Saturday, February 21, 2015

So what does it mean

Not to "love" America?  The question is unanswerable without asking what is meant by love, because in the era of accepted error, of laissez faire definitions, it can mean anything. So why ask? Certainly the intended audience of the assertion that Mr. Obama does not "love" the country that elected him aren't asking because their reasoning is circular, or perhaps because their ability to question things has been eroded by the linguistic dumbing down of our speech. In the mouth of Rudy Guiliani, I'm deducing that love means something rather nebulous and involves jingoistic nationalism, selective memory, denialism, a dash of megalomania and a psychopathic lack of conscience.

During the Vietnam years, the trope: 'loving America,' became a euphemism for blindly supporting the war, its conduct, it's stated goals, it's dishonest reasons against any and all criticism. It included defamation of all those who did not blindly follow. It included death threats, sometimes implemented against those who had doubts.  According to a large number, you either "loved" America or you were advised to leave the country. Some of us did.

Many of us who were raised in the post war atmosphere of America as the savior of freedom and the leaders of the "free world" began to smell something as the flag marched by and the bombs fell and a generation was decimated and thought of Orwell.  Love is hate, war is peace and freedom is slavery.  Indeed, when people fling loaded words around like irritated apes fling dung, that famous quote from 1984 seems less cynical than it once did and more of a sad acceptance of hopelessness. Language has to change as the needs and wants of the oppressors and exploiters require it.  Freedom fries, pre-owned cars, processed foods, assault weapons: define and conquer.

Indeed anything can mean anything and so language no longer guides our thoughts or acts as a structure or armature upon which to build and with which to communicate the truth. Perhaps it never has been otherwise.  Arbeit macht frei, after all and it's our manifest destiny to take whatever we can get away with taking.


"Obama doesn't love America" is a statement without reference to evidence, dependent on idiosyncratic and plastic definitions and without any hint of supporting evidence.  It's so much like statements insisting he's a Muslim, or that he's just like a king or that he hates white people.  Such things depend on what the meaning of is is and nobody is asking.  Is is as likely to mean isn't as bad is to mean good.

Of course Rudy and many of his compatriots simply have so little in the way of valid criticism that they must keep their maledictions on the level of the subliminal. The half-unconscious associations that words are surrounded by become definitions. Just ask your kids' English teacher. Ask the people who tell you pornography is rape, who call a trailer an "estate Home" who call that package of bread mix artisinal.

Murdering two million civilians becomes a noble cause and we do it out of love. We love America, the greatest country that ever was, is or will be! We kill, exploit, deport and impoverish under the rubric of love and freedom.   Freedom?  Well it's what we support in any military activity. Hence  anything done to make our country safer, healthier more decent or anything else we associate with a loving attitude is by accepted definition: Not Loving America. No real explanations are needed, because love means anything the abuser intends it to mean. Language just has to change and if you question that?  Why, like that colored fella in the White House, you just don't love America!

Friday, February 20, 2015

So what does it mean

Not to "love" America?  The question is unanswerable without asking what is meant by love, because in the era of accepted error, of laissez faire definitions, it can mean anything. So why ask? Certainly the intended audience of the assertion that Mr. Obama does not "love" the country that elected him aren't asking because their reasoning is circular, or perhaps because their ability to question things has been eroded by the linguistic dumbing down of our speech. In the mouth of Rudy Guiliani, I'm deducing that love means something rather nebulous and involves jingoistic nationalism, selective memory, denialism, a dash of megalomania and a psychopathic lack of conscience. 

During the Vietnam years, the trope: 'loving America,' became a euphemism for blindly supporting the war, its conduct, it's stated goals, it's dishonest reasons against any and all criticism. It included defamation of all those who did not blindly follow. It included death threats, sometimes implemented against those who had doubts.  According to a large number, you either "loved" America or you were advised to leave the country. Some of us did. 

Many of us who were raised in the post war atmosphere of America as the savior of freedom and the leaders of the "free world" began to smell something as the flag marched by and the bombs fell and a generation was decimated and thought of Orwell.  Love is hate, war is peace and freedom is slavery.  Indeed, when people fling loaded words around like irritated apes fling dung, that famous quote from 1984 seems less cynical than it once did and more of a sad acceptance of hopelessness. Language has to change as the needs and wants of the oppressors and exploiters require it.  Freedom fries, pre-owned cars, processed foods, assault weapons: define and conquer.

Indeed anything can mean anything and so language no longer guides our thoughts or acts as a structure or armature upon which to build and with which to communicate the truth. Perhaps it never has been otherwise.  Arbeit macht frei, after all and it's our manifest destiny to take whatever we can get away with taking.

