There Ain't No Justice

Fifty million dollars, and counting.  That what Joe Arpaio has cost the taxpayers of Maricopa County so far. Personally, I think it is no more than they deserve for continually re-electing this corrupt, sadistic, racist to office.

Sheriff Arpaio will be 80 years old next year.  Long past the age when most men retire.  The real tragedy is that he will probably be allowed to do so, rather than end up in prison where he belongs.

Don't expect any objectivity from me on this issue.  I admit it.  I hate the man.  I hate him with a passion.  I hate his arrogance, his sadism, his racism, his pettiness, his blatant self-promotion, all of it at the expense of those least able to protect themselves.  He is a mean-spirited bully, totally devoid of anything resembling compassion or empathy.  To me, he represents everything that is wrong, not only with this state, but with this country.  His efforts at voter suppression are the very definition of what is un-American.

Now, finally, things are beginning to unravel for him. He's run out of subordinates to throw under the bus, so there is little left between him and the consequences of his actions.  Though I fear those consequences will end up being little more than an inconvenience for him.  He had to know this day was coming, and I have no doubt he planned for it accordingly. Like any other unethical person with too much power, he probably has a number of things squirreled away somewhere, meant to ease his fall.


The lesson?  Sometimes evil wins.  And there's not a goddamned thing we can do about it.  At least, not without succumbing to that same evil.  In the end, that's what separates us.  I'd rather see him go free, than to become him.

Still, if there were true justice, he would spend the rest of his wretched existence wearing pink underwear, and eating green bologna.

Politics & Boredom

I've been watching with interest the incidents of unprovoked police brutality against the Occupy protesters. Most people can't figure out why the police would do harm to people who obviously pose no threat to them.  But I've seen it before.  It's a trick prison guards have been using for years.

If a person feels a sharp, unexpected pain - say, a jab in the ribs with a billy club - their first instinct is to lash out at whatever is causing that pain.  Being a prison guard isn't exactly the greatest job in the world.  They're overworked, underpaid, and generally treated like crap by their employers.  There were times I actually felt sorry for them.  My sympathy usually evaporated fairly quickly, as the guards' working conditions tended to make them surly, and mean-spirited.  They would invariably take out those frustrations on us.

They were trying to provoke us into doing or saying something stupid, which would then give them an excuse to beat us down, and toss us in the hole.  I caught on pretty quickly.  Some guys never did get it.

They did this, essentially out of boredom.  It was a little excitement to break up their day.  I suspect the actions of the police are a little more politically motivated.  I think the police are actually trying to incite a riot, thereby discrediting the movement.  It is my hope the the protesters see this tactic for what it is.

There is an upside. A sort of conditioning takes effect. Consequently, I can now take a fair amount of pain, and still retain my reason and restraint.

We could always tell if an inmate was new, because whenever a guard did something senseless and mean, the new guy would always ask why.

The guard's answer was so consistent, that I actually think it's a part of their training.

When asked, "Why?"  The response was always, "Because we can."

Early morning weirdness

I came across this, and while watching, something odd happened.
People often make fun of the way Carl Sagan spoke (billions and billions).  For me, it's easy to overlook, because what I hear -- what comes through the loudest,  is his genuine love of science and nature.

Like my father, I'm not exactly what one would call emotionally demonstrative.  Unless one counts being perpetually glib as an emotion.

So, I was surprised when tears began to well up while watching this.  For a number of reasons, I suppose.  Pride in what we've accomplished.  Grief for what we've lost.  For an instant, I was 9 years old again, and all that hope and wonder came rushing back.  But only for an instant.

Then the memories of all that has happened since intruded.  All of the imagination and vision that put us on the moon has somehow turned into pettiness and cruelty.  Once we had leaders who imagined the world a better place.  Now we have those who can't imagine anything more that their own immediate self-interest.  We have others who believe this world is destined to be destroyed by some mythical deity, and are scrambling to get what they can from it before the end.  They're blind to the inherent conflict between their supposed beliefs, and their actions.

It took a relatively short time for humanity to somehow become less human.  To become a people who cheer the death of one of our own who can't afford to stay alive.  People who consider compassion and empathy to be character flaws.

There is a difference between being pragmatic, and giving up.

I admit, my ignorance on a wide variety of subjects could fill volumes...or, actually, not.  But I do know one thing with a certainty I've never felt before.

The past should never hold more hope than the future.

Calling It What It Is

This is one of many ignorant posts found on We Are the 53 Percent, the right-wing's response to Occupy Wall Street.
"My wife and I decided in 1996 that we were sick of poverty. We went back to school. We earned degrees. We got jobs. No one handed it to us. We earned it. We did it. I didn't go through all that struggle while raising 5 children so I could support lazy [expletive] people who want nothing but government handouts. You want to 'occupy' something? Occupy a job and start contributing."
- We are the 53 Percent
Really.  You went back to school.  Did you get the money from the tuition fairy?  What about the time?  What did your 5 kids do while you were in class?  Sorry, but I'm calling bullshit on this one.

In the whole of my working life, I've asked for government assistance once.  One unemployment check in 1981, for the amount of $88.00.  The process that led up to it was so time-consuming, tedious, and demeaning, that I swore I'd never do it again.

Yet my every waking moment, and every resource at my disposal is spent treading water, trying to keep a roof over my head, and food on the table.  If I miss a day's work, it takes me weeks to catch up.  If I miss a week, I spend the next six months getting back to where I was.  Any more than that, and I lose everything.


I don't own a car.  I could probably afford to buy one, but I couldn't afford the keep it.  Insurance, gas, maintenance.  No way.  The same goes for home ownership.

The computer I'm using?  Built from parts others have thrown away.  I do pay for internet access, but I recently gave up cable TV in order to afford an increase in my wife's prescriptions.

My point is, I don't live beyond my means, and I don't ask for assistance.  Unlike those who run Wall Street, I have neither the will, nor the resources to game the system to my advantage.  I am not unique.  There are millions like me.

And it is WE who are the 99 percent.

Logic, Reason, and Fascism

For years, I've been trying to figure out why a number of affluent, educated people in this country would suddenly (in my perception, at least) turn against logic, reason, science, history -- in short, reality.  That is, until I had the difference between Philosophical Conservatism, and Political Conservatism explained to me.

