30 May 2012

Is This How It Begins?

My kids are freaking about this one: On Monday, Miami police shot to death a man who was eating another man's face.

"Dad, it was a straight up zombie," said Wisdomie calling from his Pacific dive paradise—cordoned off by thousands of square miles of ocean from the non-swimming undead. "It's all a big cover-up," quoth Wisdaughter, who claimed she hasn't slept well for the last two nights.

The yutes are all atwitter: this, they fret, is the beginning of the Zombiepocalypse.

Apparently, the only reason to eat another man's face is so you can get to the brains—which, as everyone knows, is what zombies yearn to eat. Really.

And that bit about 'bath salts' (the street name for a meth-type drug) being the new LSD. "That's bullshit," they say. "It was a zombie." The cops shot the attacker several times in the arm, and he just growled at them. "Everyone knows you have to double-tap zombies to the head. That's the only way to kill one. And that's what the cops ultimately had to do." One report says they had to shoot the attacker 12 times to stop him. And that's with police weapons.

Needless to say, I told them about the era of Dahmer, Gacy, et al. They were, necessarily, impressed, but no less worried about their futures.

Shockingly, the CDC has taken down its Zombie Preparedness guide from its website. That, my friends, is indeed ominous. An NGO blog, however, seems to have taken its place for all your zombie-related pre- and post-apocalyptic needs. Bookmark the Zombie Preparedness Initiative now! I urge you.

And it may not be too late to audit the Michigan State summer class: SW 290 Surviving the Coming Zombie Apocalypse: Catastrophes & Human Behavior. It will be online.

Our polite friends in British Columbia are taking no chances. Last week was Zombie Preparedness Week in BC. Click the link for some serious tips and how to protect you and yours in case of ... well, you know. At least they'll be ready. In fact, the whole of Canuckland seems to be uniting on surviving the ZA.

I've said it before, quoting friend BDR, metaphors abound. Fear of zombies, it seems to me, represents a fear of being dead inside, of having no humanity, no human fellow-feeling, a fear of being merely a product of unconscious (often violent and destructive) drives. The recent (let's call it) hysteria among our youth about zombiepocalypse, in this regard, gives me some hope for our future. But what do I know? To them, this might be real.

And, as teh kidz say, that's what's up.

29 May 2012

Doc Watson

Arthel "Doc" Watson, a walking encyclopedia of mountain music, died today. He was blind and 89 years old. His bio is here. Rest in Peace, Doc, and thanks for the tunes.

I've seen him perform. He was a brilliant guitarist, maybe one the best flat pickers ever. Great chops. Honey tones. Depth of emotion. Respect for traditional American folk musics.

Here's a sampling. Watch. Listen. Learn. Enjoy.

Tonight the angels in heaven are trading in their harps for banjos.

25 May 2012

The Birther Truth

[An oldie but a goodie]

Okay. I've held my tongue long enough. It's time to tell you what I know. You may not want to hear it, but it's important. So important that it could change the history of this country, maybe even the world.

Some years back, when I was practicing law in New York, I worked with a group of well-connected, New York liberal lawyers. Some were New Lefters from pre-HUAC days—certainly the old lions in the group. Most spent their summers at socialist camps. Hard core. Their clients were mostly politicians and leftist activist agencies and their principals. I was a good lawyer and did my job faithfully representing their interests. But this is beside the point. Needless to say, these guys were deep in, high and mighty mucky-mucks, who were all really, really angry about what President Ronald Reagan had done to their beloved Soviet empire.

Anyway, one evening we were at an upstate country-club for our annual summer golf/tennis outing. I'll not name it here (nor any of the people), but the PGA has played major tournaments there. After a dinner of London broil and lobster, a few of them retired, as they did every year, to the gentleman's locker for some cards and cigars. "Care to join us for a Cuban, Jim my boy?" one of the younger partners, my mentor, asked me. I was surprised but truly honored. After having practiced law with most of these guys for over eight years, this was the first time I'd been asked into their sanctum sanctorum. "Absolutely," I said, knowing that this was an initiation rite for me I could hardly refuse. I knew enough, besides, not to open my mouth except to raise or pass or fold or puff or sip.

We played cards late into the night. The talk ranged from hot female paralegals at the firm to the Yankees to celebrities they had known from their school days. Most of it very light-hearted. As the evening wore on and the scotch wore in, the talk naturally enough turned to politics. They hated Ed Koch—'Bozo the Clown' they called him. They thought Rudy Giuliani, then a U.S. Attorney, was a fascist ('Mussolini-lite') who was crucifying Michael Milken—a firm client for certain minor real estate matters, I might add. And they wanted to string up Henry Kissinger as a war criminal. etc., etc. You can get the drift.

