Note: Posts appear in chronological order from top down.
Fact and friction
by Bill "damned proud of being modest" Ring
New for 2009
"Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday. And boy,
did you have that right!"
1: Turning the Page Jan
New year, new rules. First, I will date the
blog entries for future reference. As I re-read some of last year's
entries they actually seem almost prophetic if you could tell when they
were written. Second, I will try to be a bit more regular in posting.
(Yeah, right, "The blog is in the email.")
So what pithy observations do I have about
the year past? Nothing much that you can't read in last year's postings.
As far as the first 8 years of the 21st Century go, all I want is a
written apology. Worthless government, worthless war, worthless stocks,
worthless music, worthless movies, new worthless operating system from
Microsoft, Britanny Spears, (in descending order of significance) etc.
On a positive note we elected an allegedly
liberal, African-American President who appears to be calm and intelligent,
which will make for a nice change on all points. For positive news in
culture, stay away from the main-stream media crap and seek local, independent
art and music. It's out there. The basic rule of thumb is: If it appears
on TV, it sucks; if it's on the internet, who the hell knows? Kiss as
many frogs as you can find the time for, and eventually you'll find
a few prince(sse)s. I'll try to include some info on my own successful
frog-smooching this year, along with the usual strange prose, stranger
poetry, and curmudgeonly ranting.
Fasten your seat belts; it's going to be a
2: Hey ma, look at me! Jan
The five-year-old bouncing up and down on the
end of the diving board, refusing to jump until mom looks his way, holding
up everyone else who wants their turn - what a perfect metaphor for
the new media age. It doesn't matter what you say or how well you say
it; the number of hits is everything. How many Facebook and Myspace
"friends" do you have? Who cares if any of them even know
who you are?
Old farts like me still imagine that people care about the right to
privacy, but most internet users appear to be interested only in recognition
at any cost. Embarrassing photos? Post 'em. Video of you and your friends
robbing a convenience store? Straight to Youtube. (Yes, that really
Surf the net and you'll find all kinds of information on how to get
more website visitors, draw more people to your blog, etc. Not much
about how to find something worthwhile to say, however. That's a lot
harder, and not of a great deal of interest to the five-year-old cannonballer
in all of us.
Many of the great names of literature and
art were underappreciated in their lifetimes and only gained fame over
time. Here in the microwave culture it seems improbable that a Van Gogh
or a Poe could or would struggle to produce a body of work that will
live long after the creator's death. The proverbial 15 minutes of fame
has become 15 seconds of name recognition. No wonder that 20-somethings
are still listening to music recorded 40 years ago in preference to
the disposable crap being released today.
Like most "critics" I find it a lot easier to complain than
to suggest a solution. In writing this blog, I am to some extent jumping
on that diving board myself. I like to think that what I am trying to
get you to listen to has some substance beyond simple ego gratification,
but the same impulse is still there.
Hey ma, look at me!
For a brief interval in the middle 1960's the
anthem of my generation was All You Need Is Love, but before
long that was supplanted by Money Changes Everything.
Have you ever heard a wealthy person
described as a failure? Of course not. In some areas of endeavor there
may be additional criteria to consider, but meeting those criteria will
inevitably yield money as well. Even if an individual simply inherits
wealth and does nothing but spend it, the word "failure" is
not so much as whispered.
Once in a while you may hear it said that someone
was successful without making money, but always in the context of contradicting
an assertion that that person was a failure. Money = Success. Period.
The sentence, "I wasted my life making money," is virtually
nonsensical in this society.
We profess to admire self-less individuals
like Mother Teresa, Gandhi, and so-on, but how often do you see a parent
encouraging a child to go into charity work? Parents want their children
to "be happy," which in this society is equated with making
as much money as possible (or, for the more pessimistic, enough money
as safely as possible).
So what's more important than money? The best
answer to that is probably to roll your own. What is worthwhile to me
may be less so to you, but as a generality I would say that "other
people" might be a place to start. More time spent with people
you care about, doing whatever you find fulfilling, sounds to me like
a lot better idea than wasting your life making money.
