Saturday, November 28, 2015

My Way or the Highway - Both Roads Lead Nowhere.

Guns are dangerous.  I think we can agree on that, but the danger is relative and the danger is situational and site specific.  Ask anyone who lives 40 miles outside of Talkeetna, Alaska what you take with you when you walk out to the outhouse on a Spring morning and the answer will probably include a caution as to the minimum caliber of the weapon. Things are different in Brooklyn, of course. The plumbing is mostly indoors.

Who what and where always factor in the equation and no matter how we like to scoff at the idea that people kill people, it's true.  As long as there are people, there will be murder, criminal recklessness and crimes involving weapons and as long as people die at other people's hands the fear will persist and not in proportion to the actual danger but more to the needs of  activists.  Reality is no more apparent or objective now then it ever was and our time is a time of  propaganda, commercially cultivated outrage and hysteria.

It's de regeur to talk about or demand sensible gun control but specifics too often ignore the lessons of experience.  The most carefully vetted people sometimes do horrible things: take the Chicago cop who shot a man 16 times, apparently for reasons more to do with his failure to comply with demands than to the threat level.  What simple and sensible precautionary measures, what checks and registries will prevent such abuse of public trust?  Are the things we're urged to do effective in solving problems or are they more about elevating anger and the fortunes of certain activists?  Time will tell, but we're not likely to notice.

What about a march for justice that punishes and alienates and infuriates the innocent but can have no effect on justice, the mechanism of which has already charged the offending officer with Murder One?   Is it that it's not a riot or a lynch mob if we do it? Does interfering with justice serve  justice? Who is encouraging us even to ask, and who is called a racist for not following some group with all the answers?  What horrible crimes do we ignore every day because no organization's agenda is served?

And then there's the guy who shoots up a Planned Parenthood office?  Is the Evangelical Crusade, so effective in convincing people that all abortion is murder and the killing of  doctors and nurses a moral obligation part of the equation, or is it just guns and the lack of sensible controls?  Will background checks or gun registration have any effect on screening out some Good, God fearing Christian on a Crusade he passionately believes to be moral?  The cop he murdered - should we fry that pig's bacon?  Is there some grotesque contradiction between our dogmas and civilization's needs?
Is there some grave sickness in our culture or rather the cluster of conflicting cultures we call America?  We can't talk about that easily lest someone accuse us of "blaming the victim" even when we're all victims.

The passion for justice is as powerful as it is relative and that passion is as likely to advocate murder, to bypass a functioning Justice System as it is to favor emotional justice or revenge.  With all the quasi-demonic howling that dominates the American dialog, who is actually seeking a better world and who is merely pushing a vain dogma?  Who is singling out a single factor as the only important one?  Who is trying to limit possibilities, to shout down reasoned debate in the dominance game of  narrow causes and powerful organizations?

Guns are dangerous.  Passions are dangerous, marching mobs are dangerous, simplistic rhetoric and moral conviction are dangerous -- people are dangerous because we recognize no community of interest.  When it comes to a better Country, it's always my way or the highway you Communist, Racist, Fascist, Muslim -- you White, Black, Hispanic, Christian Atheist Liberal bastard!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Baby on Board, Part 2

Sensitivity, it's the latest thing, hipper than Selfie sticks and Yoga pants -- but wait, can a truly sensitive, aware and totally hip person wear them?  I wouldn't bet on it, at least not on a University campus where everyone's skin is more sensitive than a Canadian after a long day on a Florida beach.

A yoga class at the University of Ottawa has run into trouble, even though you'd think otherwise, it being a class designed to benefit disabled students.  Yoga you see belongs to a victimized culture, one that has  like countless others

"experienced oppression, cultural genocide and diasporas due to colonialism and western supremacy,"   

Now I know better than to predict by extrapolation, but this isn't an isolated thing.  Everyone on campus at least is searching for protection from something,  Everyone assumes the right never to feel uncomfortable, a right never to feel a lack of warm, cuddly and maternal protection from the slings and arrows of  freedom of the press, freedom of speech and apparently freedom of religion -- and yes, Yoga is a religion and as such no one should espouse any teachings from it if they're not victims of British colonialism.  No, don't ask me to explain because then I'd have to explain a lot of  Liberal Shibboleths that make just as little sense. Just accept that the copyright on truth belongs to the victims  and aren't we all?

Now if I can't practice yoga because India was a British colony over 60 years ago, I certainly can't espouse anything I like about Christianity because Christians have been persecuted victims, at least to hear them tell it. So sorry, I can no longer celebrate Christmas.  I can't even be a thug because Thugee is an Indian religion. I can't be a Pundit for the same reason.  I can't carry a 20 dollar bill because Andrew Jackson was a racist and I can't tolerate a building at Princeton named for Woodrow Wilson because he was also a racist and I'd just feel uncomfortable, you know, attending that racist school.  If anything makes me uncomfortable, I have the right to be protected from it, don't I? In this safest and most comfortable world?

I have a right to demand the press doesn't cover my protests. I have a right to demand satisfaction if I hear lyrics that make me uncomfortable on a jukebox or radio. No that isn't hyperbole, it's a true story nor am I indulging in unfair reductio.  This thing started out absurd -- as absurd as the presumed right to be protected from the unpleasantness of the truth, of history or other people's version of the truth. It's kind of the the ugly stepchild of  Stand Your Ground laws because if your interpretation, your methodology, your opinion varies from mine, I have the right to attack you with all the authority victimhood confers.

Ridiculous?  Of course but, the momentum is large and we have a whole lot of pretend Liberals who will support such claims to inviolable protective custody -- so, as the saying goes, if you can't lick 'em, join 'em.   Here's my manifesto:   I don't want to see any Churches or Crosses or hear any talk of "Christ."  Too many people have been victims of Christian aggression and persecution.  I have the right to be protected from words like "old" and "Senior" for obvious reasons. That goes for many other epithets as well,  It makes me feel marginalized.  What about the names of States and Cities taken, like the land itself, from indigenous peoples?  Indiana?  That's racist!  Washington?  He was a RACIST!

I demand racist signatures  be deleted from any and all US documents and laws including the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution..  I demand that the US flag be removed and banned since it's flown over so many atrocious acts and conditions.  I demand that the Ten Commandments and any references to Hebrew prophets and practices be removed from all churches and writings and from Sunday schools:  cultural genocide, actual genocide, oppression and diasporas, don't you know.  The racist teachings of Martin Luther must be banned and Catholic Churches of all sorts make me feel uncomfortable and have to go.  You might want to get a snack or something, This is going to be a very long list.

But really, you have to agree on my inherent right to suppress, to expunge, to ban, to inhibit and deny any and all things, all records, all personages, all artifacts, all opinions and certainly all of  history if it in any way lowers my self esteem and makes me feel uncomfortable, don't I?  I have a right to be protected!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

For the Times They're NOT a Changin'

Hey, ever notice that we voluntarily get all of our information from sources with a means and motive to frame it to their advantage and often at your cost?  Just sayin' because I was thinking this morning about all the terrorist attacks is Europe and elsewhere of late.  It's been  much safer in the US than elsewhere and if anyone else had been president, we'd be saying "he kept us safe" instead of blaming him for every bomb and bullet from Bombay to Boston..

Frame of reference -- and the picture looks different when the frame is gilt and ornate just as the latest fashions look much better in the store window on the dummy then they do on you.  But we don't see those fashions presented by critics do we?  Nobody has any financial interest in telling you what you really look like in those yoga pants. The people who write articles and who put stories in front of you, packaged and wrapped in hyperbole, framed and matted and lit with a spotlight on the gallery wall -- they have a strong interest in getting your attention and your credit card number.  None of them more so than those who don't want  you to think one thing or another is getting better ore even staying the same.  Think about how much of what you see and hear and read supports the idea that everything is going to hell and this, that or the other group is the primary victim or the primary culprit.

Take racism: real problem, real victims, but "we need to have a conversation," we're told. Just as in any political debate, the questions are limited and the organizations handing us that conversation want to make sure the vocabulary is just as limited lest the wrong conclusions arise.  Think Clarence Thomas is an underqualified judge?  It was a "lynching" roared the headlines. Think that's a slap to the dead faces of martyrs?  Yep, but don't say it, you're not authorized by the activists to use facts without approval.

I read this one this morning "They said they're not racists but racists always say that."  So how may we respond but with Mea Culpa because the implication is that if you deny racism, you're a racist. An elementary fallacy of course , but this is America the stupid and we're all trained to feel like it's a falling and fallen world  I strongly  hate racism, but hey, that doesn't matter because racists always say that.  Best to be quiet and listen to the lecture conversation.

