Category Archives: SOCIAL and NEWS

Guns and Mental Health

In the past when I’ve written on this topic, I’ve peppered every section and argument with links and numbers… this time I’m writing stream of conscious focusing on my thoughts and opinions. However, I’m more than happy to bring up numbers and facts if needed. Because if you have a different opinion, and this is going to be shocking based on this topic, but I welcome debate. Reasoned debate. Because contrary to what pretty much everyone believes on either end of the spectrum, this is not a black-or-white issue (and sadly, liberals who tend to find nuance and shades better than conservatives, are generally pretty fundamentalistly extreme on this topic as well). There is no easy answer, no matter how much one side or the other yells their opinion.

I’ve pretty much stopped being political or inflammatory on social media. It’s generally not worth it. And since the Oregon community college shooting last week, I’ve remained silent on it. Have not commented on the flood of posts that have come through my Facebook timeline, not shared any posts… except one. This one:

There’s a Way to Stop Mass Shootings, And You Won’t Like It

In short, banning guns in the US is nearly impossible, and likely won’t affect mass shootings anyway, banning “scary” guns won’t have an effect since most shootings happen with pistols, most shootings are committed by people who have no prior record and would pass/have passed a background check, are committed by people without a clinical history of mental illness and even so, do we want to have everyone’s mental health records open and searchable? His answer: pay attention to the loners and outcasts! (In brief.)

Then this morning on NPR, I listened to this interview with Malcolm Gladwell:

How Riots May Help Us Understand School Shooters

Also in brief, his theory is that the true psychopaths like Columbine’s Eric Harris already did the “hard part” of starting the movement, and what we have in the years since are disenfranchised loners steeped in a culture of Harris-worship following in his footsteps, with “the threshold that you had to cross to find yourself doing that has gotten lower”. It’s easier to be a follower in a riot than a leader. And the Internet has made it easier for these youths to want to follow in footsteps, regardless of how little the mainstream press glamorizes the shooters.

And then, what finally prompted me to want to say something, was watching last week’s “Last Week with John Oliver” where he had an otherwise fantastic and incisive piece on mental healthcare in the US, he lambasted anyone (focusing on idiot GOP politicians) who says the problem with mass shooting isn’t guns but mental health. Oliver compared bringing mental health into the discussion of mass shootings like vilifying Coke a Cola because it was in a commercial with Bill Cosby, implying gun control has everything to do with mass shootings and issues of mental health aren’t really connected except by association.

Now, I love John Oliver. Heretofore he’s not said pretty much anything I could disagree with. But that really set me off.

Here’s some information:

Over the last couple of decades, gun violence and specifically gun related homicide in the US has steadily decreased! It’s currently at some of the lowest rates it’s been in nearly 100 years. (Pause: Does the US still have a gun violence problem? Hell yeah. Can more be done to lower that? Hell yeah.) But, mass shootings have increased alarmingly. Which means we’re on the right path regarding what we’re doing as a nation on gun crime already (yes yes, more can be done), but on the wrong one regarding mass shootings. Why are mass shootings so different from other gun crime?

Another thing I saw recently, a lot of vitriol on Facebook about concealed carry on campuses, with comments implying the move would at best create random violence and at worst lead to more mass shootings, and bottom line, everyone is less safe! Two thoughts here:

Has the illegality of concealed carry on schools stopped mass shooters who illegally brought guns and illegally murdered people? Why would allowing legally carrying owners onto campuses increase more mass shootings, when someone who wants to mass murder is going to bring guns anyway?

It’s possible the increased chance that a shooter is going to be faced with a concealed carry citizen might think twice about their grand plan to kill as many people as they can until police finally respond. Maybe.

One of the biggest straw men arguments I’ve heard from anti-carry people is that concealed carry people are somehow more trigger happy and will a. cause more damage than they’d stop, and b. would be a distraction at best for law enforcement on the scene.

And then, they turn around and point to the fact that two people on the Oregon campus were concealed carrying, and didn’t run across campus to engage the shooter as somehow ammo (sorry) for their argument against concealed carriers. I’m at a loss to explain that once. In this instant we have two trained concealed carriers who wisely understood they would be a hazard to responding law enforcement and decided to stay in the classrooms they were in to protect their peers should they need to. Unlike the myth that concealed carriers are trigger-happy vigilantes, they showed restraint and care in their decision. It’s a no-win situation that reveals that most anti-gun liberals suffer from cognitive biases just as much as pro-gun conservatives.

Personally, I would feel safer knowing there could be concealed carriers around me.

Another tangent: What about open carriers? Well, in my opinion they’re generally idiots with some kind of chip on their shoulder and power issues. Especially people who carry around AR-15s and other long guns! God, what tools! Seriously!

Now, I can point to individual instances where a citizen has stopped a shooting or some other violence by being armed, like this Youtube video that shows a guy getting attacked by a machete-wielding vet with PTSD, who bashed open his apartment to try to kill him: The resident yelled at him he was armed, warned him, waited until danger was imminent (didn’t go shooting wantonly) then shot the assailant in the legs, wounding instead of killing. But then, I know someone can point out the recent story of a guy trying to stop a carjacking but accidentally shot the victim in the head and missed the carjackers.

I can point to the story of the guy who used a knife to kill or seriously would more than 20 people on a campus, or the entirely ignored by the press other Oregon shooting a few years ago of a guy opening fire in a food court until a concealed carry citizen drew on him, didn’t fire, and the would-be mass shooter fled and killed himself. And someone can show me the recent article of a kid who shot and killed a girl he didn’t like for not letting him pet her puppies.

We can trade individual stories for days on end. But it’s like arguing climate change: Someone can point to record snowfall, someone else can point to record heatwave, but these are all individual datapoints for trends. The trend: climate change is real. And, overall gun crime has fallen and continues to fall, while mass shootings goes up.

Back to John Oliver and his Coke can metaphor, what he (his writers) seem to ignore, a point most liberals ignore: There are over 300,000,000 legal firearms in the US. And nearly all of them are used legally and responsibly. Most gun owners never talk about their guns, never use them except for safe and intended purposes. The fact that a tiny percentage of guns in the country are used for evil is ignored for the point that any gun is used at all.

In closing, what I hate most is the constant cry that “Something must be done about gun control!” Okay, great. What? Tell me what? Most people either say, I don’t know (which is fine, but let’s maybe start thinking about it instead of impotently crying “Do something!”), or if pressed, think all guns can be banned. Personally, I appreciate the rare meme I see about comparing regulating guns like we do cars! Required tests, required insurance, required safety inspections, etc.

As a gun shooter and enthusiast, I’m also a rabid NRA-hater and I’m enthusiastically all for greater regulation and control! (Hey, rabid gun-lovers who wave the Constitution like a magic totem: The document itself states “well-regulated,” dick. Having to take classes, carry insurance, pass checks, register your gun, is not equivalent to “They’s takin our gunz!!”)… (yeah, I know, I just committed an ad hominem fallacy there, sue me.)

But greater control isn’t a panacea for gun crime and certainly not for mass shootings. Something else must be done (in addition!) And people like that blogger I linked to at the top, and Malcolm Gladwell, have touched on the root of the issue with young white male mass shooters: It’s not the guns, it’s not even entirely mental illness: it’s what we do as a society and what we value and how we treat all of us, even the least of us.

Gun control, redux

Naturally, like many people, my thoughts have been on the topic of gun control of late. Naturally, if you know me, I have opinions on the matter.

However, you may be surprised to hear, my thoughts have evolved a bit.

But first, a metablog word: So, as you can see, it’s been nearly a year since the last time I’ve blogged on here. There are various reasons. One was the chilling effect that incident a year and half ago had on me. (Huh. I was going through the archives trying to find a reference to that incident, and can’t find one. Except where I vaguely refer to it. I guess it was so chilling it left me too skittish to even refer to it when it happened. Probably wise. Suffice to say, someone who vehemently disagreed with a political opinion of mine tried to get me fired from my day job. Tried very hard. And it had the desired effect: I censored myself a lot more. That person won. They limited my freedom of speech by making me afraid to speak. I’d say that’s a tool of the fascist, but that may or may not be libelous if I meant it.)

Where was I? Oh, yeah. I have also not blogged, even the banal stuff I promised because, well, Facebook is just too darn easy! Find a good article, hit “Share,” write a sentence or two: bam! Instant validation. When you can do that 20 times a day on various topics, why bother spending time in a long-form essay format.

