read the ironic story about the snake handling Minister who died of a snake bite recently. Of course if you're what passes for religious these days you might not find it ironic and simply write it off to a lack of faith sufficient to make God interested in protecting him.  Must have been some stray thought, some 'impurity' because anyone crazy enough to play with rattlesnakes sure has a lot of faith.  It can't be that God doesn't pay attention or has the same nasty sense of humor he had when he was ruining Job's life for sport, can it?  And of course it can't be that he either doesn't exist and we're on our own or he's just uncaring -- or can it?  Because if it does, it means a good part of  our nation is deluded and quite militant about their mission to subdue the unbeliever and his ideas about freedom, or else.

If you ask me, it's worse than it used to be and the most deluded are in open warfare against your personal freedom of not only speech and religion, but freedom in general.  Sure, someone will defend their church or their friends or themselves, but the damnation of the assault on personal freedom from the less extreme is so faint and impotent that it might as well not exist. 

What's "trending" today, as the newswhores love to say?  Well, there's the couple whose second child died for want of medical care because the parents had "faith" in mumbo jumbo.  I'm sure the faithful will call them  victims of a secular state because they're going to jail. 

I read today about the gay man who was denied "last rites" by some priest who pretends there's a god who gives him authority to damn people. I read today about an Alabama High School attempting to tell students they couldn't bring a same-sex student to the prom for no other reason than their damned god doesn't like it and of course gives devout idiots the right to mess with other people's lives. 

I read today about a South Carolina legislator who is trying to defund colleges that allow discussions of books about homosexuality. I read today about two  candidates for the Texas Board of Education who think the government shouldn't get involved in education but that self appointed Bible thumpers have the right to because they say they do, citing the idiocy about Judeo-Christian values eliminating the law.  Values like slavery, genocide, holy murder, torture and persecution no doubt.

I read today about Iowa Republicans trying to force public schools to display "In God We Trust" although the question of whether that would be the same God that protects one from snake bites and lets your kids die even when you pray to him still remains. Certainly they mean the God they invent to make themselves important - the one who hates Gays, laughs at science is disgusted by sex and thinks women are chattel.

And that's just today.  Wait until tomorrow, but don't wait too long.  It took thousands of years to rid governments of  the freedom stealing agents of  God, but  it's all over now.  We either speak up today -- and speak up loudly -- or we will all be forced to keep our peace forever.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Mistrial

One of the things I enjoy about living where I live, surrounded mostly by park land and outside of any incorporated area, is the ability to enjoy the sounds of nature, mostly unmixed with the raucous noise that other people seem to seek out the way vultures flock to garbage dumps.

To be sure, the main channel of the Intracoastal Waterway is a short distance away and from time to time you can hear the throb of some big diesel engine moving a vessel through the 'slow zone' behind my house, but there are times, sometimes fairly late or fairly early in the day when you'll hear the deafening, even from a quarter mile away, BOOM - Ka BOOM-BOOM in an obnoxious Hip-Hop ostinato from some Megawatt stereo system with boat attached.  It can take several minutes to fade away.  At times it will cause flocks of birds to rise from a thousand acres of wildlife preserve in terror and confusion.  At times I want to kill someone. 

It's not that I condone shooting up a car full of loud, rude and obnoxious teenagers intent on disturbing the peace in open defiance of the law and all decency, but hey -- the heart wants what the heart wants.

I'm a little disappointed that a jury here in Florida declared that it could not come to a decision that found Michael Dunn guilty of  murder in shooting 17 year old Jordan Davis in a Jacksonville convenience store parking lot on Nov. 23, 2012.  It's perhaps a moot point as four other felonies consisting of three counts of attempted murder and one count of firing a gun into a car should keep him behind bars for a long time -- quite possibly for life.

Opponents of the so-called "Stand your ground" legislation will certainly blame that for the failure to find him guilty of murder although that law was designed to protect the victim from the requirement that he flee the scene even though he had the right to be there.  I certainly does not give the assailant the right to accost anyone or to shoot repeatedly at unarmed people -- nor would it give the victim the right to brandish a weapon or to threaten Mr. Dunn as the defense claimed.   It wouldn't give him the right to get out of the car and confront Dun or in any way escalate the argument, It wouldn't allow Dunn to threaten Davis or to convince him to turn down the damned music either. but from what the public is given to know, it's hard to say exactly what did happen and of course a verdict needs to consider reasonable doubts despite the public's insistence.