So when we read that a black kid is run down and killed, it has to be framed as a lynching and stressed that the mob action that by the time I was born had killed perhaps 4000 pretty much innocent people lest anyone think  anything is getting better:

"The lynching of Craig Anderson echoed a brutal and violent form of racism that many locals had thought long gone. Yet here it was manifested in a group of teenagers born more than two decades after the civil rights era."
Hyperbolic?  I think so.  Horrible, but hyperbolic and presented to illustrate that things are just as bad as they were in the Jim Crow era, which they are not.  So what would we hear about a far more brutal, racially motivated murder of a child?  Practically nothing as this case illustrates and it's because our news is generated and presented by groups, organizations of activists, drowning out the big picture with marching bands, TV extravaganzas and media Blitzkrieg. 

So how long will it be before this post  is denounced as racism?  I think I'm telling people to consider the source when forming opinions about events, but then racists always say that and so I' must be one.  After all if A then B it must be that if B then A, right?  You can't trust white people anyway.

So sure, about that "conversation"  You may not discuss laws passed through Congress by the Democrats with much support by the voters. You must maintain that nothing has changed for the good, you racist you -- and you will not discuss the sanctity of human life, you will not talk about lynchings when the Murdered are Hispanic or Native American or Chinese.  News is not news you dummy, it's propaganda and you will not stand in the way you hear?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

I give up

I know the election is still a long way off, but maybe it's not too soon to give up on the idea of Democracy in America.  The ISIL assault on Paris seems to have benefited the Idiot Trump, as though we needed to be reminded that a simple-minded barrage of simple minded bravado is always popular whenever we're reminded that we're not the undisputed masters of the Universe.  Keep 'em out, Throw them out, build a wall and bomb them to dust 'cause we're all about "freedom."

In fact just when I was beginning to think this hair-Club horror was about to make the country snap out of it's boozy delirium and come to it's alleged senses, a new Bloomberg Poll seems to remind us that Republican dementia  progresses apace. Trump is seen as the one best able to deal with the kind of terrorists the French efficiently rounded up and killed in a couple of days, Trump with his total lack of experience or knowledge in any distantly related matter.  Perhaps the public subscribes to the Maoist notion that one learns from doing and education is meaningless. Perhaps the public doesn't like to be reminded that things are never simple and easy to deal with and it takes more than a massively ignorant blowhard to blow away our problems. Perhaps stupid people are just more confident in stupid people, I don't know.

Anyway the wimpy, effeminate, quiche eating,  French, Nancy Boy  we mocked not long ago for telling us Saddam didn't have nukes or the ability to make or deliver them, doesn't seem so cowardly now, does he  -  or as inept as we are.

But it's not all Trump, apparently the idiots think Carson has a better personality for the job although most of us have still to discern  one  at all behind the deadpan and the weird emotionless tone of voice he uses to tell us lies and complain it's our fault when he's shown to be more ignorant that anyone who has ever run for public office.

No, I think it's time to give up. We're not a viable nation, forever snatching disaster from the jaws of success, ever unable to tell a charlatan, a phony, an incompetent from a leader.  This guy lacks the experience because he was only a Senator and a Harvard Law graduate - but these guys who have never held office?  Mavericks!  The guy who tells an assailant not to shoot him but shoot the other guy?  How brave under fire!  The guy who inherited a real estate business and couldn't pass a citizenship test?  Presidential!  He will just fire our enemies!

Forgetabout it. There's only so long you can support a family member who keeps screwing up.  If the world were a family, America would be living in the attic and fed through a slot in the door.  I'm tired of  it.. I want to go live in one of those hollow pyramids before  we start putting people in boxcars and behind walls and nuking Canada. There's nothing left to save here.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Baby on Board

“A university is not a ‘safe space.'  If you need a safe space, leave, go home, hug your teddy & suck your thumb until ready for university.”

-Richard Dawkins-
"The only way to be "safe" from having one's core beliefs disparaged or dismissed is to abolish diversity and disagreement altogether — to mandate the one right way of life and of thinking."
Writes Joseph Reisert in The Kennebunk Journal of all places.  The subject is important and unfortunately I've only seen it addressed by far right extremists who like to accuse Liberals in general of Fascism and totalitarianism and all sorts of things including "hating Jesus."  Comical as their efforts are, there are movements particularly on college campuses that challenge the foundations of Liberal philosophy.  I like to compare it to those "baby on board" signs we used to see on car windows: a pretentious and narcissistic effort to coerce people to give them special consideration.  

Perhaps I'm a Liberal, perhaps not, but I think that demanding protection from disturbing opinions and sights and even annoying truths is an enemy of Liberal thought as codified in our Constitution, yet that's the way it is in some places, from ivory towers to shabby tenements. I resent being told I can't say that all lives matter because it doesn't provide a safe space for someone's publicity campaign.  Neither apparently, can I insinuate that racism isn't the exclusive property of white Americans.  because the intended ends justify the self-contradictory means. But that's only a small part of the inherent tyranny of the self-righteous safety seekers: of their leadership and by the people who want to own the road in armored cars with Baby on Board signs in the window

Is the effort to provide a Utopian safe space compatible with Liberal Thought?  Not if it mandates belief or any other form of uniformity and conformity.

"The problem is inherent in the demand for a subjective feeling of perfect safety." 

says the writer and indeed perfect safety in a physical and emotional sense is part of many people's vision of what our society ought to provide. There are those who feel justified in demanding that they be protected from seeing anything questioning their faith, whether that be an opinion or an artifact or a lack of faith in others. No one may insinuate in speech or Halloween costume that I am in any way different or humorous.  

A university certainly needs to protect the physical safety of all students, minority or otherwise, but does that extend to protect them from words and opinions - even those words they imagine to be disagreeable?  Safe Space apparently implies something much more than a safe place to study and learn and achieve for all students.  Space is safer when you congregate in distinct segregated groups of course. Do we ask where this is going?  NO!

A journalist wants to exercise his and our rights by covering your protest?  NO! it might make someone  feel "Unsafe."  And demands are made to physically eject him from the University of Missouri Campus where freedom of speech is for people who won't question you.  

It's often said that the safest state is a police state and I have to question whether our college campuses are voluntarily becoming illiberal safe havens for the timid and self righteous -- a place where no possible offense, deserved or otherwise, is permitted., where diversity is in danger, A safe space where nothing that challenges belief, opinion, self promotion or self image is possible.  Even the language is becoming Gerrymandered to prevent unsuitable expressions or thoughts and rather than becoming safe places for controversy, debate, demonstration and disagreement, Universities are becoming rigid protectors of timid children who seem to like it that way.  It's supposed to be a place where you grow up and learn to fend for yourself and to face the world armed with some knowledge and skill and a world full of people who don't agree with you or feel the need to respect your authority or agree with what you think you are.

Friday, November 13, 2015

End Times: Signs and Portents

The end is nigh and these are the last days.

Last days for what?  you might ask.  Well for everything of course. Nothing lasts forever, maybe not even forever itself.

I don't remember what Sutra it came from or maybe it was from a college professor but "all that which is an arising thing, that too is a ceasing thing" comes to mind.  Perhaps it comes to any mind that's been observing long enough.  I mean I've seen so many brand new public infatuations come and go like flashes of light at a disco dance. Things picked up, fallen in love with then despised and dropped.  Hey, Disco is one of them, come to think of it.   Rock and Roll is here to stay?  not really.

Somehow still we're told it's very necessary to the way people think about you to know everything about all the new fashions and passions of the pre-teens, about the pop culture churned out by the pop culture machine  lest anyone suspect you're over 21.  Something else you might ask -- when the hell is this going to end?  Sorry Jack, change is here to stay. It's a cornerstone of Capitalism. It will never die.

Perhaps it's apocryphal, but J.P. Morgan is said to have sold out of the market because he saw an elevator operator reading the Wall Street Journal and he knew the end was neigh.  Before my time, but I do remember all the hype about how to get rich investing in Art, right before the Art market crashed in 1989 and more hype about buying and flipping houses right before the Real Estate bubble blew up.  It leads me to speculate about all the signs and portents we are surrounded by.  We do seem to live in a land of  alternating cycles of hipness and fad and passionate commitments to "lifestyles."   You'd think it was easy to spot a lifestyle bubble about to burst.

There are forces at work in building and destroying everything and you can see them as plainly as any devotee of Shiva the  destroyer can.  I knew the end of really being a hippie was at hand when the mass produced uniforms and accoutrements of rebellion showed up in the Sears catalog and people by the millions started saying "Groovy."  The coolness of the Beat generation filled countless identical coffee houses with identically dressed people showing off their rejection of conformity.  But today?  Well there's enough handwriting on the wall to make it look like a Subway platform in the 70s, but really, it's not an easy job to be a prophet of doom.  Doom has a mind of its own.

