Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Facts matter

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

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

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

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


Monday, December 29, 2014

Everything is going to Hell

Says the Devil.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Newer is truer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 12, 2014

Why go on?

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

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

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

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

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

No, the center isn't holding. 

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

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

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Long strange trip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 07, 2014

The Numbers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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