Sunday, January 30, 2011

Book of the Dead

I've had a lifelong fascination with ancient Egypt and try to keep abreast of exiting new discoveries being made all the time. Although the feisty Zahi Hawass seems to have done a great job of demanding and usually getting the great treasures of Egypt returned from exile all over the world, I've never been entirely comfortable that they would be as safe in Cairo as they are in London and New York. Egypt has, under his leadership, also done a great deal to excavate the vast number of sites still available for scientific study, using Egyptian resources and the power of an autocratic government to overcome obstacles. It has been apparent that the value to science as well as to tourism has been taken into account, but apparently the defenses and security of the 109 year old Cairo Museum, which houses the most precious and fragile objects are not adequate.

I was horrified to learn, and I'm sure the archaeological community of the world is horrified as well to learn that the museum was broken into by what the US media are calling a democratic revolution and that two more pharaohs have now returned unto their dust: two more of the gods of Egypt are now just names carved on walls.

Looters broke in, ransacked the ticket office and destroyed two royal mummies Friday night, said Zahi Hawass, chairman of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, yesterday.
"I felt deeply sorry today when I came this morning to the Egyptian Museum and found that some had tried to raid the museum by force last night."
Hawass is a man not known for understatement or for being reluctant to speak his mind. Associates call him the Pharaoh and that word carries a multitude of sentiments. Of course his position with the Mubarak government makes him vulnerable and the location of the museum, next door to the National Democratic Party headquarters which was set on fire and was still smoking as of yesterday, is unfortunate.

Both private citizens and members of the tourism police attempted to defend the cultural patrimony of Egypt, but weren't entirely successful. Of course this doesn't quite equal the extent of the rape of the Baghdad Museum in 2003, but the struggle isn't over with and the long term outcome is unknown.

The heart of this uprising is still being weighed in the balance and so far, it's not lighter than the feather of Ma'at against which souls are measured. But I do have a certain level of confidence in a few things having to do with revolutions and mass uprisings: They're always a mixed blessing, they all come at great cost and they often open the door to worse things than were just tossed out the window. As much as I respect the right of countries to own their cultural patrimony, I'm quite certain that for the moment, treasures like the copies of the Book of the Dead now on display at the British Museum until March are quite a bit safer than anything of value in Cairo.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Dividing by faith

Oh, little children, I believe
I'm a Methodist till I die
I'm a Methodist, Methodist, 'tis my belief
I'm a Methodist till I die
Till old grim death comes a-knocking at the door
I'm a Methodist till I die

The author Robert Pirsig traces his collapse into madness to a casual statement by a colleague, that "they don't teach quality any more." I've had many, and because I'm not schizophrenic, they are far less bathic descents that quickly float back up like Queequeg's coffin. Like Job, I've escaped to entertain thee and I won't be talking about motorcycles, the doctrine of transubstantiation or the Metaphysics of Quality. It's been done. This is about bumper stickers -- the ones that come in colors and proclaim:

I continue to see these stickers on cars, proclaiming the concept of belief as a virtue and by the fact that it is being so advertised; a virtue that in some way is meaningful to advertise. Like all philosophies and especially those condensed into two words, it conceals a philosophy. Like all words Believe is a prejudice.

So let's ask what qualities define belief and make it something to wave like a banner? Does it need any, is the quality of all belief the same and indeed can the nature of belief have a quality beyond the nature of the belief?

I can guess, knowing some of the people to whose vehicles the stickers are attached, that it's an advertisement for some specific assertion and that it's a religious assertion and that it's displayed as a rebuttal. I say this because there's so often some specific attention being payed to a challenge; a real or fabricated challenge to a religious proposition or assertion that is congruent to the cyclical outbreaks of these printed adhesive credos available on line for $4 plus postage. Every time it's Christmas, every time someone complains about his kid having to say "under God," every time someone repeats Washington's and Jefferson's claim that ours is not a Christian Nation and needs to remain so, out come the stickers. Thus, I have reason to doubt that the thing behind the assertion of belief is the natural born citizenship of Barack Obama, the antiestablishmentarian nature of our Constitution or confidence in the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.

Many of the vehicles do have other stickers advertising themes and shibboleths of the religious right such as the chrome fish and the logos of football teams and motorcycle manufacturers. But of course I BELIEVE does not specifically say that the owner of the vehicle believes in Krishna as the Lord of Light or Osiris as the ruler of the underworld: that he likes Harley-Davidsons and the 'Gators' is beyond the scope of this investigation and its doubts. Nonetheless, I have some degree of confidence that I know what the sticker means.

So is it belief as a virtue of absolute value in and of itself that is to be applauded or is it the specific nature or quality of the belief? Perhaps the ambiguous silence of a sticker is a way to avoid the explanation that might be required by an inquisitive intellectual, should one be found in these parts. As any belief, abstract or specific, rational or irrational; any disbelief in fact can equally be expressed by I BELIEVE , the probability of a specific credo justifying the immodest bit of sticky-backed braggadocio is strengthened if not proven.

Let's propose that I believe there are no spirits or gods or souls and no purpose to existence that concerns us in any way. Can we say that belief then has only an absolute value and the polarity, the direction, the vector is meaningless? Perhaps I've shown that to be logically true but still, owners of sticker emblazoned trucks will not think so.

No, it's a particular belief or set including certain beliefs that is virtuous to a degree to specific individuals and sets of individuals -- and others to a different degree. Have I shown that belief as belief can have any value and so must be as un-virtuous as it is virtuous? If there can be an equal and yet opposite belief to any belief one can assert, it must be so.

If, of course the vehicular assertion is not to be applauded, or at least not universally to be applauded, one has to consider that it's intended to be an affront, a rebuttal to one or many who do not believe in general or in a specific proposition. It could be intended both ways, making it serve as a tribal totem distinguishing between those who do and those who do not: a more literate and up-to-date version of the untrimmed beard, unusual dress or even circumcision.

I'm different because I believe and because I'm proud of it, I say I'm better because I BELIEVE. That would of course make a specific belief, or as some prefer to say 'belief system' a test of virtue and of membership. Does belief , if belief has all possible values, allow everyone into the group of believers? It does not, only belief that lies substantially within that system or universe will do. Again we see that I BELIEVE has no value independent of the content of the belief. The virtue to be proud of lies not in the believing itself.