Philosophical Conservatism is a tendency -- a way of thinking.  Although I never agreed with those ideals, they were, at least, consistent.  William F. Buckley was a Philosophical Conservative.  Probably the last.

Political Conservatism is an ever-evolving set of talking points used by some, in an infantile attempt to get want what they want, when they want it, without having to go through the tedious process of discussion, debate, or even thinking things through to their logical conclusion.

Without reason and logic, one does not have opinions, one only has affectations. Here's a quote from Ortega's "Revolt of the Masses" He is writing here during the rise of Fascism, as a philosophical Liberal:

The "ideas" of the average man are not genuine ideas, nor is their possession culture. Whoever wishes to have ideas must first prepare himself to desire truth and to accept the rules of the game imposed by it. It is no use speaking of ideas when there is no acceptance of a higher authority to regulate them, a series of standards to which it is possible to appeal in a discussion. These standards are the principles on which culture rests. I am not concerned with the form they take. What I affirm is that there is no culture where there are no standards to which our fellow-man can have recourse…
Under Fascism there appears for the first time in Europe a type of man who does not want to give reasons or to be right, but simply shows himself resolved to impose his opinions. This is the new thing: the right not to be reasonable, the "reason of unreason." Here I see the most palpable manifestation of the new mentality of the masses, due to their having decided to rule society without the capacity for doing so. In their political conduct the structure of the new mentality is revealed in the rawest, most convincing manner. The average man finds himself with "ideas" in his head, but he lacks the faculty of ideation. He has no conception even of the rare atmosphere in which ideals live. He wishes to have opinions, but is unwilling to accept the conditions and presuppositions that underlie all opinion. Hence his ideas are in effect nothing more than appetites in words.
To have an idea means believing one is in possession of the reasons for having it, and consequently means believing that there is such a thing as reason, a world of intelligible truths. To have ideas, to form opinions, is identical with appealing to such an authority, submitting oneself to it, accepting its code and its decisions, and therefore believing that the highest form of intercommunication is the dialogue in which the reasons for our ideas are discussed. But the mass-man would feel himself lost if he accepted discussion, and instinctively repudiates the obligation of accepting that supreme authority lying outside himself. Hence the "new thing" in Europe is "to have done with discussions," and detestation is expressed for all forms of intercommunication, which imply acceptance of objective standards, ranging from conversation to Parliament, and taking in science. This means that there is a renunciation of the common life of barbarism. All the normal processes are suppressed in order to arrive directly at the imposition of what is desired. The hermeticism of the soul which, as we have seen before, urges the mass to intervene in the whole of public life.
Sound familiar?  Think about it the next time you watch a freak show disguised as a political debate.

As for me, I'm too damn young to see history repeat itself.

Taking two lives

Justice Antonin Scalia was once quoted as saying, "Mere factual innocence is no reason not to carry out a death sentence properly reached."  When I read that, I tried to imagine a context in which that statement wouldn't seem so obscene.  I failed.

When Troy Davis' execution was stayed yesterday, while the Supreme Court deliberated his fate, I didn't hold out much hope.  Justice Scalia's statement is only one of the many reasons why.

There was another execution yesterday.  Lawrence Brewer was put to death in Texas for the murder of James Byrd Jr.  I don't believe he should have been put to death, either.  Not because there was any doubt about his guilt.  There wasn't.

It was, in fact, one of the most heinous crimes I've ever read about. Testimony showed Brewer, John William King, and Shawn Berry, offered Byrd, 49, a ride in Berry's pickup June 7, 1998. Byrd wound up bound by his ankles with a heavy 24-foot logging chain attached to the bumper, bouncing from side to side as he desperately tried to limit his injuries by lifting himself. At a sharp left curve in the road, he whipsawed to the right and struck a concrete culvert, which decapitated him.

A pathologist testified that Byrd had been alive until that point.

I must admit that I won't lose sleep over the execution of brewer, but I'm still against the death penalty.  In this case, for a different reason.  Some people will never be dead enough.  And there are things in this world worse than death.  Life in prison is one of them.

But my main reasoning is that the taking of a life is the ultimate crime, the ultimate selfishness.  There's no coming back from it, no way to make it right if a mistake is made.

So, a State that would sanction such a thing can, in no way, call itself civilized.  You would think such simple logic would be self-evident.  Apparently not.


I told myself that I wouldn't write a 9/11 post.  There are certainly those more lucid eloquent.  And reminding those reading this of what was quite possibly the worst day of their lives, also gave me pause.

What changed my mind was talking to some of the kids I work with.  They're all college-aged, and most hadn't even completed their first decade of existence in 2001.  They don't really see what the big deal is.  To them, those deaths are as remote as any other they hear about in the news.  I can't really blame them for that.  It's impossible to feel a sense of loss for something one has never experienced.  They have no idea what life was like before 9/11, anymore than I have any idea what it was like before Pearl Harbor, or Hiroshima.

Like most, I remember that day vividly.  Though, to some, it seems like yesterday.  To me, it seems like a million years ago - Another lifetime.  In truth, I suppose it was.

I was living in a small town in northern Arizona.  As it happened, I had stayed home sick from work that day. I was about to become much more ill.  I'd gone back to bed after calling in sick to work, and was in that place between wakefulness and sleep, when you're not sure whether you're either.  My wife decided to stay up and make coffee.

I thought I heard my wife's voice repeating, "Oh, God no."  Something in her voice - fear, shock, grief, and something that to this day I can't put a name to - brought me fully awake.  I walked into the living room, and saw my wife standing there, frozen, in front of the TV.   I noticed the TV just in time to see video of the plane hitting the first tower.  That video, among others, seemed to play on an endless loop during the course of the day.

It took a few seconds.  There was a disconnect between what I was seeing, and my mind's desperate attempt to find some other - any other - explanation for it.

We sat on the couch, barely speaking.  Barely breathing.  We watched as the second plane hit,  then the Pentagon, then flight 93.  We watched as people waved from smoking windows.  Then as some of them fell, choosing their fate, rather than having it chosen for them.  Then, as the towers themselves fell.  It seemed like things were snowballing out of control.  I wasn't worried for our own safety.  After all, what self-respecting terrorist would attack Chino Valley, AZ?

I remember the sound of my wife crying.  A combination of empathy, a pretty good imagination, and the flu, caused me to retreat into the bathroom a couple of times to throw up.  But I wasn't angry.  Not yet.