Then again, why listen to me? If I'm so smart,
how come I'm not rich?
10 is Umbrella Day
Perhaps because I have too much time on my
hands, I have been thinking a lot about the long view of history. In
an earlier post I took this aberration about as far as it can go and
engaged in some idle speculation about the possibility of human evolution
in the distant future. Lately I have drifted a little closer to the
present and wondered about the way future generations a century or two
down the road will see us. Specifically, I have been trying to imagine
which practices and institutions they will be shocked and appalled to
discover we accepted without question.
Think there isn't anything left to reform?
That we have already achieved the pinnacle of fair and rational behavior?
I doubt it. As we look back on centuries past we see slavery; legal
codes in which torture to obtain confessions was an accepted practice;
voting limited not just to men, but to men who owned property; divine
monarchy; etc. At one time or another each of these was universally
seen as inevitable, rational, and beyond challenge or even discussion.
In my own lifetime I have more than once seen the unquestioned assumption
discarded and the unthinkable become conventional wisdom. Just today
a beauty contestant was all but lynched for saying she didn't believe
in gay marriage. Even more amazing, the contest organizers immediately
and publicly denounced her statement. I believe very strongly that gay
marriage should be legal, but I didn't think her words were all that
dreadful. She simply said she wasn't raised that way and didn't believe
in it personally. There was a time not so long ago when anyone who suggested
that such a thing as gay marriage should even be discussed might have
been lynched for real. Now sixty-three percent of New Yorkers think
it's a peachy idea according to a recent poll! And need I mention segregation?
So what else is there? What parochial, blinkered
assumptions remain for future generations to scorn? I can think of at
least two candidates, but before I reveal them, I'd like to hear what
you think. Specifically, what unquestioned assumptions still exist in
our society to amaze and disgust our descendants? I'm speaking not of
things like abortion rights, where there is a lot of disagreement and
discussion, but of things almost no one questions. Any thoughts? Email
firstname.lastname@example.org or click the link below:
The response to the previous post was greater than usual, so I guess
my question must have struck a chord. Thanks to you who responded with
your suggestions. To make my idea a little clearer (which I suppose
I should have done in the first place), I was looking for big, unquestioned
aspects of contemporary society that virtually no one thinks we can
do without (or, indeed, thinks about much at all). Two intriguing ideas
that meet the qualifications were desk jobs and raising animals for
food. I have trouble myself imagining how these could or would ever
be eliminated, which is what makes them good answers.
My own candidates for what the future may regard as incomprehensible
contemporary practices are prisons and immigration laws. First let's
look at prisons.
There have been societies in the past that have functioned without
prisons. True, most of these were small, relatively primitive agrarian
societies in which everyone knew everyone else and the threat of social
disapproval was not to be taken lightly, but even some larger societies
have been able to get along without long term incarceration of those
who misbehave. I should make it clear that I am drawing a distinction
here between temporary restraint of a violent offender and prolonged
institutional confinement. "Tie him up in the shed until we figure
out what to do with him," or words to that effect, has undoubtedly
been said since the earliest days of civilization, but locking "him"
in a cage for years on end has not always been the answer. To be fair,
I should point out that in some societies alternatives to incarceration
have featured mutilation and death by torture along with less objectionable
sanctions such as banishment and military service.
We feel we need prisons because we are afraid of being robbed, murdered,
and so on. We want to make ourselves safe by locking up people who do
things like this. The trouble is that we can't lock people up until
after the damage is done, and that the brutality that takes place in
prison often breeds far more violent criminals to be turned loose on
us when their sentences expire. I am not sure that the existence of
prisons doesn't make the problem of violence in our society worse. This
is particularly so when we lock up people who are not physically dangerous
with those who are.
Being a creature of my time, I can't visualize in every detail how
a modern urban society without prisons would function. If someone committed
a brutal murder would the enraged citizens hang the perpetrator (or
someone they think might be the perpetrator) from the nearest lamppost?
After all, if there is no prison the mob leaders won't be locked up.