Backwards hats worn 24/7 after all  have been with us forever along with other tokens of "I won't grow up" culture. Would-be bad boys from Suberbia are still trying to look like gang members.  Yoga pants matrons dressed identically  still cruise the aisles like royalty selecting holy foods fertilized only with shit and avoiding those 7 foods you should never eat in favor of things grown under Tuscan sunlight which is extra pure, you know.  Everyone is buying SUVs - still.  For safety of course even though you're more likely to be killed in one than in a car. The very most hip of the hipsters are still fenging and shui-ing and taking detoxicating enemas and cleansing their auras with quartz crystals. Doesn't this speak of end times?  Please?

Maybe change is changing?  Maybe cycles are slowing down or becoming smaller  and harder to notice so as to make hipness more exclusive.  I mean yesterday's curved visor and adjustment strap backward baseball cap is being replaced by the flat visor, one size is too big for most people black cap that makes you look more idiotic than previously thought possible. How long has it been, 40 years?   People put great store in commercialized  "outsider" fashion and this stuff is important even if, like your thousand dollar sweat shop shoes that go out of style in  a thousand hours, it has taken over your life and your paycheck.  How can I keep up, or worse keep ahead of this?

I wasn't meant to, of course, nor were you if you're old enough to write cursive in standard English and take your hat off in a posh restaurant. The system doesn't want us.  We're redundant, surplus population and I suspect that the more some things change the less others do. We either join the exploiters or step aside.  So anyone want to sing along?   Exploitation is here to stay - it will never die. . .

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Back to the Past

"No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death: and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short."

Hobbes' horror, Reagan's utopia.

One mythopoeic tendency in American political rhetoric is to long for a better time in the past that America needs to return to -- and will,  if only we elect the illiterate who flunked Middle School history and knows nothing about economics, law or foreign affairs.   Things always used to be better and there was always a golden age, from Eden to Jerusalem, to Rome, to La Belle Epoch. Nearly every period in the past is caused to have some redeeming factor that makes us long for it nostalgically.  In our imagined past, we were  or would be heroes with opportunities, not peasants with none.

I'd love to confront the political blowhards promising to make us a "great Nation" again because I seem to have missed that period of greatness and it may be that times we look wistfully back to as "simpler" seemed pretty damned horrific at the time.  I even sometimes doubt the premise that I had more freedom back when where you could eat, where you could sleep and with whom were tightly controlled.  Gender and race meant an awful lot to the government and your neighbors in our great nation.  I must have had my eyes closed to that period of peace and tranquility when the certainty of nuclear annihilation hung over us like a patient etherized upon a table,  Hung like some lynched teenager in a land where you can't pass anti-lynching laws because of the Klan's influence in Congress and thousands of us died every week, killing millions for "our freedoms." --. but oddly, even though at any moment we are the greatest and best and most powerful and glorious nation that ever was or will be, it always used to be better.  The best of times is so tightly bound to the worst of times, they are one and the same.

Maintaining this fiction must be important to the people who teach us history and ethics and government policy, because much if not most of what they say depends on framing and distorting, editing redacting and inventing a past where there were no taxes or regulations and thus all businesses succeeded, everyone was free and prosperous and Christian and often at night, when the old folks were at home, the "darkies" were gay.

It's not to say that Americans and America haven't done great things, it's to say that they had nothing to do with that parallel myth: the ever more restrictive and regulatory government with ever increasing taxes hindering growth, individual success and that ubiquitous aspiration we call, in our narcissism,  the American Dream.  Gee, I'd like things to be better.  How exclusively American.  Golden age?  It musta been before my time, and my Father's and his.

But of course we have Trump, we have Carson, we have Bush as pretenders to power (and pretenders to being qualified) and they're all going to repaint and re-gild that shining city on the hill by building a moat around it. A shining mansion maintained by serfs, barefoot and pregnant and like the survivors of Bush's shock and awe, thanking God for their freedom as they starve in the dust.

There were times though.  the times of our desultory flirtations with confidence and a view to great things.  We've had our per astera ad aspera days that led to feats the world had never been able to do and isn't it interesting how the good old days shamans want to prevent that happening again?  Back to the the past, to the golden age. It hangs in the air at our "debates"  but the meaning is 'abandon hope,' Arbeit macht Frei, God's in his heaven and the future is in the past.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Gimme Shelter

 The quote "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel" is attributed to Samuel Johnson and I have no reason to doubt that or its truth. These days we have to examine a number of things that now inhabit that foul habitat of 21st century Patriotism, like extreme politics and extreme religion and extreme dishonesty -- and in a year like this, at the beginning of another election cycle and the Christmas season, the Star Spangled Blather begins to stink the place up.

Take Donald Trump, always struggling to be first in line, he's thrown the first pitch of the annual War on Christmas season this year by preaching against the Starbucks Christmas coffee cup,  which is now simply red and without the type of commercial Northern Winter and Sears Roebuck iconography some religious Christians despise. I'm surprised actually to find Starbucks turning out something that close to tasteful and without a pseudo-European name, but the Donald assumes he can take that simple red cup and work you into a lather of religious outrage by explaining it all the Fox way. It's War on Christmas time once again and pretending that anyone ever told you not to say Merry Christmas is the lie behind the tyrannical  agenda  of legally requiring you to be not only a Christian but an ignorant, paranoid and militant one.

It takes a certain kind of malignant mendacity to insist that Starbucks Hates Jesus and a certain kind of unbalanced mind to believe it, but believers gotta believe, don't they -- and we're a nation of outrage addicts, not too particular about veracity. But Christmas in America wouldn't be Christmas at all without the imaginary war on it and Donald Trump wouldn't be the ruthless sociopath without the contorted, contradictory lies that make up his campaign. I won't give him credit for inventing it. Actually pious Christians invented antipathy to Christmas a long ago and Christmas has been banned periodically by Christian leadership, both here and abroad. There's nothing new under the sun or under the comically bad hairdo for that matter.

Americans and American business have been in love with the holiday for a century or more and in fact much of our Christmas iconography and tradition has been authored by big corporations to sell product. That bothers the "put Christ Back in Christmas" crowd no end. But drink your $20 Frappomachiadohalfcaffventi in a plain cup or a Merry Christmas Santa cup and you'll piss someone off, whether they think Jesus the Barrista or Jesus the Christ is being disrespected. Trump is playing both sides and playing against anything that resembles freedom of anything. Hardly anyone is buying his Crappuchino of course, red cup or otherwise, but Trump is not afraid to work the bottom of the barrel or any other deep, dark and fetid place, and the media are not hesitant to give it all the publicity it can.

In our America, religion and patriotism are one and the same refuge of more than one scoundrel and no Republican Patriot would dare give himself that flag-kissing title without bufoonicating about Jesus the conservative billionaire and his ever present "liberal" enemies. It's expected. Patriotism entails positing a mythical past greatness that needs to be returned to. A past which entails a return to military swagger, Religious authority, isolationism, xenophobia, repression, racism and a forced ethnic "purity" which means a Christians First Nation and Christian rule and Biblical Law and above all, a Snowman on your paper coffee cup. That, in fact seems to be the only consistent theme among any likely GOP candidate in recent years. A foolish consistency you might say, as it requires you to hate the commercialism of Christmas and the non-commercialism of Christmas equally. It's a sacred holiday, but don't call it a holiday, and if you go through a minute without saying Merry Christmas from September through New Years eve, you hate Jesus.

Trump threatens not to renew Starbucks' Trump Tower lease  - (just now after how many years?) He suggests we boycott them and promises that if he's elected we'll all be saying Merry Christmas. That's a sure thing of course because we are doing that already and have been for as long as I can remember. Christmas is the most celebrated holiday in the US and a large part of our economy depends on us continuing to do so.  How can we not notice that the Donald has no commitment to  freedom of worship or of speech?  In what bizarre world is this patriotic?  The USA of course.

Atheists say Merry Christmas, Jews and Muslims say Merry Christmas and I say Merry Christmas in full knowledge of it's pagan origins, all external to the Christian canon. I think that peace and compassion and good will are better symbols, even in a hypocritical world than animals with light-up noses and trees from the Boreal forests. Acknowledging the dignity of the poor, showing affection toward children - these make it worthwhile to me. They have nothing to do with Trump or the politics of hate, fear and arrogance he preaches.
Yes, you greedy old grinch, I'll be saying Merry Christmas on December 25th,  but not to you or because of you,  pissing on the people who follow other religions and those who really love Christmas for their own reasons and acknowledge it in their own way:  the kids, the grandparents and the people who like pretentious coffee in plain cups. Pissing on those who preach year round goodness for goodness' sake.  If there's anything good about the religion you pretend to, you're stepping on it. If there were laws against hate speech, you'd be spending the holiday in jail and if there really is a hell with punishment for sin, we'll all be drinking eggnog while you lie howling.