It was about mid-afternoon, and the news was showing people on the streets - relatives and friends of those missing, pictures of their loved ones in hand, desperately searching.  The looks on their faces was heart-wrenching, and haunt me to this day.  I was angry, and I wanted justice for them.

No, that's wrong.  I wanted vengeance.  I wanted them all dead.  I wanted to see their collective heads on a pike.  My rage was such that it wouldn't let me even ask who "they" were.

I had heard Osama Bin Laden's name before.  I'd even felt sympathy for the way we left him hanging during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan.  Our foreign policy is consistent, if nothing else.  What sympathy I had, evaporated with the attack on the USS Cole.

I understand their anger, even their hatred of us.  The rage I felt for a relatively short time has been theirs for a lifetime.  And it would have been so easy to hate them, coming from a culture foreign, alien, and of which I had little knowledge. 

For most of the people on this planet, life is hard, brutal, and short.  As Americans, we've been spared many of the horrors that others face daily.  Though, I fear those times are coming to an end. There are those in this country who believe that we have some sort of divine right to a risk-free existence, as if there were truly such a thing, or should be.  The  irony is, that these same people are the ones putting what safety and security we do have, at risk.  They do this by their revisionist history (or as I like to put it, lying), and vilification of the ideals that made this country great.  They would have it replaced with a sort of corporate theocracy - their twisted vision of utopia.

As I lie awake in bed that night, I worried about how we would respond as a nation, and how it would change us.  Some things ended up being worse than the scenarios that were going through my head.

Three months after 9/11, my mother died.  Two weeks after that, my father was diagnosed with lung cancer.  We lost him 6 months later.  The next few years are covered in my last post.  Suffice to say that, for me, 9/11 didn't end until around 2007.

I know that evil exists.  I've seen it.  But I still believe that, as hard as life is, most people are decent, and good, and just trying to do the best they can.  And that's what I hold onto. 

Pardon Me

I have a bit of a confession to make.  About 10 years ago, I had a drug problem.  It progressed as one might expect, and, as a result, I ended up a convicted felon.  Stop for a moment, and think about those last two words.  I'm betting that, without even a thought, they evoked an immediate negative response.  It's not your fault.  We've been conditioned to respond that way, myself included.  The problem is, in a society where just about every human endeavor carries with it a zero-tolerance policy, it takes relatively little to become a felon.
When I first got out of prison, I was curious as to how I would be welcomed back into society, if at all.  So, I posted my background (anonymously, of course) on a number of internet forums.  I tried to make them as varied as possible.  I wrote that I'd recently gotten released from prison for drug possession, and that I'd done 2½ years for what the state deemed a "non-dangerous, non-repetitive" crime.

The responses I got were, for the most part, negative.  I expected that.  I did commit a crime, after all.  Though, in my defense, I can honestly say that I never committed any of the crimes usually associated with drug use (theft, fraud, domestic violence, and the like).

What I didn't expect was the level of venom associated with those negative responses.  Up to, and including, death threats (posted anonymously, of course).  What I learned from it was that, by and large, most believe that my debt to society will never be fully paid.  That even my small trespass warrants a lifetime of second-class citizenship, no matter how well I live my life from here on.

So, I've come to accept that because of my mistakes, there will be certain things I will never have in this life.

I'll never have a job that will pay enough for me to own my own home, or retire, or have anything other than basic first aid as health care.  I won't be able to buy my right to vote back, or own a firearm. (on that point, the only thing that would make me consider owning a firearm is the complete collapse of civilization, in which case, having permission to do so would be moot).

I've resigned myself to spending the rest of my days doing menial work in one service industry or another.  So be it.  In the scheme of things, I still have it better than most of the people on this planet, whose lives are often hard, brutal, and short.  So, if I'm to serve, I'll endeavor to do it well.

Back in the days of sailing ships, if a sailor was found guilty of some transgression, the punishment was  usually swift and severe.  But afterward, when the 40 lashes, or whatever were done with, he was once again a member of the crew, and the incident was never spoken of again.  It was simple economics, of course.  There were a finite number of able-bodied men aboard ship, so they were of value.   Now, there are more of us.  So many, in fact, that even the best of us are considered inherently expendable.

So, I have a question for those of you who would wish me, and those like me, dead; Those for whom the claim of good citizenship is marked by the simple ability to follow orders.  What happens when there are more of us, than there are of you?

Yeah, I don't know, either.

Infinitely Perfect

When someone asks me why I don't believe in God, my response is usually, "It's not that I don't believe in God, per se. I never even got to the point of not believing in Him".  There are a couple of other things I don't believe in, which, to me, precludes His existence.

I don't believe in perfection. In half a century of existence, I've never seen an example of it.  Nothing is perfect, nor should it be. Back when Persia was still called that, the rugmakers would weave one deliberate mistake into each rug on the principle that only God could make something perfect. Hence the term, Persian Flaw.  But the universe, by it very nature, is imperfect.  Perfection is what existed before the universe -- except that the words, "existed" and "before" really don't apply.  Let me try again. Perfection is nothingness.  In the absolute. An absence of both the light and the dark.  So, if God exists, it's a good bet he's no fun at parties.

You can probably guess the second item.  Forever. I don't believe in infinity. Again, no example to be seen anywhere in nature.  It's apparent from the previous paragraph that I believe that the universe began at some point. This belief is not borne of faith.  I believe it because I can do just enough math for it to become apparent to me.  Everything that begins, ends.  So too will the universe one day.  In about 5 billion years, the Andromeda galaxy will come crashing into the Milky Way.  It would be a great light show on Earth.  Of course our sun will be well into old age, becoming a red giant and enveloping Mercury, Venus, perhaps even earth, which will have been uninhabitable for millions of years by that point.  

Besides, think about the afterlife.  It might be fun for a few hundred years, maybe even a thousand. But even another plane of existence would begin to wear on one if it resembled this one too closely.  In order to make it different enough, we'd have to evolve into something as different from us, as we are from the atoms we are made of.  You can't think 11-dimensional thoughts with a three-dimensional brain, after all.  In essence, the very same thing as death.  Though, in this case, I think the simpler explanation prevails.