Of course just because there is no prison, that doesn't mean there is
no punishment. In an increasingly technological society maybe virtual
punishment would hold the same degree of importance as ostracism in
a tribal society. Certainly for prisons to be eliminated we would have
to expand our capacity to treat people who are pathologically violent.
Would this lead to "treatment facilities" that are really
prisons by another name? Of course this is possible. It happens today.
I'm not envisioning a perfect society here, just one that has continued
to grow up.
What does seem clear to me is that locking someone in a cage with brutal,
violent companions for years on end is a questionable treatment plan
for improving human character. To set people loose on the streets after
years of incarceration with virtually no chance of obtaining an honest
job for a living wage is a ridiculous way to try to make ourselves and
our children safer. Maybe the future will reveal a more sensible approach.
This post seems to be getting a bit long-winded,
so I'll save my thoughts on immigration laws for next time. Stay tuned,
and keep those cards and letters coming.
Episode 6: And
Now, For Something Completely Different ...
June 12, 2009
Just a few pix of my new music playmates and myself. Twy Bethard
on fiddle and vocals, and Joe Crum on bass and more bass.
All are recent except for the last one of me, which is older than I care
the oldest new face on the Ithaca music scene
Time to drop the other shoe on the "future developments in society"
theme. My second candidate for currently accepted practices that will
have future generations scratching their heads and clucking their tongues
is immigration law.
The basic unstated, and therefore unexamined, assumption behind immigration
laws is that people should stay within the borders of the country in
which they were born, and that to do otherwise requires government approval,
which can be withheld for any reason, or for no reason at all. Stated
this way, it sounds pretty totalitarian, doesn't it?
Taking the long view of history, the bar seems to have risen gradually
in terms of human rights in most areas. Slavery used to be taken for
granted; now it is near to being abolished. Torture, once commonplace,
is now out of favor in the world community. Even the undeniably dreadful
treatment inflicted on "enemy combatants" by the late, unlamented
Bush junta seems almost mild compared to methods employed in centuries
gone by. Voting seems to be all the rage...
Travel is different, however. Restrictions on the movement of individual
human beings have grown steadily more severe since WWI. A huge and growing
number of otherwise law-abiding people in the United States and elsewhere
are known as "illegal aliens" - criminals by virtue of standing
on the wrong side of an imaginary line without the right piece of paper.
Whole families in refuge camps around the world are condemned to perpetual
confinement in conditions that would not be tolerated in a US prison,
again for the crime of being "displaced".
Putting all the usual BS aside, the real reasons
for this are greed and fear. Those of us inside the bubble of prosperity
known as the "first world" are understandably fearful of the
idea that all people are really equal. Our message to the vast majority
of the world's population that live outside the bubble is basically
"We'd love to see you have all kinds of lovely civil rights, just
keep your grubby hands off the money!" If those third-worlders
could go wherever they want, wouldn't they come here and compete with
us for jobs, bringing down our standard of living in the process? Wouldn't
the population of our comfortable, prosperous cities swell until they
resembled Mexico City and Rio? Wouldn't the free movement of people
result in a world-wide leveling of the standard of living?
"Yes it would, " I can imagine some voice from the distant
future saying, although that level may turn out to be a bit higher than
we imagine once the wasteful apparatus of universal imprisonment is
dismantled. "And what is your point? Why is it, precisely, that
a new-born infant in Ohio is so much more deserving of future prospects
than one born somewhere in Asia? "
The answer, of course, is that desert has nothing to do with it. We
protect our wealth and power because we can, and justify it to ourselves
with a lot of crap about how much more hard-working and intelligent
we are than those backward peasants with whom we are afraid to compete.
So how can this possibly change? The answer is painfully and slowly.
The leveling of the standard of living that we fear so much is happening
already. The mobility of capital is enabling those "peasants"
to compete without leaving home. Already most of our computer software
and technical support comes from India. The globalization of the economy
has only just begun, but the process looks irreversible. As time grinds
on and the disparities in wealth between different parts of the world
diminish, the perceived necessity for travel restrictions will disappear.
