Sunday, November 30, 2014

Those "Good Guys"

Was it just two years ago that a crazy boy massacred 26 people, including 20 grammar school children, in a school in Connecticut. And was it just two years ago that the exalted chief of the exalted National Rifle Association came briefly down from his pedestal in the clouds, wearing his East Bloc suit and sporting his bodyguards, to speak briefly with the listening public, no questions allowed please, at this time. Such a short time ago. And yet this fall we've watched his solution in action, as "good guys" with guns blasted away a young man on a cell phone shopping in Walmart for a toy weapon for his kid, and now most recently two more "good guys" blasted away a 12 year old boy playing with a toy weapon in a park in Cleveland.

Mr. LaPierre has made no comment that I've noticed about these events. We are all left to puzzle by ourselves. At my Walmart here in central NC those plastic toy assault rifles are still displayed in stacks on shelves in the toy section, and can be picked up and hefted and pointed by whatever shopper cares to. I didn't see any 1911A style pellet guns at Walmart, but I didn't really search for them--I was there for half-and-half and some burrito shells and only noticed the assault toy by accident. My guess is I could certainly find such a toy here in my little town, somewhere. Perhaps at Western Auto. Of course if I want a real assault rifle or a real 1911A there are three real gun stores to go to. Mr. LaPierre's real work continues. The country shall be so utterly armed that everyone will be afraid of everyone, and this fear will be the legal justification of any and all slaughters so committed, most particularly if the murdered is black.

Meanwhile, in the comments to news stories on the two deaths, many folks say things like "well, you shouldn't be brandishing a toy weapon in a park or in a store," and "he should have listened to the cops and done what they said." Case closed.

Many cases have been closed this fall. Dr. King's theory, about the long arc of history, may still be correct. Let's ask Senator Inhofe, who pronounces on such theories from his fresh new chairmanship of the Energy Committee. While we wait for Mr. Inhofe to tell us what to think, I have a movie for you to watch. It's called "Manufactured Landscapes."

This is a photo Mr. Burtynsky took of a big ship disassembly "plant," which is located on the shores of the Bay of Bengal, Chittagong, Bangladesh. The labor is mostly by hand, dangerous, polluting, awful, possibly necessary in the great scheme of things. In the film we also witness the construction of such ships, in China, as well as the construction of many of the things we use here in the west. Mr. Burtynsky is photographing the long arc of history, a wave upon which we're all riding, mostly unawares. Our news media prefers to show us the unedited and unquestioned murmurings of Mr. LaPierre, which punctuate the river of sports programming and other standard fare which is our "mainstream media."

We wait to hear of the next child murder. Christmas is a'commin' down, lud us sing goddam.

Here's a link to information about the Burtynsky film:

Here's a surprising statistic (from Talking Points Memo):

Hard numbers are hard to come by, but Levenson and others agreed that it is exceedingly rare for a police officer to be indicted for a homicide committed in the line of duty. Convictions are even rarer. The FBI reported 410 justifiable homicides by law enforcement in 2012. The number of indictments appear to be minimal after a TPM review of available press reports. A 1979 study found three convictions out of the 1,500 police killings it studied over a five-year period.” (From a comment in ) Dr. Halbo untangles some of the quandaries in the Ferguson case. He writes from the far perspective of Singapore.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Why They Play

I happened to be watching this game for a while last night, before I turned in. This was the first play of the 2nd quarter. As both announcers said, it was the greatest catch in the history of football. Well, I'm sure there were contenders, but I've sure never seen anything more amazing, and I've been watching the game since the late '50s, when Unitas and Tittle were battling.

There's been a lot of sensible things said in the past year or two about how football is just too dangerous. It's true. This head-injury problem is apparently unsolvable, so these amazing athletes are risking long term disability (to be sort of antiseptic about it--we're talking about senility and depression and in a number of cases, suicide). But this catch! That is nothing short of artistry. It's the same problem you see with Ali's great fights, or Tyson's, or the bravery of Gene Fullmer. How much of the story do you want to read?