"Obama doesn't love America" is a statement without reference to evidence, dependent on idiosyncratic and plastic definitions and without any hint of supporting evidence.  It's so much like statements insisting he's a Muslim, or that he's just like a king or that he hates white people.  Such things depend on what the meaning of is is and nobody is asking.  Is is as likely to mean isn't as bad is to mean good.

Of course Rudy and many of his compatriots simply have so little in the way of valid criticism that they must keep their maledictions on the level of the subliminal. The half-unconscious associations that words are surrounded by become definitions. Just ask your kids' English teacher. Ask the people who tell you pornography is rape, who call a trailer an "estate Home" who call that package of bread mix artisinal.

Murdering two million civilians becomes a noble cause and we do it out of love. We love America, the greatest country that ever was, is or will be! We kill, exploit, deport and impoverish under the rubric of love and freedom.   Freedom?  Well it's what we support in any military activity. Hence  anything done to make our country safer, healthier more decent or anything else we associate with a loving attitude is by accepted definition: Not Loving America. No real explanations are needed, because love means anything the abuser intends it to mean. Language just has to change and if you question that?  Why, like that colored fella in the White House, you just don't love America!

Monday, February 16, 2015

So?

Back in the 1930's, it seems to have been common to start one's sentences with "say," sometimes drawn out for emphasis as we do with words and tropes we use to emphasize our own connectedness with the segment of popular culture we have chosen, consciously or unconsciously. Picture Jimmy Cagney as a gangster: "saaay, you  dirty rat. . ."  Hey, don't laugh. Do you drop the R in gangster or whore and think it makes you hip?  Tell the truth, white boy.

Perhaps you've observed the phenomenon in the way we use the word "selfie" with  gleeful ostentation -- the way my dog runs up and down the hall with a stolen sock. "I'm using it!  I'm saying Selfie!" It's the word, not the picture. The very first pictures taken were self portraits. But try to find a CNN.com home page in the last year or so that doesn't display the word and a list of the week's best selfies.  Haven't you been trying to work it into your conversations so that people will know you're no outsider to the hip world, the hip-hop world, the world of constant contact, constant entertainment and  Cell Phones -- the real world, that is?

The real world, not that stuffy world where the discomfiture of Napoleon at Waterloo sounds like his boots were pinching his toes and  not that he was routed. We don't want you reading that slop anyway when the interests of this or that special interest group are what matters. We will tell you how to think about the very, very rich by proclamation, by definition, by calling them either plutocrats or "job creators."  We'll tell you whether you're a racist, an antisemite, a Communist, misogynist or a fascist by fiddling with the terms. And they do tell me.  I've been chastised recently for calling one of those conical straw hats a 'coolie' hat. Perhaps in India, Hindi speakers are racists for calling day laborers coolies, the Hindi word for it or perhaps not. Perhaps Joe Biden is a racist for using the word Orient  to describe Singapore, perhaps not. It all depends on what and to whom we're selling and to what purpose and not on the feelings or intentions of the user. After all, we're the police and we'll tell you what you are, punk.

I digress.  My intention was to point out that there is a fairly sudden and fairly recent tendency to start sentences with  "so." So I'm just pointing it out, and perhaps you'll notice it too.  So perhaps your grandchildren will, if it persists, giggle about the dated idiom:  "so I'm like" instead of  "I said" So have you noticed? So I'm just sayin'. Language gotta change and so everything you say will mean something else by Thursday next and everything you write down will be laughed at or called communist or fascist or something else depending on what the language police are yelling about.

So there he goes again, old Fogg, harping on the way language changes and spitting in the eye of the "language gotta change" school of English that encourages you to ignore and accept in the same way as one might encourage another not to get out of bed in the morning -- because after all, "people gotta die."

People like me: people who love language and the freedom available to those who master it are not appreciated by the "lets let the dog choose what we have for dinner" school of rhetoric and perhaps it's because such arguments feed the dogs of  commerce, propaganda and mind control.  Those who control definitions control minds.  So isn't it strange that the people who sneer at "language police" will beat you as  senseless as Rodney King if  you question the definitions of words like sex and gender?  So isn't it strange that we can sternly be told that making a joke about Chinese speakers not being able to pronounce the letter R is racist  as though speaking Chinese made one Chinese?  The language actually uses a harder R than American English, but that's beside the point.   Not strange when you consider the goal of defining nearly everything as racism in order to bully the populace into supporting your fight against racism.

So is it that precise language, as Orwell told us, is the enemy of  verbal manipulation? 


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Hell NO!

Brian Williams -- seriously?  6 months suspension with no pay for "misremembering" an incident from the early days of the Iraq war.  Bush's war, the one based on blatant and documented lies.  Did they actually fire at Williams' helicopter 12 years ago or not?  That's what matters. Sure, it was a bit of braggadocio on Williams' part, he should be ashamed to be no better than most politicians with padded resume's and he will be punished. 