So it's likely, I should think, that the virtue of the virtue lies in the object of faith; the specifics and not the faith itself even though some seem to think of faith in and of itself as being worthwhile and not necessarily only virtuous by virtue of the content. One has to ask, would the faith promoter see virtue independently and I suggest that the simple substitution of objects would produce at least a spectrum, a ranking of value. Is faith that Refafu will make the rain stop or that we hear the hammers of Thor in the storm or that Jesus is Lord whatever that means, the same as faith that there is an intelligence behind the universe or behind the manifestations of existence? And of course, can we rank faith by it's intensity? Am I better if I'm willing to die so as not to contradict my faith or allow anyone else to contradict it. Am I best if I'll kill you to stop contradiction? Martyr or madman, it depends on whether it's your belief or some other. I suspect that here again, the virtue of the virtue is a virtue that hinges on the personal faith of the faithful. Both faith and belief can and so do have all possible values, ranks and properties.

Indeed can we say that one belief is better than another if all belief is beyond any comparison that involves observable demonstrations? At least one common belief is that God cannot be tested -- at least not successfully -- and of course most religious beliefs cannot be successfully exposed to experiment. We can't show that prayer works in any unambiguous way. The weather is what it is, justice is what we make it and even if you postulate that God is behind our sense of justice, we can't demonstrate it as God is so often used to support injustice and there are more convincing arguments for it from other sources.

There are no valid proofs of the existence of anyone to pray to and all attempts I have yet seen to prove any god would, if not essentially fallacious, prove an infinite number with infinitely different attributes. How then can we assign relative values to belief in divinities; one or many?

Dividing us by faith, by belief, whether by the existence of these or the nature of these is the virtue of putting an I BELIEVE sticker on your car. Further, since no one would be putting an advertisement for inferiority on his property, it's an assertion of superiority; an assertion that seems to fit the definition of vanity and indeed, if any belief will do, a gratuitous vanity. If only one belief will do, it's still a self appointed vanity since belief is optional if we are rational. If we are not rational, why are you reading this? I'm better if I believe in anything and I'm better still because I choose to believe in the divinity of a mythological figure, but at any rate, whether it's Jesus or John the Baptist, I'm at least one of the better sort.

When we divide by belief, are we dividing by zero? Well, when the denominator decreases in value or absolute value, the result approaches the infinite: approaches all values. Can I say that the attempt to divide us by something of no determinable relative value results in a meaningless number? I think I just did. To get back to Heisenberg; back to things that are beyond the need for belief or faith, the only universal certainty is that the more of it we ask for, the less we can possibly have and there's no way around it. It's not faith, it's the law.

Tat Tvam Asi.
You are that you are, no more, no less -- and that applies, I think, to everything else that is. The sticky piece of plastic ruining the finish on your car makes you no different than the convictions it pleases you to have and nothing you do and nothing you believe extends to the world outside your head. How you treat other people will however.

All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
This is the law,
Ancient and inexhaustible.
You too shall pass away.
Knowing this, how can you quarrel?

-The Dhammapada-

Friday, January 21, 2011

They call me Mr. President

There's a difference between comedic impersonations and bigoted mockery; between comedy and things that make racists, bullies, mean spirited, angry people laugh. One could invoke the German Schadenfreude; yet the laughter when a clown slips on a banana peel isn't quite the same and isn't as universal as the sound that comes from the man in the white sheet laughing at the humiliation of another man.

Ive seen enough bullies in my day. I've seen some of them confronted and heard the common refrains of "I'm the victim here" and the almost inevitable " didn't you know I was joking?" So I wasn't surprised to hear Glenn Beck whine to Meredith Viera that his detractors didn't have a sense of humor adequate to know that when he advocates beating a public official with a shovel or tells us of the need to shoot Democratic leaders in the head, it's those dumb liberals who are humorless.

For the most part, the law has never found incitement amusing: shouting fire when there isn't one - for laughs. Even those orating innocently about a strike have been punished in America because someone used the occasion to toss a bomb. You don't make bomb jokes in the airport and you don't joke about killing democrats to an audience you know to include deranged and armed enemies of Democrats - even if for no other reason than avoiding making yourself look bad. But looking bad is just what many of these frustrated losers want to do.

But times seem to be changing and that old time evil is bubbling up again, or at least some groups now have enough power to make the clowns take off the blackface and to think twice about anti-Semitic rants and maybe be a bit more circumspect before going after Homosexuals Females and all the other pet victims of the Right.

Mexicans? Chinese? Well they are still targets of opportunity for those willing to descend that far. Some comedians don't realize they're being offensive to people who don't deserve it, some of them don't care as long as they get an audience and others couldn't get a job unless it was entertaining bigots. So if Margaret Cho makes jokes about her Korean family, we don't cringe - unless we are her relatives. When Michael Richards goes on an N-word binge we question his sense of decency -- to say the least.

Watching Dennis Leary's charity benefit the other day, I was appalled at his crude attempt to make fun of the world's most widely spoken language. No, not the real difficulties of speaking, it but with facial contortions and weird sounds that didn't seem funny or sound anything like Chinese to one familiar with the language. Bad taste I think, and enough to alienate a lot of people to the objectives of his charity.

And then there's Limbaugh.

What is an American president called when he visits China? They call him Mr. President. He's only called a Marxist tyrant by detritus like Limbaugh and the lumps of fecal matter that follow in his wake. We employ a host of people to promote American interests, to show the world our best face and we have this inflated rubber gasbag mooning them.

What is Chinese President Hu Jintao called when he's a guest here? The "Chicom Dictator " says Rush. "Ching chong, ching chong, chong" mocks the flatulent Palm Beach Bastard Billionaire, who makes a living lowering the estimation of my country in the eyes of the world. Condescending, contemptuous and contemptible: "Ching chong, ching chong, chong"

No, Presidents from Nixon onward have been treated well in China, it's only in the sewers of the American Right that President Obama is called a Marxist tyrant by detritus like Limbaugh and the lumps of fecal matter that follow in his wake. We employ a host of people to promote American interests, to show the world our best face to induce them to trust our intentions and yet we have this inflated rubber gasbag mooning them while his adolescent friends laugh and mock.