But (coming back on topic) some issues and thoughts require careful consideration and discourse. And gun control is one of those topics.

Looking through my archives, it seems I’ve shared a few words on the topic before. Here’s most of the good ones:

I packed a lot of good facts and statistics in those posts, which is good since, today, I want to give more broad strokes. Not to say I want to avoid facts, but I want to avoid being too redundant.

Here’s my thesis statement right off: I’m pro gun, anti-gun culture. Pro gun control, anti-gun abolition.

These are not mutually exclusive opinions, despite what the more reactionary liberals would have you believe. In fact, usually whenever I state that I’m pro-gun and anti-extreme gun control, and support concealed carry, the reaction that more than half the time that comes from a reactionary liberal is:

Oh, so you think giving everyone guns would make us safer?!

I swear, the next time I see someone respond with that (and that’s a literal quote from one individual and nearly verbatim from others), I’ll ban/unfriend their rear. That is a textbook slippery slope, straw man logical fallacy. In no way have I, nor the NRA for that matter, nor any reasonable gun advocate I know, has ever suggested, or even implied, everyone should be given guns–or even that everyone should own a gun at all! In fact, most people probably shouldn’t.

I can’t speak for all gun ownership advocates, but I’m in favor of reasonable gun control. Meaning: yes, ban fully-automatic weapons. Ban assault rifles. Ban whatever can’t be reasonably used for hunting and home/self defense. In addition, I feel, everyone who owns a gun should have to take gun safety and usage courses, pass an exam, and re-certify every so many years, just as we do for driving. Also, mental health background checks should be considered, especially if there is a history of schizophrenia or anti-social personality disorders (sociopathy and psychopathy).

Now, can that position in any way be confused with: Let everyone have guns!!1!

Here’s the crux: Liberals tend to think the whole issue can be solved by banning guns. That somehow our culture will be more civil and less violent without guns. Just like how banning drugs has made people stop using drugs and dealers stop profiting off drugs. (That last was sarcastic, in case you didn’t notice.) But it’s not as simple as that.

Examples: England has outlawed almost all private gun ownership. Yet they have a terrible black market gun trade and high rates of gun-related crime. Meanwhile, Switzerland has a high rate of gun ownership, but extremely low gun-crime. Why is this?

People hate this, conservatives more than liberals, but on this topic, liberals hate it as much as extreme conservatives: The solution is complicated. It comes down to culture.

Face it, America has a violent, arrogant, thrill-seeking, short-sighted, selfish, adolescent-like, near-sociopathic culture. It’s mirrored and reinforced in our entertainment, it’s validated by the corporatocracy which defines our values, it’s evident in our brief history, and it’s exported by our military empire.

Add to that, we have deplorable, embarrassing, social care and safety-net system: the worst insurance-care healthcare system of the civilized world, massive poverty for a western nation, we treat drug addiction like a crime instead of a disease and thus exacerbate drug-related crimes, terrible mental health screening and care–our social structure is abysmal, which is why people often turn to crime, violent crime at that. Countries like Switzerland and most European countries, actually abhor violent culture and entertainment, care about their social structure, have higher education rates and put a premium on education, and strive to make sure their populace is physically and mentally healthy and happy. England, unfortunately, aside from their national health service, has a culture far too similar to the U.S. (thanks Thatcher!) and so suffers from much of the same cultural ills.

What I’m saying, is the problem isn’t the guns, it’s the people. We could ban all guns in the U.S. outright, but that’s not going to change the culture. We would simply have an out of control black market gun trade, and an increase in gun violence just as illegal drugs lead to violence connected with its illegal trafficking.

I agree, we should make it harder for people to get guns that can do a lot of destruction in a short amount of time. But what we also need to do is stop making human game preserves, or as they officially are called: gun free zones. Because if someone is intent on doing gun violence, you think making some place a gun free zone is going to deter them?

What can deter people intent on doing mass violence is the threat of an armed populace.

Yeah, I just heard that aneurysm blow in dozens of liberals.

Again, I am in no way implying giving people guns. Read my paragraph above on what I believe people should have to do to be able to own a gun.

Concealed carry requirements, for example, not only require people to understand gun safety, but also when and where the use of armed protection or reaction is necessary. People who are responsible gun owners, who have legal concealed carry licenses, are people who tend to train often and respect the tool. The scenario of some wanton cross-fire shootout among civilians pretty much only exists in (our violent) movies. It just doesn’t happen in real life.

What does happen in real life, is responsible gun owners have stopped mass killings.

Here’s a site which this fellow (an anarcho-capitalist, ugh!) has researched mass shooting events across the country, sorted the ones in which the killers shot at will until stopped by police, and ones in which an armed civilian got involved. The result:

The average number of people killed in mass shootings when stopped by police is 14.3

The average number of people killed in a mass shooting when stopped by a civilian is 2.3.

[…] it makes perfect sense if you think about from inside the mind of a heroic civilian with a concealed carry permit. It goes something like this:

BANG!
“Holy crap! that guy shot that other guy.”
BANG!
“He’s just going to keep shooting people.”
BANG!

And the shooter goes down.

Quite a few cases went something like that. In fact, I found only one example of a shooter stopped by civilians who killed more than 3 people. Jared Loughner killed 6 people in Tucson, Arizona before he was tackled by two civilians. Maybe it’d have been less if one of those two men were armed.

Police react to shooting events as fast as they can, but unless there happens to be a few around the corner, it takes them as long as it takes a killer to empty three clips of ammo at least, to respond. Usually, as that site shows, mass shootings end when the killer is finished and commits suicide. But like he illustrates, an armed, trained civilian can react and stop a mass shooter in enough time to same many lives.

But the Aurora shooter had body armor! A civilian would have had no effect and possibly kill more people!

Perhaps. But we know two things, especially about Aurora: 1. no one confronted the shooter and a lot of people died and a lot more were wounded. 2. in other shootings in which the shooter was wearing body armor, the shooter stopped shooting at other people and focused on the civilian.

Example: The Mark Wilson response to David Hernandez Arroyo’s mass shooting. Arroyo had already killed two people and was about to kill his own son, when Wilson, a civilian, shot him. Arroyo, instead of shooting the unarmed son, turned on Wilson and chased him down instead. Wilson was, sadly, ultimately killed by Arroyo. But his action saved at least one life, taking the shooters attention until the police was able to adequately respond.

Also in Colorado, when church security guard Jeanne Assam took her personally owned concealed handgun and fired on a man intent on mass murder, the guy’s plans were instantly thwarted (he certainly didn’t expect armed resistance at a church!) and he killed himself (instead of doing so after killing many).

That site I linked above details many such instances in which an armed civilian turns what could have been a news-making mass shooting into a page 3 shooting event.

As for the Aurora, Colorado shooting, obviously we can’t know for sure what would have happened if there were an armed civilian or two in there. But here’s what I see would likely have been a worst-case scenario: Holmes would have started firing. Two, three, maybe five people get shot. The two poorly trained armed civilians pull their guns and fire, both hitting another two to four civilians (with concealed carry size handguns, most likely seriously wounding but possibly killing them). Holmes focuses on them long enough to kill them, and then continues. Instead of 12 dead and 60 injured, maybe 15 dead and 63 injured. Yes, every life is tragic! But is the final result that much worse?

More than likely, what would have happened: Holmes fires a few times. An adequately trained armed civilian realizes what’s going on and takes a kneeling position behind a row of chairs and fires back. Holmes stops shooting indiscriminately at fleeing people, and focuses on the shooter. He can’t see the shooter much better than the other way around, and has to try to locate and approach him. Meanwhile, more people are safely escaping without being shot at. A full minute or two passes while civilian and Holmes trade shots. Eventually, maybe Holmes kills the brave civilian (although, in nearly every single case but 2 of civilian opposition, the civilian is unharmed), but in that time, dozens of people were able to flee. Final result: maybe 4 dead and 12 injured. Still tragic, but significantly less so.

It’s also been shown that some shooters, when their plan goes south and realize there’s quick and unexpected opposition, flee instead….

Well, that’s my take. But what about the Second Amendment? Shouldn’t we be allowed to have AR-15s and assault rifles and high capacity clips and body armor to protect the republic from a corrupt government, like Jefferson and other Founding Fathers intended?