I'm not particularly sorry that I won't be around to see the transition
in progress, but if, as this leveling takes place, we can manage to
figure out ways to live within our means and stop devouring non-renewable
resources, maybe the future will be calmer and more peaceful, and the
term "illegal alien" will be reduced to a puzzling anachronism.
I get most of my news these days by going through Google News and pursuing
whatever thread strikes my fancy. I try to make a point of going to
different news outlets from Google and then checking out whatever interesting
sounding links they have to other stories. You can find some bizarre
and/or enlightening things that way. This doesn't have a lot to do with
my main theme, but I just thought I'd mention it.
Anyway, I was Googling some news the other day, and among the front
page headlines was an item about Steve Spurrier, a football coach in
the SEC (one of many conferences in US college football). Apparently
this "story" had been developing for several days and there
were nearly 1,000 links to chose from to read about it. Briefly, a pre-season
poll had been taken of the coaches in the SEC to determine their opinion
(i.e. guess) as to which would be the best players in the conference
during the coming season. No money, awards, or competitive advantages
result from this poll, which probably ranks as one of the least important
and least interesting items of trivia one could imagine, even for the
most crazed sports fan. Possibly the players' mothers might be interested
in the results, but even that is open to question.
Our story was not even about the poll results, but a follow-up on an
earlier story about the "controversy" arising from Spurrier's
failure to select the name of a quarterback who had been picked by every
other coach in the conference. In today's thrill-packed episode, it
was revealed that Spurrier had intended to select that player, but had
inadvertently omitted his name, and that he had now contacted whoever
was conducting the poll and made the correction.
Excuse the !@!#$% out of me?! A thousand stories about correcting a
typo in a meaningless poll? WTF? I have long since become jaded by our
bottomless fascination with the details of the doings of the not-so-great
and almost famous, but this one was too much even for me.
I'm not an expert in psycho-babble, but someone once told me about
"dissociative reaction," which (feel free to correct me if
I have this wrong) involves feeling so overwhelmed by large, important
concerns that one ceases to care and focuses instead on unimportant
matters. (You don't give a damn any more where your kid goes to college,
but you call the cops every time your neighbor parks 13 inches from
the curb.) Sounds about right to me as a description of our modern mass
Obama swats a fly and makes a joke about it, and those nitwits from
PETA start whining about animal cruelty. Obama orders Grey Poupon mustard
(made by Kraft right here in the good old USA, by the way) and the blogosphere
goes ballistic about his being an elitist. Why do we care about this
nonsense? I'm tempted to say it's because we are either stupid or crazy,
but on further reflection I'd say it's probably both.
I wish I had a terrific point to make here, complete with recommendations
for action you can take to help make it all better, but frankly it's
all too much for me, and I don't give a damn any more.
But say, how about those Yankees?
the Trivial Pursuer
Danger, old fart alert!
Sooner or later it had to come to this. I'm
over sixty and I'm writing about what's screwed up about modern times.
How pathetic. "When I was a boy, blah, blah, blah
At best I can plead guilty with an explanation. I really don't think
everything was better when I was young just because I enjoyed myself
more. Racism, sexism, censorship
I could probably write longer
and more easily about things that have changed for the better in the
past 50 years, but there seems to be less point in that. Positive changes
are all well and good, but it's the stuff we're screwing up that we
need to worry about. So without further apologies, forward into the
bitch, dear readers. Like my intermittent series of postings relating
to bullshit (The Affairs of Men, Parts 1 thru infinity) What's
Wrong With the World will undoubtedly become a never-ending serial
screed. It's a big, imperfect world, and like all cynics I am of course
a frustrated idealist. (Is there any other kind?)
For no reason I could easily articulate, my
first rant will concern the death of the "scene". You know
- Paris between the wars, the Beat poets and later the folkniks in Greenwich
Village, San Francisco and the Summer of Love, the early British Punk
times and places where some sort of creative explosion
seems to arise out of nothing by a process of spontaneous combustion,
where (as Hunter Thompson put it, approximately) the energy of a generation
comes together in a bright, blinding flash. It seems like a long time
since we've seen such a flash, and I have begun to think it may never
happen again. To understand why, we have to ask, "What is
a scene anyway?"
