Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Death Race 2014

I'm not telling you anything new, but the attempt to sanitize executions, to make them less dramatic, more clinical, viewable by a few people only and behind a peep show window, has made the practice of  cold-blooded legal destruction of human life all the more grotesque, ghastly and sometimes agonizing for viewer and victim.  The ceremonial killing of Clayton Lockett got so disgusting the curtains had to be closed so that the witnesses couldn't see the worst of it, making it similar to the kind of 'liquidation' I associate with basement shootings in Stalin's Russia.  Far more painful however, than the instantaneous extinction offered by a 9mm Makarov bullet in the brain.  43 minutes of writhing in agony, strapped to a board, gasping out words until his heart finally burst.

I don't care how awful he was, how horrific his deeds; torture killing should have no place in America.  It's another illustration of the savagery, the viciousness and the hatred festering in our country to sit beside our love of war and the delight we take in bullying our way around the world.

This medieval exercise did nothing to undo Lockett's crime and any comfort, any 'closure' anyone got from torturing him to death should taint every subsequent moment of their lives and deprive them of any peace even at their last moments and if there is any final arbiter of justice; anything that sits in judgement of nations and individuals, there can be no scale of justice in which our hearts are not outweighed by our blood lust and our cynical pretense that it is anything but the cowardly beast within us.

Once again, I am ashamed to be an American.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

News? What news?

I've been watching TV since the late 1940's and I think the relentless, the incessant, the obsessive coverage of that missing airplane is something we've never seen before, but perhaps it's better understood by the fact that reporting the news is no longer part of a bargain the public makes with the broadcasters, that they provide a public service in exchange for the right to use the spectrum.

Capitalism has triumphed again and like everything else, it's just a business and it's easier to make money out of a mystery, even when you can go over a month with no actual news than it is to get people to tune in for hours every day to worry about Russia taking up it's old habits and threatening world peace. Haven't we had regular stories about sinking ferries before?  We hear about it, usually somewhere far away, we cluck and shake our heads, act grateful that no Americans were killed and we go back to football scores and the Dow Jones.  It's changed.

Sure, we could read newspapers, but we don't. We watch propaganda that feeds our anger addiction and we obsess about things that have nothing to do with the obvious fact that our country, our civilization (if I can use the term that loosely) is failing. We hide, we immerse ourselves in entertainment to an extent only recently possible: watching, listening and participating in the relentless commentary while our culture, our language, our opinions, our religions, our laws become products managed by businessmen for the purpose of making money.

Religion is a business. Perhaps the priesthood is the true oldest profession and the most profitable customers of that business are the ignorant, the miserable and  the helpless and I suspect that a great deal of the money spent by religious organizations goes to maintaining those conditions.  Take the collapse of our educational system, for instance.

The Louisiana Courts have just upheld the right of teachers to bring supplemental materials into the classroom to confuse students -- to lie to students about science, history and morality.  We're talking about the Bible, of course: the Christian Bible complete with the misunderstood and deliberately misrepresented ravings of John of Patmos.

In Wisconsin, a Republican senator insists that Secretary of State John Kerry has upset God and defamed our country by opposing Uganda's reprise of Hitler's slaughter of homosexuals. 

A South Carolina Republican Candidate is campaigning about shutting down public schools because the Bible says nothing about public education and because Virginia's Christians believe kids do better with a "mom and dad," they want to pray and fast for 40 days until that state interferes with the life liberty and pursuit of happiness (and incidentally the constitutional rights) of  gay people who want to marry. Remember when Virginia would put you in jail for marrying outside your "race?"  Hell, remember when they fought a bloody war and murdered a President  to keep slavery and their bloody Bible?  They do better with a heterosexual family, so they say, as long as you don't send them to public school or devote any public funds to keeping that family alive.

So hey, keep those earbuds in and your TV tuned to the missing airplane channel and have a 'blessed' day. Don't forget to read your Bible.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

We're number - - 16?