Monday, November 09, 2015

One Giant Step.

Like most adolescent boys I had a strong interest in tropical Geography, but National Geographic has always been one of those magazines too beautiful and informative to throw  out.  Basements and attics around the world are still packed with moldering stacks of these magazines.  It's hard even to give them away, but that may change.  Rupert Murdoch has bought the place, it's no longer a not-for-profit corporation and thus the information it contains will no longer be above suspicion.  Of course it hasn't been the best place to see bare breasted women for a long time, but it's wonderful ability to present science to the masses without the taint of sales hype and politics is now gone as well. Murdoch has apparently already done a Trump and fired the award winning staff.

Will the famous yellow cover take on a new meaning?  Can we expect more stories about Atlantis, UFOs and alien abductions?  Will the next article about ancient Egypt be authored by Ben Carson of the hollow pyramids theory or Mike Huckabee of the 6000 year old Earth? I'm sue we'll hear no more about climate change or the decline of  bio-diversity and pollution.  I'm sure we will be treated to spectacular photography of the village in Kenya where Barack Obama was born and the women will be wearing shirts.

Again one of the icons of journalism has fallen to the scoundrels who own Fox News and soon will be sharing the same corporate motto Pontius Pilate made famous:  What is Truth?  It's one small step for the end times and one giant leap for ignorance.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

The Longer You Stare - The Enigma of Uncertainty

"Wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst, blickt der Abgrund auch in dich hinein"
-Friedrich Nietzsche-

If you stare long into the abyss, the abyss will also stare into you.


The longer you stare into this image, the more zombies will appear.  Try it.  It's true.

Or is it?  Do we see shadowy figures or do we see zombies -- particularly the kind of Zombies invented by Hollywood and the Walking Dead comic books? The kind that doesn't exist. The power of suggestion is slippery and can be as hard to perceive clearly as those blurry phenomena we find things of our own making in -- of our own imaginations, prejudices and fears.

So when we have those little epiphanies, those spiritual moments that hint at unseen noumena; how genuine is our perception and how much of what we're prompted by our culture and experience to see appears to our eyes?  Krishna, Christ or Chuckwu look back at us, whispering like Enki from behind the wall.

In fact no matter how you blow the image up, you can't say from what you see that they are zombies any more than you can know just what zombies look like outside of  fictional representations.  We see the same phenomenon when we see the face of God in the window, the face of Jesus in a rust stain or pattern of mildew on old wallpaper. We have no idea what those people looked like, but we swear to it, it was Mary and she was a virgin and wore a shawl.  It's the power of suggestion and our culture is at heart an encyclopedia of suggestion and meme.

How much do we bring to what we see? Two crossed lines will mean something different to a Hindu than to a Christian.  That applies to what we see in others' faces, to what we taste when we're told what we're tasting, whether it's true or not.  One person in a room gets sick.  how many others feel bad and how soon?  How much better will that wine taste when the "expert" raves over it?   How fast will that placebo cure your headache?  Often faster than the Aspirin.

Eating breakfast, I stare into the granite counter top.  A thousand faces stare back.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Quack, Quack

The ad calls it the DR. PUHARICH EMF PROTECTION - NATURAL FREQUENCY TESLA WAVE CHIP FOR YOUR WATCH,  What's a Tesla wave?  I've never seen a description that didn't sound like double talk intended for very, very non technical people and full of denunciations of "Orthodox" science. It's one of the claims having to do with free energy or perpetual motion or the like that got Tesla scorned by serious science, or at least until the Internet and it's faith-based hipsters came around and made him sort of an offbeat hero again.  Anyway the ad tells us it's also an "EMF/ ELF stress shield" which is basically gibberish and a bit pretentious since it's a small square of copper you put into your watch to shield you from things that don't exist. True, a large grounded copper box would shield you from EMF at any frequency if you were inside it, but putting a piece of copper in your watch gives you a watch with a piece of copper inside and nothing else.

In a way it's similar to the "Translator Amulet" which consists of a few randomly selected electronic components: I see some small carbon film resistors,
a ceramic capacitor, a couple of molded Mylar caps, a Germanium 1N34 diode in a DO-1 package all soldered together in a fashion that might make a 4 year old -- or an American new-age doofus think it's a radio.  It isn't. "Natural frequencies" means nothing other than to evoke the modern longing for nature and things natural and the fear of the new. It doesn't do anything  and it doesn't have to, in order to do what the seller claims it does.

"The Translator helps to understand angelic messages, communications from the higher self, your guides, and it helps in channeling. This is the vertical aspect - between the higher and lower vibrational realms. It also works horizontally - around you, on this level and this reality. It helps you to understand what is being said, what is being communicated in this realm, person to person, animal or plant - through words, images, music, sound or otherwise. This Quantum device helps you to understand what is being communicated, with trust, openness and keen intuition".

Ordinarily one wouldn't have to explain to people that this bit of ad captandum vulgus escapes being outright fraud only because the description is gibberish and claims of helping you understand or avoid or rid yourself from what doesn't exist are hard to refute.  At least it's "artisinal"  I can't refute that.

It's called quackery and it's an ancient practice as old as religion and probably older than what we sometimes call the oldest profession. It's also called Shamanism and it's alive and growing faster and faster with the power of the Internet and the decline in scientific literacy and critical thought.  I used to collect late 19th and early 20th century technology which included a few quack-medical items, like "violet ray" and high voltage shock coils.  The  former was sold to cure almost anything and had attachments which would, when turned on, glow in the dark. It regrew hair, cured skin conditions and a certain one could be inserted in various orifices for purposes I don't want to know about. Needless to say it didn't work. Needless to say they sold millions of these things. Needless to say lack of evidence was not an impediment.

 The Electro-Medical Shocking Coil or a "Faradic Battery" was a very popular item a hundred years ago when electricity was still mysterious and frightening (perhaps it still is) and it was sold to cure things like Neurasthenia, a disease of mostly "sensitive" and intelligent people -  or so the health  hipsters of yore titled themselves.  Working stiffs were said to be immune to it. Of course the disorder doesn't exist any more than do Tesla waves or ELF stress fields, so it's hard to accuse the sellers of quackery with fraud and besides all these quack devices had countless customers who swore by them and mocked the "orthodox" and closed minded detractors. There was never a lack of "experts" and studies and anecdotes to reassure them of their elite status.  Some call it the Barnum Effect, others the Whole Foods business plan. Nonetheless, the cultic aspects of consumerism are quite powerful.  Flatter the masses and the masses will follow you with open wallets.

eBay abounds with "detox" machines you put your feet in which remove unspecified toxins you don't have in some pseudo-scientific way.  foot pads, foot baths and pieces of duct tape to remove those "toxins' we love to believe in and rid ourselves of,  as the ancients once performed rituals of purification. Enemas, "cleanses,"  magic bracelets and rituals have evolved to take on the white coats of science while rejecting scientific method with prejudice, fable  and anger.  

Impurity, impiety and sin are made-up things that have plagued us for eons and power and riches have accrued to those who told us we were tainted and sold us stuff to make it go away.  Those who told us the world was in decline from some golden past have shaped the course of history and proof to the contrary be damned.  Nothing has changed.  People are easily frightened in this world of randomness and easily sold quackery in both verbal and mechanical and chemical form and he who can sell the cure will have customers and fanatical followers.  The fear doesn't have to be real the cure doesn't have to be real, such is the power of suggestion and the power of belief.

True scientific tests of medicine and medical devices include a control group given placebos and of course the results invariably show much support for the empty pill and non-functioning device.  Harvard Medical School has a program for placebo studies and so do their hospital affiliates.  The placebo, the suggestion prove that the power of the mind is strong.  People leave faith healers and places of miracles like Lourdes convinced they're cured - at least for a while -  and they will defend such things assiduously.

Billions believe that prayer can effect changes in nature contrary to evidence, People will go to war to defend their tribal name and description of deities who don't exist.  Parents let their children die because scientific medical practices aren't "natural" and don't fit the beliefs the power of suggestion cemented in their minds.  They turn to quack medicine because doctors are bogeymen and Big Pharma is out to poison us.  They vote for policies that have failed to work and repeatedly.

Are we still no more than the upright apes that evolved on the savannas of Africa?  Do we still believe in magic and shamans and mysterious forces even if we've dressed them differently?  I think the ape answers that question every day.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Pass the Twinkies, Please

Oh you're American?  Please don't tell us about your diet.