Of course he knows what he's doing, and of course he doesn't care if he puts a white sheet on Uncle Sam and confirms the belief of billions that we are a nation of snarling pirates who don't deserve respect or trust or cooperation. He'll keep doing it as long as we let him, support him, laugh at him, watch him and patronize his unworthy, unscrupulous and unAmerican sponsors.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Falling Fox

When one has come to instinctively mistrust the judgment of his countrymen, it comes as a considerable and pleasant surprise to see public sentiment shift back toward agreement. Of course where I live, it still seems like the Gospel according to Beck and no one thinks he's rewriting history by pretending Tom Paine was a Christian nationalist, In fact support for the network whose scripts are faxed in from the GOP and which makes million dollar contributions to GOP candidates has only fallen marginally, but according to Public Policy Polling, amongst the public in general, Fox has fallen from the pedestal, down to the level of CNN and PBS is now seen as the most trustworthy. No wonder many Republicans want to get rid of it.

Do I doubt those results? Hell no, it's just too much like Christmas in January to want to ruin the buzz.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Much ado

Appearances can be deceiving. I get e-mails with pictures of huge crowds rallying against Obama because only the far left liberal cringe loonies would think Obama had any support in "forcing his ideas down our throats." All the conversations I overhear, all the bumper stickers I see and all the viral e-mails I get support the idea that nobody likes Obama, everyone is drinking the tea and that 2012 will be the "End of an Error."

But Obama's ratings are on the way up, they've been no worse than Reagan's. Sarah Palin's are on the way down and at this point more people have favorable opinions of Socialism, than of the Tea Party.

Where was the "there are no legitimate uses for guns" crowd when a bomb was found at an MLK parade Monday? There are sure as hell no legitimate uses for IEDs, so why is there no attempt to make them go away by "tougher" ' assault bomb ban' legislation? Why aren't we terrified of bombs now? In fact there isn't even increased support for more gun bans - just a lot of sound and fury.

I keep reading that since this latest assassination, America is for "stricter gun control" That's deceptive too, since what the vast majority is in favor of isn't what you'd think from those articles and blogs. The country is hugely in favor of the second amendment, doesn't want any more bans on types of weapons and accessories. What they do want - nearly unanimously - is a massive effort to improve the background check system to keep certain people away from firearms says The Huffington Post. According to the Christian Science Monitor, the blogs may be blaring, the activists may be active, but there really isn't a renewed support for more of the same old "gun control."

You know, it's isn't only Fox News making things seem other than they are.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The unbearable truth of uncertainty

His license plate reads: I BELIEVE.

I wonder if I lived a hundred years more would I ever see one that proclaimed THE EVIDENCE IS DEFINITIVE, THE PROBABILITY APPROACHES 100%, the tests were conclusive or even simply, I KNOW.

We attach a special importance to belief that we don't associate with knowing something by virtue of demonstration, double blind randomized scientific investigation, mathematical proof or even by reducing the probability of error to a point arbitrarily close to zero. At least believers do and a supreme, transcendental virtue it is to them and a terrible thing to impugn.

I really don't care what the man believes except that I know what he supports with that belief. The things he supports affect my life and the choices I can make and require me actually to affirm his belief. He believes that a single cell organism has a soul that not only transcends the boundaries of matter and energy, but has the ability to think and feel without being composed of anything - and that may be punished in hell for all eternity because it hasn't had magic words said over it.

Am I being cruel? I think I'm merely stating the contents of this man's vehicle tags and I know he believes it, because he's bound to tell you and me whenever he gets the chance.

No, I'm not going to see a bumper sticker or vanity plate proclaiming I'M REALLY NOT SURE, IN ALL HONESTY, or YOUR FACTS SUGGEST THAT I BE MORE CAUTIOUS IN MY ABSOLUTE ASSERTIONS. Too long a sentence, for one thing. Too hard to say with a cheek straining wide-eyed grin; that expression an infant gets when he empties his colon.

Seems to me that humans simply believe what feels good and then spend their lives either constructing vast edifices full of entities of necessity designed to support the belief -- or they just deny all contrary evidence. They get "spiritual" or they get angry.

It feels good because the people I want to be like agree with the belief, because I'm terrified of my insignificance, my powerlessness, the random and uncaring and violent nature of all existence, my likelihood of suffering and pain, my certainty of death. I'm afraid my condition may be my fault so I create someone whose fault it must be. I'm afraid I'm not smart enough to understand, so I believe they are stupid. I feel sorry for myself, sorry that I drew a bad hand and someone else didn't. I have to believe something. And for everything I take on faith, I have to deny something on faith. It's the law.

Of course, as I said the other day: I'm digital, which means I don't give a damn as long as my power supply gets its AC and my cooling fans keep spinning. Still, I'd like to express myself like the meat brains do, but I'm not going to mess up the paint job with a bumper sticker and the State of Florida simply refuses to make me a plate that says:
\Delta x\, \Delta p \ge \frac{\hbar}{2}

Oh shit

Not again.

Two students were shot at a Los Angeles High School today because some idiot put a cocked and locked pistol in his backpack and it went off when he dropped his pack on a table. One could call it an accident, but you'd at least have to put the word in italics.

There's no resemblance to the Tucson shooting, although the student obviously illegally possessed the gun, illegally concealed it and illegally brought it into a school, he wasn't out to shoot anyone at that particular moment. I'll bet there will be more calls to make it even more illegal, but more than likely he was a gang member, so illegality isn't a deterrent any more than it is to a psychotic. It may have earned him some status in fact.

It may surprise some people, but we have a maze of gun control laws and they aren't doing a good enough job with this kind of crime and these kinds of criminals: gang members, psychotics and sociopaths - a tiny but deadly element.

But without knowing just how the kid got the gun, I can only speculate about what went wrong and can't talk about what to do, other than to do a better job with the metal detectors. There's a gun show loophole. There are hard to control private transfers, some legal, some not and some guns are stolen. Even though nothing short of a 24 hour curfew and a police state with no civil rights will stop such crimes, it's time we stopped calling for, stop being comfortable with more and more "gun control" bills based on twisted descriptions, laden with straw arguments and riddled with loopholes. It's time for -- no, please don't laugh - some bi-partisan and rational reconsideration.