Then the talk turned to the current administration. Reagan was a stooge, they said, a cut-out for his then-Vice President George H.W. Bush who was the power behind the attempt on Reagan's life and, though nobody could prove it, on JFK. What was happening with the shadow government he was running from the basement of the White House was no less than an attempted coup. There was lots of rumbling agreement around the table. All of this political stuff meant little to me; I had never even voted.

"Not to worry," the most senior guy, an old 50s radical, said. "We've got a guy." He'd obviously had a few too many, and the liquor and the outrage had gotten the better of him. One of the other senior partners from our Chicago office whom I didn't know hissed an 'Ix-nay' at him and tried to change the subject, nodding covertly in my direction. From the corner of my eye I noted my mentor giving him a quiet nod across the table as if to say it was okay to talk around me. I could be trusted. I pretended to be lost in thought about the five cards I'd just been dealt—two low pair, fives and threes, if I remember correctly. I took a deep draw on my cigar, folded, and wandered back over the bar to refill my drink—f.y.i. Basil Hayden straight up with one cube of ice.

I thought nothing more about that little slip until later in the evening, as the clock approached the single digits, the senior partner and the Chicago partner started talking somewhat absent-mindedly among themselves—it was probably the scotch that loosened their inhibitions around me. I don't remember the exact words of their conversation but its import has haunted me to this day, and it's especially poignant now given the current controversy. I don't know why I never put it together before now.

Here's what I learned that night: the two of them had been involved in a secret society that had been culled from a larger group of radicals and leftist liberals. They had formed just after the JFK assassination—in fact in reaction to it. They believed it had been an outright coup by the "right-wing, military-industrial complex" and felt they needed to do something to set the country back on the path toward socialism. They had discovered a young man, 'Mau Mau' I think they called him, who would help them exact their revenge. His father, it came out, had been a covert Soviet spy who had brainwashed and recruited his mother to raise him as an agent of influence. There had been a few technicalities they had to iron out early on, I remember them saying. Something about a birth certificate and the child's bona fides—Operation Hula Hoop they'd called it, laughing. Obviously, I thought nothing of this little detail at the time; I had no idea what they meant by legitimacy. I had no reason to, obviously, at the time. From what I gathered, they had been covertly watching out for him through the years, using his teachers and friends, his church leaders and the organizations which employed him to groom him for the great role they had for him. Again, I had no idea what role they meant. They talked about how much trouble they had had bringing him to New York from an obscure West Coast college (I don't recall the name). They talked about how they had sponsored what they called his 'politically correct' education somewhere here in town and then sent him off to Chicago. As Harvard Law School alums themselves, they were proud of the way they'd managed to matriculate this Mau Mau at their alma mater. One of the Yale Law grads at the table harrumphed and mentioned some fraternity buddies of his at Yale who could've helped, if they'd only have let them. I had no idea what he meant. I just figured this was part of the normal rivalry that went on all the time between these two groups of elites.

Pretty soon, everyone's attention started fading, and the game petered out. I lost about $25 that night, not too much. My mentor, one of the Yalies, had won a couple hundred bucks. I pretended to be a little drunk and even closed my eyes to make the men think I was nodding off as the two old partners nattered on about how it wouldn't be long before they would finally set things aright in this country—even if it didn't come in their lifetime. They just had to be patient. The optimism and hope in their jaded old faces was unmistakable; it energized them. Gave them life

But, of all the things that happened that night, nothing is starker in my memory than what happened later in the parking lot. As I was walking out to my car, my mentor caught up with me and put his arm firmly around my shoulder, gripping me the way he'd done a thousand times. "Jim old boy," he said, "sometimes people say things aloud they really shouldn't, you know?" "Not sure what you're talking about, Bill." He stopped, "You can never ever tell anyone what you heard in there tonight." And he dug his fingers into my shoulder just at the pressure points to the point that it hurt. "I have no idea what you're talking about," I told him. "Good," he said, "keep it that way." His words were deeply chilling. His meaning was crystal clear. "See you Monday."

I never learned any actual names that night. I had pretty much mastered the art of eavesdropping—making myself appear nonchalant, uninterested, distracted—so I didn't ask any follow up questions as I would have, say, if I'd been cross-examining the men under oath, even though I comprehended very little of what they were saying. The next week, one evening when I was sure I wouldn't be noticed, I searched the records room and file rooms of the firm for any further evidence about this so-called Mau Mau or Operation Hula Hoop conspiracy. Needless to say, I found nothing. And I thought nothing further about it.