Finding Logic

I've probably spent my whole life trying to figure out the Tea Party.  Of course they weren't always called that, but these people have always been with us. I'm not talking about simply conservatism, though that's bad enough. That, I can understand to a degree. I don't agree with it, but I can at least see how they arrived at their (often incredibly wrong) conclusions.

No, I'm talking about folks who claim to venerate freedom, but would take it from their neighbor for the smallest of trespasses.  Who claim to want a better world for their children, but have no problem sacrificing them to endless, pointless wars. People who hate and fear the one real constant in this world -- change.

I'm also talking about those they elect to hold public office. It's hard to tell which is worse: Those who seek power by pandering to fear and hatred, or those that give it to them.  But I believe Paul Begala gives a good explanation in a recent article as to how we got to where we are today:
Specifically, they did four things:
  • Cut taxes (with a heavy tilt toward the rich).
  • Caged two wars on the national credit card (one of which was against a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 and posed no serious threat to America).
  • Passed a prescription drug benefit with no pay-for (the first entitlement in American history without a revenue source), and deregulated Wall Street (which helped turn the American economy into a casino and touched off the Great Recession).
After reading a news story about changing demographics in America, someone asked me if I was afraid that the white race would disappear.  After quelling the urge to punch him in the nose, I told him that my concern was for the species as a whole, and that there was no such thing as a purebred human being, nor should there be (Change, remember?). They were less than happy with my response.

I can't understand people who's beliefs are so firmly held, that no amount of logic, reason, or quantifiable proof will sway them. They are, in fact, so adverse to this, that they would just as soon see this world end, rather than face any number of inconvenient truths.

To cite Mr. Begala again:
It has become a trope of the right to accuse Obama and the Democrats of trying to remake America in the image of Europe. That, of course, is silly as well as insulting to the people who gave us the Magna Carta and the Enlightenment, not to mention spaghetti. But in whose image would the radical Republicans remake us? Certainly not in the image of the Founding Fathers. The Republicans are already seeking to make Swiss cheese out of Mr. Madison's masterpiece, littering the Constitution with amendments on budgeting, the line-item veto, gay marriage, abortion, school prayer, restricting birthright citizenship, and more.

Seems to me the GOP seeks a banana republic: a toxic blend of right-wing populism, anti-intellectualism, debt defaults, and an end to the ladder of economic opportunity.
These people hate knowledge, complexity; they hate the infernal need to explore. They are the petty, bigoted, greedy people who lack compassion, empathy, imagination, even common courtesy.

But I've realized that out of all the (deservedly negative) adjectives I've used to describe them,they are one thing above all others.

They are dangerous.

On the Tracks

A few days ago, Texas executed a Mexican national for the rape and murder of a 16 year-old girl in 1995.  His guilt was never in question.  But as a Mexican national, he had a right to notify his embassy or consulate at the time of his arrest.  He was not informed of that right.  President Obama, the United Nations and others asked Texas Governor, Rick Perry, to stay the execution, but he refused.  In doing so, he violated a treaty we have not only with Mexico, but with every other civilized country on the planet.  And we just told them all that our word is worth nothing.  Governor Perry's motives had nothing to do with getting justice for a teenage girl, and everything to do with political expediency.  The Supreme Court agreed with him.  Killing someone was just their way of thumbing their collective noses at the feds, and at the President in particular.  According to Justice Antonin Scalia, even innocence isn't enough to stay an execution.  He once wrote,
"Mere factual innocence is no reason not to carry our a death sentence properly reached."
This is just one of many symptoms of a much larger, and potentially lethal, disease. I'll leave you with the words of Jon Nichols, who states it with more eloquence than I possess.

Face it, America.  You've been bought and sold.

Only an idiot would believe our political leaders, regardless of their party affiliation, to be altruistic patriots who only want what's best for us.  If you are in political power or if you are the CEO of a corporation, the last thing in the world that you want is to have a general populace that is capable of thinking for themselves or formulating their own opinions.  

You want people to keep their words about the nation sweet, for fear that they might otherwise seem to be the bitter seeds of treason.  You want people to think that "women's suffrage" means keeping them in the kitchen.  

Sheep, brainless sheep who hold no concept of where they have been or where they are going, who need only to have a cloth of red, white, and blue waved in their faces to lead them.  Oh and docile, too.  Don't forget docile.  Provided your bank account is sizable, your carnal needs are sated, and your TV is all reality, then it's all good, right?

We're standing on the railroad tracks.  We can see the train coming, but we're too comfortable to get off.  And yet we'll still probably be surprised when the train mows us down.

Stay off my lawn

I probably won't retire (even if, by some odd chance I have an opportunity to do so).  So I can't really imagine myself living in a retirement community.  It's the kind of self-imposed segregation what would have me seeing only the faces of those as old as me, or older.  The kids I see on a daily basis are often a reminder of who I was, and the motivation for the best things I've ever done with my life (admittedly, there are precious few).

That's why I find it particularly irritating when I hear the retired complain about paying taxes for things like schools, parks, or pretty much anything that benefits the young.  Their rationale is that they've raised their children, and shouldn't have to spend money on everyone else's.  The flaws in that argument are self-evident.

The irony is that these are the same people that wax nostalgic about the good old days when we all cared for each other, and enjoyed a sense of community.  (I have a feeling this was only true if you were white, Christian, and well-off).  The definition of a community, whether it's a neighborhood, or a nation, is a group of people working together for the common good -- to achieve together what we cannot alone.  Sometimes this means doing things that don't benefit us directly.  Most understand that it's a small price to pay in the scheme of things.

The "I've got mine, you get yours" type of social darwinism has always been around. But, until recently, has usually been associated with the ignoble, petty, cruel parts of our nature.  It's a sentiment that those like Ayn Rand and the far christian right have attempted to legitimize using pseudo-philosophical twaddle, perverse interpretations of scripture, and junk science.

It's a darkness that, unfortunately, lies within all of us. It shouldn't become more pronounced as we get older.  As much as I am able, I choose to be a part of everything until it's time to go.


I think the greatest damage done to humanity by religion, is the concept of original sin.  To be sure, we are all flawed.  Nothing is perfect, nor should it be.  But that is not the same as the idea that we are all born unworthy, requiring of forgiveness by some divine being.

