Tuesday, November 25, 2014

In hoc signo vinces

Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side
 It's time we stop. . .

What did anyone expect?  In America the signs say justice but they mean blood.  We counter prejudice with prejudice, hate with hate, lies with lies while the truth lies trampled and bleeding.

A detailed, meticulous, scientific and lengthy investigation is a "travesty" and the prosecutor "passed the buck" and  "shirked his responsibility" which we are told is to simply indict the cop on hearsay, prejudice and rumor -- without due process or examination, to inquire like Pilatus of the mob instead of letting a jury decide on the basis of  the evidence. Why a jury after all, of one's peers when we can have men in masks, costumed dancers in the street, professional heralds of hyperbole, sellers of  certainties, posters on blogs and walls and Facebook pages and all those who "just know" out of prejudice, just know that accusations that feel good, fictions that validate our mission are true. 

Or so say the people who a short while ago seemed like rational human beings, who considered themselves reasonable: people who go to work in the morning and come home at night, who call themselves informed, able to see things as they are.  Last night I watched them, strutting in silly mustache masks, standing in front of the police with hands up saying "don't shoot." Kangaroos, holding court on the streets of St Louis.  And to those champions of justice, the accused, being white,  must be guilty, otherwise we would be as foolish as the people who went through the same performance as they did when Tawana Brawly was not-raped. Accusation and race are evidence enow. Otherwise our doctrines would not be pure!

Who is able to admit, after all this theater and passion and tears, that at heart they are simply self-righteous racists out dancing with long-since made-up minds, with blood lust and hooded faces in the streets at night?  With so much invested in protest, who can accept that they've been lied to and made fools and have been lying to themselves.  Hands up! Don't shoot!

 Michael Brown was not a "child."  Michael Brown, according to black witnesses and all the physical evidence did assault a police officer in his police car and was wounded in the process and ran away.  He was shot according to black witnesses while "charging" the officer.  He was not shot in the back according to three independent autopsies.  He was not on his knees with his hands up or on the ground with the cop standing over him.  He was not shot from the car window.  The witnesses who testified otherwise recanted or admitted they were either not there or didn't see what they claimed they saw. 

But no, he'll always be the "child" in scholar's robes and mortarboard, like a carved and gilded figure with a halo and fist full of cigars in a church representing some ancient martyrdom in wood, and of course we, out there in the cold and dark are fighting for justice.  We will make a symbol of  raised hands, we will bind it on our foreheads and hang it from our necks. We will chant hands up as we go into battle and as we persecute the heretics and burn the witches -- and in this sign we shall burn and plunder the innocent. In this sign we shall conquer.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

LHTC

Scarlett.  

She's "the most accomplished woman in e-sports" and "is known for her macro mutalisk style and kick-ass creep spread." according to New Yorker. I don't need to ask Dorothy if we're still in Kansas any more or if they still speak English there. If this were a 'tweet' or a 'text,' or if I were 14, I'd say WTF?  It's not your fathers English any more, it's your granddaughter's and Madison Avenue's.  And yes, sometimes Madison is still an avenue and back in 1957, for a short while, a dance that made you hip.

Being willing to bet that a mutalisk isn't the gastropod it might appear to any speaker of Old English (last Thursday's) to be, I looked it up.  Apparently there's a Heart of the Swarm and a Wings of Liberty version of this beast, for beast it is or would be if virtual reality were more real than virtual.

I suppose that knowing I'm dealing with Video game dialect and that indeed it is a dialect separated by several degrees from the language formerly known as English, relieves me of the need to look up e-sports.  This being the age that it is, the universal and sole metaphor for defeat is the kicking of ass. Movies today can be based on video games which are based on Comic books which are based on life as people fantasize it with the aid of movies.  As I said, the hip world is removed by several degrees as is the language they speak there.

A cartoon in the same issue carries the punch line: "@FBarnes12 favorited a prophecy you were mentioned in"  WTF?  