Fox News will not be punished for reportage that according to those who supply facts to back it up, supply us with an estimate of  40% outright lies about substantive matters  Another 38% are partly false. Less than 25% of their reportage is really true and the electorate makes their decisions based on damned lies.  They're still on the air.  Is this a double standard?   Is this a country where any use of the term ethics is ironic enough to make the Devil giggle with delight?

Is Brian Williams to be compared with an entire network of burning pants sociopaths?


Steven Emerson:  "There are actual cities" like Birmingham, England, "that are totally Muslim where non-Muslims just simply don’t go in."
  


  

Lyin' Bill O'Reilly:  "The 'Denver Post' has actually hired an editor to promote pot." (Oh really?  No, O'Reilly)  

Sean 'Insanity' Hannity is in a league of his own.

Are there any standards at all when it comes to promoting the interests of the bigots, plutocrats, and the deranged?   Hell no!

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Typhoid Mary's Revenge

Reductio ad absurdum.  Its a common tool used in informal debate both properly or improperly, but although I won't say it's more common with the arguments we hear from the self styled Right, arguments such as this one seem to need no assistance from any opposition to reduce themselves to the ridiculous.  Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) told us this week that the government has no business demanding that the people who handle our food should wash their hands after using the toilet. If you don't see this as ridiculous, you probably shouldn't read further because I'm going to insult you. In fact I mean to insult everyone who considers himself rational but, like all of us, is not. 

Putting principle above survival and practical necessity seems to be a widespread form of  communicable idiocy, for when I mentioned this bit of crepuscular wisdom in jest to some friends last night I got no laughs but rather some grim recitations of the formula "we have too much regulation."  It's the same reaction although from different people, that I got when mentioning that the disastrous BP oil spill would not have resulted if regulations had been followed.  "We have too much regulation."  If you've been listening to the yapping from the Republican kennel for as long as I have, you'll see it as new bullshit in old crocks -- or from old crocks if you prefer. We want law and order but without the law. That absurdum enough for you?

If we assume that in fact we do suffer under excessive regulatory burden, I should think it would be obvious that the gap between that debatable observation and a valid attack on any specific regulation isn't easily leaped with anything but blind faith or the kind of stupidity that removes all obstacles. "All laws reduce freedom -- this is a law -- this reduces my freedom."  Do we really need to ask Aristotle to explain such sophistical refutations? CAn you honestly proceed from a false statement to a valid one? Do laws facilitate freedom? Without law, how do we protect life and liberty?  Who decides what is excessive without laws providing us with the power to do so?  Principle!  it's the defense against having to answer such impertinences.

 Sometimes freedom needs to be reduced, else I could show Mr. Tillis, inter alia, just how much the laws restricting my freedom might be useful to his health.  Getting from the proposition in question to eliminating any particular regulation requires dismissal of the specific need, benefit and effectiveness thereof.  Since I'm sure that regulations against poisoning him wouldn't be on his list of excessive regulation, we can assume that he does give regard to his own safety if not to yours and mine.  Is that dishonest?  Does that reveal some unmentioned contradiction in his logic?  Does it matter when people, all of us, steadfastly believe what suits us to believe irrespective of any native intelligence?

I won't waste much time waiting for Tillis to explain his temerity however.  His audience isn't asking for one, a false syllogism being satisfying enough and as is so common and in line with our ancestry and ancient habit, we put principle above survival, follow it up with brandy and a cigar and call it an evening.  Things will turn out in the end, the invisible hand of the market spreading pestilence more effectively than it spreads wealth and opportunity and justice.  "Restaurants that kill customers will eventually go out of business," is the fallacious foundation of the Tea Party argument -- unless they remain unaccountable in the absence of all regulatory agencies. I wonder too, how much he worries about FAA regulations when he gets on an airplane, or whether his doctor or his cook washes his hands but sure -- consistency and hobgoblins and little minds and besides when it's his ass on the line it's different.

48 million Americans get sick from food born illnesses and 3000 die every year, yet the government has a very hard time doing anything to stop it:  principle, you see and the inviolate rights of corporations.  But Tillis at least is standing up for the little guy, the right of individual free and sovereign citizens to wipe their asses with your lunch.  Principles matter, you know and it's good we have him standing up for freedom.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Doctors and scientists don't want you to know.

You can see them, in fact you can't avoid seeing them in places like Whole Foods acting whole foodier than thou and wearing ill advised lycra and sweat shop shoes. Pushing carts full of  "Organic" foods and spoiled unvaccinated children and heads full of superstition and self-importance they're everywhere you find the upwardly mobile. There's a massive industry out there to support them, make them feel like insiders, to fill their lives with homeopathic remedies, crystals, magic beans, gluten-free, fructose-free food and evidence-free ideas.