It's a sentiment you'll hear in many places in the world. We're seen as narcissistic and hypochondriacal, and when it comes to diet and health, we're rather evangelistic too. It happens all the time. You'll meet someone and in the first few minutes they'll assault you with how they eat this and not that, which things are filled with this toxin and that, and how this causes cancer and that will make you impotent.  Of course it's pretty safe to say that none of it's true, because nearly everything you read about health and nutrition is produced by scare mongers: diet book doctors, supplement pushers and others with mysterious agendas. Real science: valid conclusions from valid studies? They're often surrounded by as impenetrable a husk of gullibility as  a coconut -- and besides, very, very few of us are trained to derive much from the edited data we're given.  I read "studies show" and I can be sure there wasn't really a study that showed anything conclusive at all, but just a  a stew of anecdote, speculation and salesmanship.

We seem to enjoy bogus information of all sorts and to inflict it on innocent victims ad libitum, without regard to how badly and long ago it's been debunked.  Why else would we persist in our Low fat Vs. Low Carbohydrate, Vs. Low calorie feuds?  Talk calorie consumption to an Atkins Man?  Forget it, even if he weighs 400 pounds, he's sticking to the faith.

A few years ago I went on a severely calorie restricted but balanced diet and lost about 50 pounds in a few months. Many annoying ailments seemed to disappear but wouldn't you know it, I couldn't show up slender at any old haunts without being lectured by one overweight person or another about how I should have gone on their diet instead. What else can it be but religion and you know how well religion and fact go together. Somehow the Atkins devotees annoy me the most with their carbcarbcarb and calories-don't-count cackling. It's pointless to point out the Twinkie diet in which a professor of Human Nutrition at KSU went on a reduced calorie diet of Twinkies and doughnuts and lost a lot of weight.

I ate a bit more sensibly but eating 900 calories a day of anything will produce results and I'm here to tell you. It's not the 5 calories of breadcrumbs on that fried chicken putting the pounds on you and eating the triple bacon chili cheeseburger without a bun isn't going to help much either. But listen to me lecture - it's like I've learned nothing.  It's the calories, dummy. It's not the mysterious properties of grain or gluten or corn syrup or " processed" foods or any of  "the seven foods you should never eat" or anything else on Fox News for that matter.

So says the medical profession and no I'm not talking about Dr. Atkins or Doctor Oz or Doctor Bonker for that matter.  A recent meta-study published in The lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology  says the data indicates that: whether it's  high fat, low fat; high carbohydrate, low carbohydrate: there's no statistically significant difference.  It's the calories, dummy.  Will information like that ever get past the hucksters, the pill pushers, the hustlers wearing Dollar Store lab coats or gyrating in Yoga pants to pounding music?  Hell no.  They love to tell you information is being suppressed by evil giant corporation, but you know the Diet Guru industry is a huge one too and there's nobody holding them to any standards at all.  Pills kill.

Eat half of  what you do now and feel the difference -- and don't worry, be happy,  Eat well but eat less.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

On the Road

Headlines on the Bloomberg Web site today include the Blockbuster:

Can Detroit Beat Google to the Self-Driving Car?
Inside GM's fight to get to the future first.

Apparently this isn't the world it used to be. It's definitely a world where millions will wait outside in the snow to buy the latest i-Gadget even when last weeks model is in their pocket, but we're keeping cars far, far longer than once we did. You can drive home in a 700+ horsepower car, in a car that does 230 or more miles per hour and gets mileage equal to my old /68 VW.  In fact we're in a golden age of American performance and engineering and we don't know.   No sir, your 200 HP Nissan isn't a race car.

Some people still like to drive. Some people grew up when the number one aspiration was a car and the number two goal was something cool enough to turn heads at the drive in:  the Drive In everything that was, from theaters to restaurants to, believe it or not, liquor stores. We didn't hang out at WiFi hotspots in malls. It was at Henry's Hot Dogs or Big Daddy's Drive in with car hops and looking to impress the girls and an occasional contest of acceleration.  Real girls that is and in person, not on line. Tinder was still something you started a fire with.
The worst thing anyone could show up in was an "economy car."  Sure, I remember buying and pumping gas at 26.9 and the price of fuel didn't matter but guys like me studied cars the way the nerds did homework and the jocks memorized sports statistics. My friends and I built go-karts with lawnmower parts in 8th grade and went on to customize cars, swap and rebuild engines  and the best thing anyone could wish for was to hear someone who knew say "hey, that guy can drive!"

What kind of people want a car that drives itself, controlled by satellites and computers and government regulations in soulless safety and always in constant contact and a play list?  Sorry, you'll take away the steering wheel, the handlebars, the shift lever from my cold dead fingers  but you'll have to catch me first.

Is this a case of industry spending a fortune on something that won't sell?  Or is this a case of a country that's lost it's soul?  Will my grandchildren read "On The Road" and wonder why Kerouac didn't take the bus or dream about a little electric Japanese cliche on wheels that drives itself while you stare at a little screen texting your "friends?"  Indeed why go on the road at all when there's Google Earth?

Sorry, that's not "the future" to me any more than today is the future once envisioned in generations of Science Fiction.  If it's a country of driverless, cubicle dwelling, commuting urban virtual reality, Facebooking hipsters with "devices" it's not my country and that's a warning, not a prediction. Look for it. Listen for it somewhere off that regulated futureroad road packed with little electric safety bubbles shaped like running shoes or backwards hats whispering along, bumper to bumper at 25 MPH. Do you hear that rumble, way out on the highway?  That long, lonesome highway?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Fantasy Outrage

With a host of furious fancies
Whereof I am commander,
With a burning spear and a horse of air,
To the wilderness I wander.
By a knight of ghosts and shadows
I summoned am to tourney
Ten leagues beyond the wide world's end:
Methinks it is no journey.

-Tom O'Bedlam-

America's already tenuous grasp on reality is constantly being tested and we are constantly failing that test while moving ever closer to hysterical fugue.  Hark, hark, the Trump does bark and the outrage peddlers have driven us mad

Modern awareness contains a galaxy of causes: some real, some imaginary and most are struggling for attention over all the others by ginning up outrage and pulling us into one dark circus tent or another.  Reality makes us fear, but the game is in fantasy outrage and a thousand pipers whistle their tune for us all to follow -- and so we do.

The NRA is a very skilled user of outrage, having convinced millions of people that the major objective of ever politician who doesn't march to their piper is a demon out to get your guns.  They have little to do with having created America's traditional love affair with weapons, but they have made firearms into a fetish, a flag, a symbol of all our dreams of liberty.  Some simply can't conceive of being a free country without unlimited access to firearms.  It's a religion of sorts and nothing fires up the imbecile like threatening his religion. It works.

What politician doesn't wish he could enlist the outrage of the masses to make himself  the hero, the Hercules, the Sampson, the Gilgamesh who can lead us to vote for him and protect us from every enemy his imagination can conceive of?

Enter Donald Trump, or adventavit Asinus if you prefer.  Obama is going to grab your guns he says - the same thing his party's bilge rats have been squeaking since he first ran for office. Some of us watch aghast as he says  things designed to attract the confused and angry and focus their power with his daily outrages.  In fact he can predict things that never happen, he can demonstrate total ignorance of things that are all important for an American president but none of it matters to those all in a perpetual rage against all those who seek to grab their guns.  It doesn't matter that no one has yet tried, just as it doesn't matter than prophets have warned us of impending apocalypse since the dawn of politics. Every tomorrow is the end of days and any Democrat is the end of your guns and you can certainly fool enough of those good folks all the time.  It doesn't matter than there was no secret hidden in Obama's birth certificate or that any of his claims to secrets have come to nothing.  It's all about the guns. No one ever went broke predicting the Gungrabber Apocalypse.

So are you surprised that that immigrant-bashing grandson son of immigrants is warning us of an imminent executive order by the Devil Obama to grab your guns?  Illegal, can't be done, won't be done, but it's not about reality and never was.  No politician has a good chance of winning anything if he's seen as a gungrabber and any accusation is as good as a death sentence to anyone challenging the Dark Knight, the NRA..

I wonder if Hillary has grown so arrogant as to ignore this, with suggestions of Federal buybacks, the kind of program that's been a waste of time up until now, or a promise to "go after" manufacturers whose legal products are used illegally - something she should know has no legal grounds.

But of course there's that outrage addiction on the other side too and perhaps she thinks she will be seen as a savior for the real phobics and magic thinkers who somehow claim they're liberals and aren't interested in compromise or in restricting legislation to the possible and rational.

