Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving in the retail Earth

Stopped for gas yesterday, the kind of magnificent, glorious day that makes your heart sing and your body forget its age.  74 degrees, with a few little clouds, the bright sun shining off the newly waxed red convertible, air as fresh as it is anywhere wafting like the smell of jasmine off the blue Atlantic. 

The advertising sign on the gas pump has a picture of bundled up people on a toboggan and snow. My neighbors have begun to put up fake icicles, fake frost, chrome caribou and sleds festooned with lights and  other reminders that Christmas, a month away, is really a pastiche of ancient Northern European winter celebrations.  It's jarring, a disturbing denial of reality as though all the world were northern. It's jarring like wearing a wool suit and wing tip shoes on the beach.

It's in the teens up North where I used to live and when I say live I mean huddle in the dark waiting for Spring, leaving for work in the dark, returning in the dark, spending hours each week shoveling snow in subzero temperatures, but you can't have Christmas without archaic imagery and the more modern but strictly above the 40th parallel iconography as given to us by such bards as the Coca Cola company, Montgomery Wards and all the commercial interests that have latched on to the holiday. The plastic fat men, robed in plastic furs -- the descendants of  a skinny Nikolaos of Myra, will bloom on manicured green lawns bordered by bougainvillea and hibiscus and not an iota of irony will spoil the spirit unless the polystyrene saint is shattered by a falling coconut.

But right on schedule, as it seems, it's cold today, probably won't be more than 70 although with the southern sun it will feel warmer. Wool wrapped people will wait outside Wal-Mart for the retail rampage to begin and driving to dinner with my few remaining family members I may wear one of my old leather jackets and if I can find one, a pair of long pants. It's Thanksgiving in this formerly Spanish bit of the tropics.  Florida where the flowers still bloom, where oranges and bananas and lemons ripen behind the house; Florida where the "pilgrims" never came and the Puritan ventureth not nor did the Europeans ever sit down to dinner with the natives.

But never mind the latitude, it's about the attitude. It's about tradition. It's about a fictional past from far away and as people do, we'll make up our own reality even though it's nowhere as good as the one nature provides and I'll sit indoors eating things I shouldn't instead of sitting by the pool or at a restaurant by the water listening to steel drums and  being thankful for where and what and who I am.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Remembering the hero

The CNN crawl today is informing us over and over that depending how old the segment of the population is, President John Kennedy's approval rating runs from 89 to 93% or thereabouts.  That's far higher than any incumbent president has enjoyed since we started producing such statistics and considerably higher than he enjoyed in office.  I'm not sure George Washington could match it and I'm pretty sure that's higher than Jesus by a bit.  Of course time, like absence makes the heart grow fonder and of course it makes many of us forget how controversial he was; how much of the same drooling, scurrilous calumny presidents who attempt to make this a greater nation endure from the same sources, the same elements that just can't stop railing and raving about the evil Obaminator.

The route of the Presidential motorcade was lined with spectators and there were signs blaring "all the way with JFK" but there were also posters accusing him of treason, for " betraying the Constitution" and giving support to Communists. There were newspaper editorials condemning him. Like syphilis, crab lice and delusional politics the two legged vermin and their followers are still with us -- and not just in Texas.

History and circumstance have a way of  changing what we think we once stood for. Those millions of Americans who listened to Father Coughlin's radio broadcasts, sympathized with the rise of  fascism and racism in Germany and Jim Crow and racism in the US had to tone it down in December of 1941and the public has largely forgotten the depth of right wing outrage since the hundred year struggle for basic civil rights legislation is remembered only in history books and in simplified form. Sure, JFK enjoyed approval ratings of 70% while in office -- a level that has not been equaled since, but had he been able to serve out a term or two: had he been able to achieve detente with Castro and Khrushchev and Ho Chi Min we can be sure the same kind of  right wing rabble would have reduced it to the level Barack Obama now enjoys. 

But we've forgotten.  JFK is a hero, not a Popish danger to Protestant America and  the people who printed those posters, started those rumors, made those accusations slunk back into the baseboards and behind the cupboards before the blood was dry.  We never got an apology, a retraction or an admission from the hate mongers nor will we get any acknowledgement from their heirs and assigns who have taken it all to new depths. We never will.  JFK was a hero - of course we always thought that.   Oh yes it was a terrible thing that someone shot him, but his blood is on their hands, not ours. We never suggested anything and of course we're not suggesting anything when we tell you about that Kenyan, Muslim, tyrant -- that constitution trashing traitor, that murderer of children, that Hitleresque purveyor of Communist inspired health care and Marxist redistributer of wealth who pals around with terrorists, but violence?  Perish the thought!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A life for a life

summa awilum in mar awilim uhtappid insu uhappadu
-Code of Hammurabi-

If a man has destroyed the sight of another man's son, they shall poke out his eye.