Everybody likes to feel special and capitalism is thriving on making us into pop-culture dependent hipsters so proud to have our special exclusive knowledge of hip things, we can hardly fit  our chakras into our yoga pants. Of course the hipsterism isn't only about food: the pure and artisinal assembly lines churn out ant-technological, pseudoscientific bullshit by the megaton and the paranoid neo-Luddites suck it all up along with their raw food and Japanese (because Subaru means love) cars. Guess what, the wheat growers who don't want you to know about the fictitious dangers of gluten, are making a fortune from gluten-free hipster food!  "Studies show" shout the diet doctors.  No they don't, whisper the real scientists. They're not even studies.

Can we go on laughing at the Low Information Right for denying climate change, when people who vote Democratic are equally terrified of telephones and vaccinations and electric meters  -- who tell you "organic food" tastes better or makes you healthier or is free of the terrible toxins we just know are everywhere because Doctor Oz tells us so? Because people who make toxic pesticides from "natural sources" tell us so? 

We are a faith-based nation and whether Evangelist or Atheist or pagan, we cling to our beliefs ever harder as contrary evidence piles up and supporting evidence remains absent. Are we less deranged than the religious extremists who pray while their kids die from preventible illnesses?  We're hipsters and like our tea-sipping opposite numbers we cling to our beliefs because they define who we want so much to be.  We listen only to movie actors and con men in white coats who tell us to eat it raw because science can't be trusted. We drink water imported from Indianapolis or Atlanta and it makes us feel superior and healthier than the philistines from Indianapolis or Atlanta who aren't part of our cult and drink it from the tap.

 Sure, absolutely. The world is full of scientists who live only to fool you about climate change and the dangers of  "processed" foods and "chemical" fertilizers and mysterious toxic energies that can only be warded off with amulets  made of copper or magnets or discarded electronic components. Eat "paleo."  "Eat Raw."  How many people die every year from undercooked food?  Thousands and thousands and millions get sick and die.  A vaccine may soon be found, but never fear, it may save a hundred million lives, but it won't pass the hipster barrier. All it takes is one person to have a toothache afterwards and the hipsters and irate mothers and charlatans will flock like vultures.  No, our lives are toxic and never mind we've doubled our longevity, our disease free productive years and even our size since scientific medicine took hold.

Vaccinations don't cause autism any more than does improper nursing technique or potty training, which used to be blamed for the same reason:  it appears in youngsters. Large, properly conducted, statistically valid studies by real scientists prove it. What? but my niece, nephew, son, daughter were diagnosed after getting vaccinated. That's close enough to a "study" isn't it?  Measles kills. People go deaf and blind and suffer brain damage from it. People exposed to dead viruses aren't more likely to be autistic than people exposed to the live one, but we might as well show a Muslim he should see the truth in Christianity.

Pyramids don't sharpen your razor either.  Gluten doesn't harm or inflame you if you don't have Celiac disease. Sugar doesn't cause hyperactivity, cane sugar isn't less fattening than fruit sugar and neither gives you diabetes, dairy products don't cause excess mucus and hell yes -- calories do count.  Raw food isn't better for you or lessen nutritive value, in fact it can be deadly.  Fluoride in drinking water won't harm you, Iodine in salt won't either. There is no such thing as "grain brain." Soybeans don't 'feminize' you. Remember all that blather about coffee being a killer back in the 80's?  Fake research bought and paid for just like the bogus study. A whole generation still believes it.

Homeopathic medicine is a hoax, mysterious toxins aren't building up in your blood, you don't need regular enemas and no, Obama isn't listening to your thoughts through your Smart Meter. A store I do business with has a sign on the door telling you not to enter with a cell phone. Guns are OK. Which is more dangerous?   Think the fluorescent lights don't put out more RF than a phone?  Think is the key word here. We don't want to, we don't know how to and it's better to be hip, to belong, to feel superior than to be honest or right. 

All those things being advertised as things "doctors don't want you to know" can be pretty safely ignored as scams but the idea that anything new is dangerous.  The idea that science is about hiding evidence may be dangerous to your finances, but when it gets to the point where we experience and tolerate a recrudescence of deadly diseases long since eradicated, it's time for some sort of showdown.  When the man in the white coat selling books and cults tells you there are things "doctors don't want you to know;" that scientists are trying to delude you and pollute your precious bodily fluids, it's time to stand up and slap these idiots down. Enterprise is poisoning our health and our children's just like it's poisoning our politics. Measles, Pertussis, even Polio are returning and these things kill people. Vaccinations don't cause Autism, don't contain Mercury and sorry if I'm offending you again, it's a deadly hoax, a bought and payed for fraud and I don't care what your hipster friend says or what some website says:  it's bullshit.