Americans are still number one in one thing -- our capacity for denial and disbelief.  That we may be the most superstitious nation amongst the worlds 'developed' countries makes it all the stranger, but about half us of seem to believe that in the beginning there was something other than the expansion of the universe from an infinitesimal singularity and more of us angrily assert that only our God can change the weather. We're as likely to hold to a superstitious idea of our place in the community of nations as our place in the cosmos.  To very many Americans not only is the universe about Man, the Earth and its history is about the United States of America.

Michael Porter appeared on Fareed Zacharia's GPS the other day.  That's the Michael Porter who is a professor at the Harvard Business School and Director at the Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness, and as Zacharia introduced him:

"a hard core capitalist, a registered Republican.  He is said to be the most cited scholar in economics and business in the world." 

Porter will inevitably be dismissed as a Liberal and probably as a Socialist simply because there is no other way to explain away the results of “The Social Progress Index”, a new report that ranks countries on how well their citizens live.  We're number 16, far too low on the scale for there to be a descriptive hand gesture.  Of course he's anything but a Liberal whereas the countries at the top of  the heap; the countries where people live the best, the longest, the healthiest and perhaps the happiest seem to be just that.  Is it too much of a stretch to look for a correlation between hide bound commitment to unfettered, unrestrained, unregulated Capitalism with massive political power and nearly full 'personhood' for corporations with a quality of life and level of opportunity that barely rivals Iraq and puts us at number 70 in terms of health and wellness?  Where does that put those who snark and mock and snicker and make up lies about Canada and it's "Socialist" health care sucking the life out of their economy when we're told the Canadian Middle class is expanding as ours is shrinking and that middle class Canadians are richer then we are?  It puts us in a locked room, sucking our thumbs, listening to Fox News and whining.

Perhaps if we weren't number one in self delusion and gullibility there might be some major changes coming in short order, but we are and there probably aren't going to be. In our own minds, if I can use that term without irony, we're always number one.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Easter oratorio

A morning like this. And not too long ago I'd have taken coffee on the patio with my orchids and dwarf trees and watch the sunlight spread across the pool.  Not since I was sick.  It's different now, having been all but dead and buried and I struggle to remember how it was to feel the rising day.  I have one less now.  I measure out my mornings in coffee spoons.

In Brazil one has café da manhã. Morning and coffee are inseparable and even when you're having tea and a salted duck egg and a yo chow and you're farther from home than you've ever been, it's coffee of the morning.

Coffee in a tin cup. Lake water boiled over a sputtering Svea, old brass patina and gasoline smell and sitting on a log.  Tent and everything else drying in the breeze. Coffee. You don't need anything else to provide synthetic ambiance. No funny names, no audio, no Wi-Fi and everything is free.  Maybe it's only freeze-dried like the eggs in a foil package you pour water into, but it's coffee.  It's resurrection, It's life.

Coffee in a little cup, in a little town where they bring in the sardines in wooden boats and put them in tin cans.  You asked for duas bicas and you put extra sugar in but you don't stir it so you have to feel the full strength of it until you reach the sweetness near the end. Life is not like that. It's not like that at all.

Gerstner on Kärntner Straße.  Pastry and chocolate and coffee and your feet are getting wet as your shoes begin to thaw -- feeling shabby in all that elegance getting crumbs on your old loden coat with stains.

Café de Flore in the sixth, reading Kerouac and lingering over coffee and the heat is building because it's August and because we're young it's time to leave like everyone else. Flogging the old Fiat down to Juan-les-Pins, downhill, decreasing radius turns and high crown narrow roads and you do it non-stop except for coffee and gasoline in stations where you're invited to Mettez un Tigre dans votre Moteur as though it would help.  Cars on a mountain road blow by and the breeze and the view as the hills descend to the sea takes your breath away as you sip from that white cup at a white metal table under the faded umbrella, soaking up the glory, soaring into the day.