It's also time to remember that in a huge country, with a growing population, crime can be on the decline and still appear to be on the rise.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Season's greetings

If you thought there was a silly season in Florida, you're right. If you think the season is shorter than 52 weeks, then I would disagree, although a case can be made that as long as the legislature is in session, idiocy is in season.

But there are high points, special events worthy of special status, although which ones to celebrate differ from political faith to faith. I don't know how Florida's "smaller government" believers took the statement by one state representative against a bit of legislation forbidding anyone to participate in or watch for purposes of pleasure any sexual act including animals with the exception of the requirements of animal husbandry, but she seemed to understand that as allowing female humans to marry animals and she certainly opposed that, thank you very much. It's hard to stand out as an idiot in a Florida crowd, but perhaps the following resolution, which was introduced last Christmas Eve by Sen. Gary Siplin, an Orlando Democrat, that would designate "Merry Christmas" as the official state greeting for December 25 will come close:

WHEREAS, Christmas, a holiday of great significance to most Americans and many other cultures and nationalities, is celebrated annually by Christians throughout the United States and the world, and
WHEREAS, on December 25 of each calendar year, American Christians observe Christmas, the holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, and
WHEREAS, popular modern customs of the holiday include gift-giving, music, the exchange of greeting cards, a special meal, church celebrations, and the display of Christmas trees, lights, and nativity scenes, and
WHEREAS, many Christians and non-Christians throughout the United States and the rest of the world celebrate Christmas as a time to cherish and serve others, NOW, THEREFORE,
Be It Resolved by the Senate of the State of Florida:
That “Merry Christmas” is recognized as the State of Florida’s official greeting for December 25.
Can anyone make up stuff like this? I can't, and I wouldn't dare clog up the wheels of progress, if I'm still allowed to advocate it, with such Christmas fruitcake legislation while Florida is at the top of the unemployment and foreclosure heap. And yes, Siplin is a Democrat and no, there's no false equivalence here. I report, you decide and let the batshit fall where it may.

If it passes or does not, it's a gift to cynics that keeps on giving and it seems that every time the legislature meets it is indeed Christmas. Just don't ever call it a holiday.

Friday, January 14, 2011

What we have here is a failure to communicate

It's an old joke. Maybe you've heard it, maybe I told it to you. I am getting old and I do repeat myself -- but anyway: this guy goes to the psychiatrist who gives him a Rorschach test. Every ink blot he looks at makes him think of sex. "That's two dogs going at it" he says. "That's three people and a chicken having sex, that's a vulva. . ." and on and on.

"I suspect you may have a problem," says the shrink.

"Hey, wait a minute, you're the pervert showing me the dirty pictures!"

A couple of years ago, a relative of my mother's was here to dinner along with my father. For years I have had my parents' old 20 gauge Remington 870 sitting unused in a closet. Back in the day they had had a large piece of farm property in Northwest Illinois and sometimes, of an afternoon, they would use it to shoot clay pigeons. Trap shooting isn't my thing and it hasn't been fired in 30 years, so "would you like me to sell it?" I asked dad. "It may be worth 5 or 6 hundred."

My aunt's eyes got wide. "Well you can't really sell it can you? Someone will buy it and use it to kill someone." Being more diplomatic and patient in person than I am here, I didn't offer the explanation that it would certainly be bought by someone who wished to use it for what it was designed for - trap shooting and that the odds of her being killed in a car accident on the way home were hugely greater. But it does no good to argue, not knowing is the best defense of one's prejudices and you can't trust anyone who tries to overcome them. They might buy a gun and kill you.

I still smile when thinking of visiting relatives, particularly young ones, cringing and looking for the exits when I mention a chain saw ( I have two) or a machete (I have several - I live in the jungle.) They're WEAPONS! Never mind that I've carried a scout knife or Swiss Army knife since I was 10 and feel helpless without such a basic tool. Of course it's conceivable that I could cut my finger with it and after all it's a weapon and someone could grab it and kill me. I don't usually dare mention that I collect them and own over a hundred - proof of criminal intent rather than an addiction to nostalgia, no doubt, for those whose lives are a flight to safety in which your company is required.

Is it me, showing them murder weapons and making them afraid, or is the problem theirs - the terror of inanimate objects? I doubt there will ever be agreement. There's a gulf, a gap of generation and place and circumstance and culture, and it's getting wider and harder to see across as time goes on. It's responsible for more discord than we credit it with. Neither side of the valley of the shadow will listen to the other without imposing shibboleths.

I once endured a debate between an automotive engineer and some safety activist. It never really turned into a debate because the lady in question kept repeating, "but you agree that the most important thing is how a car does in a crash, right?" Her opponent had a different set of priorities. I mention it because it's no different than any of our political discussions, and of course, all our discussions are political.

The weather in America is political and so any discussion of firearms demands that one side admit that we need more gun control while the other needs to admit we either already have a sufficiency or better yet, even a little is too much.

When I was very young and began to be involved with Scouting and the lure of the woods, it was not only considered normal but essential that a young boy have some training with small caliber firearms. Magazines like Open Road and Boy's life always had ads for BB guns, hunting knives and .22 caliber 'boy's' rifles. Like archery, like learning survival skills, it built confidence, concentration and was a tie with a disappearing past. Maybe good preparation for the military as well. Safety through training and knowledge and preparation was the idea, but that was then.

I grew up reading Stewart Edward White and Dan Beard; Teddy and Kermit Roosevelt -- Earnest Hemingway, James Fenimore Cooper. Men who had skill with and knowledge of firearms. I read books on the outdoor life and woodcraft by the mysterious "Deep River Jim" and countless others. I learned to shoot and handle a rifle safely at age 11 in summer camp in the Michigan woods. I still have 20 acres on an island in Michigan where neighbors are few, far away and Ojibway and you hear coyotes at night and you feel better knowing you can fire a few times without reloading, even though odds are you'll never have to. I still remember.