Art is possibly instantaneous. Mr. Beckham, Junior, wrote a poem for the ages. I hope he plays on for a good while, and gets paid handsomely for doing what no one can do, and doesn't fall into the many pitfalls that he must dance through, and keeps his knees, and his brains intact, and gets the hell out after we've seen a little more, to a nice life. Fact is, the brutal, cruel medium is necessary for the message. The defense will hit him until he can't get up again, that's the sad part. It doesn't diminish such a catch.


More on President Obama's immigration policy, from David Alan Skansky: From that standpoint, there are two things about the immigration enforcement policies that are profoundly unremarkable. The first is that the Executive Branch is prioritizing which undocumented immigrants it will seek to deport. It has to do that, since there are about 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country and Congress has provided funding that will allow somewhere around only 400,000 removal actions each year. The whole post is instructive. Skansky is a professor of law at Stanford, and a former prosecutor.

The whole article makes a number of factual points which are being utterly ignored in the Republican and right wing hysteria over Mr. Obama's announcement. The facts are so clear that what is obvious is that the Republican response is utter hogwash--just more sturm und drang aimed only at generating hysteria amongst the usual generally upset part of the electorate which is now driving politics in this country nationally and state by state. Here in NC, our genius governor, who is at present suing his own legislature, which is controlled by his own party, asserted immediately after the speech that Mr. Obama was behaving unconstitutionally. No doubt there was much "ahem"ing at the early morning BoJangles coffee klatches around North Carolina. Newspapers were snapped. Coffee was sloshed. Nothing was delivered.

When Chris Hayes asked a Republican spokesman the other night, just after the speech, just who the Republicans would deport, the spokesman got all huffy and sputtery and refused to answer. Unfortunately Mr. Hayes didn't have at his fingertips the pertinent facts, stated in Mr. Skansky's quote above. 11,000,000/400,000. That's the goddam math. The Republicans own the math right now. They shut down the goverment over it just last year, and have been winning elections over zero tax increases since 1980. That is Republican policy.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

"Go Slow"

When Mr. Obama decided to do something about a large body of Americans who are living in oppression day in day out, he told us in advance why he made the decision. He said, early this week, that he loved being President, because it was a place where you could do great good every day. So Thursday night he gave his fine presentation to America, making it clear that he wasn't doing what he can't do--no magic citizenship certification for example--but that he was doing what he could, as President.

The response from the Right was tragically predictable. Go watch Steve Schmidt on the MSNBC post speech coverage. At least spit isn't flecking the camera lens. That is, he presents something that remains in the world of language and actual thought. But what's very strange is all the "go slows." Schmidt even admits Obama is exactly right on the substance. It is morally wrong (Schmidt used the term "moral", though he meant it with a certain derision) to just go on and on and on in this morass about millions of Hispanic people--people who live here, work here, go to school here, drive here, get sick here, pay taxes here, and social security (even when they can't collect), people who are parents of children and young adults who are fully American citizens and yet live in fear of deportation, and young adults who arrived as toddlers and went to school here and now have lives, hopes, plans--who all of them are Americans except for the damn paperwork.

The fainting couch fraud that is the Republican response is just amazing. And 50 years after Nina Simone, it's also ignorant and laughable and dishonest. Schmidt and many others have said, "well, now the bill will never pass." As though Mr. Obama was at fault. Even the phony aghast has a racist stain attached: the implication is that Mr. Obama is being "uppity" to do anything, when what he should do is just do what everyone's been doing, and for twenty years. Waiting. Go slow.

We are drifting in this country into the land of dreams and fantasies. What Mr. Obama told us the other night was simple. The house is on fire. If you (Congress) won't act, then I (the President) must. There are millions of real lives at stake, not just some endless kabuki dance played out over and over again, for yet another Congressional session and yet another Presidential election, on and on, while real people that are trying to live fruitful, constructive lives are left forever on tenderhooks.