Language has to change, rufft uns die Stimme. And of course, like it or not, it does change. LHTC is not just a dispassionate observation I fear, as much as a phrase usually used to stop all conversation about the nature, extent, causation or direction of that change or the question of whether the change is inevitable as much as it is profitable, a thing of politics, a thing of choice --  of proclamation, hortatory or compulsory or sought after.  I often think that the inevitability of that reaction, the peremptory attitude and conclusive pose of that retort smells strongly of  one of those social, cultural or academic cults that proliferate and evolve, expand and contract like planes in a Multiverse, and like universes, resist the transit between or access to each other. Things all that are for me like reading Kierkegaard -- things of nausea and sickness unto death.  It doesn't matter whether I walk, or march or ride or crawl as much as it matters -- where.

While cultures world wide seem to be agglutinating and homogenizing and Americanizing, there is a level at which it is fragmenting and racing apart at an accelerating rate.  Gamer-speak or Business school babble of  last week is harder for me than Chaucer and the number and compartmentalizing of dialects  follows suit.  The question for me however is whether this change is a "must-be" or an attempt to make the fool seem intelligent, the nerd hip and the outsider belong. Do we accept clumsy, indecipherable English because the English Department bullies insist we do, or because we are so afraid that if we can't understand it, it's because we are inadequate?  Did the Sokal hoax succeed because people who needed to seem smart thought it was over their heads, because we thought that academics talked like this?  I hate the Imperial nudity fallacy, a form of the argument from ignorance, but sometimes -- hey!

It's been suggested that the main attraction of being able to quote Derrida or Foucault is that it sounds impenetrable and thus immune from contradiction because it puts the opposition on the indefensible defensive and at the point of aporia.  I have to ask whether this is the kind of change that has to happen or is this, like so many changes we see: simply marketing.  Do changes in nomenclature reflect diversity of objects as much as the desire to create false choices, make things more attractive or less undesirable -- to cover the emperor's ass?  We used to laugh 50 years ago at the insistence that we call the garbage collector a 'solid waste transfer technician' while we don't seem to be amused any more at ordering some tongue twister at Starbucks instead of  a cup of coffee. Marketing of marketing, all is marketing.

Is the LHTC, Language Has To Change catechism here mostly to support this sort of thing?  Is the teaching of English now no more than rigid spelling exercises?  Do we indulge and feel good about ourselves because video game lovers want to be seen as athletes, participants in "e-sports" instead of nerds, because 'homes' are more attractive than houses or apartments, pre-owned sounds less sordid than used.  Are we suddenly "gifting" presents at Christmas instead of giving them because it sounds more technically knowledgeable to the easily confused?  Do things "negatively impact on" rather than hurt, damage, harm, degrade, retard or a dozen other nuanced words because we think it elevates our speech or because it reduces the need for vocabulary?  Are we seeing change for change's sake, for business sake, for political reasons, for the furtherance of  a cause -- for social climbing, for social equality, for identifying with criminals or saints or intellectuals or food faddists?  When we talk about gluts or abs are we trying to seem athletic and fit in with those who are?  Again, it doesn't matter that change is inevitable, but where it inevitably takes us.

Orwell had a grand old time showing us the benefits of change in 1984, where language had to change because you had to change.  Whether you call it Obamacare, the ACA or Swiss style or Socialized medicine has everything to do with who you're trying to keep on track for your station as well as which track you've been put on. Control the language, control the thought, control the purchasing and call it lifestyle.

Yes, jargon has a use. Acronyms and abbreviations have a use although we so often use them to ridiculous extremes  SOS or QRM make life easier for the telegrapher, ALS is easier to say than Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, but so much is simply marketing or euphemy or other ways to hide fraud, fallacy and fakery:  FFF if you will. There does seem to be an expansion in that universe, but contrary to the message of the LHTC, all change isn't the same, doesn't serve the same purpose and may or may not be deleterious (may negatively impact on) to your health, well being, freedom of thought or solvency.

We have to have new words -- sometimes.  We don't necessarily have to learn to talk like people who  are 12 years old or are illiterate, confused or dialect infused, although we might buy more or more foolishly if we do.  We don't have to think we're sophisticated multilingual sophisticates by ordering an Americano in Fargo like a phony.  We don't have to assume Liberal means Fascist or Conservative means Anarchist or that calling Asia the Orient means you're a racist any more than you are just being current, hip or up to date by thinking your uncomfortable chair might discomfit you.