It's no secret that I think the execution of criminals is not a power that should be given a government. Reenacting a murder, repeating the act of violence whether quietly with a needle or loudly with a squad of rifles serves no purpose other than to dignify anger, hatred and blood lust.

The State of Missouri killed serial killer and white supremacist Joseph Paul Franklin yesterday, in a little room and in front of witnesses. It took the mechanism of institutional homicide over 30 years to exhaust all appeals and procedures and last minute delays before strapping him to a table and running phenobarbital into his veins. 

Franklin has been convicted of 8 racially motivated murders and has confessed to a dozen more. He is thought to have committed over 20 in Tennessee, Utah, Wisconsin and Ohio. He has confessed to shooting publisher Larry Flynt, paralyzing him permanently and to wounding civil rights leader Vernon Jordan.  Using a 'deer rifle' he killed two young cousins Dante Brown and Darrell Lane in Cincinnati because they were African American and fully 18 years later was given a life sentence for it, but of course that was moot since he had already been given a death sentence for the similar sniper shooting of Gerald Gordon outside a suburban St. Louis synagogue in 1977. He fired 5 shots into a group of Jewish worshipers, killing Gordon and wounding two others.  God gave him this mission, he said.

So I'm not in mourning for Franklin.  Given the chance to stop his 'divine' calling to kill Blacks and Jews, I would not have hesitated to use lethal force, nor chastised anyone else for doing so,  but of course his mission was long over when they killed him.  Larry Flynt will never walk again nor will those  killed be restored to life. The lives diminished by grief  will not likely be restored to happiness. 

"I hate him for destroying my life, for taking away something precious to me, a life that I brought into this world,"

 said  Abbie Evans Clark, Dante Brown's mother. I hate him too and it wasn't my son he killed. She will likely always hate him.

 "It's devastating. It's a void. You never get over it."

 I'm sure she's right. She feels no forgiveness, she says, and although she knows it won't bring the two boys back,

 "It lets you know that justice will be done for the senseless murders of two innocent boys."

Justice.  One has to ask: what is justice if it's not the undoing of wrong? What is justice if it changes nothing, restores nothing?  

If a man dieth -- doth he revive?
-Job 14:14- 

What is justice if it's inspired by hate and why then is it called justice if hate itself is not justice?  Children are not fungible, not property that can be replaced, like money that can be repaid, like debits and credits on a balance sheet. The death of a murderer does not repay a mother for the loss of her son nor can his life be restored to him. Even El could not restore Job's murdered family to him but only a substitute. Those he once loved are gone forever.

Lex Talionis is what we often call reciprocal punishment. In it's favor, we can say that it determines the limits of punishment -- only one eye for one eye. We talk about repayment, but some crimes cannot be payed back  nor is the victim's sight restored when someone else's is taken away.  Indeed can we talk about justice at all when we admit we want someone dead or worse that God wants someone dead and we need to fulfill his divine will?

I'm glad Joseph Paul Franklin is dead.  I hate him down to the bottom of my soul, but I do not love my hatred. I do not ennoble it. I do not justify it or try to reconcile it with my reverence for life. I feel no better and am no better now that he's dead. I don't think we are safer. I don't think we are any closer to fulfilling that longing for harmony in all things we've likely had since our beginning. I don't think we reach it in our various faiths -- neither in the laws of Missouri or the law codes of Ur-Nammu or Hammurabi or edicts of Telepinu or the Hebrew Halacha.

Some things cannot be made right nor losses recovered and when we act out of hate, when we justify hatred,  perhaps only hate itself is served or preserved.

Friday, November 15, 2013


The notion that the Government is cracking down on freedom in general and preparing to freeze our accounts and restrict movement of money because of that elusive financial apocalypse the right wing has been predicting since Obama was elected, is the bread and butter of such opinion sources as the Daily Paul,  Natural News, and Alex Jones'  who amongst too many others to count are celebrating the false report that Chase Bank is limiting cash withdrawals and outgoing international wire transfers.  The story lacks only truth to be shocking. You can read a more honest appraisal at Forbes.  True, Chase is upping fees on certain kinds of business checking accounts, but pace the Liberterrorists, no one in Government is forcing them to do it and what we're seeing is Capitalism at work. Chase simply wants to make more money. Don't we all?