When you try to analyze what a scene is, why
it is, even if it is, the closer you look the more it seems to
disappear. On examination no one actually seems to belong to a scene,
to be a beatnik or a hippie or whatever. In Paris between the
wars no one even knew it was "between the wars". The
scene is always someone else, some other place, not recognized until
it is over, etc. A few people are actually doing something (art, politics,
music, whatever) and not wasting much time thinking about any scene,
while a lot of others are wandering around like tourists looking for
the "real" scene, would-be disciples looking for a guru. There
are certain bars, parks, cafes, bookstores where something seems to
be happening, but most interactions are among seekers looking for they
know not what, or between the seekers and con artists trying to take
advantage of them to get sex, money, fame, etc. Some individuals are
a little of all 3 - doers, seekers, and imposters all in one. No one
can say who is real and who is a poser. It's all word of mouth, legend,
hearsay. Everyone complains the scene is dead because of all the gawking
hangers-on, but without them the scene doesn't exist.
It is next to impossible to have a scene now
because the essence of the whole process depends on a tantalizing buzz
about something that no one is entirely sure of. Today, as soon as anything
remotely interesting starts to happen it is video taped, photographed,
written about, analyzed, and spread all over the internet and the rest
of the media before anyone can even get interested. All of us spend
too much time getting our information from electronic media. We stay
home with our TV's and computers instead of hanging out with real people,
informed but uninvolved. Cocooning may be alright for the weary survivors
of scenes gone by, but what are all these 20-somethings doing spending
all their time on Facebook and its ever-multiplying clones? Why aren't
they out doing drugs and getting in trouble like they should be? Just
as well-behaved women don't make history, respectable people don't create
scenes (or art, or literature, or political movements, or anything else
I say that it might be impossible for a scene
to be born in this media age, but maybe that's just the old fart syndrome
at work. I suppose no one in the ultra-conformist early 1950's could
have envisioned the birth of the counter culture in a few grimy cellar
cafes. Maybe a new scene could survive if only it could stay under the
media's radar long enough. Or, given the ever decreasing attention span
of modern culture, perhaps a scene could grow after the media has gotten
bored with it and left it to develop unobserved.
If there is a message here, I suppose it's one you've heard from me
before. "Turn off the damned computer, get out of the house, and
go do something you care about with real people!"
Good advice. I should take it myself.
Reminiscence Approximately On a Certain Anniversary
On winter nights in the cold room the greatest
warmth we had to share was the heat of our bodies, huddled naked between
the bare, stained mattress and the threadbare grey wool blanket. Most
mornings before rising we smoked wrinkled cigarette butts excavated
from the overflowing ashtrays and crumbling dark brown roaches rescued
from the ash-encrusted lids of quarter-full pop-top beer cans.
The crumbling plaster walls were haphazardly decorated with spray painted
murals, large splotches of odd, clashing colors, and a bewildering assortment
of posters, photographs and miscellaneous found objects: small, non-functional
musical instruments, can-openers, interestingly shaped pieces of wood,
and keys to long-forgotten doors.
The accordion-style window guards had been installed by a prior tenant
who had presumably possessed something worth stealing. We kept them
locked for the sake of my guitar, although the people to whom we regularly
permitted entry to the apartment were far more likely to rob us than
was the average passing stranger. Our friends (sic) were junkies, speed
freaks, part-time prostitutes, pathetically incompetent hash dealers,
politically motivated panhandlers, and so on. These were of course not
mutually exclusive categories.
Our days were spent sleeping, handling out advertising leaflets (most
of which we threw away to eliminate the middle-man), panhandling, sitting
in the park if it wasn't too cold or if we were high enough not to care,
and scrounging in dumpsters, garbage cans, and payphone coin return
slots for the means of survival. By night we consumed the fruits of
our day's efforts in the form of drugs, beer, plastic wrapped foodstuffs
of dubious nutritional value, and second-hand paperback books. On two
separate occasions we briefly possessed a small portable black and white
TV scrounged from someone's garbage. The first stopped working after
a week and the second was borrowed and never returned. Neither was missed.
