Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Crime and Punishment

Public attention, at least amongst those of us who identify with what one loosely calls "the Left" sometimes like a game of spin the bottle. One day it's rampage shooting, the next day it's police brutality and the next sexual assault. That isn't really a prescription for a cure although it keeps the ratings and emotions high.

Too bad, because these things are serious and real and deserve long term attention instead of the snap judgments, generalizations and hyperbole resulting from our national attention deficit and rage addiction.  The dethronement of disgusting Harvey Weinstein seems to have spurred a journalistic hunger for more similar stories and perhaps the desire to get attention by people who make a living from getting attention.

I admit that reading that George Bush Sr. had apologized for a sexual assault occurring 4 years ago, I was shocked, but reading the story changed that to irritation because to my "insensitive" mind sexual assault implies sex or at least something closer to it than telling a dirty joke or a collision with a 90 year old man confined to a wheelchair -- and both while the man's wife watched.  Rude? Perhaps. A lack of social graces understandable in someone of that age? Perhaps. A hyperbolic, opportunistic accusation? I think so and irritating because it will feed more arguments that all such accusations are false or exaggerated.   

Certainly they are not all or mostly false, even if demands that people be protected from insult, or any disturbing sights, sounds or comments have become common. Perhaps Heather Lind had a right to take offense, but calling something tasteless "assault" is damaging to a legitimate cause. That attention is being given to this while the real transgressors can admit to it and get away with it is tragic.

Monday, October 23, 2017

All Roads Lead To. . .

"By Diverse means we arrive at the same end." Thus begin the essays of Michel de Montaigne.
It's both hopeful and ominous and also a warning against the intolerance that seeps through the capillaries of Facebook like rising damp. When it comes to any of the jihads or crusades or popular causes, there's the the way, and only the way, the vocabulary, the rules and strictures of whatever group seeks or has seized power and those singing from a different hymnal are the enemy.Such groups themselves have become the cause they purport to represent.
Certainly it would be more productive to have alliances with which common goals can be approached. None the less denominations increase and draw apart, to the advantage of Chaos. Do we, of presumably good will and worthy ends, ever arrive elsewhere when we treasure our words and our power to promote them more than our goals?
Indeed Montaigne's motto was "what do I know?" and he warned us not to accept our reasoning so readily. We don't normally control our thoughts, we just feel and buttress our feelings, and the contradictions and challenges we encounter only enrage us. We fabricate our certainties and defend them and hide behind them and create entities to shore them up and invest those entities with more certainty. And as allies are portrayed as enemies, our perceived enemies proliferate and the world goes to war. Shall I hand it over to Hobbes at this point? Is there another way to see it: perhaps in the literal sense that doctrine itself impedes progress? 
What do I know?

Wednesday, October 18, 2017


 In the 18th century, the first self-operating Atmospheric engine was invented, according to legend, by an employee who got tired of sitting there turning valves to make the piston on a Newcomen engine pumping water out of a mine go up and down. He rigged up a system of ropes and pulleys to do it unassisted. It was a huge improvement, but there's a good chance he was chastised for laziness, employers being what they always have been.

An insurance company I used to work for was very late in adopting mechanical calculators when they first came out.  It would surely make the clerks lazy.

You run across the meme in one form or another, if you read social history. Serfs, the unemployed, the recipients of charity or  government aid, the lame and the blind and the poor are lazy. The employee you exploit unfairly is lazy, the addict, the drunk, the mentally ill, the sick and injured. Easier to call them lazy than provide help.

Poor old Bob Cratchet was lazy for wanting Christmas off from work and the straw man ( or woman) of the lazy welfare recipient is so ingrained in conservative thought that Americans hardly questioned the Great Communicator when he made up his own lazy Welfare Queen.

It's a way of assuaging conscience for those who have one. It's a way of forgiving oneself for failures.  It was once a way of showing that black people in the American south needed to be enslaved - because they wouldn't be able to take care of themselves, being lazy and stupid. Had to be whipped because they were lazy. Had to be whipped so that the industrious boss with his work effort didn't have to pay them.

We're all liberals and people of conscience, so we all despise slavery and exploitation and so our objectives really put us above question, at least in our own minds. When we catch Mr. Trump calling Hispanic American storm victims lazy, he insinuates that Texans and Floridians are not and are worthy of help and we demonstrate our fury - in words anyway. Words don't require much work after all, not like voting, but I digress.

Like so many other liberals I go on the blogs and social media and I let everyone know how angry I am and how bad are those who see things differently.  Imagine how offended I am and how you might also be if because you mentioned that calling someone lazy for your own financial gain was not the exclusive habit of ante-bellum plantation owners, but a habit of  unscrupulous exploiters since the beginning of time, you are declared, in rather irate terms to be a racist. I'm already white so I must be, I have information and ideas that differ from the official talking points, so I must be and by the power vested in the righteous by Facebook I am condemned.

Look at where this long struggle has landed us, like pit bulls in the ring while injustice runs rampant.

Dies Irae

"I'd hate to think there's a national discussion going on that I'm not part of" 

says the man in pajamas with a laptop, in bed next to his sleepy wife. It's a cartoon in the New Yorker but it could be you, it could be me, obsessively Facebooking and thinking that it really was a place of  national discussion and we really were part of it.  But it isn't. It's a place designed to seem like the real thing: perhaps like Westworld where the people around you are not what they seem.  Indeed, some are just software. Some are paid to influence you. Some just want an audience they couldn't otherwise have or the feeling of having one as they shout into the void or shoot at people who don't actually die. 