The Republican response--the response which is part and parcel of the response they started out with the moment Mr. Obama was elected in 2008--is the response of a petulant, spoiled, privileged baby. And that's because it reflects the white privilege that the Republicans live in, a cocoon of wealth and phony moral authority that keeps them all from seeing anything real. Even a man like Steve Schmidt, who now lives and works in a fairly realistic part of the world at MSNBC, and actually is personal friends with the likes of Ms Maddow (who remarked in amazement after his tirade that it was shockingly real--his face was red, his forehead sweating, Schmidt was really upset, that part was no kabuki).

I have heard all this before. Long ago. People used to say, during the Civil Rights struggles of the early sixties, "well, yes, we agree with you, but we have to go slow, be careful, wait." And the response now is just as it was then. We cannot waste another generation. It is an existential question. The house is burning down.

As with our wretched war in Iraq, apparently half of America--the Republican half--has learned absolutely nothing, nothing at all. It wasn't that hard. Just listen to Nina Simone. She could see the truth. It's right there. But have you noticed that advertising frequently uses the image of a person missing a leg or other appendage while selling whatever it is? Now it's just part of the scenery, that mechanical prosthesis. I'll bet if you went back to 1999 you'd never find such an image. You'd have to go back to, say, "The Men," circa 1947. There is water at the bottom of the ocean. Same as it ever was, same as it ever was.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Occam's Razor

After a childhood nurtured by the Methodist Church as it was incarnated in Raleigh, NC during the era of racial segregation, I went off to UNC-Chapel Hill. My first year I started handing out pamphlets for the Student Peace Union, a tiny group of students who wanted to "ban the bomb." This group eventually became local leaders in the civil rights movement in Chapel Hill, which reached a kind of climax when a sit-in was held in the Chapel Hill Chamber of Commerce.

I dropped out of school in the fall of '63, and happened to be riding between Durham and Chapel Hill when the radio gave out the news that Kennedy had been killed in Dallas. In December I was sitting on a park bench at the old Capitol Building in Raleigh watching a Klan Rally in full regalia march past, something I didn't know was going to happen. I'd just gone down there to look at the monuments to the Civil War and toss peanuts at the squirrels. When I went back to Chapel Hill for the Spring Term, I started my study of philosophy. Mostly, philosophers tend to deride religious thinkers as a muddled lot. And indeed, it is hard to see why God is required for the practice of a moral life. What does God add? And what does the carrot/stick approach of heaven or hell add to the moral choice. Isn't "doing good" because otherwise you'll "go to hell" a way of coercion rather than of encouraging moral action and principle. And if an action is coerced, isn't its morality thereby diminished, if not destroyed.

This is Occam's Razor in action. And as a matter of personal fact, I do believe Occam's Razor is the best touchstone. However, the other day, when I used a picture of Ganesh to head my post about the Affordable Care Act, the picture itself spurred me to find out a bit about Ganesh, the Hindu deity which was omnipresent as Libby strolled around Bangalore recovering from her eye surgery.

I found out a few things. A tiny few admittedly. If you want to go follow the way of Ganesh after reading this, you will have a long path. But here are the few things.

Ganesh is the deity who overcomes obstacles. In order to do this, Ganesh rides a mouse. Why? Because a mouse can go anywhere. Thus, Ganesh's mount makes his power pervasive. I ask you, I dare you. Apply Occam's Razor to this! And this wonderful fact is but the tiny first step. The best is next.

Where, you may ask, does Ganesh originate? The answer is most wonderful. Ganesh originated in Shiva's laughter.

Here is Ganesh dancing (one of Shiva's favorite activities). His mouse is at the bottom if you look carefully:

There is the poetic way of thought, and the mathematical. There is the appollonian and the dionysian. As Wittgenstein said, the world is all that is the case. Herr Ludwig said much more, but I'll stop there.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Little Noticed Election Result?