According to an e-mail from PT, a Libertarian organization dedicated to misleading people about the need to get their money out of the country before the Liberals confiscate it and give it to "the takers," Chase customers have received the following letter:

Dear Business Customer,

Starting November 17, 2013:
- You will no longer be able to send international wire transfers. 
You will still be able to send domestic wires and receive
both domestic and international wires. We'll cancel any international
wire transfers, including reccurring [sic] ones, you scheduled to be sent
after this date.

- Your cash activity limit for these accounts(s) will be $50,000 per
statement cycle, per account. Cash activity is the combined total
of cash deposits made at branches, night drops and ATMs and cash
withdrawals made at branches (including purchases of money orders)
and ATMs.

These changes will help us more effectively manage the risks involved
with these types of transactions. 
No they haven't.  Unfortunately devotees of Paul and Jones and all the other panic profiteers will take it at face value without taking a moment to check the facts. Some won't even notice the misspelling and poor wording, the urge to believe being as strong as it is.  The confusion between the artifacts of free market capitalism and  Federal authoritarianism  continues to be the medium in which the fungus of  Right Wing politics is grown -- and grown in the dark, of course.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

In cold blood

It happens all the time.  It happened in my small town this Summer as the police questioned a man parked behind a restaurant after closing time.  Whether confused or inebriated, the man didn't get out of his car and it began to roll. The policeman stood his ground instead of stepping aside and emptied his pistol into him.  A grand jury decided against charging him and  like so many other stories involving citizens being shot by police for such things as asking for help or going out to their driveways to get a pack of cigarettes from their car, we will hear no more of it. No matter what a citizen is or is not guilty of, instant and abject obedience or summary execution is the law on the street.

I still remember a TV news story from back in the 1980s because the victim drove the same 1985 Pontiac Fiero GT I did at the time. The video, shot by a bystander, showed a police officer copying down the front plate number while the driver sat in his car parked at the curb. The nervous driver let his foot slip off the brake and the car rolled ever so slightly forward.  Instead of stepping to the side the officer drew his Beretta service pistol and emptied a magazine into the driver at point blank range.  That report was the last attention the media payed to the incident, but as I said, it happens all the time and it happened again in Ames Iowa on the university campus to a young, unarmed driver sitting in his van with the motor running.

Tyler Comstock and his father were working together as landscapers and when the elder Comstock refused to give his son a cigarette his teenage son got in the company truck to go out to buy  some. The father decided to "teach him a lesson" and reported it stolen. A police officer pursued him despite the dispatcher's telling him to back off. . There was a crash.  The officer's car was hit. Tyler didn't shut the engine off as directed and so the officer opened fire, killing the 19 year old.  Yet another senseless killing by someone either in a panic or in a fit of indignation at someone not obeying orders quickly enough. It happens all the time.  An officer fears for his life, feels his authority is being threatened or disrespected, mistakes a gesture sees a pack of cigarettes or a wallet as a weapon, a moving vehicle as a deadly attack -- pulls a gun, makes an excuse. . .

Sunday, November 03, 2013

The Matrix Unloaded

Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate. Academic Latin for don't make up stories unless you have to.  I don't think that's an argument for making up facts to shore up wishful assumptions, do you?

I had one of those "never assume" moments this summer; a conversation with a stylish and charming young lady with a degree in nursing from Washington State at a Yacht Club dinner. We were discussing healthy diets and it came out that she and her husband would provide all the meat for her family by shooting a moose and perhaps a deer or two every year.  Who would have guessed? An avid gun enthusiast without all the "symptoms!"

I remembered it when a guest on Bill Maher's show opined recently that "nobody hunts any more" with the kind of off-hand certainty that buttresses too many conversations about life and politics.  Of course the opinion originated in the desire to make guns seem irrelevant and unnecessary and therefore to invalidate the argument for the right to own them.  It was the kind of invented fact that William of Occam warned against creating without necessity and it reminded me of another similar pronouncement someone made to me about the hobby of Amateur Radio being in steep decline  because of cell phones. Both arguments triggered some 6th or 7th sense of having been cooked up to support another argument much in need of a factual basis -- and so I did what is so easy to do these days.  I looked up the facts. 