How much of LHTC is really "follow orders" posing as "do as thou wilt?"

The question is not whether language has to change, but whether lack of  education is to be the driving force or whether the need to deceive, persuade or to sell should never be interfered with, that any idea must be allowed to masquerade as something else and most of all the self esteem of the unread should never be risked.  Telling us it has to change is more than a way of  giving up, it's a way of facilitating deception, interfering with cognitive function and increasing the difficulty of  communicating.  

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Rememberance

Poor old uncle Boner.  He's really past it, sitting in his rocker mumbling about how Obama is defying the "will of the American people" even though immigration and health care reform is one of the reasons he was elected twice by a greater than usual majority. As though the minority party and it's massively discredited dogmas were "the American People." 

He's forgotten some of his own party's attempts at reform under Reagan, and both Bush's. He has no recollection of the Supreme Court having said, no, it's not unconstitutional. (and hopes you don't either.)  Perhaps he can't remember who is a Republican and who is "the American people."  Perhaps he can't remember what the Constitution allows a President to do or what presidents have always done. 

I do of course, still remember how his party tried tying up Clinton with lawsuits and laughing at his attempts to go after Al Qaeda.  Remember how not one of the torrent of dire predictions ever came true?  I do, every time I listen to the same recycled grunts and snorts from the same old swine.

But Aunt Sarah?   Maybe we can't  write it off to age related dementia.  Did she ever know where Mexico is? 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Sweet land of Hypocrisy

'Tis because of thee I want to puke.  There I said it. I think I can ask whether it's the most ill-informed, intransigently opinionated, superstitious, assholier than thou country on Earth and yes I'm talking about every part of the political spectrum -- I think I can damned well ask that rhetorical question, and if you don't know the answer, maybe you prove my point. 

Rant Warning.  

One of the reasons that I watch The Walking Dead, and I suspect it's true of many others, is that the fantasy of  being alone, or almost alone in a world full of vicious, mindless Zombies destroying everything is  so close to a true picture of life in a country like ours, except that it's easier to dispose of a rotting Zombie than of a political party or parties hell bent on destruction -- easier to cut off the head of the undead than to change the minds of  all those nice people who think Democrats like to tax and spend, that Taxes are higher than ever, that the economy is tanking, that Obama is a tyrant but afraid to act while he's arrogantly and "megalomaniacally"   taking over the government from its rightful owners while giving your money to the willfully indigent "takers."  Perhaps easier than to change the minds of those who insist there has never been any progress in their pet Crusade or Jihad and so they can set your car on fire or hang you without trial.

Yes, he went over there and apologized to them -- sure he did -- even if he didn't, and he's a  Muslim who hates white people even if he's not,  and he's not a real American and all the other horseshit we've been fed by the Evil Empire (you're damned right I'm talking about the GOP) and he certainly did lie to trick us into the Affordable Care Act which is Communism even if it's administered by private insurance companies who profit from it, developed by the Republicans and keeping millions from being a burden on the state and a danger to public health -- just like those notorious Communists, the Swiss

I'm warning you, this is a rant.

America makes me sick.

We're so damned stupid we don't remember that this is round two, it's the sequel to "Revenge of the Nixonians"  the real life drama of  getting back at law and order for the crimes of the law and order president who took money from the mafia and said he wasn't a crook.  It's plan A in the rulebook for handling any Democratic presidency, Accuse, sabotage, impeach, repeat.

They did all this to Clinton, tried to impeach him on trumped up charges.  Rush insulted his wife, told us his daughter was ugly. They told us he made up Al Qaeda to distract from his "crimes." Did any of the horrifying predictions the damned GOP blowhards gave us come true?  Did the economy collapse from the "biggest tax increase in history" or did we have unprecedented prosperity?  Did Al Qaeda actually exist?  Do Americans shit on the truth?

Remember the posters of the First Lady and her little girls with Gorilla heads?  I do.  Remember who thought it was funny?  Remember who called him a tyrant for appointing advisers as all presidents do?  Remember who blocked virtually every appointment and then told us he was negligent (but tyrannical) for not doing it?  