Until this week. Even now, I am shaking as I type this. It all came back to me in stark relief when I heard Lou Dobbs and the folks at FoxNews talking about this so-called 'birther' controversy. Some people believe that President Obama is not really a citizen of this country. They believe he was born in Kenya and might be an agent of influence for some foreign power or have divided loyalties. They believe he has been planted in the presidency to destroy this country. I don't know anything about that. All I know is what I heard a number of years ago over whiskeys and Cubans around that Westchester card table late one summer night. All I know is what they're alleging sounds a lot like what those old liberal, New York lawyers were laughing about that night. It's remarkable that even then, back before the Civil Rights Amendment had even been passed, they could've foreseen that, with proper guidance, a middle-class boy of mixed-race and mixed-religious parentage from Hawaii (a brand new state at the time) could navigate the treacherous waters of American politics, rise to the very pinnacle of power that rich white men had monopolized throughout the history of the country, and deceive the American public into voting him president. And actually win. How those old card-carrying, card-playing liberals could've known that then I'll never know.

In the intervening years, I've cut all ties with those old guys at my former firm. And most of the men—particularly the two older partners—have since either died or retired. Yet... Yet, I hesitate to write this in fear of what they could do to me. This powerful cabal of leftists has eyes and ears everywhere; I mean, if what I think happened happened, their man—their plant—is now the most powerful person in the world, and only a small group of heroic, right-wing, truth-seeking patriots (bloggers and talk radio callers) stands between him and the fulfillment of this ultimate, nefarious plan to destroy this country hatched by a bunch of defeated, resentful liberal elites nearly a half-century ago and executed with the sort of cunning and precision that makes Dick Cheney, David Addington, Scooter Libby, Karl Rove, and the whole American Enterprise Institute's Project for a New American Century look like a bunch of pikers—a real Mayberry Mafia.

23 May 2012

It's Always Fishy in the ATL

If your travels ever bring you to fair Terminus, may I suggest you pay a visit to perhaps my favorite commercial establishment of ever: Atlanta Water Gardens. [The former original Fountains of Wayne, I feel you.] Below are some pics from my annual Mother's Day trek there with Wisdoc to replenish the goldfish and tadpoles in our pond:

Big Bamboo 

Kermit contemplating Eternity, its worth 
Don't be so Koi

Lily pads
Grotto: If you wanna' build it, they will come

Hello Kitty!
Goldfish: Bought six smaller versions of these
Penis. Also too Gargoyles and Ape.
I kinda' wish I had a place to put this
♫ "Smoke on the water..." ♪

For all your garden gnome needs 
This may yet find a place in my home. Feng Shui don'tcha' know.
2001 Fountain [Recognize the jacket?]

My pondage: If you look closely you can see 3 or 4 of our beauties, thumb notwithstanding

18 May 2012

Separation of Church and State

"(His adversaries looking for some opportunity to trip him up) come and say to him, 'Teacher, we know that you are honest and impartial, because you pay no attention to appearances, but instead you teach God's way forthrightly. Is it permissible to pay the poll tax to the Roman emperor or not? Should we pay or should we not pay?'

But he saw through their trap, and said to them, 'Why do you provoke me like this? Let me have a look at a coin.'

They handed him a silver coin, and he says to them, 'Whose picture is this? Whose name is on it?'

They replied, 'The emperor's.'

Jesus said to them: 'Pay the emperor what belongs to the emperor, and God what belongs to God!' And they were dumbfounded at him." Mark 12:12-17.
"God has ordained the two governments: the spiritual, which by the Holy Spirit under Christ makes Christians and pious people; and the secular, which restrains the unchristian and wicked so that they are obliged to keep the peace outwardly…The laws of worldly government extend no farther than to life and property and what is external upon earth. For over the soul God can and will let no one rule but himself. Therefore, where temporal power presumes to prescribe laws for the soul, it encroaches upon God's government and only misleads and destroys souls. We desire to make this so clear that every one shall grasp it, and that the princes and bishops may see what fools they are when they seek to coerce the people with their laws and commandments into believing one thing or another. ...

"We are to be subject to governmental power and do what it bids, as long as it does not bind our conscience but legislates only concerning outward matters…But if it invades the spiritual domain and constrains the conscience, over which God only must preside and rule, we should not obey it at all but rather lose our necks. Temporal authority and government extend no further than to matters which are external and corporeal. ...