Well, at one time (one of those links above?) I would have possibly agreed. But when you really think about it, it’s far too late for that. No matter how many AR-15s the populace has, if the people wanted to revolt against an evil government, they would have as much chance against the U.S. military as an ant has against a tactical nuke. Gun hoarders and Idaho compound residents expecting to rise up against the government: yeah, give up the delusion. The only thing you’ll be any use in is if all technology stopped working and the world descended into medieval-like chaos, or Red Dawn comes true. And that ain’t bloody likely. No, if the government becomes so corrupt that we need to rise up, you better darn well hope the military is on our side, and that’s not going to happen. And if it does happen, the military coup will be swift.

That being said, it’s possible that the U.S. has avoided corrupt(er) and evil(er) governments thanks to the prophylactic threat of an armed populace. We can’t count the number of times something didn’t happen, so who knows how many times the Second Amendment actually prevented a fascist regime. (One can argue that that very threat has contributed to the plutocratic government’s more subtle corporatist military-industrial-complex takeover that influences our culture.)

But, water and bridges. As it is now, the Second Amendment just doesn’t matter any longer in the sense that guns are needed to protect liberty. The people vs. the standing military (something the Founding Fathers very much did not want) has already been terribly lost.

So, in conclusion: better (i.e.: smarter) gun control, and massive culture reformation are the only ways we’ll prevent gun crime.

Tinker, Tailor, FBI.

Now that I’ve had a chance to see both the new Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and J. Edgar, I want to make some comments before they’re out on video already for a year or two. It’s so rare that I get to see Oscar-potential movies while they’re actually in the theaters (last year, I had a three-movie-marathon with True Grit, The King’s Speech, and . . . I forget . . . all in one day (thanks to a regular theater, a 2nd-run theater, and a re-release to a wider audience). But I digress.

First, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy as directed by the director of the original Swedish vampire film that made me think vampires could be interesting again, Let the Right One In. A truly inspired bit of daring movie-making, that one. With TTSS, he brought along his truly wonderful talent at evoking atmosphere and style, but I was rather underwhelmed by the film as a whole. There’s really nothing I can pinpoint as any one particularly weak point (except maybe the somewhat impenetrable script — but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If everything else is good, and I get a sense that the plot is making sense, I can let a dense script I’m not immediately grokking wash over me knowing I can watch it again some other time for the details). But even the script isn’t a failure by any means; the dialog was well-written with the tension-filled spareness of a Pinter play.

The acting was also quite good all-round — but I wasn’t blown away. Which is my failing. For months, I’d been so worked up about this film, about Gary Oldman, that I expected a tour de force performance. What I got was skillful subtlety, and natural and believable underplayed drama. Well, except for John Hurt, but then, his angry forcefulness was exactly what was needed and entirely appropriate for character and tone.

This asplosion not in any film reviewed here. Or, anywhere.

Did I not like it as much as I was hoping because, what, I was expecting a Bourne movie? Bond? Mission Impossible? No. I’m familiar with the book (though I haven’t read it) and the original production, so I knew it was going to be a realistic, non-explody, spy film. I loved The American, for example, even though — no, because — it was stark and understated and atmospheric and tension-building and virtually no actiony-action. (I’m actually the only person I know who liked The American.) But then, I really didn’t know what to expect with The American except that it’d been described as a European-like film — which is a plus in my book! I simply, for some unknown reason, went into TTSS with high expectations — and they were ironically fulfilled in that it’s an excellent film, but not what I expected.

Then there’s J. Edgar. I pretty much got exactly what I expected with that film, and that may be one of the reasons for its surprisingly low RottenTomatoes score (although Ebert, who I almost always agree with, gave it a high 3.5 arbitrary stars). It was a rough, uneven, hit-and-miss film with much unfulfilled potential. Part of the problem is Leonardo DiCaprio. I can’t buy him. I recognize he’s a good actor who takes on challenging roles, but he’s . . . so . . . it’s the very weird dissonance he creates in my mind where I can’t decide if he did well or not, like one of those “magic eye” pictures where if you work at it, the 3D image will pop out at you — but usually, it’s just lingering on the edge of being and you know you can bring it into focus if you try. . . . Anyway, that’s DiCaprio for me in any adult role he’s in. He was great in Gilbert Grape, perfect in Titanic, quite wonderful in Gangs of New York. But I could just barely accept him in Shutter Island (good film!), though, I’ll admit, I accepted him in Inception. But as J. Edgar Hoover, I just can’t quite bring my opinion of his performance in focus, but I’m pretty sure I see the outline of an opinion that he was out of his depth and gave a pretty 1.75-note performance. His squint gave the other .25.

Oh, and don’t get me started on the makeup! OK, DiCaprio’s was passable, but what the heck was the Play-Dough and stipple monstrosity that was “Clyde Tolson”? It looked like Odo came back from Deep Space 9 with chicken pox and a bee sting allergy. Also, the film skipped around in time indiscernibly. It wouldn’t have been a problem if it had been two or three very different time-lines that went along at their own, but chronically forward, line — but there were points in which it skipped around in time just enough where you couldn’t quite tell by any visual cue if it went forward 1 year or 15 before skipping back 30.

Those flaws aside, the story surrounding Hoover and his longtime companion and possible lover, Clyde Tolson, was nearly perfect in its level of intimacy, its tone, and its anxiety. They played it quite well. Although, unfortunately, there’s one scene in which they have a fight resulting from Hoover’s repressed fear and Tolson’s sense of betrayal, in which they’re rolling around on each other and despite the sincere drama of the moment, I couldn’t help but hear Mark Russell in my head singing, “Sexual, subli-MA-tionnn . . . sexual SUB-li-ma-tion. . . .” It was just too contrived and blatant. But, as a whole, as I said, it was well-done and dramatic as I couldn’t help but cry a little at the end in Hoover’s bedroom.

But, being the Marxist that I am, I couldn’t help but see the movie from another perspective. Most of Hoover’s career was, as was depicted in the film, an obsession with a war against terror, I mean, against the Commie Menace. Now, I know Clint Eastwood, socially and politically, is a complex guy who has a foot in both the liberal progressive and the conservative camps, so I’m not terribly certain whether he wants us to cheer for Hoover and his elimination of communism in America (after all, the only depiction we get of the people Hoover fought were legitimately dangerous and violent anarchists — which, by the way, is a different ideology from communism), and no glimpse of American socialism of the 1910s through 30s that wasn’t through Hoover’s eyes, or whether he wants us to realize Hoover’s view is a skewed and ideological one. Is Eastwood taking it for granted that the audience knows who Emma Goldman was and what the Chicago union strikes were all about? Or does he side with Hoover’s ideals, but just not as neurotic about it as Hoover was?

In any case, I booed (mentally) with the 1919 anarchist bombings, sure; but, when Emma Goldman, the mother of American anarcho-socialism, appeared (and with such an eerie likeness that I questioned the accuracy of Maureen Stapleton’s portrayal of her in Warren Beatty’s epic film, Reds), I cheered! She’s a hero in my book, and a movie very desperately needs to be made about her. (Probable sociopath Ayn Rand got a sympatheric TV movie made about her, but Emma just gets cameos.) But as I was saying, in this time of the 2nd great-ish depression, thinking about the fascist iron fist that was brought to bear down on the nascent socialist movement in America during the 1st Great Depression, makes me frustrated and angry. People today have no clue that, especially before WWI but continuing into the Depression, the socialist party was a viable and legitimate party in America with supporters from all walks of life (except the wealthy capitalists, the politicians they bought, and the police they used to protect them), from Woody Guthrie to John Steinbeck to Albert Einstein.

If the development of modern capitalism had been mitigated and wasn’t allowed to take complete dominance in America in the early 20th century, I’m just guessing here of course, but I seriously doubt we’d have the boom-bust collapse of the economy across the predominately postmodern capitalist world we have now. (But then, to be fair, capitalism was needed then in order to get us to a state where it can destroy itself by making capital wealth ownership by the few, unnecessary. Which is the state we’re now in, with capitalism self-destructing.) But, if socialism had been allowed to remain side-by-side with capitalism — even if in a lesser role — and share the “base,” then when capitalism collapsed as a viable socio-economic model, viable and evolved socialist models for the 21st century could’ve been ready to take over. Yet, thanks to the war-on-pinkos waged by the likes of Hoover (and McCarthy, whom, according to this film, Hoover disliked greatly), all reasonable ideas of socialism were lumped in with the violent anarchists and eradicated as one boogey-scapegoat. And, while Hoover’s pet project and legacy, the FBI, became enviable in the realm of criminal investigation, I’m less than pleased about how corrupt, like most of government, it has become. (Although, really, with all the bugging and wiretapping the FBI was doing in the film, often for Hoover’s own secret personal files, I guess they really haven’t changed all that much!)