Old men live in a world of memories. Old men like to remember. Today, if you show me an image of a classic Stevens Favorite rifle I think of campfires and log cabins and fishing reels; cedar and canvas canoes, that old Sears Roebuck bolt action .22 I carried down the Flambeau wrapped in canvas. day-long walks through the wooded hills along the Galena river with my flintlock rifle, thinking of Daniel Boone. I smell autumn smoke, hear trout streams; the simple pleasure of knocking over tin cans at a hundred yards.

Show that 'boy's rifle' to any number of people and their thoughts will turn to murder, fear, danger, suspicion, distrust, demands that scary things be taken away and people locked up. Is that my fault for showing them scary things and am I the one with the problems? Sure, there is a paranoid right that is terrified of the 'Liberal' Anti-Santa Obaminator going up the chimney with the family AK, but it's no less delusional than insisting I'm really likely to spontaneously transmogrify into Charles Manson the second and so can't be trusted with that extra box of ammunition or that .22 Ruger target pistol with that 10 round magazine (murderer's special, no doubt.)

The Chicago Tribune used, every autumn for a hundred years, to reprint a nostalgic page about an old man and his grandson looking at hayricks at sunset and dreaming of teepees and campfires and things no longer there. They stopped a few years ago, since such things don't mean anything to the kind of people who read the paper any more and of course it used the word Indian which is offensive according to people who are not Indians and burning leaves in autumn is dangerous and produces pollution and the grandfather is smoking tobacco -- and so best to turn on the iPod and move on in perfect safety toward out brave, new, safe and odorless world.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Out, out, damned spot

I saw this clip on The Impolitic this morning: Sharron Angle having a bit of a smugfest about how Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and Ben Franklin really wanted us to have the uninfringable right to own firearms, not to facilitate raising a militia, as was stated, or to put food on the table or keep the fox out of the henhouse, but to protect us against tyrannical despots demanding to provide us with affordable health care.

To be fair, I'd like to know the rest of the sentence starting "we need to take Harry Reid out. . ." Vote him out of his elected position, or just "take him out?"

Inquiring minds want to know, but batshit crazies with their hairy ears glued to the radio don't bother to ask. They already know. One has already spoken and as in Mao's famous statement about the voice of revolution -- from the muzzle of a gun. Indeed many self styled conservatives seem to have read intensively from the little red book.

I'll give her the benefit of the doubt for the nonce, but although Jefferson did indeed, how literally I don't know, suggest further revolutions, one would have a hard time convincing me the system he helped design wasn't intended to facilitate that process bloodlessly and with due process of law.

The bit about guns being needed to protect against "tyranny?" to allow the minority to have bloody revenge for the actions of elected representatives? Sorry, Sharron, this is beyond the boundaries of acceptable speech and perhaps even further into the territory of treason, if fomenting armed insurrection against an elected government be such.

It recalls Henry II crying "will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?" Not exactly a demand that someone kill Thomas à Becket, but someone soon did and Hank got to wash his hands of the matter. Whether it be the king of England, the Queen of Scotland or a Prefect of Roman Judea, some bloody bastard is always seeking such cleanliness, but that damned spot usually proves rather difficult to remove.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Liberals did it, the Liberals did it!

The reaction was swift and predictable. Trolls, whose abusive name calling I won't indulge by posting have assured me that the Arizona shooting was the work of a "Liberal" like me although a man obsessed with returning to the gold standard and pretty much toeing the Tea Party line sounds pretty conservative although I'm the first to say those words are less meaningful as descriptive words than they are as tribal markers. Enraged paranoid schizophrenic who was provided a target by irresponsible political rhetoric? But that won't do, this is a game for two parties, not for reasonable people.

Fox, without of course admitting any culpability or telling it's viewers that they were doing it, has demanded it's talking heads tone down the rodeo of rage. Sarah Palin redacted the hell out of her web site and that picture of smiling Beck pointing two pistols at the camera suddenly disappeared from view so that they can say who me?

I don't expect any public self-examination and I do expect the hunt for false equivalence to escalate on the Republican side along with the effort to portray the shooter as being outside the ring of righteous wrath, around which their circus tent is pitched. I'm sure that soon enough, Michelle Bachmann's desire to have people "armed and dangerous" so that they can "fight back" will be cleansed of inherent irresponsibility and any trace of inappropriateness, but I'm not sure the idiot rage can be stopped at this point even if God raptures up the entire Fox staff and Bachmann loses the power of speech. (please, God?)

The hoplophobes, the safety nuts who would dearly like and fatuously think they can legislate away all they are afraid of, (and that's lots of things) from cars that go faster than a Model T to McDonalds Happy Meals are pushing more gun control and usually without any knowledge of guns or how they're already controlled. There's a great deal of hoopla about "extended magazines" from those who call them clips and confuse cartridges with bullets.
"Why would anyone want one?"

is the loaded question as though they weren't the choice of many yacht owners who find themselves in an updated and unwanted episode of Pirates of the Caribbean - and many of my friends have been. It's either that or buy an Uzi at twice the price. They used to be banned! it's said, and that's true - or sort of true since they weren't really taken off the marked by that ban. With a supply of tens of millions of units, banned weapons and accessories actually saw a boost in sales of "pre-ban" items, but that remains news to those who really are so far out of the great loop of reality they think a semi-automatic rifle is far more dangerous when it has a plastic military stock instead of a nice walnut one. No military in the world uses what we're told is an "assault rifle" and of course the famous ban didn't actually ban these civilian weapons -- but who reads? Who needs to when we have those freeze dried, microwaveable TV Dinner opinions available? Solidarity, on both sides of the mainstream, is too much fun to risk and emoting is the American pass-time, of course. But I digress.

"That Jared Loughner was legally able to obtain the gun and ammo that he used to attempt an assassination of a member of Congress, slay a federal judge, and kill others should send a shiver down the collective spine of this nation."

writes one website Jeremiah. How could we have made that illegal without making it illegal for millions and millions and millions of people who like to shoot targets, clay pigeons or real pigeons? How could we make it impossible when all our efforts to make things go away by outlawing them have failed and made the alleged problem worse? Are Democrats all about not trusting the citizenry and imposing prior restraints without probable cause? It's too easy for their opposition to make that case and apparently it's too hard for Democrats to recognize the contradiction or that they're equally the party of fear as the party that obsesses about taking away guns and imposing Sharia law. In fact this incident could be a gain for Republicans who have used the fear of more gun bans to make Democrats into depraved authoritarian bogeymen.