From Lawyers, Guns and Money:

Supreme Court To Almost Certainly Deny Millions of People Health Insurance (November 7, 2014 | Scott Lemieux)

It’s not every day that the Roberts Court can be worse than even I expect, but here we are: the Court is about to rule that the Moops invaded Spain. It’s not 100% that King v. Burwell will be overruled, I guess, but I don’t know why else they would preempt the Halbig en banc hearing otherwise.

I will have a piece on this coming out Monday, but it’s hard to overstate how evil and insidious this is. The Roberts Court stops both key components of the ACA from functioning in red states, based on farcial ad hoc legal arguments, without a single high-profile ruling that the law is unconstitutional.

People with strong stomachs can look at Johnathan Adler, in his palpable excitement about millions of people about to be stripped of their health insurance, claiming that this case is about…deferring to Congress. The fact that not a single member of Congress involved in passing the ACA has believed at any time that the subsidies were not available on federally established exchanges and the interpretation of the statute saying otherwise is nonsensical on its face renders this rather dark comedy indeed.

There are links in the original post that do not carry over here, so go over to LGM and check them out. Here's the deal. This week my wonderful wife had a cataract operation. Back in '08 she flew all the way to India to have surgery for a macular hole. She had a great experience at a very fine hospital in Bangalore and also loved her experience of India. But she was a medical tourist because we didn't have health insurance and the cost of the eye surgery here in the US was far more than the whole trip to India: flight, surgery, and one-month stay. (We very fortunately had friends who lived in Bangalore at that time, so the stay was not expensive, but a paid stay would also have been feasible.) After the ACA had become law, and after all the long delays in implementation, Libby finally got affordable insurance last fall. Her existing condition, a typical post op effect of surgery for a macular hole, would have otherwise precluded her being able to get insurance. We were considering another trip to India before ACA kicked in, but this would have been more difficult than the first trip for a number of reasons. Anyways. This week Libby had her cataract operation right here in NC, and it is going splendidly.

It must be true that Libby is but one example amongst millions. One has to wonder if the huge right-wing landslide just past hasn't emboldened our Supreme Court just a bit. Certainly at the bare minimum, removing their decision to hear this case from the election calendar menu is an, um, political convenience. The Republican position is that anyone who can't pay for insurance simply doesn't deserve insurance. This would include almost all the folks who care for the Republican elderly, by the way. The Republican view is that people are just part of the means of production. The Republicans aren't much on a so-called liberal education, so's they're naturally not much familiar with King Lear.

On a happy note, here in my little county, the Republicans who were running the County Commissioners office were all defeated. It's never possible to prove counter-factuals of course, but could things have been worse for Democrats should they have chosen to actually run on the existence of the Affordable Care Act, or admitted that they voted for the President? There is something pretty negative about cravenness too. In terms of a long-term analysis of this election, however, Mr. Chiat offers some analysis which is pretty disturbing, but seems just about in pitch to my ear.

Sunday Update:

From the comfort of the leather armchair, and armed with a handsome snifter of the best brandy, a possibly liberal legal mind considers the upcoming Supreme Court rumination on the ACA:

For what it's worth, it seems to me that the antebellum concept of States rights has been making great headway since the Reagan counter-revolution of 1980 in digging its way out of what one might have imagined in the post-Civil Rights era, the post-Vietnam era, and the post-Nixon era, was a grave so deep as to brush the very mantle of the earth. Obviously not so. Here the zombies come again, wearing their rotting Confederate uniforms and dragging their carpetbags behind them. Their elected leader, new majority leader McConnell, can with utter aplomb answer a question about the ACA in his "debate" with his now defeated challenger so cynically that it entirely takes the breath away, and yet find his opponent's ridiculous non-answer to a trivial question about whether she voted for Mr. Obama to have trumped his glaring negatives. Why yes, Ms Kentucky, you can certainly keep your health care website. We only intend to remove its contents, not the site itself.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Last Pre-Election Post From Wild Bill