So, what was Eastwood’s point? Does he share his contemporary, Beatty’s, leftist sensibilities and made Hoover into a murkily depicted ideologue who changed history on his own terms? Or as a flawed hero who but for being sadly repressed (I know, fortunately, Eastwood’s liberal progressive opinions on homosexuality) and conflicted, did the right thing, badly? I can’t tell. And I don’t think that ambiguity, useful in arthouse films, is a good thing in this very Hollywood biopic.

Mmm, smells like scorched earth!

So, there’s a bit of drama going on in atheist circles dubbed “gelatogate.” The Angry Astronomer has a decent, and not very angry, explanation of the deal on his blog; but in brief, here’s the deal:

Christian local businessman pops over to the annual free “Skepticon” conference to see what’s going on. Thinking, understandably so, that it might be all about skepticism on UFOs and ghosts and whatnot (which it somewhat is), he’s treated to a few minutes of Sam Singleton’s parody act of a holy-roller revivalist sermon, not promoting gettin’ saved, but parodying religion and promoting skeptical atheism — and the crowd participating in the parody by, not yelling “amen!,” but rather “goddam!”

So, said Christian businessman runs over to his neighboring gelato and smoothie business and posts a sign reading:

“Skepticon is not welcomed to my Christian business,

where it remains for anywhere between 10 minutes (he says) and two hours (others say), possibly violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The near immediate result? Atheists with access to the Intertubes (purt near ev’rybody), went apoplectic and completely decimated his online rankings on such social media services as Urbanspoon, Yelp, and Google reviews. I mean, decimated. (Although, will taking a store’s ranking down to 1 star, or 5%, or whatever on one of these, really harm a business? Especially in a town that’s not very social media savvy? Meh, doubt it. But it’s still something that would make a struggling businessperson’s stomach turn to water.)

So, he posted an notpology on his Web page: a very thinly veiled “please lay off, m’kay?!” apology. After that made the rounds of critical mockery, he posted an extensive and reasonably sincere-sounding apology over on Reddit, where his infamy across the world was begat. Some atheism/skepticism bigwigs and muckymucks accepted the apology. Others did not. Boy-howdy, did they not. And this is where my opinions on the matter begin….

As this drama played out, plot twist by plot twist, my own views changed somewhat with each new development.

  • Posted the sign: I freaked-the-flip out.
  • I learned he posted it after watching some undeniably inflammatory and reverse-offensive Sam Singleton: I nodded my head sagely and with tee-pee’ed fingers murmuring, “Indeed. Quite understandable, wot!”
  • The notpology: “OMG hes such a lyingjerk!!1!”
  • The full apology: “Ah, good show, old bean!”
  • JT Eberhard’s non-acceptance: “Yeah! Totally! We ride!… whoa… wait a second… Really?”

See, JT Eberhard’s a quickly-growing muckymuck of atheism in his own right. He’s the driving force for the first three years of Skepticon and is a very vocal opponent, and mockerizer, of religion. And nearly all the time I agree with nearly everything he posts (although, I find his frequent use of profanity completely unnecessary and juvanile… but whatchya gonna do). Yet, I’ve decided that in this late stage of this already getting old issue, his approach (the first “non-acceptance” post linked above, and his ironically-titled follow-up: “We Have No Choice But To Invade Gelato Mio” is wrong and likely do to far more harm than good. (But FSM help the person who tries to suggest JT might be wrong about something, unless you already happen to be in his inner-circle of friends. You take your metaphorical life in your hands. But, here goes….)

There is a time and a place and a need for bulldog firebrands. And, in JT’s day job, I rather think his style of take-no-prisoners scorched-earth approach is necessary! As he’s “a campus organizer and high school specialist with the Secular Student Alliance,” I believe he has to work on a daily basis dealing with some absolutely terrible bigotry from people in positions of unquestioned authority toward kids who have little to no defense against the religious intolerance they face. He has to defend students’ rights, legal and ethical, to express their beliefs and even form legally-allowed student clubs and associations which are constantly under attack from school administrators. Atheist students, especially those still in the closet and in much need of vocal and voracious support, need people like JT and his “give no quarter” single-mindedness. And I celebrate him for it!

But, there’s also a need, and a time and a place, for choosing one’s battles, deciding when discretion is the better part of valor, and allowing the “enemy” to slink away with a noggin-bump, instead of nuking them from orbit and then salting the earth for good measure. Yes yes, I know, JT’s actual demands are:

“Tell me bigotry is unacceptable.  Tell me offense is not the same as breathing life into prejudice.  Tell me that punishing somebody for disagreeing with you or thinking your beliefs are silly is immoral.  And tell me you will make a donation that will actually help make the world a better place rather than inviting us to patronize your business for an insignificant discount.”

…and they’re not unreasonable demands, really. (Well, there’s valid debate over whether demanding a struggling small business owner [who is likely in great debt and probably not even paying himself a wage — if the average situation of small business owners is applicable in this guy’s case] make a large personal donation is unreasonable or not. Although, I can see how that 10% discount the guy’s offering might be seen as patronizing and a cynical ploy to simply help his business.)

But it’s not just the demands themselves as much as it’s the inflammatory approach and words JT uses. The demeanor, the tone, the insults, the mockery he uses, feels to me less like a noble battle, and more like curb-stomping the local bully after getting a lucky break and jumping him when his back was turned. And while in the battlefield of protecting students from bigoted school boards and principals and teachers, for the sake of establishing proper laws and rules and making sure they’re enforced, one does not concede the battle until the other side gives unconditional surrender. But in the battlefield of public opinion, media, the general public, that approach does the atheist “movement” far more harm than any possible good.

In the minds of the general public, they see a situation where a local businessman does something, and are shown by the outraged minority that the something was discriminatory and bigoted, we now have the upper hand. We now are seen by many people as having rights and that there is discrimination that goes on, and the general public (including liberal Christians), now have the seed planted in their head that discrimination’s not cool and we’ll call them on it. They themselves may not disagree with the bigotry, but at least they may be thinking about the repercussions of it and may even be questioning the bigotry itself as something they never really thought about before. It’s not a big win, but it’s progress.

Then, the guy apologizes, and the atheist community at-large generally, and publicly, accepts it. What happens? The general public and the liberal Christians have their preconceptions of the angry, religion-hating atheist challenged! We’re shown as reasonable, ethical, diplomatic, and perhaps even calmer and more sane than your average holier-than-thou religious leader and spokesperson who appears on FOX News. Now they’re more willing to listen to what we have to say, to consider our positions, to truly rethink their bigotry and not just the outward acts of discrimination. Now they’re willing to concede issues and work with us in other issues.

But then, what happens when prominent atheist spokespersons demand heads on spikes? (Metaphorically.) The walls redouble in size, the shields go to maximum, and the us-versus-them mentality is reinforced. The general public and the liberal Christian (which, really, by and large, are greatly overlapping Venn Diagram circles), believe their preconceptions are well-founded and continue to ignore our valid complaints and criticisms.

If we let this one bigoted business owner go, probably not having had a real change of heart but just a show of one, what do we really lose? If we accept his sincere-sounding apology and let him off with tail tucked between his legs and a stern “Okay, off with you — but we’ll be watching,” is that really so terrible if it means we gain great PR and the willing and open ear of millions of other people? So he’s not beaten into submission — but will anything we do really, possibly, change his “heart”? Do we seriously think that we can possibly convince this guy he was truly wrong by continuing to berate and insult and bash him and demand things of him? Will that make him, and many like him, watching this, see the light? Have a true conversion?

No, it will not. No amount of continued battle against him will truly change him or others, and will only harden them all to us. But diplomacy, some forgiveness, leniency, will not only be more productive to our cause in the long run and on a wider scale, but may actually do more good in setting this guy on a path to the real and sincere atonement that is currently being demanded at the point of a verbal spear.

*blog post image taken from this lifehacker post: “Venting Frustration Will Only Make Your Anger Worse.”

Only in America.

20110920-110253.jpg

Had an interesting day last week with a significantly important coincidence:

So we spent two hours at work last Wednesday doing our annual insurance benefits review. For two hours, with our insurance broker and our Aflac rep, we discussed how much our insurance costs. How many thousands our deductible is. What’s in-network and what’s out. Whether ER visit costs get rolled into the hospital stay coverage or not. What conditions allow for supplemental insurance payouts and whether it follows you and your job. Tips and hints on how to try to get the insurance company to authorize and pay out for treatments. Etc. etc.