This concept isn't exclusive to Judeo-Christian beliefs.  Almost all religions contain some facet of this idea.  The folly of basing one's life on the fear of eternal damnation became obvious to me early on.  It's a scam.  Not even a good one.  We were told that we had a disease, and that God was the only cure.  Later on, as the lie gained more power, we were told that we had a disease, and if we didn't take their cure and tell everyone how great it is, we'd be tortured and killed.  Why wait for damnation?

Even today, there are politicians in this country that would have no problem bringing back the Inquisition.  We are so saturated by batshit crazy, that it's now become the new norm.

Consider, a newborn has no capacity for good or evil.  Both are things that are learned.  A brand new human being is almost pure potential -- and a learning machine.  The first year or two is spent establishing neural pathways, and beta testing the ol' pattern recognition software.  In short, we observe.

If what we witness is hatefulness and stupidity, especially if actively reinforced later, then we tend to turn out hateful and stupid.  Luckily, the opposite is also true.  Of course there are exceptions.  Randomness makes the universe interesting.

Original Sin is a get-out-of-jail-free card that absolves us of responsibility, and reinforces the scam.  Kahlil Gibran once said that we are not completely blameless for the crimes done against us.  This world is a collective reality that we are all responsible for.  If there is too much evil, and not enough good in it, then it is not God's will, but our own.

Survival of the Kindest

At work, someone had left some flyers encouraging those who could, to host foreign exchange students. This morning I overheard a couple of customers commenting on it. I won't repeat those comments here. Just imagine every tired, ignorant, racist, hateful cliché you've ever heard, and multiply it by ten.

It made me angry. Very angry. But, as I was on the clock, I was obliged to remain professional, so I said nothing. Instead, I gave them a look one might describe as reproachful. Actually, when I was a guest of the state, we referred to it as the "stinkeye". It was used sparingly, as it sometimes resulted in bloodletting. I was that angry.

So, the gauntlet thrown, I prepared for a confrontation. Nothing. Instead, they cast their eyes downward. They knew what they had said was wrong, and felt what I assume was shame. What would cause otherwise normal, intelligent men to act this way? Simply labeling them as evil or malicious doesn't answer it for me. The normal culprits are fear and ignorance. But even that answer is simplistic. Peer pressure perhaps? Maybe my own naiveté obscures the answer. I hope that's all it is.

Here's the other side. Later in the day, a lady bought $74.00 worth of groceries. I mis-keyed her credit card for $7.40. I didn't realize my mistake until she called me and told me. She gave me her credit card number, and I charged her the remaining amount. After thanking her profusely, I asked her about her honesty. Her only response was, "I didn't really think about it."

And so my faith in humanity continues for another day.

It's my hope that people like the lady who called me inherit the earth, because if it turns out to be people like those two men, I don't think we will survive as a people, a nation, or perhaps even a species.

Nothing changes

Among all the images floating around the internet, I came across this.

Does the rhetoric sound familiar?  Trade Kennedy's face for Obama's, and it could have been written today.

They call themselves the Tea Party, but they've always been around.  The intolerant, ultra-religious, racist, mouth-breathing fools may always be with us.

We fail to impart the mistakes we've made to our children, so the cycle repeats.  Or, worse, we feed them the poison that was fed to us, and the ignorance continues.


Yesterday, I said goodbye to an old friend. I've been living in a college town, and working close to the university, for 5 years now. Long enough to see some of the kids go through their entire college experience. Almost without exception, they have all been intelligent, kind, exceptional young people. Even the "Daddy's girls," with their Paris Hilton sunglasses, short shorts, and sense of entitlement hold a certain charm for me.

OK, fine. It could just be the shorts.

Anyway, there have been a few among them that stood out. A young woman with a social conscience and a fierce intellect who is now doing postgraduate work in the Midwest, and who I am certain will be a great writer someday. There is the young man who still comes in occasionally, and reads me stories from the Wall Street Journal and reminds me of my mortality. And, of course, the young man who graduated last week. He came in to say goodbye, and to thank me for my words of wisdom (Apparently, I'm wise. Who knew?).

It wasn't easy for any of them. While at an age when making mistakes comes with the territory, they ran the gauntlet of high school. This was even more difficult, considering we now live in an age when there is a zero-tolerance policy attached to almost every human endeavor. This gauntlet run just to get to the beginning of college.

Once they've gotten there, they're faced with a whole new set of obstacles. My friend was unlucky enough to start college during one of the worst economic and political periods in American history. An economic collapse, brought about by the greed of those at the top of the banking industry, supported by the radical right who, in my state especially, have a long history of being openly hostile to education, and educators.

The great irony is that the greatest resource America has, is having such a hard time of it. I realize that some stress is necessary, even good for you. Without exercise, muscles atrophy. The same concept can be applied to just about all human endeavor. But this isn't just stress. It's America's obsession with turning itself into a second-rate country.


When I first heard the news that Bin Laden was dead, my first thought was, "Please, not by natural causes".  I watched as the President spoke, then as people began to appear at the gates of the White House.  I grew more uncomfortable, the longer I watched.

Make no mistake.  The man had to die, and he had to die by our hand.  But the death of any man, no matter how necessary or justified, is no cause for celebration.  We didn't win a football game.  We took a human life.  There's a difference.

For those who live in New York, or DC, I can understand their expression of relief.  Jon Stewart said, "I'm way too close to the situation to be rational."  That is eminently forgivable.  Especially when one goes back and watches the first episode of the Daily Show after 9/11.  While his words were eloquent, his eyes spoke most of the pain we all felt.

In some ways Bin Laden has held us all hostage for the last decade, and the damage he did to this country will take generations to undo.  Some of may even be permanent.

But at some point, grief and rage must give way to reason and humanity.  A lot of blood has been shed to get us to this point, and this time should be used to remember those who fought for us, and along side us.

An inherent risk when fighting evil, is that of becoming your enemy.  My love for my country, and my faith in my fellow man, says that we are better than this.

I admit, my heart is often broken.  But as Bob Marley said, "Everyone hurts you.  You just need to find the ones worth suffering for."

I think we're all worth it.

Speaking for Us

The following is part of a comment thread regarding an article called 'The Science of Why We Don't Believe in Science' in Mother Jones.   The comment was written by one David Borrelli.  I don't know the man, nor have I corresponded with him in any way.  But his experiences and opinions partly mirror my own, and he was so articulate when writing about them that I felt compelled to share his words.