The public still doesn't seem to understand the legal limits of a self-defense claim and it's possible that juries aren't being educated on that fact either.  To my eyes,  it doesn't seem that that controversial bit of legislation really played a role here, but it will be said that it did.  Of that I'm sure. and the confusion will persist.

If only they had simply turned it down.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Four Score and Ten

This morning I began my 70th year of breathing and as it's inevitably another year closer to the cessation of that respiration, I like to acknowledge both disturbing facts by beginning something new.  I bought a new motorcycle and coincidental to February being Black History Month as well as the month of my birth, I began to read a new poet: Derek Walcott. 

Of course I mean new to me.  I've never been without a motorcycle for almost 50 years and Walcott won the Nobel Prize for literature over 20 years ago and is hardly new to anyone literate.  But a personal discovery, a new love,  is a rejuvenating thing even if others discovered the same thing long ago. 

Old men do look backward as they have less to look forward to.  I remember the first time I heard "Chicago" blues on a street corner along Maxwell Street on Chicago's South side. To a kid brought up on classical music it was a revelation from which I was swiftly whisked away, but firmly imprinted is the vision of three black men dressed in black, with electrified instruments, black with mother of pearl and white smiles and eyes remarking on who that boy was, looking at them as though they were the most amazing thing I had ever heard.    Maxwell street was a black man's world in the 1950's.  So was the Caribbean when I  'discovered' it a few years later, so inviting, so mysterious and wonderful yet, like a parallel universe removed and inaccessible.  Even now I go back as often as I can. 

It's 1955. You can stand on the corner listening, you can tune into WVON in Chicago on that homemade radio and hear Buddy Guy and Bo Diddley. WJJD might play some white guys playing more or less sanitized versions they had begun to call Rock & Roll.  I could wander in December around still British Nassau, much farther than from the cold and grimy North than it is now,  but always it was looking through the knothole at the 'real' world and never having a ticket to the game.

Caribbean born Derek Walcott, Poet, playwright and painter is no less a porthole but also a door into a wider world for me, if sadly a reminder of  my own inescapable mediocrity and it's a world wider than his native St Lucia where the sun always shines and the iceman ventureth not and where the impossibly blue water crackles in the wind and washes my childhood like waves on the sand.

 One step over the low wall, if you should care to, 
recaptures a childhood whose vines fasten your foot.
And this is the lot of all wanderers, this is their fate,
that the more they wander, the more the world grows wide. 

Indeed it does.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Speak English!

Last year, I was cruising South down the Florida coast, headed for home and minding my own business.  The VHF radio was on, monitoring channel 16 as per custom and the rules and a voice came on, a bit weak, saying something in Spanish to another vessel too far away for me to hear.  They were certainly in international waters along with countless other vessels steaming past the US en route to somewhere else.

"SPEAK ENGLISH!" blasted a nearby voice.

I can't really think of a suitable word to describe that sort of ignorant insolence, nor for the sort of person who thinks, probably in the name of freedom, he can dictate to others what language they can speak or is too caught up in the common Conservative low brow reflex to hearing some language he can't understand.

I have to admit that sometimes I feel the same way when listening to the American news media. It's not so much that I'm forced to learn useless vulgar neologisms like "twerking" but more that I simply and all too often have no idea what they're talking about.  Take HNN's recent discussion of a young woman having been beaten to death in front of witnesses and cameras.  I don't know why, because every reference to the story I can find tells me it was about a "photobomb."   Every one, because the media in their hysterical lust to sound trendy ( in the old sense of the word since trend now means something entirely different) has run off the linguistic rails.  Somehow a very attractive young woman was murdered for having done some insignificant but mysterious thing and I will never know why.

SPEAK ENGLISH!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

This Land is Your Land

Despite the continuing efforts of the Republicans

I was never a big Pete Seeger fan, but my college years having coincided with the folk music revival, I certainly heard him a lot. I appreciated that he came from the time and conditions that produced Woody Guthrie and John Steinbeck and a lot of skepticism about how well our version of Capitalism served freedom and democracy.  Those folks and many others weren't well received by the same sort of  -- I hesitate to use the word bastards, but it fits -- who are still calling everything and everyone Communists for every spurious reason they can.  Seeger has my respect, for his courage more than for his musicianship. He used his humor and his banjo against the union bashers and skull crackers, stood up to the Joe McCarthy thugs and the war mongers and spawned a generation of musical protest that seems strangely absent at a time when much of what he fought is metastasizing like a cancer. We still need to be reminded just who it is who owns this land, the Koch Brothers,
Roger Ailes, the Tea Party or the voters.