(Interesting note provided by the Aflac rep: 70% of bankruptcy cases in America are due to medical costs. And 50% of those — the bankrupt had medical insurance.)

So, two hours of numbers and facts and complex conditions surrounding how your life can be slowly destroyed by medical bills instead of quickly destroyed. Now for the comedic coinkydink:

That very morning, on the way to work, I was listening to a recent “Sword and Laser” scifi/fantasy book club podcast with a conversation with multi-bestselling and award winning author Robert J. Sawyer. And when asked how old he was when he was able to start writing full-time, he said he was writing full-time in his early twenties. Why? Because he’s Canadian. He expressed that, like him, a lot of Canadian writers and other artists are able to even have careers as artists, are able to work on their art from an early age and get good, developing their skill and talent early, allowing them to have decades of quality output far in excess of American writers and artists for primarily one main reason: socialized healthcare. As a young man, Sawyer never had to worry about giving up his talent and dream in order to find and work at a job doing not at all what he wanted to do in order to have healthcare. Sure, there were times he had to eat pretty skimpily, but that’s doable. Paying thousands of dollars for an illness or accident isn’t.

Award-winning Canadian author (among other things) Cory Doctorow once expressed similar arguments on an episode of American Freethought. He said now that he had a family, he’d never live in the U.S. again, never not live in Canada or the U.K., so that his daughter would never be without healthcare. He told a story of how when traveling across England, his daughter started developing a bad fever. They stopped in a town and saw a doctor who examined her, wrote a script, they picked it up, and were able to continue on, and they never had to fill out papers and only had to pay a couple of dollars (equivalent) for the medication. He and his wife get to thrive in their dream jobs because aren’t forced to work for healthcare.

I can’t say who because I didn’t ask permission to say, but I know someone in Canada who had a car accident not long ago. They were taken to the ER by ambulance, were examined, treated, and released with great care. They were provided with a new shirt because theirs had to be cut off, and, reimbursed for the cut shirt. All they had to do was show their Canadian citizen health I.D., and they got all this treatment without paying a dime or filling out paperwork.

Oh, of course, taxes pay for this care. But I once compared how much taxes I pay (sales, income, property) with a relative who lives in Canada (higher sales but no income (or property — one of the two, I forget)), and at the bottom line is we pay about the same in taxes.

…except they don’t have to pay what I do in health insurance premiums and deductibles and medical co-pays and out of pocket bills…. So, who wins here?

In every modern country in the world: the citizens do. In the U.S., and only the U.S., health insurers do. And the so-called healthcare “reform” that was recently passed? That “Obamacare” (which can be called “Newtcare” since it’s the same reform proposed by the House Republicans in the 90s), it actually put insurers in better position to make more money while hurting small businesses and much of the people. But, small wonder considering how many millions of dollars politicians, from both parties, get from insurance industry lobby.

Do I hear someone yell, “If you love Canada so much, why don’t you move there!“? Oh, I swear I wish I could, I really very much wish I could. But it costs to move and I’m too far in debt with student loans.

Oh, did I mention that, like most of Europe, most of higher education in Canada is also as free as their healthcare? They have this crazy idea that a healthy and educated citizenry is somehow good for the country on the whole. I know, crazy, huh?

Update: Well this is funny!
Note the date of today’s post — September 2011. Well, after posting this post, my blog automatically created a set of “related posts” links (see below). And lookee what’s likely still the first suggested link.

It’s a post I did in April 2009 about the same author(s) talking on different podcasts about the same thing. I’d totally forgotten! Wow, so much has changed in the last 2 to 3 years, huh? Oh I’m laughing til I cry.

Soylent Green and corporations have less in common than you think.

Well, I’m breaking my self-imposed blog embargo for this missive. It’s been rattling in my head for a while and I just need to get it out.

It started with something a friend of mine said recently. A group of us were ragging on corporations, and someone commented about something vile a corporation recently did, and the friend quipped, “It’s almost like corporations were made up of people.” The subtext to his sarcasm was to imply that it’s silly to discuss corporations as if they’re some separate entity from humanity because, after all, corporations are made up of people and, evidently, will only do the same good and ill that humans do.

Unfortunately, despite what the conservative-leaning Supreme Court thinks (vis-à-vis “Citizens United v FEC”), corporations aren’t people. They are a collection of people, that, like any collection of people, make a gestalt that is very different than the sum of its parts. To claim to not be able to analyze and critique (and judge ethically) corporations as a separate thing because they’re made of people, is utterly meaningless. By that rationale, nothing could be said about anything within the realm of human culture and creation because, after all, it’s all made by, or made up of, people. Like all forms of human culture and its production, corporations can — and should — be analyzed and critiqued as a concept that acts separate and apart from humanity in general. Why?

Think of it this way: Would you walk into a library and find a literary book club in progress and expect it to behave and have the save motives and agenda as, say, the group of Ultimate Wrestling fans that show up regularly at the local sports bar? Or how about the local Baptist Bible study group versus the local Society for Creative Anachronism group? They’re all made of people, yes? But any group of people with a shared goal, or interest, is going to A. be very similar to other groups that have the same goals and interests; and B. be very different from groups with different goals and interests. Similar groups will be similar enough that you can usually talk about that kind of group using generalities, and different groups can be different enough to be able to critique them as altogether different entities. This sounds silly and obvious when stated like that, but it’s the ridiculously obvious reason corporations lend themselves to separate and justified deconstruction and critique apart from the motivations and behaviors of people in general.

One of the reasons should be obvious: self-selection. Particular type of people with particular types of demeanors, attitudes, outlooks, ideologies, will choose to associate themselves with others of similar types, under the banner of a shared goal or interest. You will find particular types of people at a book club and different particular types at the sports bar. Oh, sure, there will be cross-over. The occasional mixed-martial-art fan may also be a Jane Eyre fan, and the occasional Nicholas Sparks fan will be seen at the sports bar. But the exceptions point up the rule.

And so too with corporations. Particular types of people seek and earn MBAs and become stock traders and managers and accountants and whatnot who gravitate toward the corporate culture. And the larger, the more multi-national the corporation, the more the individual dissolves and melds into the background of the homogeneous culture of the corporation. Those who don’t fit in or are different than the corporate culture demands, either self-select to leave the culture, or get pushed out for not fitting in — not being a “team player.” And so the corporate culture self-reinforces and insulates itself even more in order to achieve its goals and realize its agenda.

And what is the corporation’s goals and agenda? All groups, organizations, have goals and agendas. The book club, the Bible study, the sports cub, the football team, the knitting circle, the SCA group, the anti-vaccination group, the local skeptics’ club, the Young Democrats, the Future Business Leaders of America… all groups that have come together for a shared interest have an overarching goal. And what is the corporation’s? Profit, pure and simple. Profit by means of selling a product or service to as close to 100% of the market share as possible, and by any means it can get away with. In fact, legally, a corporation can’t make operating decisions that would knowingly deprive the shareholders from making money. As observed by Robert Hinkley in “Redesigning Corporate Law,”

Distilled to its essence, [the law] says that the people who run corporations have a legal duty to shareholders, and that duty is to make money. Failing this duty can leave directors and officers open to being sued by shareholders. This explains why corporations find social issues such as humanrights irrelevant – because they fall outside the corporation’s legal mandate. Secondly, these provisions explain why executives behave differently than they might as individual citizens, because the law says their only obligation in business is to make money.

Well, you can’t make it more plain than that. Corporations exist to make money; and civil liberties, human rights, decency, laws, are all obstacles that must be worked around and, wherever possible, ignored and broken, in order to reach its goal.

A corporation, because of its self-selection and its over-aching goal that all members of the corporation buy into, makes the corporation act as something individualized and apart from humanity. In a way, a corporation is like a person — a sociopath. An amoral being without empathy or remorse, single-minded and manipulative, and dangerous. Capable and willing to do any harm necessary if it means getting what it wants.