When I was young (17 - 18 Years Old) I was a staunch conservative. My world view was very narrow, and the only things that really meant anything to my (besides girls, of course) were musclecars and guns. All I knew about liberals were that they were against those things (but I found out that they liked girls too). I also was ignorant about how the tax structure worked and I naively believed that trickle down economics was the real deal. I also thought unions were for protecting lazy employees. Worse yet as a Senior in High School I read "The way things ought to be" by none other than Rush Limbaugh. But time marches on, and my perceptions changed. I became more liberal. What happened you ask?

Life happened. I found out that free market capitalism only works at the local to regional level, and that it becomes a major problem once you add multinational corporations and international banks to the mix.

I discovered that musclecars were not ideal daily transportation, and that with few exceptions, liberals didn't really care if I wanted one or not, and that many of them were actually car guys too.

I learned that major corporations use predatory business practices to destroy small companies and eliminate competition, to lower workers standards of living, and extract more work for less pay. I also learned that they buy politicians (on both sides of the aisle) to gain favorable legislation and tax laws that the average person or small business owner can't take advantage of. I realized that corporations and the extremely wealthy (those with multiple billions) paid less tax percentage wise than I did while earning my $4.15 minimum wage.

I had a non-union job from which I was fired for being unwilling to do unethical work. I then realized that maybe unions were for more than protecting idiots.

I realized that "trickle down economics" did work... it allowed American jobs to trickle down to the coast, where they trickled down into the ocean and floated to China.

I saw bad things happen to good people, and I realized that yes, we did need a social safety net. I saw people die because the insurance company they had denied lifesaving procedures even though they were in fact covered because they were banking on the customer dying before the arbitration process would clear them for the procedure.

I saw unions crushed and disbanded, followed by the vaporization of pensions, healthcare, vacation time. sick pay, overtime pay, etc.

In summary, as I gained more wisdom and perspective in this world, I became a moderate. I am much more liberal than I used to be. I am often lumped in with "liberals" because you are not allowed to question anything in the conservative camp or you are a bleeding heart liberal. The irony is that most liberals would describe me as a reasonable conservative. Regardless, I thank God we have both sides, even when one side does something really stupid (I.E. Wisconsin's move to crush unions, or Obama's "Cash for Clunkers"). I would hate to live in a country that was hard right or hard left, because both sides have good things to offer. It's all about separating the wheat from the chaff.

Mr. Borrelli is politically a bit to the right of me, but he was earnest and, I believe, honest when writing this.  And that alone demands respect.

UPDATE:  While writing this, I got the news that Osama Bin Laden had been killed.  The man had to die, and we had to be the ones to do it.  But the cheering makes me uncomfortable.  The greatest danger when fighting evil, is becoming your enemy.  This is the time when we show the world who we are.

How the world works

Just in case you were wondering...

This apparently offended someone, as they hacked my site, replacing the image above with something much more poorly drawn.  Dang kids on 4chan...

The Death of Religion

A recent BBC News story says that the end of religion is inevitable, and uses census data and physics to prove it.  The irony of this is not lost on me.  If accurate, it would also be the death of the root cause of two thousand years of death and horror.  From radical Islam, to the extreme religious right in this country, and everything that has come before, religion has kept humanity stunted and ignorant. 

Why value this life, or anything in it, when you've some mythical heaven to look forward to? 

What I personally resent most is the myth perpetrated by the religious, that in order to be a good person, one must believe in a deity.  Or, conversely, that one is evil if they believe in no god.

Buffalo bagels.

The greatest evils have been done in the name of god.  When reading the bible, it's apparent early on that god is petty, even on human terms, which leads me to believe that the book was written by men.  Ignorant, petty men who sought power over others.  The same type of men that today, use religion for personal gain. 

When legislation regarding uranium mining is enacted by those who believe that the Earth is only 6000 years old, the irony and dangerous ignorance is hard to miss.  It's the kind of thing that can get people dead.

Were religion to be replaced by logic and reason, the world would be a better place.  After all, decency and altruism are logical concepts. 

The lord isn't my shepherd, because I know the ultimate fate of the shepherd's flock.

Conservatism by the numbers

"Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear." ~William E. Gladstone, 1866

I think I figured out what been happening to this country.  The extreme religious right has gotten a serious toehold, via the Tea Party, and morally weak republicans.  The middle class has all but been wiped out, and now comes their assault on the poor.

Since the Reagan administration, class politics in the US has waned; the Republican Party benefits from the fact that many lower-income citizens vote against their economic interests because they oppose the social liberalism of the Democratic Party.

Many vote against tax increases on the rich, because even if they themselves are not wealthy, there is a tiny chance they one day will be. There is also the prevailing mythology that the wealthy class earned their place and should not be punished.  They somehow believe that the rich will show some sort of loyalty or gratitude to their servants.

I've noticed that conservative humor usually ends with a punchline that describes a (woman / liberal / poor / person of color) being killed, maimed or imprisoned (in order of their preference). 

Like the 91 year-old freshman senator (Freshman? Really?) from New Hampshire who recently resigned after suggesting the the mentally ill be shipped off to Siberia.  Or the State Rep. from Kansas who thinks illegal immigrants should be hunted from helicopter, and shot "like pigs".   Both claimed that they were just joking.  Well, they though it was funny...

The playbook from the extreme right must include this:

  1. Use apocalyptic rhetoric that exacerbates fear, bigotry and extremism among the uneducated and intolerant.
  2. Counter any liberal criticism of your inflammatory calls for action by saying they can't take a joke.
  3. Keep turning up the heat and act shocked when somebody heeds your calls for extreme action.
  4. Be sure to maintain you were only speaking figuratively and you are being unfairly blamed when violence occurs (extra credit for insinuating that liberals set this up themselves).
  5. Keep your celebrations behind closed doors.
 This works for politicians, pundits, corrupt county sheriffs, equally corrupt corporate CEO's, insane cult leaders - essentially any conservative who is focused on their own interests, to the exclusion of all else.

American Media

Ok, so I'm a boomer (although just barely, thank you).  I remember Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley, John Chancellor, and others growing up.  They just reported the news.  They did it without spin, innuendo, and to the best of their ability, truthfully.