All this past week I've sat at my work station watching the leaves slowly color up against a background of crisp blue October sky. Come Friday night late we got a weird kind of nor'easter which sucked down huge chunks of Canadian air and mixed them with moisture from the Atlantic, which created snow up in the Appalachians and a cold rain here for Saturday. There was no roof-climbing in such conditions, so the leaves continued to pile up and work on the metal beneath them with their acidy residue. Rust never sleeps. It's a theme heading in my label section. I definitely remember all this fall stuff happening a lot earlier in years past. When I used to drive my daughter to grammar school back in the early '80s I can recall scraping frost off the windshield of the old yaller Datsun before October first once or twice. This year mostly the leaves are still on the trees, even after that cold wind of two nights back. We had our first fire in the wood-stove yesterday, and I aim to split up some kindling after a bit. I am blessed with an abundant supply of red cedar, which is as good as gasoline to get a fire going. I never intended to become a master wood-stove operator; I grew up in the city of Raleigh and only observed such doings at gramma's in the country on the regular Sunday visits we'd make when I was a kid. Yet here I am, living pretty close to the same style of life as my grand-parents and my somewhat delusional but delightful Aunt Jenny, who stayed on the old home place until they had to carry her out in her late '80s, and then consciously chose to stop eating and die at the rest home in a couple of weeks. She'd always said she would never leave the old farm house her grandaddy had built five years after the War was over and the Yankees had gone home. She kept her word pretty much. And that's pretty much how I feel. That's family for you.

It's pretty strange that there's even much of a contest in this election. It's a testament to the ability of Republicans to misdirect the voter's attention, and to maintain the voters' commitment to authoritarian leadership--inculcated since childhood in the authoritarian family which I'd guess a large majority of Americans grow up in, generation after generation. The best political event of the past week was that plucky nurse Kaci Hickox's fact-based resistance to the authoritarian nonsense Mr. Christie was determined to spout off as he play-acted his way back to those glory days when he battled the Atlantic Ocean alone in his hip-waders and saved New Jersey from sinking under the foam. (Hint: it was the cones what done it.)

Next best was Mary Landrieu's remark yesterday that one of Mr. Obama's problems in the South was his race. The response from Republicans was remarkable, if also revealing if you cared to read what they said carefully: "Louisiana deserves better than a senator who denigrates her own people..." one state GOP guy retorted. "Own people"? That's race politics right there, and confirms exactly what Ms Landrieu said. Here's the whole post:

This is exactly what the Republicans want, time after time: to turn it into an election about race. And gender. There's us'n, and there's them. But the fact is, them is the white men, mostly men of wealth, who want to hold on to every shred of their privilege and money and power no matter the cost to the rest of us, and indeed, to them as well, if they only understood how privilege rots away the human soul pretty much exactly like wet fall leaves on a 5-V galvanized tin roof. Nobody should be voting for Republicans. Not black people, not Hispanics, not any other ethnic minority, not women, not even men. All the Republicans have to sell is wet leaves on a rusty tin roof. There's absolutely nothing to safely stand on, and when and if they get back in again, the horrible process of decay will just pick up speed again, just like it did under Bush, just like it did when the country was bamboozled into electing a smooth-talking actor who didn't know jack back in 1980.

It shouldn't even be close. The Republicans should be whittled down to what they really are, tiny pockets of pure racism and authoritarian bile eddied up in the dark, spidery corners of the states which still survive on mineral extraction. Eighty or ninety percent of us ought to know better by now. And it's proof of our fatherly Chief Justice Roberts' perverse opinion of record that money is speech that the GOP as it now exists has a good chance of winning the whole legislative apparatus of the United States next week, whereupon they will immediately embark on impeaching the first black President precisely because he is black. What the hell else of an impeachable nature has he done?

At this point we are two days away. I've voted. I hope you will. Until the votes are in, the future holds better possibilities.

Here's a photo I took of what was left in Jenny's house after she departed. She loved John Wayne and Ronald Reagan in equal measure with Robert E. Lee and her vanished farm:

The objects sit on the dining room table where we all had Sunday dinner when I was a child, and the window looked out on a pasture leading to a big barn, where Rhody the mule lived.