And I remember all those mornings, I remember them all. My sandals, my woven mat, taking coffee in my bathing suit overlooking La Plage and all those Paris girls down for the summer. Café au lait in the August heat and I'll meet you across the street at the beach in your white bathing suit where the sea sparkles like a world without end, right out to the horizon.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Save your life, lose your freedom?

It won't make the Network News and certainly not CNN, what with the disappearing airplane and sinking ferry and the mourning and self pity and claims of heroic strength on the anniversary of  the Boston Marathon bombing.  It's not likely to join the long, sad stories of the countless people who had to use violence -- or even threaten violence to save themselves from attackers only to spend a fortune, spend a lot of time in jail trying to prove that they really were in danger and had no other possible option in avoiding being maimed or killed.

Former US Army Captain and grandmother of one Valery Lowe  is having trouble finding representation.  She makes a bit too much to be eligible for a public defender and being on trial for murder, would certainly like the best she can find.  She's going to need a good lawyer because, according to her story, her new husband of 6 months became belligerent when she accused him of seeing another woman and raised his fist to her and got her in a choke hold.  She claims she grabbed his gun from the dresser and unable to breathe, shot and killed him with it.

Of course I wasn't there and I don't know who to trust, but it may be more than a case of whom the jury believes. She has to prove that she had no other choice beyond a reasonable doubt, that the man strangling her was enough of a threat to warrant using main force. We can be sure that the prosecutors will be just as aggressive in ascribing the blame to the victim as they so often are when it comes to female victims attacked by men.

You'll remember the Jacksonville, FL woman given 20 years for firing a warning shot into a wall to scare away her estranged husband with a restraining order already against him.   According to a mandatory sentencing law that was not intended to apply to self defense cases, anyone can get 20 to life for using a gun in a crime and after all, if she had time to pull out a gun, she had time to run away.  That law has since been changed and Marissa Alexander is going to get a new trial, but it's not unusual for someone to spend years and a large fortune in litigation, if not jail in cases of self defense.  Our laws can be confusing and seemingly irrational, but many feel that they are heavily biased in favor of attackers and that the burden of proof  in fact rests on the defense.

Yes, it's so easy to make up Stand Your Ground Jokes and to try to connect it with high profile cases that have nothing whatever to do with it -- easy to ascribe it to racism, to pretend that it's a hunting license for murderers.  When we remember that we're liberals and Liberals are certainly right about things and anyone with a gun is probably a murderer as well, we're usually quick to pile on, to make cynical jokes, inflate and distort the story without conscience.  We're not so eager to read, not so eager to put ourselves in the shoes of some woman having hell beat out of her by someone twice her size, some guy cornered on a subway by a gang with sharpened screwdrivers.  Doing that might call into question our fixed ideas about weapons and the right to have and use them and that might call into question our guiding principle: Our side is always right!

Friday, April 18, 2014

No Reason Allowed

Here Comes Easter again. Easter and the media puff pieces about how it's really all true enough in one sense or another and how it's wrong to say that it's a borrowed holiday, re-badged from pre-Christian European fertility cults, egg laying rabbits and all.  The Easter holiday (is it OK to call this one a holiday?) carries a large basket of  baggage without my needing to illustrate its long history and I'm quite as content to let people celebrate it as they will as I am to let anyone celebrate anything at any time including life itself.  It's a wonderful life after all, and not just at Christmas.

In the true spirit of American small mindedness however, others are not so happy with your freedom when it comes to protecting their hermetically sealed belief bubble from questions or against having to be aware of other ways of seeing and appreciating life in our shared world.  But I'm OK with that too if only for the humor.  Seeing an image of  an all year "Prayer Station" set up in the Warren Michigan city hall looking for all the world like something from the Peanuts comic strip, put a smile on my face in a way that only irony-blind religious fervor can. Reason isn't funny and I do like to laugh.