Bullshit kills

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Facts matter

Black lives matter because lives matter.  It seems self evident, yet the dignity of life is always under attack and probably always has been as long as social animals such as we are have been able to exclude, ostracize, demonize and otherwise put others into categories that exclude that basic dignity, that basic respect and minimum level of equality the nobler of us call basic and even God given.

When it comes to remedies, when it comes to deciding who is being unfairly treated, oppressed, transgressed against, scorned and swept aside by those able to do so -- when it comes to deciding what to do and whether to do it, we seem somewhat unable to find that nobility or even decency, or so I think.  Just look at the results of polls showing how willing Americans are to tolerate torture and cruel punishment. That such things are unpleasant and morally difficult may be the major reason we won't deal with them commensurate with the ideas we pretend are central to our enlightened life. That we don't think much at all until we're provoked or until we're lead around by the people who lead people around may be another. If that weren't so we would long since have gone from "black lives matter" to Life matters.  We haven't. That's a fact.  Facts matter. Facts often damage or even nullify our most passionate arguments. Facts often make fools of us and our foolishness often causes suffering to others.

It's a fact that Black people suffer less from police violence than Native American people do and perhaps more from government policy and historical precedent. It's not all black and white and it's not all about black and white.  Minorities have had it hard -- always.  Concentration camps for American citizens of Japanese decent, forced deportations and exclusion laws for citizens of Chinese descent, burning down of communities, violence and riots and exploitation. Reservations for those who have been here longest; dispossession, deportation, wanton slaughter of innocents. Children deported to countries where they don't know the language, families broken up.  Lives matter.
 
None of the fury in the street is about facts. None of it is about equality of access to the benefits of mainstream culture: opportunity, safety, health care, education -- and one is tempted to see the turmoil and pain as an end in itself that benefits only a small selection of smug hypocrites, who can make nasty racist jokes and comments about any ethnicity and get away with calling detractors racists. 

 Facts matter and the fact is that those who feel marginalized now feel more so, those who like to loot, pillage, rob, steal and murder minority policemen feel more justified. Lives matter and those who don't give a fleeting damn if a man is shot simply for holding a BB gun in Walmart and his wife grilled for hours because he wasn't the right race to care about don't deserve a following. He wasn't holding up stores and didn't grab a policeman's pistol.  He just wasn't black. A Chinese cop, a Hispanic cop, shot in cold blood in the name of fighting racism - who cares? Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket was far more innocent than the "unarmed child" Michael Brown and no one rioted anywhere and no news network obsessed about it for weeks and no mobs called for killing policemen. We didn't get pictures of him in gown and mortarboard or any pictures at all because it's all about black and white and facts mean nothing.

 


Monday, December 29, 2014

Everything is going to Hell

Says the Devil.

A plane crashes in a storm on the other side of the world. For days afterward it's "breaking News!" on CNN and their website asks us if flying is getting more dangerous. Yes, of course it's a pattern. It's twice in one year out of only 36 million flights!  Someone gets shot by a psychotic in a theater and we're told, or rather CNN arranges for us to hear someone ask if it's safe to go to the movies any more.

As humans we're famously deficient when it comes to comparing relative risk and of course a very well funded industry is based on exploiting our irrational nature and steadfast unwillingness to do the math. How many of us will switch off the round the clock babble and endless pictures of airplanes and people looking out the window to make a graph of fatalities per passenger mile?  Basically none.

We don't know if police brutality is on the increase, whether it centers on a certain minority, on several minorities or whether it's random or whether factors not being discussed enter into the picture. Why should there be, the people upon whom we depend to inform us are as much a part of the entertainment industry as Disney or Sony Pictures. What we do is select opinions and fears and things to gloat about from the buffet and all according to our personalities and chosen affiliations -- and today's technology makes it possible for manipulators and exploiters to target us with things that we will buy into without question and that much of it is designed to scare and to outrage is no coincidence.

It doesn't have to be about politics or law or current events. It doesn't have to be real  They can scare you with fructose or gluten or lactose or fluoride or electric meters or preservatives and imaginary toxins and they can cash in as easily as collecting maple syrup from a tree.

Obviously X is rampant and getting worse and of course we won't stand for it any more and here are two or three incidents to prove it if we don't stop to think or look too close or ask too many questions.
And here's what we need to do and never mind the cost because there's no time to waste and no time for the niceties of due process. What do we want? ZEAL.  When do we want it?  Before you cool off.