Pete Seeger died yesterday at the age of 94 after a very short illness.  4 days before he entered the hospital he was chopping wood, says his grandson. He died in the hospital 4 days before he could collect the Woody Guthrie Prize.  So long Pete, it's been good to know ya but your conscience still sings to us.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Island time

Capt. Fogg is out to sea again - seeya next week

Friday, January 17, 2014

Bloody revenge



"Oh, my God," said Amber McGuire as she watched her father die, strapped to a table like a sacrificial victim snorting and  gasping for air for almost 25 minutes. Dennis McGuire was guilty of  the rape and murder of a pregnant woman, there's no doubt about it.  The only doubts, and there are quite a few, is whether killing him was so urgent a matter to the State of Ohio that they had to use a new method, yet untried and without any particular regard to the chances of yet another, screwed up execution or should I say, state murder.

No pig or other animal was harmed in this experiment, only a human. Since the manufacturer of the three-drug killing machine drugs refuses to sell to executioners and Doctors refuse to administer far more humane injections, it's left to the kind of loathsome creeps that manage executions to choose how to kill people and besides, as Assistant Ohio Attorney General Thomas Madden said over the objection of McGuire's lawyers that while the U.S. Constitution bans cruel and unusual punishment, "you're not entitled to a pain-free execution." Not any more than you're entitled to humane imprisonment, entitled to be protected against unwarranted search and seizure or due process these days. And apparently we like it that way. We won't give it up. We won't stop finding lame excuses for doing it.  Unusual?  Sad to say, no. Cruel?  Well not if you're angry enough 

I have no idea whether the electric chair produces severe pain.  I suspect that in some cases it does and of course it's so gruesome to observers that the very first time it was tried, the witnesses fled the scene sobbing and vomiting, but that was then. This is now.  We are a far more hard hearted country, or at least the negative pole of our polarized country is. Read any news report that allows public commentary, watch Anderson Cooper with the viewer comments crawl and you skin may begin to crawl at the bloodthirsty rage of Americans.  It's as though we were still the land of barbaric public executions cheered on by the drooling bloodthirsty multitudes.  America treasures it's rage.  I'm sick at listening to people so in love with killing that any chance for doing it legally is a necrodesiac. They want death, they want it NOW and they want it as gruesome as those effeminate, whining, WWJD bleeding heart liberals will let it be.   Mad dogs are treated with far more compassion that mad humans in Ohio. A simple injection and the dog drifts painlessly away. 

So when the family of McGuire's victim says they have forgiven them but he still has to pay, I once again have to give up on Homo Americanus. Payment after all is not punishment. the offended party is not reimbursed nor made whole and the dead remain dead no matter what you do to the man, strapped helplessly to a cross, arms spread wide for the nasty accomplices to pump him full of agony.  While America smiles at the divine bookkeeping entry.  One family feels better, another has to live with having sat by and watched the state of Ohio kill her father. Surely that makes God smile in approval, seeing his books balanced.

Only a few countries execute people.  We're taught to see those countries as barbaric tyrannies.  Statistics don't show any preventative value, we do it because we can and because it's a chance to indulge our blood lust without guilt and so may of those who try to tell us this is a Christian Nation are firm supporters of killing people in cold blood.

I've never been closer to simply getting on a boat and sailing away

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Holy, holy, holy

I just knew that bearded duck-calling dipshit would come out of this a hero.  You can still smell the stink of the phoney outrage about his getting suspended for review for a few days, but as of yesterday there was a big new display of Duck Dynasty crap at the Winn-Dixie and today Fat Matt Barber of the Far Right radio station Liberty Counsel is scheduled to air his encomium to the hero who stood up to the bullies. Bullies, of course being the "gaystapo" and his employers who pay him to jape and mug and act like the stereotypical redneck with money.

Funny though, isn't it, that when any other employee stands up to an employer who doesn't pay enough or provide safe working conditions and decent benefits -- that's Communism. Hypocrisy?  Hell no, it's the national disease. It's the national sickness.  It's the death of freedom, Democracy and human decency: it's Christian fundamentalism and it's being preached all over the land every day of the week.

But no, says the pious patriot. Ol' Phil stood there on "principle" and spoke with "love" against the "tyranny of the minority" and after all what's more tyrannical than asking for dignity and  equal protection under the law?  What's more loving than slander, insult and condemnation?  No, submitting to common decency and the law of the United States would be like "negotiating with Terrorists"  Like submitting to "Homofascism."