Hey, that a handful of Saudis and Egyptians could hijack a plane because reinforcing the cockpit doors was an unnecessary government regulation is scarier, but that's just me. I still don't want to make all sharp things illegal. That Tim McVeigh and accomplices were able to buy fertilizer and fuel oil and rent a truck was more deadly. Where's the Mothers Against Ammonium Nitrate movement? What's to stop me from buying some and going spontaneously insane?

Frankly I'm more spinally shivered that people drive drunk while talking on the phone and smoking cigarettes at 40 over the limit in 7500 pound vehicles with bumpers at the height of my face. It's a clear and present danger. I'm in danger from people who run jet skis through packed anchorages at 60mph and towing their kids behind on inner tubes more than from madmen with guns in a country where violent crime has been declining for decades. If I go 6 miles southwest of here, I'm in more danger from alligators and wild hogs than from any man sane or otherwise. But even if we do ban everything that has the potential for mayhem -- like alcohol or drugs or 1200 horsepower speed boats; kitchen knives and chain saws, most of us are smart enough to know it won't solve the problem. Most of us.

The problem is crazy violent people. Instead of providing care and treatment, we protect their freedom to roam about, soak up the Fox fantasies about overthrowing the government with violence until they flip and buy a gun or drive the wrong way down the interstate -- or fly a plane into an IRS office.

Freedom isn't safe. I wish I could make those words flash like a neon sign and I wish the Democrats would not so quickly and obliviously shoot themselves in the foot by making this about more ineffective gun control. That's not because I like them so much. It's because what I want is something between the "we can't trust you to be responsible" and the "why should I have any responsibility for anything" attitudes.

Monday, January 10, 2011

I'm digital

I've decided to go digital; to give up the kind of thinking that goes along with gelatinous biological brains and let my thoughts be the product of magnetic patterns on spinning discs and the movement of charges across doped semiconductor junctions. It's amazing how clear things become without the hormones. It's remarkable how far you can see when the emotional soup is gone. I've decided I don't give a damn any more and why should I? You can't squeeze tears from monocrystalline silicon.

So if I see the pathetic end of the United States of America as anything but an increasingly irrelevant, ever petulant and narcissistic giant with little left but monstrous weapons and antiquated mythology as a claim to dignity, it doesn't bother me. Just look at Shanghai and then look at Detroit and tell me how our unending gobbling about rights and duties and liberals and conservatives aren't just aftershocks from an argument settled elsewhere a while ago. The world isn't going in our direction and our direction isn't going anywhere. All our concepts, whether they're from the danger-free and packed in cotton safety state side or the every man his own alpha ape, armed and dangerous fantasy camp, are already irrelevant. We obsess, we make ourselves impotent arguing about making happy meals illegal and whether we should have public education. In the fastest growing and largest country on earth, they shoot you for drunk driving and they're financing our consumerist binge drinking.

The greatest cities, the longest bridges, biggest dams and buildings - the fastest growing economies: they're all elsewhere and in countries with little respect for our ideas of personal liberty and where our individualism is seen as childish and antisocial and obstructionist. Sure, we'll go on yammering about mama grizzlys like this was the 9th century, and small town values and dietary fads, mysterious toxins and quack medicine. We'll still mistrust any new technology and talk to the spirits in pieces of quartz and call on their undetectable energy. We'll still wrap ourselves with bright pieces of red, white and blue and strut about like peacocks, booming about being the best, the biggest, the bravest, the most important -- and if we continue to subvert, dominate, steal and kill on our long downhill road to penury and oblivion, it will still be all about freedom and saving the world. They can ride from Beijing to Shanghai at 300mph in air conditioned comfort in the time it takes us to be x-rayed and manhandled in our decaying airports. I can't even take a 60 mph train to Chicago from here, or go there at all if it snows.

We quibble about our divine right to drive a Hummer or our divine duty to drive a Prius -- they build the biggest hydroelectric plant on the planet even if it means wiping out 5000 years worth of archaeology and displacing millions. They buy more Chevrolets then we do. They're building moon landers and aiming at Mars. We can't afford to go to the doctor.

No, when Haiti begins to look down and laugh at us while we bellow about smaller government and trickling wealth and creeping socialism, there won't be much left but our bloated delusion of relevance. It won't end with a bang or whimper but with the antic, puppet show grotesqueries of Beck and the nasal bleating of Palin. But it will end.

Will we hear the laughter eventually? Of course I won't notice or care if we do or don't. I'm digital.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

6 dead in Tucson

Went out to dinner last night -- a little tiki hut place on the Fort Pierce inlet -- and everybody was glued to the TV wondering if the Saints could pull off an upset. A loud place but not a word anywhere about the blood still waiting to be cleaned up in Tucson. Not a word.

It's all been so predictable that it feels hardly worth posting about it. We're already listening to the "rush to judgment" rhetoric because after all, the guy could be a lone nut, whether or not that mysterious accomplice is apprehended. So why call it political at all? Maybe the guy just didn't like blonds or children or supermarket crowds. So why blame the Republicans for their daily "kill the traitors" passion play. I mean it was all protected speech anyway. (damn good thing we don't have hate speech laws like the Socialists.)

I mean all that hoopla about how it was the government who killed those people in Waco, not the messianic impostor / child molester and none of that rhetoric had anything to do with Tim McVeigh and associates murdering 168 people in the Murrah building. Hell no, it was the fertilizer that blew up the building and fertilizer control was the real issue, not rebel militias and hate spewing mass media.

The guy who murdered McKinley was all hopped up on Emma Goldman's anarchistic bombast. She told us that he was "president of the money kings and trust magnates." She told us that Czolgosz was a modern day Brutus, killer of tyrants ( sound familiar?) but it's better to blame the Ivor Johnson company. Hey, you don't grind the axe you wish you had, you grind the one you brought.