So does this last gungrabber plot prediction suggest Trump is running out of  fake outrages and is now at the bottom of the barrell?  Could be, but do we want to bet on it?  Are you feeling lucky?

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Of Cops and Kindergarteners

There's a reason we will never have that "discussion" about gun control and other hot topics in America: we're not allowed to.  There are so many entities whose job it is to grab out attention, to sell us on their products, to agitate us into fear and outrage and to enlist our support -- and in that pursuit of power,  truth, fact and objectivity are impediments. Any thoughts, proposals, arguments or  even unadorned facts are going to be drowned out or ignored. Swallow or be swept aside and damned.

Indeed it's often possible that someone who sees a bigger picture might be beyond the reach of the captious arguments and emotional smokescreens that typify American politics.  And of course everything in America is politics -- even the weather. Hardly anyone here is trained or experienced in noticing bad or weak or deceptive arguments.  We see numbers we like and we accept them and we like them only because they flatter our principles -- by which we mean our prejudices.  So what if you, as I did, got this in your in-box?

If you're a "Eeeew guns, get them away, get them away" person, there's little doubt that you'll see a stone tablet given us by Moses calling for immediate elimination of a threat. If  you're an NRA paranoid zonbie, you'll look for a way to debunk it or simply deny it in a frenzy of denunciation and because there are so many disparate and unrelated "gun cultures" there will be as many rationalizations, affirmations and denials as there are "gun cultures" and anti-gun cultures.  So what does the rational man do with yet another outrage bomb?

Perhaps if you've been taking your vitamin Cynic pills, you'll wonder whether those figures, if they are true, apply to more than one year, whether there's a trend, upward or downward or whether an unusual period is being used deceptively to look like a rule.  Can one really look at 2013 and say "each year" without blushing?

 Well a somewhat cursory look at the CDC figures shows that the numbers for age 4 and under  shootings, they've at least been in the same area since 2010 and although we don't yet have a number for this year, let's, for now assume they're true even if it's obvious that the purpose of the NY Times article was to scare you and enlist your support for as yet unspecified measures.  Snopes, one of my go-to sources when someone hands me an emotional argument seems to think the numbers are good enough for the purposes of argument, but points out what most of us won't pay attention to: These are absolute numbers not relative numbers.  Yes, it's not more dangerous to be 4 than to be a cop. There are more than 23 million kids 5 and under.  There are about 760,000 full time sworn officers.

So Mr. Rational will likely say "that's too many shootings" but might just be a little less friendly toward an article trying to make it seem worse, which is how I feel about virtually all I'm subjected to when it comes to many matters of safety and sociology. It's more dangerous to be a cop than a kid. Why would an honest person make the reverse seem true? Does a good cause sanctify a bad argument? Why do you need to do the Twist if the facts are on your side?  Why are you mumbling about unspecified gun controls when someone needs to start teaching people not to leave guns around - loaded or otherwise and do it today!. Now ask yourself who is actually attempting that and who isn't even though they all claim to be all about safety?

I got a "survey" from with a predictable rant about the NRA and steering me toward the desired answer "Yes I'm a gun owner and I support gun control"  The other possibilities would suggest that I was a lunatic or a monster or worse.  Although I am and I do, I'm not replying since there's no possibility of asking "what do you mean by gun control and how would it be enforced?"   Surveys such as this one, and they're used by opposing sides with much success, allow the big players to claim support they don't actually have.  How many claims to have the majority on some side are based on false-choice questions, false dilemmas and vague language?  Many, I suspect.

It's insulting because it presumes I'm unaware that there is a whole mountain of existing gun law, that I'm in such a state of panic that I'll vote for anything and that all that matters is passing laws and there's no need to look closely at what they say and whether they can be enforced fairly and equally..

No, there's no discussion, no conversation, only a lot of  manipulation and deceit  - and the packaging of selected facts and shady arguments: a lot of dimly lit agendas and lots of statements of broad principle. which liars do I listen to?  I'm left only with the option of  blogging to the four winds or ceasing to give a damn, which is not an option.  You can't be heard over the howling and the hate. You can't hope to inform people whose personalities are anchored to falsehoods because you'll readily be identified as a puppet of the "Liberals" the NRA, the NAACP, the Illuminati, the Zionist conspiracy and the Devil himself.

You have a hard time really knowing whether mass shootings are on the rise or whether there's a pattern for all the groups trying to tailor the data.  More shootings of 4 or more people are family related, but all the energy is being spent proving school shootings are on the rise and have only to do with the ease of buying weapons and the proliferation of them.  Can we ever know what the truth is. Some graphs make mass shootings look sporadic with isolated clusters, others try to make it look like a steady increase.  Like Procrustes' bed, reality gets stretched or trimmed to fit into it.  From all sides we're told to be afraid of the other side: afraid of guns and government and minorities and racists, of Christians and Muslims and Obama and the list is long. Outrage is everywhere and you're only choice is to listen to us!

Monday, October 12, 2015


It is the consistency of the information that matters for a good story, not its completeness. Indeed, you will often find that knowing little makes it easier to fit everything you know into a coherent pattern.
-Daniel Kahneman-

When I stop writing about American culture,  and it will be soon, it will come from being tired of the hot and cold running outrage that passes for discussion and social criticism and news reportage.  No more do we hear rational and dispassionate discussions, everything is outrageous, everything is about how outrageous the actions and inactions of the "enemy" are and there's always an enemy:  the Liberals, the Tea Party, the NRA, the ACLU, the "politically Correct, the Secular Humanist -- there's always an enemy to inspire actions whether or not they're appropriate, effective, moral or legal. Some of the worst outrages never happened yet they inspire wars, riots, lynchings and civil disobedience.

Whether you're Republican or Democrat or Libertarian or Bullmoose or Whig, everything our opponents do is an outrage and it's easier to fabricate the appearance of outrage now than it ever has been.  Outrage -- it's what's on the news.  It's how we manipulate opinion and inspire action and suppress thought.

Modern life is the battle among activists and activist organizations, and it's all about winning, about success and not much about reason.  A girl hears a song in a club that makes her feel uncomfortable?  OUTRAGE!  Something must be done! Don't think, ACT NOW! Someone claims to be the victim of racism?  It's an outrage and will be portrayed as such if it requires fiction and libel and lying.  It's about furthering the cause and the cause is just winning.

Hear a story that supports "our side" and you'll believe it, you'll forward it, you'll write a passionate blog entry and you'll blame it on the bogeyman of reference long before you'll check the facts, analyze the plausibility of your response or of the accusation.  Is that radio station in Alaska a plot to change the weather or sniff out underground things on the other side of the planet? Will you bother to ask the experts on radio or the weather or those in the know about ELF communication with submerged submarines? Do you know the D layer from the Nightime F2?  Have you some data on connections btween them and weather?  Hell no, we just know there's a secret agenda despite what we know about the subject and you'll forward the story to everyone and they will pass it along like a virus.  Give me a bogus outrage upon which to stand and I will move the Earth.  

In his book Contagious, Jonah Berger explains how outrage sells, how it inspires people to share it, pass it along, promote it and use it to sell us beliefs.that have little or no factual support while valid information just sits there like leftovers in your refrigerator.

Want to create an outrage?  First pick a "Goliath" says the American Council on Science and Health.  

"If you examine the most popular activist groups, they all operate according to this formula: they pick an enemy they can depict as the arrogant “Goliath”,  a corporation that cares only about profits, then they find an issue or product simple enough to be understood by the people who read sites like Natural Resources Defense Council or Environmental Working Group (ideally something people eat or use daily, so there is first-hand experience with it) and then they ‘reveal’ an outrageous fact about it."

And "fact" of course hardly has to be one to let us play to the popular fancy - food faddists for instance.  You feed their fear that we're eating poison and you blame the bogeyman.  Alar on apples -- they're trying to kill you! -- "studies show!"  only they actually didn't.  Milk causes phlegm, vaccinations don't work, wheat gives you "grain Brain" and gluten is poison only none of it is true. Nearly anything you'll read in the popular press or see on Dr Oz or in those ads that pop up on line is false. Who bothers to question it when it's too damned much fun to be outraged?

As Daniel Kahneman said of  raising false fears: all you need is something plausible to the non-expert and an anecdote. Very few will ever bother to investigate, calculate odds or learn anything about chemistry, biology, statistics or any kind of science. What we believe is what we want to and that's that.  None of us are immune to the power of outrage and all of us, from brilliant to dull are lazy when it comes to what we believe.  Outrage is addictive.  Outrage is fun and if the outrage monger offers a way to "solve" what may not be a problem we will take it.  We'll make noise in the street, sign petitions, burn neighborhoods, write passionate letters of outrage long before we'll look at valid statistics with a keen eye for deception.