“This tyranny of the minority has been taking place for too long now and Americans, when they stand up, when the double down and say ‘no, I’m not going to waiver from biblical truth on matters of human sexuality, it’s like okay, what are you going to do now? Nothing. They go away and lick their wounds.”

Or so he wishes.  If he's right, America has no future.  The rest of the world will have to destroy us for their own good and safety.  If he's wrong there will be a long line waiting to piss on his grave.

I see it as a opportunity - or should I say another opportunity for decent people to shout him down from every pulpit in the land, an opportunity I'm dead certain will be missed, passed over in favor of defensive mumbling, disclaimers and smug piety.  It's not enough to say we had nothing to do with this.  It's barely enough to go out in the street next Sunday -- by the thousands and tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands. It's barely enough to take responsibility for centuries of looking the other way at best and participating at worst. It's your original sin. Stand up and tell these subversives, tyrants and Biblical blowhards they're wrong, they're enemies of freedom and not patriots. Stand up and deal with it before it deals with you.


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Hope - and profit - springs eternal

This will be the umpteenth time I've emitted exasperation and frustration and disgust about the clouding, muddling and obscuring of matters scientific and medical by fraudulent, devious marketers.  As a rule, if it's something to do with making you lose weight, look younger, be smarter, it's bogus. If it references "the proven science of the glycemic index"  will you ask yourself how an index can be a science, proven or otherwise? Will you ask if all those "clinical trials" really exist or whether the clinic was really an ad agency or if the "study" wasn't just conjecture?  From looking at the billions Americans spend on such things, the answer is no.

The FTC seems at long last to be paying attention to the purveyors of miracle berrys and magic laxative powders whose clinical trials consist of hiring people in white coats to sign off on what are not scientific studies, don't appear in peer reviewed journals and often don't exist at all.  Skin creams "based on the Mediterranean life style,"  hormone drops that produce weight loss only when you eat less than 800 calories a day sell briskly on the false claim that they're FDA approved.  I'm only scratching the surface.

"Simply sprinkle Sensa on, eat all the foods you love and watch the pounds come off, it's that easy." 

 raves a commercial.  The stuff sells for $59 bucks for a months' supply and Sensa has made over $360 million selling it over the past 4 years.  I'm sure it works too if you eat 800 calories of  'all the foods you love' and start running marathons.  Anything will and yet we keep paying for false hope and eating double bacon cheeseburgers. Real or false, it springs eternal.

Of late the FTC has been going after them for false advertizing. Sensa will pay $26.5 million although they claim it's not an admission the stuff is snake oil.  Of course to some political persuasions, such regulation is anathema as the right to bilk the public is divinely sanctioned, as long as the profits are shared by public officials or the people who support their campaigns.  

With all the talk about declining educational standards, the absence of art, music and even physical education in schools, maybe there should be some new emphasis on teaching healthy skepticism, on teaching what science really is and how legitimate research is conducted.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Dark matters

I've always been uncomfortable with the term "Dark Matter."  Whatever the phenomenon behind unexplained gravitational forces might be, leakage from an alternate universe or MOND or TeVeS we're only guessing what it is from the observable world where mass has gravity.  Yes, it's presumptuous of me to talk about things so far over my head (pun partially intended) but when I heard  Neal DeGrasse Tyson explain to Bill Moyers that the existence of such invisible "stuff" was only suggested by habit I was impressed, as I usually am when someone otherwise impressive agrees with my muddy observations.  “What it truly is is dark gravity. Boom,”  Sounds right to me and right to the point. We see what habit primes us to see.  Obviously a genius.

I have to like the guy and although some astrophysicists seem to have fled out into the cosmos  to escape the rest of us and others dislike scientists who make the effort to share their enthusiasm for science with the world, seeing that as an effort to sell ideas without peer review, I don't think his regard and his enthusiasm for public understanding of what's going on at the frontier of knowledge is a fault. I'm looking forward to the rest of his series  The New Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

I have to like the guy even more after reading this excerpt from his new autobiography: The Sky is not the Limit

"When combined with the dozens of times I have been stopped and questioned by the police for going to and from my office after hours, and the hundreds of times I am followed by security guards in department stores, and the countless times people cross the street upon seeing me approach them on the sidewalk, I can summarize my life’s path by noting the following: in the perception of society, my athletic talents are genetic; I am a likely mugger-rapist; my academic failures are expected; and my academic successes are attributed to others."