They've been talking about impeaching him since before he walked in the front door of the White house  and having found no cause, ridiculous or otherwise, they're going to do it anyway.  Boehner keeps talking about a lawsuit he hasn't filed for lack of anything to sue about and the best excuse they've found to date is that he just might, but hasn't do what virtually any other chief executive has done.  He's suggested that he might use the power invested in him by the voters to shield some immigrants from less than completely white  nations from deportation.  You know, he just might do what St. Ronald the Reagan did and St. Bush the Elder did.  What even W supported. And that's why they need to impeach him, tie him up in the courts like they did to Clinton for the high crime of not being Republican, crooked and incompetent. Yes, that's a tautology and yes, America you can't remember what you ate for breakfast or your congressman's name but you know all about those football scores.

Damn right it's a rant

And it ain't over yet.  And I'm not letting you off the hook, you self-declared Liberals preaching authoritarianism while your enemies laugh.  You're not liberals because they couldn't get away with this if you didn't hand the arguments to the Tea Traitors, didn't hand the elections to the Tea Traitors, didn't make fools and enemies of people who used to support you -- if you weren't willing to let it all go to hell because the president didn't solve your problems, because he's only the president, not a Czar --  and because your problems aren't quite as important as the real crises that threaten us. Can't accept criticism, you see science as heresy and put doctrine above evidence? You won't vote because Obama didn't make your problem go away?  Why then, you made yourself a second class citizen.  First Class citizens vote and they can tell up from down, increase from decrease and they don't follow leaders who lie.  You're happy to play Sons of Anarchy when you don't get you way and Sons of Apathy when it requires more than signs and chants and rhyming slogans and corybantic street dancing

OK so that's enough

But not because I couldn't go on for days Captain America, or that you don't deserve it, but because I'm sick of and disgusted with you and your smug self-righteousness, your Beliefs and Values and Principles and Loyalties and straw men you use to evade responsibility and dignify self importance and you'll never change.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Rapture of the road

"Well, Harleys aren't really up to international standards you know.  My BMW has active handling and antilock . . ."

"Cup holders, GPS and cruise control. . ."  I interjected.

He's a typical "aspirational" vehicle owner, the kind of person that will wait outside of Best Buy all night to be the first person with the latest iThis or iThat and will be quick to let you know he owns the latest and greatest mysterious black box technology.


Frankly when I bought my Harley last year, moving up from a 1957 vintage machine, I felt embarrassed by the superfluous accessories like turn signals and electric start.  My concept of  "ultimate driving machine" is just that:  wheels, an engine, the road and me.  It doesn't have WiFi or Bluetooth or stereo or even a windshield, it doesn't read my text messages to me and will kill me in a moment if I don't pay attention. My heart sings every time I look at it, resplendent and gleaming in machine age glory, a pearl blue and chrome angel, slouching on it's side stand in a fish-camp or tavern parking lot out by Okeechobee or by a secluded Atlantic beach on the barrier island, it's like the flag of  a lost America that still had and perhaps deserved it's self respect; exuberant, confident, looking both forward and back at endless roads, saying YES as though some voice had called it forth, saying  "This road is yours, go now and ride"

To each his own.  So many bikers today build their own, Bobbers, stripped of everything but what is needed, saying "hang on for dear life," choppers looking back at the 60's with longing for long roads.  Rat bikes look like they're put together in the junkyard, saying "death, where is thy sting?" Vintage bikes carry huge price tags but all of them say something about the love of  classic mechanical engineering and rider skill. 

To each his own and to me, in boots and goggles, letting in the clutch on all that torque, time stops, and while there is no e-mail and Skype and social media, no play list; and while there is neither cup nor holder, still those lost days and lost dreams are with me in the beat of the pistons, the rumble of the road.  Be quiet and listen.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Back in the USA

Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller are back in the USA, and perhaps a bit of surprise is in order.  James Clapper, Director of  National Intelligence flew in secret to Pyongyang to bring them home, but of course you'll have a hard time finding mention of that fact on Fox News, who gives sole credit to Dennis Rodman, who claims he begged Kim to release the American Prisoners.  I'm sure he did,  but I'm sure there was a bit more involved in getting them home.  Bae made a public statement thanking all who helped and worked so hard to get him out of  the north Korean prison farm including 