In society, when an individual sociopathic human does harm, we punish them. We take them out of society. When a corporation does harm, what happens? The corporation may get fined, it may get sued. But as the link above explains, that’s just a cost of doing business. The corporation will likely continue on without a hitch, especially if it’s a multi-national where its finances are in the Cayman Islands, its management is in Dubai, and its production is in China. Some CEO or manager may become the face of “the problem,” get slapped on the wrist, leave the company — but the company persists as juggernaut. (And the CEO likely will be just fine as well, don’t you worry. Most corporate CEOs and managers sit on the board of directors of other corporations in an incestual game of musical chairs. Boards that hire on a new CEO from another corporation who leads the company for a while, makes several million, gets a few million more as a severance package even if he does a poor job, where he’ll move on to oversee the hiring of a CEO in another company he helps run.)

Oh, and by the way, most of the people on top, the CEOs and managers and directors of the board, aren’t generally people who started out at a community college and worked full time and took classes until they Made It. No, that group at the top, who shuffle around the companies and hand each other favors, are the type of people satirized in this “Note of Appreciation from the Rich.” So when the top of the corporate structure is led by these hereditary, dynastic, feudal lords, and the bottom 95% is constructed of those who strive to be like those at the top — you get a very particular type of culture.

Corporations are, in general, evil in the same way a psychopath is evil. (In fact, it’s estimated that an inordinate amount of corporate leaders are, in fact, sociopaths and psychopaths. Why? Again: self-selected culture.) So, like all and any construct of human creation, the corporation is something that has its own agenda, goals, motivations, effects, and sub-culture, which is perfectly open to deconstruction and ethical judgement.

For more, excellent analysis of why we should analyze and deconstruct any element of human culture, see Roland Barthes Mythologies. It’s actually very short, and a fascinating read.

 

Be it resolved…

This has, without a doubt, been an absolutely terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. Probably the worst one, evah! (The only, and I mean only, bright spot was I finally got my Masters Degree in English . . . and even that’s pending until next year when I pay for and turn in super-expensive copies of my thesis and pay the rest of my school bill — not counting, of course, student loans I need to start paying on.) The badness is butting right up to the very end of the year in the last days. There’s been serious financial difficulties; there’s been a scary person, terrorizing my private and work life because they were offended by a political opinion I expresses online; there’s been legal scares; I’ve failed to make any progress on any of my writing career goals; our beloved family pet died; and the turmoil associated with completing my previously mentioned thesis. This year can’t end soon enough.

With the coming of this completely arbitrarily demarcated new year and new decade (contrary to popular opinion, decades begin on “1” years, e.g.: 2011, not “0,” e.g.: 2010), I need to make some serious changes; I need to refocus, re-prioritize, and start anew. As someone I don’t recall said, “If you want things to be different, you must do something different.”

Part of my problem is frakkin’ Facebook. It’s an evil, evil bane on productivity and a facilitator of my getting distracted and bent-out-of-shape about subjects that, while are important, serves only to make me upset and completely unproductive in regards to what’s even more important in my life: my nascent, budding writing career that I hope to make into a viable “second job,” with aspirations of it being my main job within a couple/few years.

In addition to the craptacular events that have sideswiped me and/or made me utter a general “WTF, world? W. T. F.?!” every other week, it seems, I recently read a blog post by writer/director Kevin Smith: “SMonologue #2.” The first half he discusses “Clerks 3” and the cost/process of investing in a movie idea and making it happen. But the important bit is the last half, in which he writes:

Continue reading Be it resolved…

On voting.

Once again, it’s the season where I’m absolutely inundated with requests — no, demands — that I vote. I’m told it’s my civic duty. I’m told in haughty, self-righteous, proud acrimony that if I don’t vote, I have no right to complain, as if my freedom of speech is revoked should choose to not select a career politician who I despise less than the other guy to “represent” me — when none of these people I’m told to select from actually represent me.

So, am I going to vote next week? Actually, yes. But, with caveats, and I’m more than happy to explain why.

First, a little parable:

Three wolves and six goats are discussing what to have for dinner. One courageous goat makes an impassioned case: “We should put it to a vote!” The other goats fear for his life, but surprisingly, the wolves acquiesce.

But when everyone is preparing to vote, the wolves take three of the goats aside. “Vote with us to make the other three goats dinner,” they threaten. “Otherwise, vote or no vote, we’ll eat you.”

The other three goats are shocked by the outcome of the election: a majority, including their comrades, has voted for them to be killed and eaten. They protest in outrage and terror, but the goat who first suggested the vote rebukes them: “Be thankful you live in a democracy! At least we got to have a say in this!”

Voting is a right. People fought and some literally died for he right to be able to vote in fair elections for such things as fair taxes, appropriate laws that are meant to help society function, and people who would represent them in a government by, of, and for the people.

But on most scales, that’s not what we have. We have a government where the higher up you go, the less you, as a person, are being represented so much as being governed in the interests of corporations. The congresspeople, the president, the massive support system that runs the federal government, are paid for by corporate profit — sanctified by the recent Supreme Court decision allowing corporations to spend as much money as they wish to make sure the politicians vote in their interests. In fact, the only politicians at all that get to that high of a level, that get their name on the ballot, are politicians that, regardless of the R or the D next to their name, will support corporate interests over those of the people.

These people do not represent me. I don’t not wish to associate a vote, by right and purchased by many people braver than I who gave their lives to give me the privilege and not the obligation to do so, to any of these people. A vote for a less vile, less corporate-owned, less dishonest, politician is not an exercise in freedom and liberty and civic duty — it is an insult and a mockery of freedom and liberty.

My right to vote quite certainly includes my right to choose to not vote, if that represents my opinion that the people who are my forced choices do not represent me. If I despise both options I have to vote for, I will complain about either one of them regardless of whichever one wins, and I should not have to be compelled to associate myself with either repugnancey in order to be granted the boon of being able to complain about them.

Especially when what I complain about is not just the puppets that I’m forced to choose between, but the entire corrupted and perverted system that puts only bought-and-paid-for corporate tools as my choices for representation.

Indeed, there are people who don’t vote, not because they are exercising their right not to, but because they’re too uninformed, detached, and unconcerned about the process, the system, civil rights and duties. You know what? They too have a right to complain! All people have an inalienable right to speak their mind (granted, so long as it does not directly incite harm to others), regardless of whether they participate in the farce.

I may pity and scowl at them in my own elitist, condescending way for not being involved and interested and engaged in the process, the events, the system that essentially controls their lives. But they still have a right to complain.

The parable above is often used to illustrate what’s called the tyranny of democracy. The idea that the minority must concede to will of the majority for no better reason than because they’re the majority. We all know this is on many levels wrong and unethical. It was seen during segregation, where the racist views of the majority violated the rights of a minority. We can see it today in such things as California’s Prop 8 in which the rights of a minority were eliminated by a majority vote.

If you ever found yourself in a vastly outnumbered minority, and the majority voted that you had to give up something as necessary to your life as water and air, would you comply? When it comes down to it, does anyone really believe it makes sense to accept the authority of a group simply on the grounds that they outnumber everyone else? We accept majority rule because we do not believe it will threaten us – and those it does threaten are already silenced before anyone can hear their misgivings.

–From THE PARTY’S OVER: BEYOND POLITICS, BEYOND DEMOCRACY
http://thecloud.crimethinc.com/pdfs/democracy_reading.pdf

I agree with the position. Majority rule; minority suffers. That’s all well and good so long as you’re part of the majority. But everyone belongs in someone else’s minority group. What happens when the majority on a given position, or condition, votes to remove a right of yours? How fair is democracy to you then?

As an anarchist, I believe ultimately in the removal of all coerced obeisance to the will of another group, whether that group has the force of greater numbers, or a monopoly on violence (the state). But, like Marx who understood that capitalism was a necessary step on the road to socialism, then communism, I understand we’re likely not going to have mass anarchism (nor communism) within my lifetime. The state is here, and it’s not going anywhere, any time soon. And the structure of representative government, as corrupt and flawed and manipulated as it is, should at least somewhat be made to work for the people and not for corporations, whenever possible….

So, I’m going to vote next Tuesday, despite the fact it will be a violation of my integrity. (I don’t believe in the very system itself, I shouldn’t support it with my participation.) But, living completely on the grid, within the culture, subject to the will of the hegemonic cultural logic, and millions of other people have no choice — so I’ll go ahead and cast votes where, and only where, I have a choice in which I think one option is ethically acceptable, and not because it’s the alternative to a worse option. If neither option represents my beliefs, it’s not getting my approval simply because of some non-existent obligation to have to choose one.