Don't we love to tell stories about how the other guys are idiots, neurotics, liars and infinitely malevolent?  Of course we do and the result is to strengthen our commitment to "our side" and lessen the possibility of questioning ourselves and what we believe -- whether our nebulous remedies will work or make things worse. If we're against demons and monsters, what are the odds we're wrong?   If some court finds differently from our convictions, why they must be corrupt and we need to attack.  If there's the appearance of a cluster or a pattern in random events, of course it's a trend and we need to make noise and search for someone to punish, even if the apparent trend is the opposite to the statistical one. I mean how many kids have to die before we replace fruit sugar with cane sugar?  How may kids have to get "grain brain?"  How many kids will get fat if we don't ban slurpees and never mind the double bacon cheese chiliburgers with extra fries and special sauce?  Our solutions will work because the other guys are evil.

 Why bother to look it up?  Our side is right because the other side is wrong. If we make a mistake and lives are lost or ruined we shouldn't be worried unnecessarily, we're the good guys after all and it's better that all crimes are punished and all danger eliminated than that a few innocents are punished.  Just look at how bad the other side is! Just look at how dangerous life is these days.

Everything is going to hell because it needs to be for certain influences to do what they want to us. A building is blown up in New York, so we have to assume it's a trend and before long Caspar Wyoming will be in flames.  There goes our 4th amendment protection.  Drugs are killing our youth so oops there goes any protection from searches and seizures without probable cause or due process. Welcome swat teams with or without warrants crashing through your front door. Crime is on the increase so let's equip and train our police as Storm Troopers and let's stop "coddling" criminals and allowing judges some discretion and start trying 14 year olds as adults. Our schools are danger zones so let's make our kids criminals if they have a nail clipper or an aspirin. Our "rape culture" is on the rise so let's suspend any benefit of the doubt and of course racism is so rampant no white people should be trusted. And worst of all, the Devil is out there with his facts and figures and quoting scripture so we can't trust anyone.

And of course we wouldn't dare challenge any of it because that would just prove we're agents for the other side -- and did I mention just how bad they are?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Newer is truer

The "true meaning" of Christmas.  That's something the news reader on CBS evening news knows and "those Atheists" who like to bother and annoy people like her don't know -- probably because they lack the good influences of  that religion history so thoroughly affirms as the source of peace and good will. Affirms  as the only bulwark between the undead and the damnation they all deserve.

It's about Festivus and it's bare pole tree replacement around which, whether in tongue in cheek mode or in deliberate mockery, some people  were celebrating that sarcastic alternative to Christmas with origins in the Seinfeld sitcom.  Yes, it's the annual war on Christmas, all wrapped up in colored paper. Christmas divisiveness, Christmas aggression, and Christmas fictions with which to assert Christian ascendancy and Christian victimhood at the same time.

But pay no mind, the young woman knows the True Meaning.

So which true meaning are we talking about?  Is it better to ask which  fictitious gods it's all about this time?  Certainly we know that the origins of  Winter Solstice holidays go back to our lower brow ancestors, their relief that days in the northern hemisphere were lengthening -- particularly those in higher latitudes than the tropic of Cancer, whence many of our customs and gods originated. The traces of the Norsemen are unmistakable as are the legacies of Roman Saturn and Greco-Persian deities like Mithras concerned with season change. It was celebrated on December 25 in the later Roman Empire as the Dies Natalis of Sol Invictus, the "Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun," of whom Constantine, the Romanizer of Christianity, was pontifex maximus.   Christmas has had more layers of accretion than an old piling covered with shells, worm casings and pelican shit. Let's not forget The Truth that as the major prop of consumerism in America, it's irreplaceable. Of all the saints in all the world, only St Nicholas is worth praying to.

I like to call it the Dondi effect: in which a story persists for eons while the names change to suit circumstances or objectives. 

For those who remember the  picaresque comic strip that started soon after WWII and was about a war-orphan boy named Dondi, adopted by GIs and brought home from Italy.  As memory faded and a new war emerged to produce a new crop of  orphans to sympathize with, Dondi quietly metamorphosed into a Korean.  He became Vietnamese with little fanfare some time later to keep up with our wars. Christmas, like any comic strip has been altered to fit, new patches sewn on to cover the holes left by obsolete gods and  deleted bits of history, as we tell new lies to cover the last lies as they become threadbare.

Thus the Sumerian flood hero Ziusudra, became the Accadian Utnapishtim, who became the Hebrew Noah and the details changed to fit the new characters and the new message from the new gods.  Holidays evolve and the day of Saturn becomes the day of  a failed Galilean revolutionary.  Is newer truer?  Must be if the CBS newsreader thinks so.  So no worries, we can always invent reasons to bring northern trees inside, to give presents, to hang mistletoe and make fires. We can always explain away the eggs and rabbits and the buns we used to eat for Mithras at Easter as well, as we fiddle with the calender to separate it from the holiday it used to be back before it got it's true meaning.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Why go on?

