Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Hitler, Newton and Barnum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Playing God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Party like it's 1964

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 20, 2014

God hates freedom

Or so the Christian right says

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 16, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

If only they had simply turned it down.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Four Score and Ten

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indeed it does.