Not so funny though when Warren resident Douglas Marshall proposed a "Reason Station" for the same venue and  the Mayor, Jim Fouts  not only rejected it, but banned any such display for a year because after all, Marshall is an advocate for separation of Church and State.    Using a government facility as a church and to promote Christianity ( assuming it isn't praying to Vishnu or the Chinese Kitchen God being solicited) is simply no problem in this Detroit suburb.  Atheism is not a religion wrote Fouts to Marshal and his Freedom From Religion Foundation, unwittingly asserting that only a religion can have access to public space and non-Christian interests need not apply. Besides it might disturb the faithful, which is, in his words, a Constitutional violation!

What about equal protection, freedom of speech and all that Godless, Commy nonsense?  Don't make me laugh.  This is Michigan after all and in Michigan reason can fend for itself and you can take your Jeffersonian Humanism straight back to Moscow where it belongs.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Putin on the Blitz

Well, of course the media still hasn't come to the end of all the discussion, speculation, mourning wailing and fantasizing possibilities regarding that missing airplane and they need to keep reminding us that nobody has ever suffered as much grief as the families of the missing nor ever will, but I can't help but noticing that events in the Ukraine might be causing a bit of speculation as well.  Something we can do on our own during commercial breaks at least.

Russian troops are massed on the border, obviously fake stories of persecution are rampant in the Russian press, orchestrated riots, people running about with guns and armored vehicles and today we read that Ukrainian Jews have been ordered to register with the pro-Russian hooligans pretending to be a legitimate government.

Just in time for Easter.

USA Today tells us that in the Ukrainian city of Donetsk:

"Jews emerging from a synagogue say they were handed leaflets that ordered the city's Jews to provide a list of property they own and pay a registration fee "or else have their citizenship revoked, face deportation and see their assets confiscated."

The leaflet  states that all people of Jewish descent over 16 years old must report to the Commissioner for Nationalities in the Donetsk Regional Administration building and "register." Non-compliance will result in deportation and confiscation of property.  Nothing for Americans to worry about of course and no celebrities are involved.

Now back to the Mystery plane story in which nothing new has emerged in weeks.  Isn't that exiting?

Monday, April 14, 2014

God, Guns and Hitler

I have certain misgivings about hate crime laws, but we're reminded this morning -- the eve of Pesach or The Passover, and a week before Hitler's birthday, that people who belong to hate-based organizations and creeds, who post virulent hate messages and calls for extermination on-line, need their constitutional right to keep and bear arms infringed.

I feel quite protective of our guaranteed right to free speech and our right to think what we think, but speech that incites to violence, that creates a mortal danger to the public, is something else and that's been established for a long time. Frazier Glenn Miller is a founding member of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and the White Patriot Party.  That's not a crime, more's the pity, nor is shouting "Heil Hitler" from the back of a police car, but perhaps we ought to consider making it a felony to belong to groups who advocate murder because as far as I know, it's illegal for felons to own firearms.

I know -- penalties and restrictions don't prevent criminals and especially psychopathic criminals from committing crimes, but there's something wrong with Mr. Miller or Mr. Cross as he often calls himself, to own weapons.  There's something wrong if  the targets of hate groups need to arm themselves or to hire armed guards or to go about in fear because we elevate and protect a right to be armed above the right to remain alive.  We shouldn't have to wait for people like that to run amok before we do anything. Threatening violence against groups or individuals should be sufficient to disarm someone. 

Lest one think that being a white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant is protection and a reason not to worry, Methodists were shot in this tragedy as well.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Kraut is out?

I'd hate to sound like I'm supporting or dignifying Charles Krauthammer, but he's right in saying that it's time for the Right Wing Wolves to stop howling about Benghazi. The administration has run out the clock and the public doesn't care, he said on Fox News.  Of course the public has moved on to other ruminations about other obsessive speculations driven by the relentless cable news networks which haven't yet tired of the "we know nothing, we have no facts but here's what could have happened"  approach to a missing airplane.  