There's really no point, is there?  I  mean I've been protesting and griping and occasionally exulting about things for over 50 years and although it sometimes seems I've been on the right side, sometimes on the winning side, the wins have been so slow to grow into anything and the losers so able to readjust their stories to define the losses as wins that perhaps it doesn't matter. Even angels have to fear the sticky epithets falling on the guilty and the innocent, fear to tread on the right and the wrong because right and wrong can't be discerned through the fog of politics of any denomination. Descriptions mean nothing when our language, our history, our morals are written in water and change with the tide. We are not saved by works, but damned at random.

I don't believe in protests any more. I don't believe in elections. I don't believe in the public's ability to pay attention, to be objective, rational or enlightened enough to do anything but make noise and make it all worse.  If  we actually feel we've been allowed anything like good government,  it's often really that we've been thrown a bone to distract us from seeing that the chuck wagon has rolled off  with dinner.  Take the amazing fact that Congress passed a budget rather than shutting down the country they pretend to love. Reading it you may feel like the patient who learns his illness is gone, but there's a disturbing spot on his lungs. The spot, the shadow, the tumor, the poison pills, are riders you won't hear about, unless the Fox decides they can blame them on Obama.

And of course the President will have to support it else we hear more of the chorus of  "he's a tyrant, an emperor ignoring the will of the people" even though there can't be a whole lot of "the people" who approve of allowing a huge increase in the amount of money one can contribute to the Republican Party ( up to 3 million for a married couple) and of allowing a return to the reckless bank chicanery with exotic derivatives that caused the recent recession. After all that protest and demonstration and passion! Should we just admit there's no way to control the course of events that involves democracy? 

And of course I've always been told that I hated America, because I opposed a whole shooting gallery of things, like the war in Viet Nam or segregation or torture or the end of probable cause or forfeitures without due process. I hated America, it's said,  for warning that paying  for our most expensive and lengthy war with tax cuts for the wealthy wouldn't work.  I hated America for making a fuss about My Lai 4, for the abomination of HUAC.  I hated it for not hating enough.

Perhaps now, with the voice of  evil, Fox News host Andrea Tantaros claiming that the only reason we finally admit to illegal and immoral practices like torture, is that Obama wants you to think America isn't 'awesome' ,  with the ability of  war criminals to define their crimes away,  perhaps now I can decide that yes, I really do hate this evil empire. This abomination of a country that dares screech about FREEDOM but won't let you leave, won't let you live abroad and wants to make you pay US taxes even if you're a foreign national and don't live in the US - unless you're a corporation of course.  I have to oppose it.  I can't do otherwise.

No, the center isn't holding. 

Yes, I'm a fool for protesting, for blogging, for hoping.  I can't change minds or anything else and even if I did, our country is a runaway train anyway because people do not vote, corporations do. It's a runaway train because no one can do anything without the permission of  the ruling party.  Even old John McCain who lost an election because he had to pretend his masters weren't evil, because he had to run with that Alaskan millstone around his neck must hate America for trying so eloquently  to hold it to a moral standard higher than the Spanish Inquisition. It brought tears to my eyes. Misery makes strange bedfellows indeed.

Are there enough of us to rebel, to force the money grabbers, the tyrants  out of the government?  Of course not and not only because only the worst of us vote. We can't unite because we truly are a small minded, self absorbed, uncompromising and gullible group of fractious fools and because it's too late anyway and it's all our own fault. The enemy is us. It always has been.




Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Long strange trip

I remember Huey Newton, standing on a platform at Clark and Jackson, speaking to a Chicago crowd by the courthouse where The Chicago 7 trial was going on. A chant of "free Bobby Seale" had just ended. Mother Fuck, he began.

It was rare in those days, and possibly still rare to hear someone saying mother fuck in public, rolling the phrase around his mouth, savoring it like a piece of candy. Mother Fuck!

"The revolution has always been in the hands of the young. The young always inherit the revolution."
He was holding up a little boy, speaking about the brave new world he would grow up in, a world of justice, equality, opportunity and most certainly legal Marijuana. Are we there yet?  It's hard to say.  that boy would be the age of our president, Who would have believed that?

 The thing I recall most clearly about that day was saying to one of my fellow office workers, in our suits and ties and wingtip shoes, that these kids, the age of my own kids, would be so heavily propagandized by the time they were adults that they would hate and ridicule us more than the "hard hats" as we used to call them did. Nixon's "silent majority" -- lambasting us as unwashed slackers looking for handouts, dreading work and responsibility enemies of "law and order."  Indeed, an the last year of the 1960's even a modest, trimmed mustache and slightly longer than military hair could elicit shouts of "get a job." 

Indeed the generation following became young Republicans, carried briefcases around college campuses, talking about LBO's, made the word 'hippie' a vicious pejorative and forgot about Kent State and the obscenity of the '68 Chicago convention. By the time Forrest Gump came out, the vision of the hippie with red armband beating up on women was an easy sell.

