Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Wacko Birds

Ted Cruz is now, by his own admission, a candidate for President. Can we safely say that the right wing of the right-wing party is still Conservative except in it's vague longing for something vaguely related to a mythologized and phantasmagoric past?

As he said in his announcement at Liberty University, which students were compelled to attend or be fined, he wants to restore the constitution that Obama, not the color of man we traditionally select, has "stolen" and restore that "shining city on the hill" our former President-in-dotage liked to dream of.  Whether or not you consider him to be a conservative, or a "Wacko Bird" as John McCain called him, the guiding light behind the delusional wing of the GOP is that old Will O' the Wisp, or Ignus Fatuus common to such diverse cultures as Sumerian Mythology, Judaic Mythology, and the Tea Party: the lost paradise we can only regain by abolishing liberty and the pursuit of happiness in favor of  authority and returning to the past. Freedom is Slavery?  We don't ask, our faith (meaning greed) is all we need. Of course, to the wackobird, the notion that we can abolish the IRS and yet receive tax payments voluntarily and honestly through the altruistic and enlightened grace of the public is never questioned. Faith.  They're people of Faith.

Of course the shining city was founded on a purloined hill rooted in genocide, slavery, corruption, conquest, despoilation and oppression, but none of the traditional Wackobird constituency will tolerate any measure of truth when looking at the past or the present. Evidence and anyone who points at it is the enemy.  The insurgent Bloggers are already shouting "NO - YOU'RE the wacko, McCain!"  Nolo Contendere.

Of course If you're reading this you're probably all too aware of his pandering to the werewolves, zombies, ogres and other things that bump around the crepuscular forests of the night. I see it as pandering because Cruz after all, went to schools I couldn't get into with a battering ram and presumably graduated.  So I have to suspect that he wears his prophet's robes like sheep's clothing ( or Halloween lunatic costume if you prefer.)  But what strikes, and scares and disgusts me for that matter is the crazy credo that  "Little Black Barack" is tyrannically ignoring the constitution, assuming illegal powers, spending and taxing and all that nonsense that so adequately describes his predecessor.  We've had a 6 year bull market, deficit spending has been strongly reduced, energy independence is at record highs and unemployment is at near Clinton levels.  There couldn't be a more striking reversal of Bush's disastrous results.

Religious leaders have never had a problem with telling us that things are worse and worse and only a "return" to the past can save us and neither do Cruze or Rand Paul or other birds of that flightless feather throughout the red end of the political spectrum.  They get away with it because so many Americans are simply oblivious and unwilling to be otherwise. They go on howling about Obama not being eligible for the presidency, but not about how Cruze was born in Canada with only one American parent. Making foreign policy and negotiating with foreign countries is only "tyranny" when Obama does it and only a short time ago the loudly stated position was that "if the president does it, it's ipso facto constitutional and if some of us complained, we "hated America" and were collaborating with the enemy. 

Double standard?  Not so much as a totally ad hoc and shifting standard that can contradict itself without contradiction.  Is this the stuff of  all the tyrants of the past, real and fictional? Of course! A style that enlists the disgruntled, delusional, angry and yes the wacko into the battle against their liberty and prosperity and health.  I don't think you can reach them and our future as a free and influential country depends entirely on our ability to get off our asses, stop squabbling, having national "conversations" and staying away from the polls. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Christian Nation in Indiana

It's another token of our "changing" language. I put the word in quotes because it's so strange to see things like the weaponizing of words described in such benign terms, but "religious freedom" simply hasn't meant the right to perform rituals, say prayers or build places of religious exercise without restraint except to a few for a long while. 

In Indiana, or to the Indiana chapter of the Christian Caliphate in America it means the right to do any damned thing you want as long as "Christians" like the Robertsons: Phil and Pat or Reverend Phelps or a majority of the Indiana General Assembly approve. No one really, no one at all is in any doubt that, as it has in other religions, the militant wing of American Christianity is rising in power and rising in the lust for control and domination and the ability to punish people of other beliefs or thoughts or perspectives. No one fails to see how such assaults on liberty tend to thrive in places of ignorance and religious passion (you may find some correlation if you like:) places like Indiana.

No one has any doubt that if the shoe were on the other foot, and there were significant numbers of people who would refuse to service cars with those chrome fish, or religious bumper stickers or serve them at drive-through restaurants,  the Christian Nation  folks would hesitate to stand up for that kind of religious freedom and certainly they would be raising hell if "Muslims only" signs were to appear in Indiana.  No Yarmulkes inside, no cross, no service, no Irish need apply, only church goers in this neighborhood. We do not serve people with tattoos. We've been there before. We've had those tradinal values before.  Perhaps those who keep telling me we've made little progress aren't entirely wrong.  Certainly the spirit of hate and exclusivity thrives, along with talk of beheadings and rape and castration, damnation and brimstone by bearded zealots, to the cheering of the mob.