I'm not usually prone to nostalgia, but like so many other things, the decline of American journalism was too subtle for me to notice.  I was too busy with the day to day business of living to take notice.    I bear some of the blame for neglecting my duty as a citizen, and assuming that simply voting was enough.  It's my country - my government, and I should have more informed and involved.  I don't know if I could have made a difference, but at least I'd have the comfort of knowing I tried. 

So here we are.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last Wednesday.  While doing so, she made some long overdue comparisons of the American media to Al-Jazeera.  She said,
“In fact viewership of Al Jazeera is going up in the United States because it’s real news,” Clinton said. “You may not agree with it, but you feel like you’re getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and, you know, arguments between talking heads and the kind of stuff that we do on our news which, you know, is not particularly informative to us, let alone foreigners.”
Perhaps she was following the lead of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Juliette Kayyem, who urged cable providers to carry al Jazeera in her recent oped, “Let us see Al-Jazeera”.

I figured it out about a year ago.  I'd had it with the right-wing lies of Fox, the left-wing cheerleading of MSNBC, and the fluff of CNN.  The only real news I was getting was from the Daily Show.  As much as I like Jon Stewart, it wasn't enough.

My first stop was NPR, but their perspective was inherently American.  The BBC was the next step.  It's been the standard for exceptional journalism for years, though I often had to wade through a lot that I found less than relevant.  Then I found Al-Jazeera.  It was an eye-opener.  I was outraged at some things.  They would have people on that were blatantly anti-American.  In some instances I could understand why they felt the way they did. Our foreign policy over the last half-century has been less than honorable.  In other instances, their guests were simply the mirror image of the extreme religious right in this country.  Opposing views, but the same hate.

Then I took notice, not so much of the content, but how it was presented.  Whether pro, anti, or neutral, the reporting was just that, backed up by empirical data and sources.

It was then I realized how far we'd fallen.   The American media isn't in the business of providing factual information to people.  It's in business to sell the attention spans of those watching to other corporations.  I'd like to think it's more complex than that, but it really is that simple.

No ethics, no integrity.  Just money.

Somewhere along the way, big business decided that every human thought, every human endeavor, was theirs to profit from.  No regard for privacy, or ethics.  No thought as to what is morally or socially acceptable.  It's whatever one can get away with.  If it happens to be against the law, well, that's what lobbyists and campaign contributions are for.  Perhaps it's always been that way.  It's just more pronounced now.

This is America with Republicorp running things.

No more middle class.  Just the stockholders, and those that serve them.

Is It Really That Hard?

I've spent the last two weeks watching the Right's effort to deflect criticism of their use of violent rhetoric over the past two years.  The photo above is one of the least offensive examples of the vitriol.  "Jared Loughner was crazy". That is not in dispute. Of course he's crazy. How could someone wound and murder innocent people, and not be?  Among his nonsensical ramblings, there are statements I've heard from Tea Party members, Libertarians, even skinheads. Here's good example of speaking irresponsibly from thereisnospoon's diary, at the Daily Kos:
Another Ohio Democrat, Steve Driehaus, clashed repeatedly with (John) Boehner before losing his seat in the midterm elections. After Boehner suggested that by voting for Obamacare, Driehaus "may be a dead man" and "can't go home to the west side of Cincinnati" because "the Catholics will run him out of town," Driehaus began receiving death threats, and a right-wing website published directions to his house. Driehaus says he approached Boehner on the floor and confronted him.

"I didn't think it was funny at all," Driehaus says. "I've got three little kids and a wife. I said to him, 'John, this is bullshit, and way out of bounds. For you to say something like that is wildly irresponsible.'"

Driehaus is quick to point out that he doesn't think Boehner meant to urge anyone to violence. "But it's not about what he intended — it's about how the least rational person in my district takes it. We run into some crazy people in this line of work." (emphasis mine)

Driehaus says Boehner was "taken aback" when confronted on the floor, but never actually said he was sorry: "He said something along the lines of, 'You know that's not what I meant.' But he didn't apologize."
Confronted with the obviousness of that appeal, the John Boehners, Sarah Palins, Glen Becks and Rush Limbaughs of the world don't apologize.  They just keep the steamroller of hate running right along through Crazytown until somebody inevitably gets hurt.

There are those who have said the the Left is guilty of the same thing, which is patently untrue.  That's not how we Liberal, tree-hugging, granola-crunching, intellectual elitists roll.  If anything, our beliefs are often misinterpreted as a sign of weakness by those on the Right. 

It's not like we didn't see this coming.  If you see someone doing something irresponsible, and you warn them that someone will get hurt if they continue, and your warnings are ignored, and then someone gets hurt, and then those you warned act surprised... Is anyone having trouble following the logic?

I have no doubt that, at some point during the past two years, someone in some boardroom somewhere said, "Won't some crazy person take what we've said as a call to do harm?"  That person probably wasn't employed long after that, because the response was probably, "So the mentally ill are our responsibility now?  It's not our fault if someone takes our hate speech opinions and misconstrues them."

This is not about what the shooter is or is not, from a purely political point of view.  He's a nutcase.  This is the Becking of America: the promotion of hate speech to provoke the irrational into violent conduct, while giving the promoter plausible deniability.  After all, that's not what they meant, right?

I blather...

I made the "comment of the week" section of the Tucson Weekly again.  The only touchy-feely, life-affirming moment I've had in the last two years, and I have to write it down. 


Now I'm going to have to find a gratuitous car chase on TV, or figure out some other way to express some appropriate political incorrectness, just to get the taste outta my mouth. 

The Weekly edited my comment for length (in addition to being touchy-feely and life-affirming, it was also a bit wordy).  It's here.

The full text was part of an earlier blog post here.

Don't say I didn't warn ya.

Time and Distance

So, we have a little over a week's worth of distance from this tragedy. One goes through certain stages in a situation like this. Shock, disbelief and grief initially. Then anger and outrage, aggravated as I witnessed the transparent attempt by those on the right to deflect blame from themselves, and assign it to others. It only got worse as the days wore on.

There was Sarah Palin's video (which I could only watch in 30 second intervals, punctuated by a lot of drinking.), in which she portrayed herself as the true victim in all of this. It was such an embarrassing, self-serving display of insensitivity, that any presidential aspirations she may have had probably ended right there. Then again, Arizona recently elected a governor who can barely form complete sentences, and those she can form are often lies. I never underestimate stupidity. Palin's latest quote is, "I will not shut up!" There's a surprise.