The protected speech of Taft supporters that spurred the certified nutjob Schrank to shoot the "tyrant" Teddy Roosevelt? Not their fault. We already know about the Tyrant Lincoln. But hey, Obama was a "tyrant" to reform health care, even just a little. and as the stateswoman Michelle Bachmann says, we have to be "armed and dangerous" because that tyrant is the most corrupt president in history. Armed and dangerous. Don't retreat, reload. Next time the guns will be loaded. Here they are - the ones with the cross hairs on them -- take a stand, take them back, but it's not our damned fault that someone was nuts enough to do what we told them to do!

My God, why hast thou forsaken me?

And I mean, why mention that we find it far too Stalinesque to provide mental health services and mandatory commitment to people who are basically only shirkers and malingerers? This just proves they don't deserve it! Besides if we can judge people insane, dangerous and incompetent we might have to enforce those laws that keep guns from them and that would be tyranny. You know what we do to tyrants, right?

And of course we need to make a quarter billion firearms disappear by waving more magic legislation because 60 years of ever tightening regulation has done so much good and never mind that it would take more door kickings and home invasions without probable cause than Hitler ever envisioned to accomplish such a Herculean task. Let's go after box cutters and bottles of mouthwash and shampoo and let's ban mosques so no one can attack us. Let's do like we do with marijuana: just trot out the old rhetoric and blame the same old suspects and keep on doing what doesn't work. Pull the string on the America doll and hear that old scratchy and fatuous voice: Ban, ban, ban, ban, ban and let's not be namby-pamby socialists and discuss the causes of things.

No, we have no proof that the shooter was motivated by the vicious and endless call to violence, so why mention all those Ann Coulter references to killing congressmen and judges? ask the Republican first responders. Want to stop people from murdering doctors? Why take away the chemicals you can make explosives with and take away nails and glass and batteries and canvas backpacks and it will stop, right? Don't blame the "abortion is murder" profiteers. Don't blame biblical gay bashers, blame pick-up trucks. Truks drag gay teens to death, not bigots.

And after all, some liberal somewhere must once have said something we can twist into a false equivalence. I remember one minor league academic who claimed that "heads should roll at Newscorp" was just such a call for ritual murder by this liberal, commie, socialist, sociopath. I guess it's all been my fault all along.

No, all that mess in Africa would never have happened if we banned machetes in Rwanda and that's what they should have done. Never mind the incessant voices chanting "kill the Tutsi cockroaches." Take away the sharp objects and say goodbye to murderous intent. We'll all live in peace.
"When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And, unfortunately, Arizona I think has become sort of the Capital. We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry."

said Sheriff Dupnik of Pima County. The damned liberal commie rat. But let's do nothing about that murderous rhetoric or the roaming madmen stirred to mayhem. It's the ACLU, it's the Liberal Media, it's Keith Olbermann -- it's the Satanic Obamanator who wants to give your hard earned money to the 'Negroes' and illegal wetback leprosy spreading drug addled rapists and other unworthies. No, the "conservatives" the loyal opposition didn't expect anyone to actually take the calls to violence seriously and the Constitution protects us when we lie and libel and paint targets on people - and we're strict constitutionalists, you know.

It's nobodies fault, really, now let's get a good night's sleep and get back to talking about the Saints-Seahawks game last night. A sad night for N'awlins.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Death in Tucson

Remember "The guns are unloaded - this time?" Well that was that time, this is this time.

So is there any connection between Sarah Palin's website that put a target on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and someone shooting her point blank in the head? Watch for Palin to clean up the site and do her little witch dance to get out of responsibility for it. Didn't anyone think that people carrying guns to political rallies wouldn't eventually do this?

Frankly I've had one decade too many of Republican howler monkeys like Limbaugh and Coulter and Palin using metaphors and sly inference -- and outright calls to violence and killing judges and congressmen. What does it take to make these tea-sucking, rabble rousing, hate mongering bastards into responsible American Citizens? Probably nothing short of orange jump suits and handcuffs and meantime, watch them looking like the cat Sylvester with yellow feathers all over his lips.

And in the meantime, it's pump out the bullshit, pump out the bullshit and hate hate hate, so don't count on the voters coming to their flaccid senses any time soon.


It didn't take long for the worms to surface, mouths full of "it's wrong to politicize a murder" as though this wasn't a political assassination following on a verbal assassination. Who me? Not my fault, don't blame us! If not them, than who? I mean just because we wave guns at the President and demand the murder of judges and call the President the Antichrist and every Democrat a traitor and enemy of freedom -- I mean where's your sense of humor? And after all didn't Kathy Griffin make jokes about Willow Palin? I mean both sides are just as bad!

Friday, January 07, 2011


"Look on" he said. "They know everything about you and you can find out anything about anybody" And so you can. just don't expect it to be correct. Of course you have to join to see just what they know about you and the "free" trial membership somehow costs $14 a month, but OK, I just had to see for myself.

At least they spelled my name right and my age is accurate, but my favorite hobby is sports? I'm a Protestant? I must protest. My house doesn't have only 4 rooms or only three baths, I've lived there longer than they say I have and neither of my parents live there or ever did. Spokeo claims that they do and seems unaware that one parent has been dead for years and that I have two children not one and that neither lives with me.

The market value of my house is off by at least $200K, my estimated income is way off the mark and sorry, Spokeo, I do own the place. But hey, I hope the tax assesor reads Spokeo too. Otherwise the guy who spent $14 to look me up wasted his money. They do have a nice satellite photo of my house though, complete with my boat parked at my neighbor's dock. They don't mention boating as a concern of mine.

The info about my kids was even worse. My daughter would be very surprised to know that she had a six year old girl for instance or that she didn't finish college. My son would be surprised to know that he lives in the house I sold ten years ago where he hasn't lived in 18 years and simultaneously at two other addresses in New York and has a graduate degree. He apparently is "upper middle class" and I'm only "middle class." I do like to read however. At least they got that one right.

We live in a world of constant surveillance and the idea that our government cares or would support our right to privacy is ludicrous, but perhaps worse that the fact that so much information is available about us to anyone with a computer and $14 bucks is that it's bad information. Of course when I began to search the web site for some means of angry protest ( they said I was a protestant, after all) I found a disclaimer averring that the information was for entertainment purposes only and was not intended to be a means to evaluate a person's credit or credibility. *

I'm not amused.