What gets my goat, is how so many of the people who wallow in self-righteousness and decree that you’re unAmerican and not worthy of the right to free speech if you don’t vote, are people whose entire civic consciousness, entire political activity, entire involvement in the world around them, begin and end with that 30 minute exercise once every couple of years — maybe only every four years. And of course, that just the way those in power like it. Convince people that they’re actually capable of changing things, get rid of bad and install good, improve the system, by making them think that all they need to do is vote for person A or nearly identical person B, whose differences are those that make people bicker while ignoring the fact the rot goes down to the roots. Make people think that voting equals change, and just shuffle the same agents of corruption and dominance through the offices while the very system itself that underlies the main problems gets blissfully ignored.

So, if you’re one of those who sticks your nose into the air with superiority because you go out of your way to vote for a new boss, same as the old boss, save your breath on me. I’m going to participate in the farce. But you better anticipate some write-in names on my part.

Don’t confuse human ability with miracles.

(Update: As usual, Roger Ebert does a far better job discussing the issue; and, he has person experience with it.)

As I write this, the last of the Chilean miners, trapped underground for more than two months, has been rescued successfully! I can’t even imagine the trials they must have faced, and the joy and relief felt by their family and friends must be overwhelming.

It’s a wonderful, amazing accomplishment of human determination, courage, and ingenuity. What it isn’t, is it isn’t “a miracle” as many are professing.

I understand that many say things like “it’s a miracle!” figuratively, and don’t actually mean a deity has altered the laws of reality to willfully change events in the world in ways that can’t be explained in any naturalistic manner — which is what a miracle is. Some people throw the term around when they really mean to say something is wonderful and amazing (as this story is), without thinking about the physics-altering nature inherent in “miracle.” I and other non-believers have been known to exclaim a “thank God!” now and then, but we shouldn’t be accused of being closet believers.

But there are many who do refer to the Hand of God when they say this rescue is a miracle, and I find that horrifically insulting, belittling, and dismissive of the enormous work, toil, cost, tenacity, and bravery of those who did all the work and shouldered the cost of the rescue.

What kept the miners alive was that there were caches of food and supplies placed throughout the cave because hey, mining is dangerous and collapses happen. Humans thought to do that.

Some of the men were well-experienced professionals who had the skills and abilities to keep them organized and calm and able to ration and stay positive.

Human skill and industry drilled the air and supply holes down to them. And enormous human skill and labor went into drilling and constructing a rescue tube and cage that worked flawlessly.

Human compassion and ability kept those men alive and saved them. Human skill and ingenuity has continued to battle nature and make a dangerous industry somewhat less so, not divine intervention: how far mine safety has come. (Ironic article source.)

If the mine had collapsed and an unknown person appeared among them from nowhere, staying with them and helping them through the 69 days, only to disappear before the rescue tube was finished, that’d be miraculous. If their store of food literally never depleted, that be a miracle. If the ground had shook and a perfectly straight tube opened up from the surface to the miners on its own: miracle. If the 33 miners had suddenly been poofed to the surface, instantaneously, definite miracle. But instead, every component of what saved them was purely natural, explainable, human. Wonderful and amazing! But human nonetheless.

And to give credit to an unseen force that has no marks of having done anything, is to crap all over the very human bravery and fortitude, intelligence and experience, strength and will everyone involved added to the rescue. We should rightfully be celebrating life saved, as well as human qualities that help us, more often than people realize, rise to the occasion!

Same with when someone says, “God/Jesus/angels/happy-thoughts fixed my organ/cured my cancer/brought me back to life.” No, ungrateful: a staff of humans who spent years and ridiculous money in medical school and nursing school, and years in residencies and practice, who read journals and attend conferences to learn latest techniques and treatments, and who spent significant time and energy and effort on you and your condition, fixed/cured/saved your whatever.

If a deity is to be thanked for being responsible for the rescue, it should also get the blame for the collapse:


Stop with the branches; get to the root of the evil!

This is a must-see video where Lawrence Lessig gets to the heart of the problem with our current government and what must be done to return or republic to something resembling a truly representational democracy (whether that’s a good or bad thing is a different topic).

(It starts looking like a video all about youth obesity, but keep watching — that’s just setup for the real discussion. He also spends a minute perpetuating the myth that high fructose corn syrup is somehow magically worse than sugar despite their being nutritionally and chemically the same and broken down and used by the body in the same way, but that’s also not the focus of this video.)

(Update: Quick addendum. I previously mentioned that high fructose corn syrup was chemically identical and metabolized identically to sugar. I was wrong. They are indeed different.
However, as this recent science blog points out in its refutation of the highly biased, inappropriate, and premature suggestion made in a study regarding HFCSs and possible pancreatic cancer connection, the end result between HFCS and table sugar is negligible at best.
Also, this science blog also points out the chemical and metabolic differences between HFCS and refined sugar, but likewise establishes that HFCS is not a significant factor (no more than table sugar) in obesity. It’s an easy to blame scapegoat that distracts from the fact that obesity and diabetes come from too many calories and too little exercise. Period.)

BP is THAT kind of neighbor


Roger Ebert once again reminds us he’s a journalist who happens to excel at reviewing movies. He wrote a recent article,”BP’s tree fell on my lawn,” in which he details exactly all the ways in which BP was negligent and irresponsible. But perhaps even worse, how they gamed the system to look victimized. How they got members of Congress to apologize to them. How they’re using police to hide the damage they’ve caused us. How much power and control they have over the situation to obfuscate and avoid responsibility.

Ebert makes the analogy:

“A big tree blew over over on our property. That was an act of God. Parts of it landed on my neighbor’s property. Another act of God. It was my responsibility to pay for its removal. If I’m going to go around growing trees, I have to pay if they get blown over. You can be sure my neighbor will pay if one of his trees blows this way. And if my neighbor could prove that I was trying to cut the tree down (for fuel, let’s say) and it fell the wrong way, he’d have grounds for a lawsuit. Especially if it fell on his house and he could no longer live there.
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BP had a very big tree that blew down in the Gulf. It was not looking after it properly. It ignored or evaded safety regulations. It possibly bore criminal responsibility. The tree fell on my property. BP should have to pay to remove that tree, right? What if it enlisted cops to prevent me from even walking over and taking photos of what they were doing on my property? What if they issued statements saying it wasn’t such a large tree, and my property would soon recover? What if it landed on my house, and BP said it wasn’t much of a house in the first place?”

Continue reading BP is THAT kind of neighbor

Swords into Tax Shares

(yeah, I’ve never claimed to be a blog title expert.)

kitty water balloonPeter Schiff wrote an article titled, “Why Not Another World War.” It’s actually an interesting article in which he explains how we all agree that World War II ended The Great Depression and sparked the greatest American economic trend, so why not have another? This Gulf War is too small to do the same thing again. Except, war sucks and has this annoying tendency to be deadly and break things — so let’s make it a great World Water Balloon War!

Go ahead and read the article; it’s short and entertaining. But, then at the end of it he takes a sharp turn into La-La Land.

After laying a good case for describing the World War as the biggest socialized employment program, evah, (major props to Schiff on this — most right-leaners usually berate the New Deal as being evil socialism and shout that it was the war that saved the country… and then conveniently ignore the fact that how the war saved the country was by creating government jobs for millions and spending truckloads of taxes on government programs known as weapons manufacturing), he explains how his proposed Fun War of the same scope of government spending wouldn’t work because the government couldn’t afford such a project like it did 70 years ago: We’re already too taxed and there’s no savings.

“Current tax burdens are now much higher than they were before the War, so raising taxes today would be much more difficult.”

(Keep that in mind for a moment.)

Continue reading Swords into Tax Shares

Franklin & Marx, Beck & taxes.

Marx and FranklinComing up in this post: Glenn Beck and his perversion of history, logic, and data. Stay tuned.

There’s a hilarious video I can no longer find of a British comedy show sketch. Four stereotypical young anarchists come into a messy flat, and one of them passes out copies of Marx and Engles’ Capital. He says something like “OK, if we’re going to proper revolutionaries, we need to actually read this book, yeah?” “Yeah!” And with great, revolutionary gusto, they all open their copies and the leader starts reading: “The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as ‘an immense accumulation of commodities,’ its unit being a single commodity. Our investigation must therefore begin with the analysis of a commodity….” As he reads he starts getting more despondent and the others start looking distracted. After a few weighty sentences, he finally slams the book and says, “Ah bugger this. Let’s go kill someone!” “Yeah!” And off they go.