Then there was Trent Humphries, co-founder of the Tucson Tea Party, who had the distinction of being the first person of the extreme right to actually blame the victims for the crime against them (I would have bet money on Fox). Immediately after which, he began to express fear for the safety of himself, the Tea Party, and his family (in that order, I assume). Before this, many, including myself, hadn't even heard of him. I believe his initial inflammatory statements were designed, at least in part, to rectify that situation. The most recent incident happened at a town hall meeting, at which Eric Fuller, one of the victims of the shooting, was arrested after taking a picture of Humpries, and muttering "Your dead." It's my belief that Mr. Fuller should have stayed home. The trauma of being shot, and watching those around him brutally murdered was only a few days old, and I think he was still in shock. I also believe that Mr. Humpries knew this, and deliberately provoked a man he knew to be in a fragile state of mind. When Humphries was asked if he wanted to press charges, he declined (smartest move yet).

"I am more worried about our community," he said. "This doesn't need to be about Trent Humphries. This doesn't need to be about politics."

Right. What is it with sociopaths always referring to themselves in the third person?

I could call Humphries a subhuman slug, but it would be doing a disservice to slugs everywhere.

There are others. Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, Sean Hannity, all whose comments I found to be offensive and tiresome.

It's my belief that everyone of conscience, no matter their ideology, asked themselves the same thing at some point after the shooting:

"Did I do anything to contribute to this?"

In the end, the answer isn't nearly as important as having the decency to ask the question in the first place. And in what may be the few positive things to come out of this, it became painfully easy to spot those who didn't look inward. Whose first thought was to protect themselves and their ideologies. They fear to look into their own hearts, because of what looks back at them from the darkness. It is, more than anything over the last two years, the greatest measure of their lack of integrity and character. And that's a good thing.

Because now we know who they truly are.

Oh, Me of Little Faith

I believe in religious freedom, though I am, myself, an atheist. I can honestly say that I would protect, with my life if necessary, my neighbor's right to believe according to the dictates of their conscience. I do this partly because I think it is my duty as a citizen. If I don't love your freedom as I do my own, then none of us is free, and freedom itself becomes a lie. My other reason is enlightened self-interest. I know that the same laws that protect a person's right to believe, also protect my right not to. Such was the wisdom of those in the beginning.

But I am not completely devoid of belief. I believe that there is some good in everyone. Intellectually, of course, I know this not to be true. Evil exists, and it's sources are as varied as humanity itself. And at the end of the day, there is no Karma -- nothing to magically set things right with the universe.

This delusional belief in the goodness of humanity is something I cling to, because it protects me against what I've all too often witnessed as the dreariness, the hopelessness, and the futility of the human condition. The lack of compassion. The inability to imagine oneself in another's shoes. The willingness to, without hesitation or regret, give up the lives of your countrymen to protect your own. These are character traits that are, at best, dishonorable.

As of late, I've had some trouble with reality. Not its absence, but its intrusion. What little faith I hold is shaken, and I have no idea how to fix it. I've resolved to try and be more kind and patient with those around me. I'm not sure it will help, but I'm pretty certain that will do no harm.

So, you may find me somewhat less than "chipper" in the coming days. I've no doubt that will come as a relief to some of you. Enjoy it while it lasts. To the others, it is my hope that you also find me worthy of your patience.

I wrote the above on a piece of paper at work this morning. It was not a good day, and it got no better as it wore on.

When I moved here three years ago, something odd happened. For the first time in almost a half century of existence, I felt a sense of community. I can see now why people find the concept so appealing. I have friends, a job, and a great fondness for my employers, my co-workers, and my customers.

There is, of course, a down side. When one becomes emotionally invested in a place and it's people, and harm comes to them, their pain becomes your own. You feel grief...and rage. I've felt it to a certain extent all day.

One the way home from work, I passed by the office of Gabrielle Giffords. I saw the people, the signs, the candles, and the rage and grief came anew.

Jared Loughner is someone who malfunctioned beyond any hope of rehabilitation or redemption. The greatest kindness we could give him would be a quick death. But at the moment, kindness is the last thing I feel. I know that in this world, there are worse things than death. Some of these things, I've been unfortunate enough to witness. It is my hope that before he dies, Jared Loughner experiences every one of them.

The rage will pass, and the words I write now will shame me. Rightly so. But perhaps by the act of writing them, I can rid myself of this wretched feeling.

But...not yet.

Saturation of stupidity

Yesterday, at a local Safeway, a disturbed young man shot a number of people, including Rep. Gabielle Giffords, federal judge John Roll, and a nine-year-old child. I didn't comment. Partly because I wanted more information, but mostly I was too angry and heartsick to form coherent thoughts.

From what I've read, and the YouTube videos I've seen, Jared Loughner was a disturbed individual, and quite probably mentally ill. Because of this, I'm told that I should not consider this a politically motivated act.


Rep. Giffords' office is just around the corner from where I live. During the health care debate, there were Tea Party picketers on that corner, as was their right. But their shouts at passing cars, and the signs they carried were troubling and offensive. After the vote on health care, her offices were vadalized. During the mid-terms, her political opponent's Tea Party followers placed signs across the street that came strategically short of promoting direct physical violence.

For the last two years, we've been inundated by the right with lies, omissions, and ad hominem attacks. And I'm not even counting the clinically insane things said, which served only to gain or divert attention. Fox news' unending string of propaganda does a huge disservice to those who naively look to them for actual news. They know this. How could they not?

To Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Sarah Palin and all the corporate ghouls that control them, hate is just another commodity to be packaged and sold to the masses.

You can't saturate a nation with this sort of stupidity, and not expect someone, mentally ill or not, to react to it.

Now it has come to this. We live in a nation where a valid argument against one's opponent is that he is too smart. A nation where a significant percentage of people consider quantifiable, demonstrable proof of something to be merely opinion. A nation that rewrites it's own history when it makes them uncomfortable. A nation that changes it's constitution when they find it to be inconvenient. A nation that values expediency over what is right.

And, perhaps someday, a nation of people no longer worthy of their liberty.

A New Year's resolution

I hope the holidays were kind to everyone.  I don't usually do new year's resolutions, as they usually just end up being yet another reason to beat myself up over the course of the coming year.  However, this year is different.   The following chart sums up how I intend to handle future debates with anyone about anything.

With thanks to the Daily Kos.