So yes, freedom of religion now means something close to its opposite and to be evil, nasty and mean --  contemptuous of  truth and justice is to have Christian values, to have "faith."   None of the claims made about life liberty, the pursuit of happiness, about freedom and justice for all are in any way compatible with the goals of the Christian Nation in America people any more than they are with the Islamic State people and yet the damnation is so faint and public discourse so filled with pop culture, celebrity surgery, the latest product from Apple, transportation calamities and the angelic innocence of Michael Brown.  Not only the language has been prostituted, but so have our thoughts and concerns, at least that's the goal. Denialism, lack of definable terms, amorphous logic, conspiracy theories and fear are the means, tyranny is the end.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

It's a conspiracy!

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
Alive as you or me
Says I, "But Joe, you're ten years dead,"
"I never died," says he.
"I never died," says he.

No sooner does something happen in this world, but that it didn't and in a strange quantum physical way, nothing itself is reason to believe something. The bomb wasn't a bomb, the flight never flew, Saudi terrorists didn't hijack those airplanes and neither Jesus nor Mohammad's nephew nor Elvis nor Joe Hill actually died.  There are many reasons for it, but Humans being creatures for whom faith is always tempting, need something to anchor it, a substrate to mount it upon like a plaque on the wall. Every article of faith, every statement of belief requires a denial.

The anguish of grief, the horror of circumstances, the shock of sudden change; these things cause us to deny, at least for a time that the beloved leader and voice of God has been murdered and his mission has come to nothing. We see them in our dreams, even when we're awake. But as with any human weakness, the inability to accept invites explanations of why reality isn't real for the purposes of exploitation. We want your support so Joe hill lives on in spirit.  Jesus came to Jerusalem to restore the divine dynasty and throw  out Rome, he was about mystical forgiveness of sin. The Hidden Imam is just around the corner and will come back to bring justice, or was that Jesus or was that Tammuz?  Denial is power, but power over us by someone else.

Why are conspiracy theories cropping up like mold stains after a flood -- even with a level of evidence never before possible?  Perhaps simply because of the entertainment factor now that everyone knows everything instantly. It's fun to be the one who knows differently, even though that same thought has caught on with billions of others. Perhaps that's not all.  It's easy to postulate that our refusal to see what we saw and heard and experienced as reality is more than some artifact of our human nature and the result of someone elses will to power. Has there been a cult leader, religious or secular who has not suggested that outside influences and conspiracies are trying to delude them?  Jim Jones, David Koresh, Kim Jong-Un?  But other popular, less dangerous theories, tales of cover-ups from the petty to the gigantic are harder to explain.

That the real cause of Weimar Germany's woes may have been the very patriotism and nationalism and sense of duty that so much pride was taken it rather than some nefarious international conspiracy is an easy explanation for the deadly scapegoating that ensued, but it's hard to see why the US had no sooner landed on the moon but that it never did or why the US got all this interstellar technology from the strangely humanoid aliens but never found a use for it: why the Incas and the Egyptians got help from flying saucers who never left a single artifact behind. yet we believe and passionately.

Is there some vast evolutionary cultural movement toward a neo-Platonic metaphysics wherein reality is unknowable? Is the only reality what we read on the web, on the TV, on the blogs and Twitter?  The incessant roar of advertising hype and misrepresentation? Is there some Über-conspiracy universe in which smaller conspiracies bud off without end?  If so can we write it off to that pesky human love of  being esoteric, hip and just a bit holier than thou or is it a conspiracy by those who benefit greatly from making everything plausibly deniable in their lust for wealth and influence?

George Bush and the Neocons didn't destroy any chance for peace in the middle east. Republican economics didn't cause a worldwide recession, The innocent are to blame, the guilty are not.  And We the Believers?  Step this way.  Work will make us free. Who stands to gain the most from our refusal to consider that what is might actually be what is?  Yes, that's rhetorical. World commerce and politics depend on being able to make us unable to tell real from imaginary, freedom from slavery, war from peace, proof from fallacy, science from fable.

  • Obama didn't reduce deficit spending, didn't kill Osama bin Laden, wasn't actually elected and   wasn't even eligible. 
  •  Americans blew up the WTC -- the kind of Americans we don't like and don't want you to like.  
  • Obama went over there and apologized to them.
  • The Jews screwed Germany with the Treaty of Versailles, not the Germans. 
  • The Americans forced Japan to kill tens of millions of civilians, they're not to blame.  
  • Capitalist Roaders were behind the monstrous failures of Mao's revolution and how better to sell it than to attack the notion of truth and the ability to determine it.