Newton, by then Dr. Newton, was murdered on the street by a rival  Black Guerilla Family activist in 1983, when it seemed that everything had been lost: movement discredited, leaders gone, history rewritten and America  in love with a clueless cornball buffoon. The young seemed to have inherited the Reagan Revolution and trampled on the ruin of our hopes.  The movement was killing itself off, discrediting itself.  Michael J. Fox became a role model for conservative youth.

Bobby Seale and the rest of the group on trial for having incited the police riot directly attributed to the police and Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley.were eventually acquitted of  the obscene and absurd 
charges, but Fred Hampton, co-founder of the Black Panthers was murdered in his bed, shot three times in the head at point blank range by the Cook County State's Attorney Edward V. Hanrahan and the FBI 45 years ago last week.

"We expected about twenty Panthers to be in the apartment when the police raided the place. Only two of those black niggers were killed, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark."
—FBI Special Agent Gregg York--
That they claimed self defense and got away with it, that the State's Attorney was billed as a hero inspired the Weather Underground, some of whom the young Barack Obama was idiotically accused of "palling around with"  by people of the same age as that child held hopefully up before the crowd on a sunny noon in Chicago.  Welcome to his world.    

Sunday, December 07, 2014

The Numbers

I hate to add to the obsessive concern with police shootings, but reading Frida Ghitis' Police Shootings in US out of hand on CNN.COM I'm a bit confused when she says:

"The first step in this process should be to start keeping proper and comparable statistics, which would allow us see where the problem is most severe, how the numbers are trending, and where police departments are doing a particularly good job, so that they might share best practice. "
Not that this doesn't make perfect sense, it's just puzzling to note how little numerical perspective is available or given out in the relentless coverage about obviously unacceptable levels of violence.  But informing the public isn't the motivator, enraging the public is, and that public is hungry for outrage and not too discriminating about its validity either.  We'll take it where we can get it and we will resist having it taken away once we've made our minds up -- and once we have, facts become the enemy.

While events around the world seem to be increasingly frightening, with ignorant armies clashing day and night and loose cannons rolling about the Kremlin, it feels like major events are increasingly ignored when we find some local outrage to obsess about.  I have to wonder why this case and why now?  Is there a crisis in police shootings, an increase in questionable use of force?  Is police racism and judicial system racism on the rise or are we being mislead?

It's hard to say and why that might be is hard to understand. Back in the 60's when I would enumerate the atrocities of law enforcement, the retort was "if you're a crime victim, who are you going to call, a hippie?" Neither our national sanity level or sense of humor has progressed much since, in my estimation. Perhaps we ought to replace e pluribus unum with non sequitur on the coinage.

 I've been arguing that the police in the US are trigger happy and overly aggressive for longer than half the country has been alive, but is it getting worse or getting better?  If I can believe the Officer Down Memorial Page shooting deaths of policemen is up 65% for 2014.  That's astonishing.  Has there been a corresponding change in civilians killed by police?  You would think that if there had been, that data would be readily available.  But it's not and that lack would be suitable for street demonstration, if statisticians did that sort of thing. What do we want?  INFORMATION.  When do we want it?  NOW. 

Nobody seems to know  although some FBI figures would suggest the number is essentially static at about 400 per year. That's the last thing a newcomer to the US might suspect from looking around. How many of those are unavoidable?  It depends entirely on whom you ask: his politics, age, ethnic identification, experience, occupation and what newspaper he reads.

Wouldn't you like to know why the US seems to have such a high level of police shootings instead of attributing it to one motivation?  Of course there are more weapons here,  but we have far more mentally ill people on the street and I'm guessing a large proportion of them are unable to find or afford medical care. You would think there would be an ocean of numbers readily available, but there aren't  and that serves the interests of anyone selling solutions for their own reasons. I'm going to stick my neck out and suggest that there are people and corporations who make a living explaining and exploiting our social ills.

Without knowing the numbers, I remain puzzled and while of course I recognize that although mistakes happen and I recognize that restraint and caution are devoutly to be wished for, today's atmosphere of fear isn't helping. If  the police have a legitimate and increased expectation of being shot or stabbed or run over (and yes, a large number are killed by cars) we've identified a factor in the equation. It would indeed be interesting to identify factors other than the difficult to illustrate presumption of universal racism. Interesting since I don't think there's any denying that certain minorities are more often on the wrong end of police weapons than the average. Of course that data isn't too meaningful unless we could get unbiased numbers about crime in different segments of the population and no, I wouldn't want to be part of conducting that survey!

And there's the rub. Looking for data and the ability to understand that comes from having it, is a bit like looking for the writings of Marx and Engels was back in the '50s - an indelible mark.  Now as it was then, we will have witch hunts and character assassinations, slogans and suspicions until some other obsession takes its place and we can resume not giving a damn.


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."