If that doesn't resonate with you somehow, perhaps only that alternate universe hypothesis can explain it.  Dr. Tyson is an exceptional man and not only for being able to do the math that stumps a brain such as most of us have, but for succeeding at doing what society has constantly told him he couldn't, shouldn't and wasn't suited to do.  An example for the young, certainly, but more deliciously a slap in the face for smug, condescending attitudes from those who think they know something important about you by referring to a stereotype. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Mischief and Punishment

We hear of cases like this too often and the only thing that distinguishes this one from most in my mind is that it's from Canada, a country that I somehow am inclined to see as more rational, less hysterical than the United States. Perhaps I'm wrong, but if  a 16 year old girl sends 'explicit' JPEGs of her 17 year old boyfriend's ex-girlfriend to a few of her acquaintances via cell phone it isn't the kind of "child pornography" we pass draconian laws to suppress. It's perhaps more of an example of adolescent lack of control and the kind of hurt that young people are likely to feel at rejection. 

Canadian courts have none the less found her guilty of distributing child pornography and she is awaiting sentencing.  Somehow I agree with her attorney that although the deed was inappropriate and perhaps actionable in some way, the kid isn't a "child pornographer" and that the laws in Canada and the US weren't designed to punish such childish acts with huge prison sentences.

Is there really a "law" of unintended consequences?  I have no idea, but there's a strong tendency to write bad law in proportion to the ire of the zealots and activists that draft them.  There's a strong connection between "zero tolerance" for misdeeds and zero forethought.  There's a strong tendency to force events into the scenarios provided by our own fears and loathings and anger and it applies not only to failing to discriminate between people who prey on children and children doing childish things. The six year old who plants a kiss on another six year old isn't a rapist and doesn't deserve to be branded as one.  The 12 year old who takes a picture of  herself, of another kid isn't a pornographer and deserving of our pious rage and punishment. 

Perhaps sometimes our own best motivations make us blind, stupid, pompous and inhuman.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Of rats and men

When I watched Dennis Rodman's drunken rant the other day, I was astonished, dumfounded and amazed that none of the commentary included the compelling, obvious, unavoidable  observation that the man was dead drunk:  smashed, stewed, tanked, wasted, three sheets to the wind and shitfaced.  It was probably more obvious to the sheepish players sitting next to him who were, I'm sure, worried about any open flame in such hazardous atmosphere.  If we needed any further reminder of the somewhat erratic journalistic and public  tendency to forgive athletes for their often disgusting outbursts, perhaps here we have it.

None the less, we now have the inevitable apology from the man who might not give a rat's ass about being a rat and an ass himself  but just might respond to worries about the financial consequences on those too rare occasions of sobriety.  I'm not expecting any such retraction from the Reverend Jesse 'Hymietown' Jackson who not only couldn't find the strength to criticize the friend and defender of a grizzly mass murderer and psychotic tyrant, but still defends him.  "I had been drinking" says Rodman through a face full of hardware.  No shit! reverberates throughout the cosmos.

Is it time at long last, for America to examine the way it selects people for elevation to the status of hero, prophet and role model for our children - examine the reasons we give to explain our support or condemnation? 

Shhhh - what's that sound?   NO SHIT! says the universe.

Monday, January 06, 2014

What You See Is All There Is.

Or Night of the Radio Frequency Dead

Remember the Alar scare from the 80's?  Feed mice enough of the stuff they used to spray on apples to choke a hippo -- about 5000 gallons a day scaled up to human proportions,  and they sometimes might get sick and so therefore according to what passes for logic in America, it's TOXIC and so much so, there were instances of people calling up toxic waste facilities to ask whether apple juice was too dangerous to dump along with the nuclear waste.  Flush it down the toilet and the world might just end. Of course in the real world, nobody really could demonstrate any ill effects.  There are after all enough people who don't feel well at one time or another to keep the Chicken Littles clucking about toxins and selling us things to make it go away. People still believe it's deadly, but then people still believe lead foil on the outside of a wine bottle will make the wine poisonous and that degradation of  someone's DNA would turn it into OJ Simpson's and WiFi at Starbucks will lower your sperm count.

Does eating Gluten give you "grain brain" and make you fat?  No reason to think so but that some entrepreneur wrote a book and advertises on the internet, but all it takes is a handful of people who say they feel good after eating Doctor Bonkers' breakfast cereal to provide "clinical results" and don't bother to teach them about statistical regression or the Placebo effect or deprive them of that holier than thou status one gets from a gluten free diet.  I mean there's a "study" of mummies that proves wheat killed off the Egyptian aristocracy even though it's total fact-free bunkum. It's all I know, so that's all anybody knows.