The lives of our acquaintances followed a similar rhythm. Everyone
had some sort of irregular (if not always strictly legal) employment.
Non-union labor musters at the West Side piers, unlicensed massage,
concession stands, pizza delivery, bikini-clad finger-painting modeling
at the Electric Circus ... anything that paid cash and did not require
regular attendance, presentable appearance or sobriety. Those who "did
something" of a creative nature would vary their routine to work
when the mood struck. In spite of the chaotic squalor of our lives we
did manage to produce art, music and literature in surprising quantities,
even if our only public was each other.
Stoned as we were, we might not even have been surprised to be informed
that this was paradise, or at least as close to it as we would ever
come. Decades later, as the wheels of fate grind our lives away (Joe
MacDonald's line, not mine), we look back, not in anger, but in awe
and confusion, not knowing what possibilities we found, lost, wasted,
If the universe is really unfolding just as it should,
Someone has a particularly demented sense of humor.
Episode 11: The Affairs
of Men, Part 4 Aug
First, a little
history, (courtesy of Wikipedia):
Pan Am Flight 103 was Pan American World Airways' third daily scheduled
transatlantic flight from London's Heathrow Airport to New York's John
F. Kennedy International Airport. On Wednesday 21 December 1988, the
aircraft flying this routea Boeing 747-121 named Clipper Maid
of the Seaswas destroyed by a bomb, killing all 243 passengers
and 16 crew members. Eleven people in Lockerbie, southern Scotland,
were killed as large sections of the plane fell in and around the town,
bringing total fatalities to 270. As a result, the event has been named
by the media as the Lockerbie Bombing.
In 2001, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi,
a Libyan, was convicted of involvement in the bombing and sentenced
to life imprisonment. On 20 August 2009, the Scottish Government released
him on compassionate grounds to return to Libya as he was suffering
from terminal prostate cancer and had a life expectancy of less than
And now today's
"Compassion and Forgiveness, Government
(as reported by the Sunday Times
and repeated on bloomberg.com)
U.K. Justice Secretary Jack Straw agreed to
allow Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi to be freed to salvage
negotiations with the Libyan government on an oil exploration deal,
the Sunday Times reported.
Straw wrote to Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny
MacAskill on July 26, 2007 to say al-Megrahi should be excluded from
a prisoner transfer agreement, where prisoners may serve the remainder
of sentences in their home country, the Sunday Times said, citing documents
given to the paper. He reversed this decision in a December 19, 2007
"The wider negotiations with the Libyans
are reaching a critical stage and, in view of the overwhelming interests
for the United Kingdom, I have agreed that in this instance the (prisoner
transfer agreement) should be in the standard form and not mention any
individual," the paper cited the letter as saying.
Straw's change came after negotiations stalled
between BP Plc, the biggest U.K.-based oil company, and Libya for an
oil and gas exploration deal that may be worth up to 15 billion pounds
($24 billion), the paper reported.
So here is our staunchest ally in the "war
against terror" sending a mass murderer home to a hero's welcome
for the sake of the profit margin of a gigantic oil company. Is it just
me, or do you think it might be appropriate to .. oh, I don't know ...
how about [deleted on the advice of counsel]
corporate executives and politicians from their plush air-conditioned
offices and [deleted on the advice of counsel]
from the nearest lamp post?
Is there nothing these scum can do that
is sufficiently vile to get people uncontrollably enraged? Am I silly
to get upset about one more proof that the people and institutions that
control our society are so totally corrupt that they don't even know
when to be ashamed?
Of course things are much better here in the
US now that we have a "liberal" president who is definitely
going to wind down one of our two wars just as soon as he gets around
PS: For anyone who thinks I might have been unfair
to describe Jack Straw and company as "scum" who don't know
when to be ashamed, this followup story from the Washington Post, dated
Sept 6, 2009.
In an interview published Saturday, British
Justice Secretary Jack Straw said trade considerations, particularly
a deal for oil company BP, played a major role in the decision to include
Megrahi in a prisoner transfer agreement between Britain and Libya.