In any event, the people who will read the comments you make, see the pictures and political messages you share and post are mostly selected for the purpose and so are your contributions that appear to a selected audience.  We preach mostly to the converted and they to us and so the challenges and questions and contrary observations rarely force us to explain or question ourselves. If such things do appear the various "safe spaces" often erupt into a stacatto of bump stock accusations, poorly aimed but deadly.

It's not a national discussion but a vast group of warring states, whose internal stability (if not quite the peace) is regulated by witch hunts, ritual condemnations, excoriations and maledictions --  and the phatic bleating of  self-congratulatory sheep. "We alone know the truth, for are we not men?" (or Women or gun lovers or gun haters or black or white or gender fluid Druids.)

Woe betide he who wanders in from the outside, for should he perhaps share the passion for the group's position, yet not bleat with the same accent, yet make an observation that is not congruent with the call and response ritual of the group, and he becomes the scapegoat, the enemy, the witch. It's necessary to use the scripted arguments, no matter how inaccurate. It's necessary to stick to the generalizations and to avoid specifics. It's necessary not to amend, update, clarify or question doctrine. It's necessary to run the gantlet, giving the right responses to the right gods lest your soul be cast down. If the goal is "sensible" don't ever say the word effective or you're the beast.  Entropy increases and inevitably, the problem is to keep the group together and anonymous rather than to achieve any goal and have the group disperse.

Deliberately or inadvertently, that becomes more and more likely as the hermetic groups drift inwardly and inevitably toward zealotry or anger mongering, with all the sophistry, misrepresentation and passionate oversimplification attendant thereto. 

One may not offer any new proposal or question any old statistics, offer new data or seek old data. If you suggest, for instance, banning some device, you're a "gun grabber" and expect to be slandered. if you spell guns correctly you're suspect in another group and God help you if you suggest that the numbers are wrong by a factor of two, even if they are. It doesn't matter how much you hate racism, despise wanton violence, plutocracy or unregulated capitalism.   One is not saved by good works or deeds. Salvation comes only from the grace of the group. Believe in the sanctity and brotherhood of all life and you're not only racist, but approve of police brutality.

Hyperbole, like entropy, increases. A statistically supported observation soon spreads out like ripples in a pond or radiation in space, but no faster or more slowly than a bogus one. If  white southern males over 70 have a higher proportion of  some property, it's inevitable that the problem is caused by and exclusively by all white males, be they 17 and living in Lapland or an American Attorney General and god help you if you disagree even though the property in question is disliked by all present. You may hate racism with all your heart and soul and all your might, but just as Lon Chany Jr could become a wolf under the full moon, in a Facebook group one becomes what the group hates. It's dog eat dog while the bowl of Alpo goes untouched.

The speed with which  Harvey Weinstein became the straw everyman would puzzle Einstein. You may agree about his villainy, but disagree that all men share it and you're suddenly part of the problem and a misogynist. Say he's that way because he's a Jew and many will applaud and few will defend.  You click "like" on a cartoon of Kim Jun Un and you're a racist, not an enemy of Kim or tyranny.

Facebook seems often to have become the problem itself: a petri dish for every pathogen, a pyre for every perceived witch and a battleground for the universal war with no end: every element within evolving toward greater isolation and animosity and where the most narrow-minded and furious predominate, where all the days are days of rage, where friends become enemies, where debate dies and  nothing is ever achieved. 

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Death in Vegas

Expecting yet another round of amorphous generalities and off-the-shelf solutions to the problem of determining in advance just which solid citizen will become a psychotic citizen, I tuned into Rachel Maddow last night. Much to my surprise she seemed to know what she was talking about and got right to points that needed to be heard through the clamor and frenzy.

How do I know these were important points? Because I've been trying to make them, that's how. And wouldn't you know the worst and most angry attacks against some simple ideas have come from our young Liberal friends who see any departure from dogma as anathema. Background checks would have been useless here. the weapons weren't bought at a gun show nor would registration have made a difference. Other things might have. Can we talk?

The first thing that occurred to me Monday morning and to Maddow on Monday evening was the strange fact that a man could bring at least ten rifles into a hotel room, along with tripods and cases of ammunition without anyone taking notice or bothering to have a hotel security person or even housekeeping take a look. The hotel didn't know where to find the shooter because nobody took notice.  Locating him minutes sooner would have saved lives.  So far only Ms Maddow has suggested such a small thing might have allowed this horror to have been averted. "Customers will kindly check rifles at the front desk." Hotels already have the right to do this. Anyone can refuse to allow guns on their property.  Why don't they? Little by little, step by step we can get to a better place.

But of course the degree of mayhem was so high because in some fashion some legal guns had been converted whether legally or illegally (we still don't know how) to something like fully automatic weapons. To the layman, that means machine gun or a smaller caliber submachine gun. This might involve drilling some holes and replacing some parts, or it could involve gadgets added to the trigger or the stock. Some of these are legal in Nevada and elsewhere, some are prohibited by Federal Law which heavily regulates gas or recoil operated automatic weapons, but ignores other forms.  Suggest that and the reaction is anger and mistrust. "We don't want that, we want sensible gun control."

Instead of the same old and vague cries for gun control, would some good Congressman suggest an effective way to get these devices off the market? Can we start there and not drown the idea in ad hominem attacks or raging about the NRA?

Such high rates of fire, it can be and has been well argued, are too dangerous for private ownership and perhaps those 100 round or 75 round magazines I see for sale aren't much less so. I'm not naive enough to think banning them would get rid of them any time soon, but it would be more effective to argue for such specific action than to blather endlessly about demanding things which demonstrably don't work and pretending they do.  Weapons that are not "military style" can also be modified of course. I've seen kits to combine ordinary hunting rifles to make perfectly legal multiple-barrel "Gattling" guns.  Let's add them to the list of things: destructive weapons, the Feds have successfully kept off the streets for many, many years.