Of course Amateur Radio is booming with more of us today than ever, and doing more things with new technology than the average guy can comprehend, but surprise, surprise as Gomer Pyle was wont to say -- more people are hunting and fishing than ever according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.Whether it's about economic necessity or the growing desire for "natural' sources of food, I can't say, but there's more of it.

Almost 38 percent of Americans participated in some wildlife-related activity in 2011. 12 and half million are hunters who buy over 620,000 firearm hunting licenses every year. That's a lot of people. 2.6 million Americans hunt wild turkey - double the number 40 years ago. 10.7 million hunt big game. almost 13 billion dollars are spent annually on hunting. Hunting alone supports a million jobs.
Nobody hunts any more? 

 Many people in this affluent county supplement their diet with fish caught from beaches, boats, bridges and piers. Many of  my county's poor benefit from the donation of wild boar meat shot by local farmers and land owners. America hunts -- from the bayous to the North Slope of Alaska, from Maine to Montana. It seems to be a way of life unknown to Brooklyn Boys and Valley Girls, unless they watch such people on TV, but Americans are and always have been outdoorsmen and without them, we wouldn't have national parks and conservation laws and the only wildlife in Yosemite would be Mickey Mouse.
With the increased urbanization of American life, it can be too easy to assume that everyone lives in cities and gets their food wrapped in plastic from refrigerated showcases in supermarkets and that that meat is produced in factories. That's a valid assumption for some, but an assumption with a political motivation. Fly over America and tell me it's an urbanized hive paved with concrete and plastic where New York's Central Park is "Nature" and where nature exists as a sort of health club for running and skating and 'doing cardio.'  This artificial view may be in part an artifact of the business of making life artificial -- a product to be sold us like tract houses  and theme parks and packaged vacations and is inhabited by people who do one specialized thing all their lives and long for things authentic and "artisinal" they can buy at the mall.

Is it any wonder that more people long for the woods, the lakes and rivers and hills, dream about finding their own food and being self-sufficient?  Such people don't fit into the plan and don't provide as much profit for those who need to sell our lives to us and so they tell us they don't exist, they're fading away, they're dangerous, old-fashioned, laughable, obsolete -- dangerous.  Now forget them. Think about the good life, about your cubicle and all the good things that Apple, Toyota, Disney, Nike, Coca Cola, McDonalds and ATT&T provide for you. Just watch the screen and relax.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Something is happening here

What the hell is going on with the rampage shootings?  Sometimes what's obvious isn't what's true, but hate mongering is now the American Passtime.  Even Baseball doesn't get round the clock coverage even during the World Series while anti-government rants and raves have more opinion shouters on more stations than I can count.  And then there's Fox News.  Is it any wonder the loose cannons of America are aimed at authority.

Who likes the TSA?   They've made traveling by air so unpleasant, I avoid it when at all possible, but apparently, some take it more seriously. Paul Anthony Ciancia took it with all the deadly seriousness only a madman can muster.  How he could walk into an airport with a rifle under his arm, like someone on a hunting trip, I don't know. Airports in Europe that I've been in have armed commandos in plain view, but apparently LAX does not and it seems almost miraculous that more people were not shot yesterday morning. At  this point I don't know who was responsible for wounding him multiple times, but fortunately he was captured before his suicide by cop plan came to fruition.

Ciancia was obviously deranged and apparently suicidal according to family members who called LAPD. At this point, I don't know who was responsible for wounding him multiple times, but fortunately he was captured before his suicide by cop plan came to fruition. We shall see, but at this point, the usual sources have been, since the original reports, concentrating on the military appearance of his "high powered" rifle as though that mattered in this day of handguns with 30 round magazines.  If  experience teaches anything, I'll bet that the choreographed media response will concentrate on repeating failed approaches and avoid any discussion of how people like Ciancia can buy any kind of weapon, how anyone can carry a rifle into an airport unopposed and how the anti-government hate mongers can act appalled while they continue to tell the idiots and madmen of America that the government is out to rob them of their freedom and property and put them in death camps.

It seems as though the TSA at LAX has been confiscating a frightening number of handguns, most loaded, at security checkpoints. We should be concerned.  We should wonder why
Because something is happening here. 
But you don't know what it is.  
Do you, Mister Jones?