"There is a story told of Duke Charles of Burgundy. A nobleman captured his enemy. The wife of the captive came to ransom him. The nobleman said he would give the man back to her if she slept with him. The woman was virtuous, but wanted her husband released, and so she went and asked her husband whether she should do it to get him freed. The man wanted to be free and to save his life, and permitted it. But the day after the nobleman had slept with the woman, he had her husband beheaded, and gave him back to her dead. The woman complained of this to Duke Charles who summoned the nobleman and ordered him to take the woman as his wife. After the wedding day, he had the man beheaded, placed the woman in possession of his goods and restored her honor. A truly princely punishment on wickedness. Now no pope, no lawyer and no book could have taught him to give such a verdict. Rather it came from unfettered reason, which is greater than all the laws in books; it is so just a judgment that everyone is bound to approve it and find written in his heart that it is right. Augustine writes the same in his De sermone Domini in monte. And therefore written law is to be held in lower regard than reason, for indeed reason is the source of all laws, that from which they sprang. The source is not to be constricted by the stream, and reason is not to be held captive by letters. " 
Martin Luther, On Secular Authority (1523).
"[N]o person within the said colonye, at any time hereafter, shall be any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinion in matters of religion, and do not actually disturb the civil peace of our said colony; but that all and every person and persons may, from time to time, and at all times hereafter, freely and fully have and enjoy his and their own judgments and consciences, in matters of religious concernments." Charter of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (1663) [Roger Williams].
"Officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall be required as a qualification to an Office…" United States Constitution, Article VI (1789).

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." United States Constitution First Amendment 
"[T]he question is raised whether religious belief can be accepted as a justification of an overt act made criminal by the law of the land. The inquiry is not as to the power of Congress to prescribe criminal laws for the Territories, but as to the guilt of one who knowingly violates a law which has been properly enacted if he entertains a religious belief that the law is wrong.

Congress cannot pass a law for the government of the Territories which shall prohibit the free exercise of religion. The first amendment to the Constitution expressly forbids such legislation. Religious freedom is guaranteed everywhere throughout the United States, so far as congressional interference is concerned. The question to be determined is, whether the law now under consideration comes within this prohibition.

The word "religion" is not defined in the Constitution. We must go elsewhere, therefore, to ascertain its meaning, and nowhere more appropriately, we think, than to the history of the times in the midst of which the provision was adopted. The precise point of the inquiry is what is the religious freedom which has been guaranteed.

Before the adoption of the Constitution, attempts were made in some of the colonies and States to legislate not only in respect to the establishment of religion, but in respect to its doctrines and precepts as well. The people were taxed, against their will, for the support of religion, and sometimes for the support of particular sects to whose tenets they could not and did not subscribe. Punishments were prescribed for a failure to attend upon public worship, and sometimes for entertaining h
eretical opinions. The controversy upon this general subject was animated in many of the States, but seemed at last to culminate in Virginia. In 1784, the House of Delegates of that State, having under consideration "a bill establishing provision for teachers of the Christian religion," postponed it until the next session, and directed that the bill should be published and distributed, and that the people be requested "to signify their opinion respecting the adoption of such a bill at the next session of assembly."

This brought out a determined opposition. Amongst others, Mr. Madison prepared a "Memorial and Remonstrance," which was widely circulated and signed, and in which he demonstrated "that religion, or the duty we owe the Creator," was not within the cognizance of civil government. Semple's Virginia Baptists, Appendix. At the next session, the proposed bill was not only defeated, but another, "for establishing religious freedom," drafted by Mr. Jefferson, was passed. 1 Jeff. Works, 45; 2 Howison, Hist. of Va. 298. In the preamble of this act (12 Hening's Stat. 84) religious freedom is defined, and, after a recital

"that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion, and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty,"
it is declared
"that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order."
In these two sentences is found the true distinction between what properly belongs to the church and what to the State.