" President Obama and all the people at the State Departments; they working tirelessly hard to get me released as well. "

Fox Sports  mentions only that Clapper, who "reportedly" traveled with the president's "approval" as though he might have done so on his own or at the direction of Dennis Rodman.  That's about as likely as the possibility that any arm of Newscorp would acknowledge anything productive having come out of the executive branch. Better to imply that it was all about Rodman and a presidential adviser acting on his own initiative.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

That's the way we like it

I used to bridle at the title Flori-duh. Now I don't think it's adequate to describe the stupidity, delusion, ignorance, bigotry, tribalism and dishonesty that permeates the atmosphere and saturates the ground of Florida.  Yes, we have, amongst other acts of  self-destructive idiocy re-elected one of the biggest crooks in American history, albeit by a small margin.  Rick Scott's "debate" with his opponent Charley Christ was the most resounding defeat since Lincoln and Douglas but of course few watched it and many heard only the edited snippets that had former Governor Christ to blame not only for the credit crunch that torpedoed the real estate market that is the backbone of Florida's economy, but indeed he caused the global recession that followed the 8 years of no job growth and soaring debt the Republicans gave us.  Did one Floridian pick up on Scott's declaration that government cannot create jobs which came immediately before his declaration that he had created 600 thousand of them? 

A feeble presentation, stumbled through without answering one single direct question, yet today's paper insists the negativity was on the Democratic side.  One frequently aired ad had a voice simply sneering Charlie Christ. The most negative, dirties, sleaziest and most scurrilous campaign I remember in my long  lifetime.  Did I mention that Scott claimed he'd do everything all over again when asked how he'd got away with stealing a billion dollars from Medicare without going to jail?  It wasn't his fault - he didn't know - which, if true, says much about his "leadership" and executive ability.

Florida's medical Marijuana bill failed as well, largely on the offensively fallacious argument that it would offer protection to drug dealers (by making it legal to be one) and would increase crime although the evidence is otherwise, but we're talking about Florida -- we're talking about Republicans, we're talking about stupid, delusional, self-destructive, ignorant, superstitious, neurotic, insular, dishonest and prejudiced: the idiot state, the dumbass state, the backward state where the vultures of big sugar and Disney drool over the festering corpse of our former beauty. 

And we like it that way.


Friday, October 31, 2014

Risk and the Ape

It's no secret that a sizable number of people are very concerned about the risk of Ebola and that either as part of the cause or part of the effect, the media are obsessive in their coverage, grasping for any aspect of the disease, its history and its treatment, that can be talked about by an ever-changing cast of experts as well as the same familiar faces.  They may pause to cover a plane crash, a shooting, but the business of the day is Ebola: those who have it, those who may get it and those you might get it from whether you're in Bayou Sorrel, Louisiana or Braggadocio, Missouri.

How do we choose what we worry most about?  What scares us the most?  Psychologists like Slovic, Lichtenstein and Fischoff  have done studies about the public perception of risk.  The public, they argue, will assess  the danger of death from disease as equal to death by accident as being equal, but disease is 18 times as likely to kill you as a gun or a car or certainly a policeman.  Death by lightening seems less likely to those in their studies than the risk of death from botulism, although lightening is 52 times more likely to get you.

"The Lesson is clear:"  Says psychologist Daniel Kahnemann. "estimates of causes of death are warped by media coverage. The coverage is itself biased toward novelty and poignancy.  The media do not just shape what the public is interested in, but are also shaped by it"  

Rare and unusual occasions make good press in the competitive news and entertainment game and when the supply runs low and the demand high, the more commonplace or quotidian may be dressed up for the prom.  Have you turned on CNN recently?

"The world in our heads is not a precise replica of reality"

says Kahneman, understating the obvious. People make judgements and assessments of risk by consulting their emotions and not by examining the numbers.   A scary and unusual or gruesome thing looms larger than the Flu which may be millions of times more likely to kill you than Ebola. That Tylenol overdose accounts for 33,000 hospitalizations every year and hundreds of deaths simply doesn't enter the equation when we hyperventilate about the "risk" of Ebola or international terrorism or disease-carrying Mexican immigrants. And we don't feel fear when taking it or even read the label. 