Of course the implication is that the White House simply stalled until the furor died down and makes no mention of  the Republicans having cut security for the embassy in Libya.  The clock keeps running of course whether or not the Fox Fables have any truth behind them, and this one had little enough, but heresy is heresy whether or not we can prove the age of the universe or the rising temperature of our planet.  Can Krauthammer redeem himself before those wolves tear him to pieces?

 The Heritage Foundation, was shocked, shocked at his comments. The Malkin's website Hot Air blames him for "throwing in the towel on a fact-finding effort because it’s not politically expedient?" even though numerous investigations turned up nothing to corroberate the accusations.  No, this is right wing politics and just as with Right Wing Religion; even if it's over -- long over, it's not over ever.  The World was created by a deity 6000 years ago,  Bill Clinton ruined the economy and committed nebulous sins, Barack Obama is a Muslim, born in Kenya and a Communist and Joe McCarthy's blank piece of paper really contained a list of Communists in the Administration.

So maybe the illusion of Karma gets a bit more support when a wolf  tries to advise the pack for its own good and they turn on him, yelping and howling BENGHAZI, BENGHAZI!  Whether or not his creepy credibility suffers, I have to think it's funny.

Friday, April 11, 2014

God and the Buzzard

He who foretells the future lies, even if he tells the truth

--Moroccan proverb-

I suggest the same is true of those who quote or speak of God's word. Perhaps that's demonstrated by the inexhaustible supply of such "words" and the necessary logical contradictions of all assumptions and assertions divinely attributed. God says this, wants that, does, doesn't, will or won't, can or can't and all in a flood of language that could bring down the tower of Babel -- and yet with little internal consistency and very much in the way of mutually contradictory theorems.  Perhaps that's why "Bible studies" so often consist of isolated and hermetic universes, never compared to others from the same source.  It's the well founded fear of refutation. We hardly need science to make it all unlikely and make much of it impossible and absurd, but arguing with the convinced is a bit like playing Scrabble with someone who makes up his own dictionary as he goes along and has a hidden box of tiles.  Love thy neighbor, seek justice -- kill everything that breathes and rejoice while you dash their children's brains against the rocks.

And they do speak of God's word: the people who insist science is untrustworthy as a method to ascertain truth and far less dependable than the politically selected words of God chosen to justify or demand or proclaim or delude.   But it's not so much the disparity between the vast Universe Science reveals and  religion talks of that disturbs the people who have their own alternate reality to maintain at an ever increasing cost.  It's the scientific method itself they pretend not to understand and need to deprecate because scientifically derived theories must be subject to testing and refutation. Received wisdom and divine authority cannot, for obvious reasons. God cannot, should not, must not be tested.  Yet we hear them insist that there are 'many scientists' that deny Darwin, many scientists that doubt the age and nature of the universe and the changing nature of our planet from people willingly or mendaciously oblivious to the contradictions.  The Biblical God demands we protect him by lying.

"Those among us who are unwilling to expose their ideas to the buzzard of refutation do not take part in the scientific game" 

Said Karl Popper of such people who hide behind Biblical authority and he's right -- by definition. "Scientists" who are cited as not supporting Darwin and doubting the thermometer aren't scientists. The religious opinions  regarding ontology to which we are so commonly forced to listen, usually rely on fallacious common sense axioms like ex nihilo, nehil fit to insist someone must have made everything -- nothing comes from nothing, but the weight of that 'axiom' rests on being ignorant of science since not only is nothing provably something, but things, virtual particles, are repeatedly observed as spontaneously arising and extinguishing without any agency. 