The sketch pointed out what most people, especially people who live in the U.S., have no clue about:

Continue reading Franklin & Marx, Beck & taxes.

Hawaii’s Gov. is a blatant and shameless hypocrite

Hawaii’s Republican Governor Linda Lingle is a giant [insert pejorative of choice here]. She recently vetoed a state bill that would grant equal rights to gays via civil unions, that straights get to enjoy through marriage.

Note that this bill was passed in both the state’s House and Senate when she says:

“It would be a mistake to allow a decision of this magnitude be made by one individual or a small group of elected officials.”

This person obviously has now idea how a representative government works. The entire role of the legislature is to represent the people.

Although, her hypocrisy isn’t surprising, as a Republican: they’re more than happy to use the power of government when it serves their desires, then turn around and pose as populists and claim government is evil when it’s tasked to actually serve the people and protect liberty and civil rights.

I wonder how much of a populist she would be about putting decisions of such magnitude as war and war funding to a popular vote. Think she’d whistle the same tune?

It’s one thing to put issues of taxes and such to popular vote, but you do not have a popular vote in regards to civil rights and liberties! It’s the role of government, the single governors and the small groups of elected officials, to protect the rights of the minority against the tyranny of the majority!

Again, not surprising. She stated herself that she always has and always will fight against gay marriage. She, like most ideologues, can’t see the irony that her very act of intentionally vetoing the bill that the congress passed is itself putting a single person in charge of making a monumental decision that affects many.

“Why Being Liberal Really Is Better Than Being Conservative”

Greta Christina has a fascinating article over on AlterNet:
Why Being Liberal Really Is Better Than Being Conservative
(Liberals and conservatives don’t just disagree about specific issues — we disagree about core ethical values. Can a case be made that liberal values really are better?)”

“When asked a series of questions about different ethical situations, self-described liberals strongly tend to prioritize fairness and harm as the most important of these core values — while self-described conservatives are more likely to prioritize authority, loyalty and purity.”…

In the past (mostly on Facebook) I’ve proclaimed that the conservative value-system is inherently a selfish, xenophobic, authoritarian one that has tried to stop all historic efforts to better humanity with social justice and equality. Greta is a lot nicer than I am and makes a case for the necessity for standard conservative values.

However, I think her arguments that liberal (I prefer “progressive”) values (that’s values, not people) are inherently better to be the best argument I’ve heard made.

What good are unions?

Oh my! It’s hard to argue with that cartoon! Look how evil and scary unions are.
Are you an American who believes unions are organized extortion, protecting the lazy and demanding luxuries like Bon-Bons for workers?
Please take 30 minutes of your day to listen to the 1st half of this Small World podcast for the interview with Cory Doctorow. They mainly discuss his new YA novel, but they also talk about unions and workers organizing. I think it’s well worth the listen!

Then, after you listen, give this and this a read for some of the evils of organized labor.

And it profits none

If there’s anything Enron, the West Virginia mine tragedies, AIG and Goldman Sachs have taught us is that corporations care about safety, employees, doing the right thing, because capitalism and the mystical magical “invisible hand of the market” encourages corps and their owners to not put profit above all else!

Oh, wait….

  • “A Smoking Gun in BP’s Deep Horizon Mess”
  • http://www.thomhartmann.com/forum/2010/05/smoking-gun-bps-deep-horizon-mess
    “Seems that a crew from Schlumberger, on contract to BP, hightailed it off the platform at their own expense 6 hours before the blowout becuase BP refused their recommendation to shut down the well.”

  • “Costly, time-consuming test of cement linings in Deepwater Horizon rig was omitted, spokesman says”
  • http://www.nola.com/news/gulf-oil-spill/index.ssf/2010/05/costly_time-consuming_test_of.html

    And the well-written and summary of the foundational causes of corporate disasters (whether it’s natural disaster or economic disaster)

  • BP Oil Spill A Crime Not A Disaster
  • http://www.socialistwebzine.org/2010/05/bp-oil-spill-crime-not-disaster.html

    “BP has fought the federal government on safety procedures that might have minimized the impact of the most recent spill for more than a decade. CEOs do not get bonuses based upon ensuring future generation’s access to resources, clean air, or a hospitable climate. The purpose of corporations is not to oversee the welfare of the people of the world, but to make money. Environmental damage is not factored into the corporate calculations of costs and profits. Instead, environmental damage is viewed as the collateral damage of the free market in operation.”

    Everybody Draw Muhammad Day!

    It’s Everybody Draw Muhammad Day today! Because depicting Muhammad is severe enough of a crime to fundamentalist Muslims that people who have done so have been attacked, beaten, even received death threats.
    PZ Myers at Pharyngula posted “Violence is not free speech”, decrying the asinine violence and includes a video of a Danish cartoonist being attacked (he’s not harmed) at a university while giving a talk, appropriately enough, on free speech.
    Hemant over at Friendly Atheist explains the reasons why we should all draw Muhammad quite well — I won’t belabor the point (any more). He also includes a compilation of Muhammad drawings; I like the recursive blasphemy of Muhammad drawing himself, and the three identical stick figure one.
    Well, here’s my Muhammad doodle:

    No, he’s not flying. 🙂 It’s just him hanging out, chillin’.
    That’s enough to be blasphemous, which is patently ridiculous, I don’t feel it’s necessary to, say, have him be smitted by the Flying Spaghetti Monster or doing something gross. The point is to point out the absurdity of being labeled heretic, apostate, evil, insulting, blasphemous, for doing nothing more than innocently drawing a religious figure. Going out of my way to depict the figure as a dog, or a rapist, or particularly ugly or cruel looking, might be free speech which is also perfectly defensible, but I think detracts from the more reasonable message that religion is not universally sacrosanct and people who do not believe should not be victimized by whatever ancient and barbarous rules the believers follow.
    It’s enough for me to say, “I don’t believe in Yahweh,” I don’t need to go out of my way be rudely insulting about it.

    Morality without God?

    I’m going to keep this short, because I want to mainly present this potentially interesting documentary in the works: “Skipping Sunday School“:

    I’m amused and annoyed by the old and ridiculous canard of Pascal’s Wager used at the end of the clip. Spoken by the guy who throughly didn’t believe that a person could be good without the indoctrination of religion. The truth is, there are countless people throughout the world who are perfectly ethical and moral people without having been indoctrinated into religion. If, without religion people would go wild and be amoral, northern Europe should have self-destructed by now! The Scandinavian are majority atheist/agnostic, and yet they have far lower crime rates and a far better social structure than certainly the U.S.

    I used to think myself that, even as an atheist, a religious upbringing was still important for the learning of social rules and guidance. I am now horrified I once thought that. Terribly embarrassed. The morality that religion instill is not a thoughtful, empathic, selfless morality. The basis of religious morality is carrot-and-stick: Do what God (who is so hidden as to be indistinguishable from invisible, so you need this book to know what God wants) and you’ll get rewarded. Don’t do what he wants, and you get eternal torment. What kind of basis for ethics is that?!

    No, the ethical guidelines and morality a secular humanist upbringing can provide is, in my opinion, a “truer,” more sincere and responsible ethics.

    Laboring upside down.

    upside down laborMarxist criticism of the capitalist system says that it’s rife with contradictions. I want to spend a few minutes discussing what I see is one of the biggest, overarching contradictions at the very foundations of capitalism. In short: capitalism has forced us to live in a world in which humans, (who presumedly control society, economy, and business), are expendable chattel.

    See, here’s the situation: Under capitalism you are an owner of capital (the richest 1 to 5% of the population), you are a laborer, or you are unemployed. Now, most people in the world are part of the labor class. (This includes those who own their own businesses. Unless you actually own production factories, airlines, a media conglomerate, a bank, you are not a capitalist. You are a laborer.) But here’s the switcheroony: labor costs is the most despised, inconvenient, troublesome cost to those who own and run businesses. All this piles of money handed out to the necessary evil of workers. Business owners (including the bourgeoisie who own small businesses), work and work (ironically) to minimize labor costs–cut benefits, lower pay, decrease the number of employees costing the company money.

    Seeing the problem here? The grand majority of human beings in the world are the enemy of business (so long as they’re labor and not consumers). Business grudgingly pays labor, as little as it can get away with, in order to give the masses the means to buy the commodities and services capitalism produces at obscene rates and worthlessness. The majority of the world’s population is the enemy of the very socio-economic base that they live under and serve.

    Now, Continue reading Laboring upside down.