Enter affect heuristics, the snap judgement mode under which we asses risk based on quicker, emotionally biased and less accurate calculation. .As Psychologist Jonathan Haidt said:
 "The emotional tail wags the rational dog."
If this doesn't seem pertinent to you, consider the studies of Antonio Damasio with people who do not, usually because of brain damage or abnormality,  display "appropriate" emotional responses.  They tend not to make decisions as well or as beneficially as others.  Indeed one's feelings do seem to enter into decisions we think of as truly rational. Asked to assess risk Vs. reward for specific technologies, one's feelings toward technology seem to determine the outcome. If you don't see genetic engineering as having any benefit at all, if you see danger in using Ammonium nitrate from the factory over  nitrates from manure, it's probably because of your bias against or lack of knowledge about science. If you tend to overlook real dangers from nuclear power, you probably already enjoy and understand technology and science. 

Is this a terrible thing?  Does it spell some disaster in that humans cannot expect to make the right decisions based on objective reality?    The public, says Slovic, actually makes finer distinctions than  the experts who assure us that you won't get Ebola from a certain person or by breathing the same air.  Finer distinctions between random, unpredictable fatalities and fatalities, like automobile accidents, that come from voluntary decisions. From this he concludes that  we should resist the "rule" of experts. 

Others look at examples where relying on experts might have prevented  popular excess, popular emotion from entering into public policy as with the expensive fiasco in 1989 about Alar and apples, where people were so afraid of apple juice they were taking it to toxic waste dumps and making terribly unreasonable claims of conspiracy based on nothing. Popular sentiment quickly snowballed or cascaded out of hand and beyond the universe of fact and reason.

Some psychologists like Timur Kuran and Cass R. Sunstein speak of  an Availability Cascade, A  mechanism through which biases flow into public policy, a self-reinforcing cycle that explains the development of certain kinds of collective beliefs, when explaining things from the Love Canal incident which somehow didn't kill us all or even some of us, yet had a colossal affect on public policy and public spending.   Does it explain demonstrations that insist that "we can't go the movies any more" because there was an isolated shooting?  In truth, choking on milk duds poses a greater risk but our minds see some qualitative difference between those deaths. 

Can it be part of human nature that we either ignore small risks because they are small risks -- or invest them with incredible imminence and attach tremendous fear to the point where we abuse the innocent, the non-dangerous as though we were running from a burning theater with evey man for himself?  We ignore or we panic and there are no other choices.

So perhaps we're overreacting in a predictable and intrinsically human way when we see immense danger from someone who might have been exposed to Ebola but who, we are assured, isn't contagious?  Are we asking ourselves for something we are not really capable of: a rational nature?  We evolved in a world where overreacting or reacting without much thought can save our lives but doesn't do much harm if the danger was less than expected. So if this is not exactly a critique of pure reason,  I'm still  not arguing that we should or even can throw out our inbred nature and I'm suggesting that  we accept the ape even while we keep him under close supervision.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Irrational Nation

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

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

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

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

Media vita in morte sumus

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

As it happeneth

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Nothing ever changes

Even when it does.

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

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

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Bring in the McClowns

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

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


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

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

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Fall

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

but you feel in an easing, 

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

The odor of this morning is different.

Something is changing.

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

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

And they wonder why they're hated!

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

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

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

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

And they wonder why they're hated.

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Civilians don't salute.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Monday, September 22, 2014

Epawesome

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

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

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

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

In short, how much longer before we hear epawsome?

Friday, September 19, 2014

The story of the day.

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

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

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

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


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Alice in Foxland

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The man who would be king

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

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

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

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

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

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



Friday, September 12, 2014

All roads lead to damnation

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

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

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

Thursday, September 11, 2014

9/11/14

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Some thoughts on prejudice

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

 -Phil Collins-


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

I have seen the future

Or the selfie of the future, that is.

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The conundrum of memory

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


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

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

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


Sunday, August 24, 2014

What happened was. . .

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Rush to Judgement.

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

-Aeschylus: Agamemnon- 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Monday, August 18, 2014

Madness

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Studies show

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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