Straw originally sought to exclude Megrahi from
any prisoner transfer deal with Libya, but in 2007 he changed his position.
He wrote in a letter to his Scottish counterpart that "wider negotiations
with the Libyans are reaching a critical stage" and that a blanket
agreement was in "the overwhelming interests for the United Kingdom."
The following month, Libya ratified an oil exploration
deal with BP worth up to $900 million.
In the interview, Straw told the Daily Telegraph
that Libya was a "rogue state."
"We wanted to bring it back into the fold.
And yes, that included trade because trade is an essential part of it
and subsequently there was the BP deal."
Episode 12: God Told Me
To Do It Sept 9, 2009
If I came to you and said, in all seriousness,
that a burning bush or a donkey or a voice from God had told me to do
something peculiar, would you:
A) Congratulate me on being chosen as God's messenger?
B) Book me a rubber room at the nearest psychiatric facility?
If the "voice" had instructed me to kill my first-born child would
you call the cops?
If I started assembling pairs of every animal
I could lay my hands on in by back yard would you tip off the health
department and the Humane Society?
If your answers to the above questions are "B," "yes," and "yes',"
then what makes it any less ridiculous and/or insane when some joker
in a turned-around collar spews nonsense like this in a building with
pretty windows? Just because he claims this stuff happened a long time
ago? I know fairy tales are usually set in a land long ago and far away,
but I thought it was understood that fairy tales are fictional.
I could, and probably will eventually have
a lot more to say on this topic in the future. What brings it to mind
today is the Duggard kidnapping case. In Phillip Garrido we have yet
another in a long succession of psychotic sex criminals whose day job
is preaching their version of the "word of God." (I don't say "alleged
criminal" because Garrido has previously been convicted and served
time for another kidnapping and rape.)
I'm not about to make the logical error of asserting that any significant
percentage of preachers are necessarily sex criminals, but it does seem
that an inordinately high percentage of mentally disturbed child molesters
gravitate toward that profession and find willing followers. My thought
for the day is that a job description that includes treating absurd
fantasies as if they were real and exhorting others to do the same is
a natural fit for the deranged, particularly those who hear voices.
Listening to this crap once a week has long been a form of popular
entertainment, although modern media have certainly reduced its appeal.
Taking religion seriously and making political decisions on that basis
is just plain crazy.
Quote for the day:
"The returning good sense of our country threatens
abortion to their hopes, & they [the clergy] believe that any portion
of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes.
And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal
hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." - Thomas
Episode 13: The Affairs
of Men, Part 5 Sept
(By rights this should be a postscript to episode
11, but since a couple of weeks have passed, I'll give it it's own heading.)
Just the other day Susan Atkins, former Manson
follower/accomplice/brainwashing victim (you pick it) died in prison
of a brain tumor after having repeatedly been denied parole. Since being
found guilty of participating in the Tate/LaBianca murders she had reportedly
denounced Manson, found God (the nice clean Christian one), married,
Whatever we may think of her sincerity, it
seems pretty clear that she was nuts when she committed the murders,
even if she didn't meet the ever-inscrutable standard for legal insanity,
and with the passage of time had become a good deal more rational. It
also seems clear that letting her die outside of prison was unlikely
to pose much of a risk to the community. Unfortunately for her, no multi-million
dollar oil deal was tied to her compassionate release.
Is it really the stupid economy? Dec
Like all good bloggers I suppose I'm obligated to produce a year-end,
or in this case a decade-end thumbsucker. (If you are unfamiliar with
that term, it's old-fashioned newspaper lingo for an article that is
short on research and facts and long on self-indulgent pondering.) So
Decades are usually referred to as "the twenties," "the
sixties," etc. According to that system we have just completed the
nothings. Whether that name is appropriate or not depends on how you mean
it. The nothings were certainly eventful, but arguably they produced nothing
very positive, except of course for the monumental historical turning
point of the last presidential election. That the sequel to that election
has been disappointing to many of us is less than surprising, but I'm
willing to let the jury remain out a little longer on that question. Whether
the troops now "surging" to Afghanistan and the others still
stuck in Iraq are inclined to be so patient is another question. Stay
No doubt you have your own views on the past ten years, probably at
least as relevant as mine, so I'll say no more on that score. Nor will
I plague you with "ten best/ worst" lists. Your assignment
for what's left of the holiday season is to come up with your own. If
you care to email them to me maybe I'll publish some of them, as long
as my name doesn't figure in any of the "worst" lists.