The ontological argument for God is a flimsy fallacy but it satisfies a legion of smug folk-theologians and their flocks. The void has properties not dreamed of in the bronze age and still not known about by most. It has properties that seem strange to people who went to Bible College and didn't study physics, and of course physics and common sense were divorced a long time ago. Should I point out that like all 'proofs' of God,  it would, if valid, support an infinite number of gods equally but not any ascribed attributes?  Indeed it can be used to 'prove' virtually anything.  It's hardly the thing to base a religion on since a religion is based not on the existence of a divine entity, ineffable, inscrutable or otherwise, but on it's attributes and attributes that have nothing but tradition and speculation and conjecture and arbitrary assertion as support.

Of course not all religions and denominations or their leaders are equal.  The Vatican has, under several pontiffs, expressed support for evolution and that the observable universe expanded from an infinitesimal point, but then any Pope has likely read Augustine's warning against "utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements" whereas that's not likely to be true of the kind of  Christians who roll on the floor babbling in gnostic ecstasy or insist that God hates Fags and punishes us with hurricanes.  But there's so much wriggle room in Genesis, after all. What is meant by "the heavens" isn't clear.  Is the author talking about our planet and the visible sky or about a universe unimaginable to the writer?  Perhaps the Roman Catholic Church now has genuine respect for the method it once persecuted as heresy, perhaps it's simply exercising Augustinian caution.

The astrophysicist Mario Livio observes that:

"instead of acknowledging  an error in judgement, people tend to reformulate their views in a new way that justifies their old opinions." 

 I can only speculate that normative Christianity, particularly of the American type, is trying to preserve what it can without embarrassment and yet will continue to push the old presumptions where it can get away with it. So it's no surprise that the continuing revelations of science will be trimmed and tailored and offered on the altar of God to "prove" biblical accounts of history. Hence we have the usual suspects asserting that the recent detection of gravity waves or ripples in space-time said to  support the theory of inflation in the very early universe also supports the Genesis account:

In the beginning God (the Elohim) created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

Sorry The Earth wasn't created until the universe was ten billion years old, nor was the universe made of water that had to be separated by a "firmament"  into the waters above and below the Earth -- nor was it divided into day and night of course, or lights placed on the ceiling for our benefit. 

The Earth, even the larger one we learned of long after the current Biblical account was formulated, is so tiny in comparison to existence itself as to totally defy analogy. What we know about the origins of the universe doesn't allow for the specific and omnipotent actions described in the Bible as we have it today much less the essentially infinite size and great antiquity thereof. Yes, both scenarios suggest an existence prior to ours outside our universe but one relies on evidence and the other relies on the will to believe and to believe in a tiny, simple universe designed for a purpose: for human use. It relies on the importance of Man and his actions and thoughts and that demands an egotism, a desperate search for importance and meaning that is as incomprehensibly large as existence itself. 

Of course the promotion of science as supporting The Bible, as contorted as it is, is desultory and opportunistic. In this case, that it gets as far as it does relies not only on the scientific ignorance of the faithful as it does the Biblical ignorance.  A good reading of Genesis, with it's interleaved stories having different names of God and different accounts patched together like a fool's motley is almost as much at odds with itself as it is with science, with it's assertion that God had all kinds of sons on Earth and that they were a randy and unruly lot resembling satyrs or the assertion that animals have souls.  Perhaps the incoherence itself lends a hand to misrepresenting the contents and dressing them up as support for science, but I'm being foolish myself for pointing out mankind's foolishness and dishonesty and delusion.  Not only can't I get there from here but religion of all kinds is 'writ in water,' and like water, it fills in the interstices in truth, settles in the lowest places and flows from one gap to another. 

But neither Genesis nor Science can do much more at this point than speculate about beginnings. The concept of God as we have him in the West presumes that the beginning wasn't the beginning of everything and the current scientific theories allow for other and perhaps prior universes -- even universes to come.  We don't know much at the extreme level of the infinite and infinitesimal and that we don't know is the beginning of belief itself. There will always be more carrion than the buzzard of science can swallow.  It's left to fools like me to dream that it were otherwise.