Rile them up, feed the righteous indignation and give them the way to the egress and they will do your bidding, whether it's to libel a candidate, see insignificant things or non existent things as outrageous and you will prevail.

And I'm tired of it. I'm tired of the emotional tail wagging the rational dog, tired of the outrage and the percieved need for action being confused with a solution. I weary of the same old truth by assertion and repetition, the outrage of the day and the hortatory calls to be afraid.  In fact I fear the fear mongers and outrage shouters far more than anything they warn us of and prophets always lie, even when the prediction comes true.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Nehil Novum Sub Solis

How many times have I said "here we go again"  in the last year?  I suppose everything else said about this latest school shooting will be as predictable, as overused and as useless.  Here we go again.

Will we hear more statistical gymnastics arguing that rampage shooting is on the increase because of this factor or that factor alone and has nothing to do with the successful promotion of the genre as a way to go out in a blaze of "glory?" Is there something about our society that produces a generation of  existentially challenged young males? Is it really all about a fictional increase in gun ownership or a fictional increase in the deadliness of modern guns and ammunition?   Ask at your own risk, you're either a gun-grabbing Communist or  a crazed gun nut to anyone who disagrees.  Here we go again in hopelessly polarized America, demanding that we "have a conversation" where I shout and you shut up.

Will anyone stop to ask why, if violence is exploding, is it so concentrated in the schools? With everyone shouting and yelling has something gone wrong with American culture? Will anyone ask if there are other factors other than that modern guns look more threatening than equally deadly older guns?  Will we look at handguns in general or press the repeat button and replay the "semi-automatic" recording?  Will we do anything different at all?

Why aren't we asking about the apparent increase in drive-by and gang related shootings in certain areas and the apparent decrease in other areas?  Is it that we don't want answers but only a stage on which to act out our our little dramas?  Children are being shot on the streets in West Palm Beach but peace reigns in my nearby community.  Why?

This is horrible, of course but I have to ask whether the response is more about sloganeering, wishful thinking and hysteria than anything helpful.  Everyone wants answers, or so they say, but I suspect they only want answers that support their prejudices and opinions.  I want more questions. I want that conversation many people pretend they want.  I want someone to ask why the flurry of post office shootings started and then stopped rather than continued along the trend line people were drawing.  I want to know why no one is showing us graphic representations which, from what I see argue that over the last century there are many peaks and many troughs in school shootings.  In no case does any extrapolation prove long lived.  Regression to the mean seems to be the law. Can we talk?  Can we look at the numbers?

I'd like to know why we never seem to get past the "something must be done"  and "something must be done by the Federal Government" and rarely ever propose something that's legal and possible and doesn't rest on the fatuous presumption that laws stop lunatics, that bans make a difference? Can we propose that life in Manhattan has different needs than life in Kodiac Station?   Suggest that crime and violence have multiple and complex etiologies demanding  complex and multiple approaches which may take a long time to work and you're a pariah.  "when do we want it - now!"  Some things never change.

Will this story be hijacked by the "War on Christianity?"   Will we have to endure weeks of self-pitying, neo-Babylonian lamentations?, with tired and vague demands?  Of course. There's nothing new.

We continue and we continue with jibber-jabber about types of ammunition and the devices that hold it, we rattle on about "style" and we continue to frame everything in the most extreme, hyperbolic, inflammatory, fear inspiring and inaccurate  terms.  As with so many emotionally driven and emotionally rationalized themes in America today, no one is interested in working with any one else.  Taxation, public debt, Racism, addiction, disease and vaccination, Secularism versus the Christian State.  Laissez faire Vs regulation -- it's all Hobbes' universal war: me against you, my action committee against yours, it's the struggle for primacy, not for a solution.

" I will not name the shooter,”  

said  Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin and I share his feelings.  We've made folk-anti-heroes of  some deadly and deranged misfits who have problems with schools and students and teachers and can't think of any other way to air their grievances, but to kill themselves and take others with them just like all those sad miscreants around the world who shoot up public places or blow themselves and others up with home-made bombs or fly airplanes into buildings.  Everyone has a straw man to punish - mad bombers, mad shooters, arsonists as well as all those who demand that something be done, but my thing and my way, of course.

Banning booze didn't reduce alcoholism, banning needles and banning drugs made it worse, reducing highway speed limits didn't save lives or slow anyone down nor did the fraudulent "assault weapons" ban have any affect on anything.  I suspect that nothing we'll hear in the coming days about how this or that changes everything will be different.  Ban this, ban that. Take polls with forced choice questions, loaded questions, false dilemmas and  loaded terminology: extrapolate trends and think most magically about gun control.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Showcase this!

Oh great, it's not enough that privacy in America is dead, here's a chance for an even greater level of exposure.  It's called PEEPLE and it allows you to rate and berate people the way you can post ratings of businesses on Yelp.  Of course you have to sign up for the public laughing stock but to my horror it seems someone can do that for you without your knowledge and consent.  If you've looked at Yelp, you may share my opinion that it attracts cranks and trolls and I've read the most outrageously spurious and unfair ratings of places I have first hand knowledge of.  Will these same creeps be rating someone in your family?  If you're on Facebook, ll they need is your cell phone number and judging from the calls I get, everyone knows mine, including Facebook.

How many suicides, how many murders will ensue?  How many mortified teenagers will take dad's gun to school?  How many adults for that matter, will take the notion to hunt down and kill some drooling dirtbag who spends his afternoons posting spurious libel about people he doesn't know. Imagine waking up one morning to find that 4962 posters insist that your mother does Dallas?

And of course as the lawsuits begin to pile up by the millions, won't there be a cry against the assault on "Freedom of speech?"  The founders of this abomination have raised a mountain of cash and apparently are exited that we can all now "showcase your character” online.  Really?  Well here's a good reason to get the hell off Facebook, if that's even possible, to toss the phone overboard and make sure I have plenty of  5.65 X 39 available.

Showcase this!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Good Old Days.

"You know, this usta be a hellova good country"  

Said George Hanson (Jack Nicholson) in the movie Easy Rider shortly before he was bludgeoned to death by the good old boys who didn't want no hippies with no respect for the good old ways and traditions in their county.  It's a very common thing to say in the USA of today. That's not to say we haven't done some good things, but I'm curious to know just when that golden age of America the Great and Magnificent was.  The witch hunts, religious restrictions, the deportations and slaughter of Indians, a horrific civil war --  the Slavery, the Race laws, the lynchings, the unjustified invasions and foreign wars based on lies, the support for inhuman monsters abroad, the abuses of freedom while fighting various enemies, real and imagined. Just when the hell were we so great?

I'd like to know because it seems to be the same voices lamenting the lost paradise that decry efforts to move away from or undo all those Hobbsonian horrors.   Advocates for a system of laws based on selected Christian literature, for enforcing selected taboos of selected Christian sects who advocate for the tyranny of clergymen and against the institutions of secular government:  I'd like to know what the hell they're talking about and so far not one of them has given me a cogent, a valid or even an honest explanation.

'Back to the Future' seems to have been a meme since the first versions of the Garden of Eden Story was cooked up and seeing that not only the name "eden" but the concept of an original pure garden of bliss is described in the earliest writings known ages before there was a Bible, it's puzzling to contemplate how the past could always have been better and the future should be a return.  All those horrors, the floods, the plagues, the genocides the divine retributions in the past -- that's because we weren't pleasing God or the gods and so we need to go back to when we did although obviously we never have?

Sounds demented, doesn't it and that's because it is, but it's also been the tool of tyrants and prophets and preachers and Sunday School Teachers, and it works.  Yep they're all going to restore the greatness, Reagan and Trump with their shining cities and high rises towers and every damn Republican chump with their ethnic bias and religious intolerance..  Bring back the Roman Empire, start a thousand year Reich. A New Jerusalem, a new Zion in Utah a new Eden in Woodstock.  Remember that the First Commandment is religious intolerance and we'll all be happy.

I got into it, earlier this week with some blowhard who insisted that the Pledge of Allegiance was fading away because the Liberals were making us embarrassed to say it.  It was the God part, of course, forced on school children since 1954 thanks to the knights of Columbus having bullied the Eisenhower administration.  The straw man Liberals are against "patriotism' and Patriotism means mandatory theological belief just like the old days when everything was wonderful and Christian Soldiers like Jefferson and Madison and Franklin and Washington fought the unbelievers to establish the Kingdom of Christ in the New World.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Something You Don't Like About Capitalism?

"Because we can get away with it."  is essentially the answer given by Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO to the question of why the company raised the price of  Darapram, a drug that's been around for 62 years  by 5000%.  That's not a typo.