Think we've learned anything?  No, we haven't and with statistical and clinical support or without it - especially without it -we're still willing to fear that something is making us sick even if we're not sick - something other than the double bacon cheeseburgers with special sauce or the cigarettes or all that TV and video game couch time. Besides it doesn't matter if you buy the magic berries of the week and it must be true if it's on Oprah.  I'm tempted to say there is no truth, no science, no knowledge any more, only marketing.

I remember when TV would make you blind and color TV would give you cancer and you would get melanoma  even on a cloudy day in Yellow Knife wearing a shirt and ski mask. Nuclear testing would produce giant ants and medical advance would piss off God as much as building a ziggurat over 70 feet high once did. None of us are old enough to remember the scares about how taking a train that went over 20mph would make your blood boil and the Telegraph would leach away the electricity from your brain and give you neurasthenia and of course there were dire predictions about electric light and the Telephone - and Ohmagawd, now there's radio and there are "activist groups" to make sure we're properly misinformed and hysterical.

Absence of evidence always seems to trump evidence of absence.  That cell phones after extensive research don't really seem to cause cancer or kill bees, has little effect on belief nor does the fact that police radios put out far,far more power and the police aren't keeling over from neuresthenia - nor the ham radio operators with their 1500 watt transmitters for that matter. That Fluoride in the water doesn't melt your bones and that the Measles vaccine really does prevent measles and condoms really do work for prevention of disease is as demonstrable and more so than than the hard fact that Neill Armstrong didn't take one great leap for mankind in some studio in Pasadena.  It doesn't matter. As Barnum said, there's one born every minute and not one of them has a clue about what a 'study' is, what statistics teach us or what scientists are doing these days.  

An article in the local paper the other day told us about the "environmental activist group" that was suing to opt out of the "Smart Meter" program that eliminated meter readers and that can tell the electric company if your power is out and what you peak usage time is.  They use "radio frequencies" insist the activists and although not one of them can cite any evidence that the microscopic amounts of RF these meters use will in any way affect anything living or dead and despite the many years of research and the 100 years of experience users of high power radio equipment have logged, they're convinced that these meters will produce immense ecological damage.  Of course in this town there's a contingent that is sure the meters are only there to let Obama listen to your thoughts.  I wish I were joking.

These are the same kind of people that will become hysterical about "cell phone frequencies" without any idea what those frequencies are, how they behave, what other equipment uses those bands at much higher power levels and are likely to mumble something about roulette when asked about the inverse square law.  Are they the same people who talk about 'going green' and  'saving the planet' when they unplug their cell phone charger to save a milliwatt hour per year?

Who knows?  So anxious is the human mind to find causal relationships in chaos.  When one unrelated thing follows another, it's enough and as the man from the paper says, "maybe these meters are the reason we have so much more autism."  Maybe indeed and the less information he has about radio frequency emissions or human developmental problems the more speculation seems justified by random events. One always prefers a plausible story to a discussion of mathematical probability and the more so when the plausibility is based on ignorance.  As Daniel Kahneman calls it:  WYSIATI, or What You See Is All There Is.  If I don't know the science, there is no science.  I've always called it the "I don't know, therefore. . ." fallacy or the Argument from Ignorance, but either way if I don't know exactly how the pyramids were built, even if someone else does, it must be space aliens and by the way, my front porch light burned out yesterday and my knee hurts this morning -- those compact fluorescents emit radio frequencies after all.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

All I have to do is dream

Phil Everly  1939 - 2014

Summer of  '58 - the Everly Brothers, a friend's back porch, his older sister's little 45RPM machine.  13 years old and I know about those dreams, the world on the horizon, just out of reach almost too much to hope for and just aching not to be just a boy any more.  Tail fins and chrome bumpers like big breasts on two tone cars and Little Suzie in the back seat. Drive in movies and hot dogs and big Schwinn bicycles with springer forks and how I wished it was an Indian.

Year before I had rigged mom's Motorola 5 tube, battery radio to take earphones. WJJD in Chicago and when she took it back, those batteries were expensive, I built a germanium diode radio with a one transistor PNP audio amp and a wire out the window and Rock & Roll under the blankets late at night like a new 283 cubic inch, fuel injected V8 world coming to replace the old one.  Fuelie Chevy, Duntov cam - three speed trans. Everly Brothers on a Summer night.  All I have to do is dream.

Good night Phil, good night
We gotta go home.