My main thought for this episode is the question of "the economy."
I'm not going to waste your time arguing about the effect of various
federal programs, the causes of whatever problems we face, and so on.
People far more expert and far more interested than I will be happy
to supply you endlessly with contradictory information on all of that.
What has been on my mind is the more fundamental question of what the
economy is, and what we should want from it.
Now okay, what most of us want from the economy
is more money (i.e. power and pleasure) for ourselves. Stripped of a
lot of complex jargon, this is essentially what the "marketplace"
is all about. See the infamous "Greed is good!" speech from
the movie Wall Street for a succinct if somewhat tongue-in-cheek
exposition of this theme. But if that is what this "economy"
thing is all about, and we have accepted as axiomatic the premise that
it is the economy first and foremost that decides political questions,
then what sort of future are we trying to create?
With deep regret I am about to commit the cardinal sin of all commentary.
I am about to describe a problem without presenting any plausible path
to a solution. I wish I could say I was just being lazy or leaving it
up to you to see the solution for yourselves, but the truth is I'm not
sure there is one. The best I can do is to excuse myself by saying that
I fervently hope that someone wiser than myself can do better.
What got me to thinking about this was the
question of whether or not we can spend our way out of a recession (depression?)
by printing money and putting everyone to work by paying them with a
currency backed by hot air and wishful thinking. This seems preposterous,
and yet when I look at twentieth century history, I wonder. In 1939
the US was, according to most historians, still in the throes of the
Depression. Then for six years we put everyone to work making bombs,
tanks, etc. and taking it all overseas and blowing it up, killing people,
and generally wasting and destroying a large part of the world. (I'm
not saying there wasn't a compelling reason for doing this, only describing
what happened.) During this time we printed more money and lent it to
allies who, with the exception of Finland, never got around to paying
most of it back. On the face of it I would have expected that all of
this "violent wasting" (Look it up in Dante's Inferno
if you are interested.) would have ruined the economy for decades.
So what happened? The war ended, we spent yet more newly printed money
rebuilding Europe and Japan and sending the demobilized GI's to college
and helping them buy homes, and suddenly the economy was just peachy
and prosperity came marching around the corner to greet us with a huge
cigar in one hand and a pastel washer-drier in the other. Try as I may
to comprehend this, I just don't get it. What is this economy thing
that can grow fat and happy on a diet of death, destruction, and deficit
spending, and how sure are we that we should be rooting for it to succeed?
A famous economist once observed that in the
long run we are all dead. This way of thinking seems to me to be embedded
in the fabric of economic theory. Economic models regard the Earth as
a virtually infinite source of water, fossil fuels, and other resources.
The indicators all refer to current "activity" with no consideration
given to the resources that are being consumed and the future consequences
of that consumption. There are no economic indicators to estimate whether
our great grandchildren are going to be have air fit to breathe or the
means to eat and keep warm.
Today there are roughly 150,000 deaths and 300,000 births per day worldwide.
Every day a number of new human beings sufficient to populate a small
city is added to the world population. The United States consumes resources
at a rate which, if matched by the rest of the world, would require
six Earths to sustain us. And the rest of the world is hell-bent on
catching up. Very little difficult arithmetic is needed to see where
those trends lead. An economic model that regards increased consumption
as a positive is unlikely to contribute to a solution.
As I warned you earlier, I don't have a handy solution to fix all this.
The best I can do is to urge you to think about something other than
this treacherous and tainted "economy" thing when making political
So, in spite of my cries of doom, have a safe
and happy new decade. And if you are driving, be sure to have a car.
the prophet of doom