Turing acquired the drug by purchasing the company that made it last month, and greed being good, decided to flaunt it.  One pill now costs 750 bucks, up from $13.50. No really, that's not a typo and it's not unique.  It's not, it seems,  that these things didn't make a profit, the development costs having been payed back long ago. It's just that Medical care in America is about making the rich richer, about Turing paying for the company they bought by screwing  the sick and screwing the Insurance companies who pass the cost  on to you and me - because they can and because the Republicans made a deal while calling objectors Communists.

The cost of  existing medications that some people need to stay alive has gone up by hundreds and hundreds of percentage points and not because they cost more to make. It's because they can get away with it and if you don't have insurance, your option is to decrease the surplus population.
And the idiots like Sarah Palin insist that Obamacare has death panels while "buy or die" has replaced free market competition.  Republicans are for free markets, right?

Now if you do have insurance that covers prescriptions, the cost is picked up by the premium payers: us, our employers or Medicare thanks to the Idiot Bush who worked out a deal with the drug companies that forbids any bargaining or competition.  It's one of the reasons they can sell drugs in the US at the highest prices in the world. Turing CEO Martin Shkreli said the price increase brings Daraprim more in line with other drugs for rare diseases, not that that stinks of collusion and price fixing, and is a polite way of saying it's OK for Turing to gouge the sick because everyone else is doing it and besides with all that money we could maybe develop some other drugs you might like -- or increase the size of the corporate jet or hand out bonuses, or whatever.  Hey, it's Capitalism. Something you don't like about Capitalism? You're some kind of Commie?

Monday, September 21, 2015

Quacks like a Duck - Affirming the Consequent

We're liberals, aren't we? So we're primed to believe stories that fit a certain mold without question and often with a good deal of desperate enthusiasm.  An "unarmed child" is shot in the back while kneeling and begging for his life,  a kid is arrested for taking a clock to school. We don't bother with the facts, because after all, there is a history of minorities being treated unfairly and therefore we assume that if B follows A, B implies A.  It doesn't and there's a name for the fallacy.

A kid brings an apparatus in a briefcase to school, made out of clock parts and looks to me very much like the bomb timer you see in so many movies that counts down the minutes to the explosion.  If I were a teacher or Principal, I would have called an expert too and I have a background in electronic engineering. It looks very much like something the movies have conditioned us to see as a countdown timer for a bomb. Did he "invent" a clock and put it in a "pencil case" that looks like it came out of a
James Bond movie or did he take apart a clock and stuff it in something chosen to look suspicious?   Your assumptions here mean a lot. The way it's framed means everything.  As many on both sides of the political divide seem to agree:  "It looks like a f*cking bomb!"

But because police have a history of  abusing minorities, any arrest is abuse and because the kid is a Muslim, we, as dependably bigoted and privileged white people are to be presumed to be acting from bigotry.  It must be an act of racism, for are we not white? It must be racism for is he not Muslim?

The thoughts of Liberals seem to be steered by the same sloppy, emotional and instinctive pseudo-reasoning as those of Conservatives, Libertarians, Socialists and for all I know, professors of mathematics.  Go ahead, you blue eyed, blond Norwegian  Lutheran - put some clock parts, a battery and a mess of wires in a briefcase and try to get on a plane so you can claim the TSA is profiling Scandinavians.

Hands up!  Don't Shoot!  It was just a clock! The knife was Military Style!   Devious uses of the Framing Effect litter the ground and every thing we read, see and hear are attempts to manipulate opinion, but  even the huge, gilded Rococo monstrosity of this frame seems to escape our notice. Even our experienced knees jerk when tapped by the professionally wielded little hammer.

Are we, as liberals combing the news for examples and when the supply is low, are we so relieved to find yet another juicy one that we suspend disbelief, squint our eyes a little bit and react a little too passionately?

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Studies Show

We think we're rational, but we're not.  It's too easy to be optimistically or pessimistically  irrational. It's too much fun and we have plenty of help, particularly if we watch or read or listen to the news, if we watch television or read magazines. If we look at cartoons, if we read editorials. If we are immersed in advertising -- and we are.  If we answer our phones when they ring, if we read blogs like this one, someone is always trying to sell you an opinion, an attitude, a bias.  We're so used to it, they're so good at it that we rarely pay attention.  We enjoy having a credible group of like minded people, we hardly bother to apply what analytical ability we've managed to hold onto after years, after a lifetime of being subjected to advertising, preaching and the endless, relentless and largely dishonest manipulations that our ears are heir to.

We've been trained from birth not to question and trained to accept with a fierce tenacity anything someone dressed to inspire credulity tells us. It makes us feel smart, hip, a cut above others.  Perhaps herd animals, schools of fish and flocks of birds feel wonderful giving in to the same biological imperatives we follow in the same mindless way. I don't know.  Maybe there's a study.

Open the Sunday paper, click on a news website: you'll read about the 7 foods you should never eat, the foods, the beans and berries that will melt away belly fat and exercise programs that will make you live forever and we take it to be science; the result of valid research done to rigorous standards.  It's rarely the case.  It's nearly always the case that someone is selling something.  Tell someone that milk doesn't produce phlegm, Gluten is not bad for you, that vaccinations don't cause Autism and Autism isn't on the increase and they will turn ugly before they will bother to look at real rigorously tested and peer reviewed evidence beyond what the diet doctor or politician or propagandist of choice is saying.  I have a friend whose cousin is autistic.  That's enough.  A follows B and therefore  A causes B. Sole cause, partial cause, a vague non-causal link or irrelevant -- it doesn't matter to someone who doesn't know science or statistics and probability, and that's pretty much everyone.

Do they teach critical thinking in school?  Do they show people the difference between anecdotes, conjecture, Gerrymandered evidence and large, scale, randomized, double blind and repeatable studies?  If they do, does anyone listen?  Does it make anyone suspicious when the research, the study, are published in Sunday Supplements or pose as real in paid advertising on  You know the answer. 1 in a million may be enough to prove causation.  One in a million may prove unacceptable danger or a high degree of safety depending on the motivation of the salesman and the pet phobias of the believing public.

People who sell "Paleo" diets, or low "carb" diets love to tell you that they are based on research, because after all, people like the Inuit eat blubber and fish and raw meat and little else and don't get heart disease or diabetes. Your uncle Ralph went on Atkins and lost weight eating cheeseburgers.  If you noticed that the assumption that this would be true of anyone eating the same diet of course is called "confirming the consequent" which assumes that if B follows A, then B is evidence of A.  It's not. It's a fallacy you'll learn in Logic 101, but you didn't take that course did you?

 Convincing evidence that eating the calorie equivalent in lard or Twinkies or donuts produces similar results,  means nothing to the public and won't get published as an advertising campaign and something that has a tiny correlation can be called a "cause"  or a "link" by someone in a rented lab coat and you'll believe the fraud every time because it gives false hope and hope sells.

The peer reviewed journal Science published a study Thursday. Conducted by the University of California, Berkley. It examined genetic differences between Inuit, Europeans, and ethnic Chinese. and yes, pace hipster science, there are genetic differences, easily observed.  The Inuit and some Chinese have a mutation, perhaps cultivated over the millennia, that enable them to tolerate a diet that would make my cardiologist cry,  Some people lose weight on the Atkins diet.  I'm not one of them.  I don't have the genes for it and that's been confirmed by  testing my DNA.  

Should we by a sales pitch because "studies show" when there are no studies but a few anecdotes or biased conjectures?  Of course not, nor should we accept news reports that insist this or that is worse than before or is rising or falling in significant fashion and is not a brief anomaly soon to revert to the mean.  Is this scary incident really the result of this or that or is it a crafted scenario based on a fear, a phobia, a bias. Do we still believe cutting the upper tax bracket will end a recession?   You know the answer. Facts don't matter and studies always show what they're designed to show and we always believe what we want to believe.

For most of us, facts don't matter, And chances are we don't bother to think critically or verify, but chances are also great that proven wrong, belief persists, hardens and becomes militant.  Is that innocent child really a child or innocent?  Was he shot in the back?  No matter, grab the matchces because all cops are bad.  Did some kid's diagnosis illustrate a trend, was it caused by a vaccine or by his genes.  Is proof that there is no increase, the identification of the genetic component, the statistical analysis showing no increase enough to make anyone admit error or accept proof -- hell no.  

When Donald Trump insisted he had damning evidence about Barack Obama and was proved to be a lying asswipe, did that change any minds about Obama?  When some smoker lives to be 110, do we insist that smoking isn't safe?  No.  Studies always show what isn't true is true  and science nor truth really matter to the human ape.