The climate isn't heating up, crime isn't on the increase, vaccinations don't work, cell phones are killing the bees. There's a conspiracy to poison Wheat. A 4 door Nissan sedan is really a race car.

We can't know the truth so anything I propose is as true as anything the evidence shows or doesn't show. Cast doubt on reality and the lie becomes credible.  It's the old argument from ignorance and as the man said: Ignorance is Strength.

Nothing is true and all things are possible, said Hassan, or so they say.  It's the kind of metaphysics in which facts become fungible; wherein is and isn't  and might be are the same thing and the transgressors of the world can wash their hands of any kind of causation or blame and smile -- after all, they ask us:  what is truth?  Listen and Big Brother will tell you.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Big Brother and Targets of Public Outrage

Idiotic and often disgusting stunts by college students and at college fraternities and sororities seem as regular and inevitable as stupid statements by politicians and questionable actions by police officers and if we were so inclined, we might spend our days ranting and raging about it.  Sometimes we do that, but what we choose to obsess about seems chosen for us rather than a spontaneous reaction to circumstances. The American public is an orchestra, a chorus, a marching band and those things have their conductors, their choir leaders and drum majors to produce and direct passion on demand, outrage on cue.

So the University of Houston suspends Sigma Chi for hazing practices so dangerous as to be criminal whether or not the pledges voluntarily submit. The District Attorney may press criminal charges.  You didn't hear about it through the week long din of  gnashing and wailing and rending of clothes over rude comments made on a bus at another university. Boys will be boys and at least they're not racists. We're only accepting racism outrage this month and next month will be reserved for Hillary's e-mail.

So two cops walk into a house in Dallas.  There's a man standing there with a screwdriver.  His mother tells the cops he's mentally ill and wants help getting him to the hospital. "we don't have time for this" says one of them.  They shoot him repeatedly until he's dead.  That's right, CNN is not covering this round the clock, there are no nationwide demonstrations reminding us that bipolar lives matter. Call me a racist, and some have, but the struggle for justice and equality for all isn't well served by ignoring anyone's liberty and civil rights. Human life matters.

So a guy gets a phone call from a neighbor.  His house is surrounded by 40 police cars, SWAT team with rifles and battering rams. There's a remote control bomb disposal robot, there are armored assault vehicles.  Returning home, the parents of the teenager inside are told not to enter "the kill zone."  Later they're told the kid "is deceased."  They could only get details from the TV news the following day.  It was claimed the kid had a long police record.  He didn't.  A neighbor saw the plainclothes officers approaching the young man and thought they were robbers. It's likely the victim did too.  They jumped the fence, tackled him and when he defended himself, they killed him.  Happens in Phoenix all the time: the mentally ill, the poor, the Hispanic, the innocent, the harmless. We tend not to demonstrate round the clock, not to burn cars, rob liquor stores, loot businesses. We tend not to notice. The conductor's baton is pointing elsewhere. This is what it means, all that it means and nothing else is pertinent, anything else is out of line and racist.

 Last year the police story about the homeless New Mexico man who pulled a small knife when ordered to move along and had to be killed, was contradicted by video that shows he was complying, not resisting. His life mattered and his "white privilege" availed him not. 

The U.S. Justice Department issued a report last year documenting that the Albuquerque Police Department  has for years engaged in a pattern of excessive force that violates the U.S. Constitution and federal law. The mentally ill, ethnic minorities, the homeless, the poor, the helpless: 

     officers too frequently use deadly force against people who pose a minimal threat, said the report.

     Albuquerque officers use “less lethal” force, including Tasers, on people who are non-threatening   or unable to comply with orders. 

     Encounters between APD officers and persons with mental illness and in crisis too frequently result in a use of force or a higher level of force than necessary. 

Police brutality, excessive force -- it seems to correlate more with helplessness than with anything else, but that observation departs from the official line, deflects anger from the target we're given. It flirts with racist thoughts. It admits shades and colors into our prescribed, black and white arguments.  In fact we have a problem with the way the police sometimes treat people in general. and for those without such effective advocates and agitators, their plight is worse. Black, Brown, Indigenous and indigent people all suffer from  official brutality as well as from official lack of concern and it's time to step out of line and take a stand against the incompetence, the bias, the anger and increasing militarism of our police. But for the love of justice, let's stop forcing our force-fed examples to monopolize the news while ignoring the real problem.  All lives matter!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Ye Olde Artisinal Computer Repair Shoppe

Looking through the kitchen cabinets yesterday for that bag of cookies I knew had to be there somewhere, I spied a box of bread mix, the kind one uses with an automatic bread machine.  It's made by Pillsbury, a former rival to General Mills until they were bought out and then spun off. Pillsbury baking products are now sold under license to Smuckers. I point this out to make it clear that we are not talking about some 19th century, brick-oven and portly bakers in white apron bakery, but giant factories processing raw ingredients in giant stainless steel, computer controlled and antiseptic machinery.