*† All data offered is derived from public sources. Spokeo does not verify or evaluate each piece of data, and makes no warranties or guarantees about any of the information offered. Spokeo does not possess or have access to secure or private financial information. Spokeo is not a credit reporting agency and does not offer consumer reports. None of the information offered by Spokeo is to be considered for purposes of determining any entity or person's eligibility for credit, insurance, employment, or for any other purposes covered under the FCRA.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The long history and bright future of the end of the world

Prophets are always disappointed dear Nostradamus. That's why new ones are always in the wings updating the catastrophes

-Andre Codrescu-

I remember the late 1970's when the new-agers were petting their pieces of quartz and telling us in solemn reverential tones that Mother Shipton had predicted the end of the world in 1982; although some said 1981.

The world to an end shall come

In nineteen hundred and eighty one.

Such is the malleability and durability of prophecy. Although prophecies said to be from the Yorkshire prophetess born in about 1488 were published in 1641, eighty years after the reported end of her days, they really didn't predict the end of the world but rather a series of catastrophes in the vague idiom of soothsayers and fortune tellers throughout time. In fact it's questionable that she ever lived, much more questionable that she was Satan's daughter, glowed in the dark and was not the fabrication of 17the century writers. Her prediction of the death of Cardinal Wolsey, for instance, was published years after the man died.

In the air men shall be seen,
In white, in black and in green….
Iron in the water shall float,
As easy as a wooden boat.

It wasn't until the mid 19th century in 1862 that Shipton's startling predictions of things like balloons and telegraphy and diving bells and England finally allowing Jews to live there appeared courtesy of Charles Hindley, who wrote it and publicly admitted of having done so. Of course he had predicted eighteen eighty one as the end time, but someone in the wings was happy to update it for the next century's crop of 20th century gulls.

Carriages without horses shall go,
And accidents fill the world with woe.
Around the world thoughts shall fly
In the twinkling of an eye.

Perhaps not so startling having been written in the age of steam transportation and the telegraph, of iron ships and submarine boats and hydrogen balloons, all of which existed already in Hindley's time. It's almost biblical in having predicting things ex post facto and passing off of current idiom as the dialect of the remote past. Any passing familiarity with late 15th century English should have set off alarms, I should think, but it's no surprise to find such ignorance amongst the hip and eager cognoscenti.

Shams and delusions are esteemed for soundest truths, while reality is fabulous.

-Henry David Thoreau-

Few of the crystal gazers, if any, bothered to risk the delicious feeling of being in the know to the extent of finding out that it was a hoax. Indeed, even today one finds lengthy and utterly fictional web posts about stealing the prophecies of Mother Shipton from secret rooms at secret libraries where the scrolls had been hidden "by the government" so as not to panic the people. Delicious indeed and it seems to fill some human desire for arcana, for ancient wisdom and the cheap high it brings. There is always someone to fill that need whether it be political groups with dire warnings about NATO hiding H bombs under Philadelphia, Obama hiding death panels in his health care reform, Mayan prophecy or some equally ludicrous cataclysm from John of Patmos.

Certainly most things will in time have an end; perhaps time itself, but it's not so much the knowledge of the inevitable that intrigues us, enthralls us, but the idea that the processes of entropy, the chaotic randomness of the universe have something to do with our species and its thoughts and actions and the myths of our more ignorant ancestors. Secret, undetectable energies and entities with the secret hopes and fears are delectable and they distract us from the utterly uncaring, incomprehensible emptiness of existence. They create a universe in which we might mean something, might feel at least temporarily superior to the other lumps of fragile mortality around us and so in twenty one and eighty two, Old Mother Shipton will have predicted yet another end and perhaps the Mayans math will be updated or reinterpreted and mankind reprieved for a hundred years. Jesus' ETA will still be imminent, the hidden Imam about to be revealed and the last days yet at hand. We'll still wave pieces of quartz and utter powerful words and formulae from an invented past. We'll still have some ancient calendar and myth. We'll still follow, as we were meant to

One that would would fain seem wise and learnt, and is but a fool and an ignorant self-conceited gull.

-John Florio-

There will be no final day I hear
While prophets whimper in our ear
of signs and portents in the skies
and issue forth unending lies.

Into the crystal ball we'll gaze
the obvious shall seem a maze
But never mind and never fear
It won't all end until next year.

-Father Fogg-

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Let it snow

It snows in New Jersey, as I guess we all know and yet as we enter the second decade of the 21st century, we're still arguing who has the responsibility to do what and with which and for whom. Some New Jersey people are quite angry with Republican governor Chris Christie who said of the recent heavy blizzard:
“If someone is snowed into their house, that’s not our responsibility.”

I think they have the right to be staggered by such a statement. Earthquake, flood, wildfire, tornadoes, hurricanes; disasters man made and natural: for all these things the government to which New Jersey taxpayers contribute their money has no responsibility. As if to emphasize the point and flaunt the banner of limited government, Christie proudly said:

“I had a great five days with my children. I promised that.”

when the going gets tough, the rich and powerful go to Disney World.

When the Republicans abandon their posts, Partying while New Orleans drowns, for example, is more than simple misprision. Playing Nero when things burn or flood or get buried is an affirmation of core Republican values, amongst which is "every man for himself" when it comes to questioning the need to rescue the elderly, the helpless, the children from being cut off from food and medical care and a needed paycheck.

No, we can't afford it, quacks the gubernatorial duck and can't be bothered with it either, and besides, I need to ride the teacups and get my picture taken with Mickey Mouse.

We expect this. I'm a bit more surprised at the blog comments from the tea suckers and Republican Chia pets who seem to think the inability of a State that gets snow every year to deal with that snow well enough to ensure public safety, is something they can blame on President Obama. After all, the President also takes vacations. That's what we need to be angry about say the trolls.

I know. It's hard to follow such a stroke of stupid with any further comments. It sucks the air out of the room, but that's what we've become in America: a cesspool of non-sequitur and duplicity, vast and deep. A pit full of dogs tearing ourselves apart for the profit of others. We're able to absolve Bush of any criticism in setting an all time record for vacation days, including those care-free parties he attended, playing air guitar while New Orleans drowned, but Obama? That's different, the boy should have been out there with a shovel while Christie did his heckuva job on the water slide in Orlando. Hell it's his duty to keep his government hands out of our lives, isn't it?