I think that 20 years ago or more, the readers' eyes would have tripped over the word "artisinal" and to old times like me, an artisan still seems to be the description of a craftsman of a superior sort, the kind of carpenter, for instance who makes elegant furniture rather than the one who frames out houses or installs windows.  At the behest of our friends in marketing, the world now only exists as ornamentation, to provide something manufactured by soulless machines in vast and shiny metal machines run by computer without human interference or oversight.

Marketing of marketing, all is marketing. We speak no word and have no thought without it being the product of some marketing effort and so a box of bread mix, produced and packaged by machines to be used by another machine becomes artisinal.  Hence we have Pillsbury Artisan Bread Mix sold, one imagines, with a straight face.  The handy home artisan does, after all, have to open the box, add water and push the button on the bread machine. Place the machine on some bricks for added authenticity.

Words today are here mostly to cover, adorn, spruce up and make things from the banal to the shoddy seem appetizing. We so long for the sense of authenticity and reality our world has stripped us of. We hate to think that it's true that we're only here to consume and die and make money for someone else in the process and so we snap at the pathetic and tawdry simulations of the way we wish it still was. I've noticed that in any town of recent vintage here in coastal Florida, the use of  subdivision names containing words like cove, sound, harbor or bay seem to increase with the distance from the coast. There's nothing to spruce up the image of any strip mall like calling them "shoppes" so we can pretend we're in 1740 London down here in the tropics.  Nothing to improve the obviously raw newness of a development built on newly drained alligator swamp like naming it something "upscale:"  Kensington or worse Billingsgate or Dartmoor -- names that would only appear posh to a striving arriviste from the Heartland.

Hell, providing simulated authenticity is an artisinal industry in itself, from amusement parks to trailer parks full of "estate homes."  Soulless economy cars and ponderous trucks are sold as racers, pudgy middle-aged men sport backwards hats and wear sneakers with suits to their cubicle jobs and patronize fake European cafes where they pretend to be speaking some foreign language ( and paying a hefty price for the privilege. )  Are we immune to the pathos of modern pretense?  Apparently, and Ye Olde Renaissance Faire awaits you and the less you know about the real artisinal past, the better.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Smile, you're on Candid Camera

(and nobody's laughing)

"Frat Boy" isn't a term used in praise or admiration or affection very often and if you went to college where fraternities flourished, you'll know why.  Perhaps you have embarrassing memories. Fortunately for us old folks, none of it is likely to have been recorded for posterity in the days when nobody had a video camera in their pocket.  Boys will be boys you know, and by "boy" I mean drunken irresponsible idiot.

I have no way of knowing whether the SAE brothers at the University of Oklahoma will look back 40 years hence with embarrassment or anger at the day when their fraternity was shut down following the surfacing of a video showing some of them on a bus chanting: “There will never be a n***** in SAE.”  Perhaps that's a self fulfilling prophecy as the University immediately closed the fraternity despite the formal apology by the fraternity.

I never pledged a fraternity although I investigated a number of them, preferring the increased freedom, or license if you prefer, in finding my own housing off campus.  I do clearly remember visiting one frat and hearing the song "There'll never be a Jew in Sigma Nu" which, as you might expect, disappointed me a bit, even though I still suspect the implied anti-semitism wasn't all that deep.  But there were no consequences back then, in the tumultuous early 60's.  There were only short term consequences when some black students ran into similar and worse attitudes in other places, but the repercussions were short lived and involved deep snow drifts and frat boys in their underwear, but I won't elaborate.  The school took no actions I'm aware of.  Of course there were plenty of  fraternities free of such retrograde nonsense and with diverse memberships as I'm sure there are at Oklahoma.

But things are not the same, despite the bizarre assertions by some that Selma changed nothing with regard to racism, our tolerance for it and the consequences of  racially motivated actions. Of course today, conversations about race and many other issues across the political spectrum are dominated by institutions, which seem to demand that we use only certain terminology, accept certain axioms and discuss things only within a certain framework before beginning.  I'm sure someone reading this will already be writing something about how I'm just an old white man and don't understand my privileges -- or copying it from some pamphlet or tract. I'm too old to care, but old enough to remember well when the consequences of  racist epithets and actions were few to none and denigrating jokes were many and frat houses mostly Caucasian.  

Face it, it's better now.  It's a lot better and if progress threatens those who prosper by protesting the lack thereof, perhaps it's time to shut down other fraternities on and off campus.