In a little more than a year after the passage of this statute, the convention met which prepared the Constitution of the United States. Of this convention, Mr. Jefferson was not a member, he being then absent as minister to France. As soon as he saw the draft of the Constitution proposed for adoption, he, in a letter to a friend, expressed his disappointment at the absence of an express declaration insuring the freedom of religion (2 Jeff.Works 355), but was willing to accept it as it was, trusting that the good sense and honest intentions of the people would bring about the necessary alterations. 1
 Jeff. Works 79. Five of the States, while adopting the Constitution, proposed amendments. Three -- New Hampshire, New York, and Virginia -- included in one form or another a declaration of religious freedom in the changes they desired to have made, as did also North Carolina, where the convention at first declined to ratify the Constitution until the proposed amendments were acted upon. Accordingly, at the first session of the first Congress, the amendment now under consideration was proposed with others by Mr. Madison. It met the views of the advocates of religious freedom, and was adopted. Mr. Jefferson afterwards, in reply to an address to him by a committee of the Danbury Baptist Association (8 id. 113), took occasion to say:
"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God; that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship; that the legislative powers of the government reach actions only, and not opinions -- I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore man to all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties."
Coming as this does from an acknowledged leader of the advocates of the measure, it may be accepted almost as an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the amendment thus secured. Congress was deprived of all legislative power over mere opinion, but was left free to reach actions which were in violation of social duties or subversive of good order.
In our opinion, the statute immediately under consideration is within the legislative power of Congress. It is constitutional and valid as prescribing a rule of action for all those residing in the Territories, and in places over which the United States have exclusive control. This being so, the only question which remains is whether those who make polygamy a part of their religion are excepted from the operation of the statute. If they are, then those who do not make polygamy a part of their religious belief may be found guilty and punished, while those who do, must be acquitted and go free. This would be introducing a new element into criminal law. Laws are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious belief and opinions, they may with practices. Suppose one believed that human sacrifices were a necessary part of religious worship; would it be seriously contended that the civil government under which he lived could not interfere to prevent a sacrifice? Or if a wife religiously believed it was her duty to burn herself upon the funeral pile of her dead husband; would it be beyond the power of the civil government to prevent her carrying her belief into practice?

So here, as a law of the organization of society under the exclusive dominion of the United States, it is provided that plural marriages shall not be allowed. Can a man excuse his practices to the contrary because of his religious belief? 
To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and, in effect, to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself. Government could exist only in name under such circumstances." Reynolds v. U.S., 98 U.S.145, 162-67 (1878).

There is a long and storied history to the notion that religious practice and civil society should operate in mutually exclusive spheres: religion should govern the spiritual aspects of life—belief, opinion, faith, etc.—and secular authority governs actions and practices.

This has distinct advantages for both religions and civil society. Individuals have the freedom to practice their religious beliefs without interference from governmental officials. No mayor, county sheriff, legislator, governor, or president can tell me I must worship the flying spaghetti monster—or that I mustn't.

By the same token, no pope, bishop, priest, deacon, pastor, elder, etc., can extract a confession of faith from me, make be attend services, force me to tithe, or use the authority of the state to punish me for heretical beliefs or no beliefs whatsoever.

There are disadvantages as well. Religionists may not enforce any practices which violate the secular civil or criminal laws or impinge the rights or freedoms of non-religionists or other religionists. For example, in the U.S., Mormons may not practice polygamy and Pagans may not practice human sacrifice and Roman Catholics may not put Protestants or Jews to death upon the Inquisitional putting of the question.

In civil society, as well, a certain "moral" authority is unavailable to governmental action. For example, in the U.S., homosexuals may not be put to death because the Mosaic Code in Leviticus authorizes it or some Roman Catholic prelate believes it should be so.

This doesn't mean there aren't plenty of close questions on the issue. But what it does mean is that the secular authority—ultimately the Supreme Court here in the U.S.—decides these issues rather than a Pope or Ayatollah or Lama.


Church And State

HERE is fresh matter, poet,
Matter for old age meet;
Might of the Church and the State,
Their mobs put under their feet.
O but heart's wine shall run pure,
Mind's bread grow sweet.
That were a cowardly song,
Wander in dreams no more;
What if the Church and the State
Are the mob that howls at the door!
Wine shall run thick to the end,
Bread taste sour.

William Butler Yeats

15 May 2012

Separation of Reason and Emotion

Raphael, School of Athens
"We shall say that the imitative poet does the same; he sets up a bad government in the soul of every private individual by gratifying the mindless part which cannot distinguish the small from the large but thinks that the same things are at one time small, at another large. He is a maker of images which are very far removed from the truth.  ...
"...when even the best of us hear Homer or some other tragedian imitating one of the heroes sorrowing and stretching out a long speech of lamentation or a chorus beating their breasts you know that we enjoy it, surrender ourselves, share their feelings, and earnestly praise as a good poet the one who affects us most in this way. ...
"But when one of us suffers a private loss, then, as you know we pride ourselves on the opposite behaviour, if we can keep quiet and master our grief; this we think to be the part of a man, and the other behaviour, which we then praised, to be womanish. ...
"If you reflect that the part which is forcibly controlled in our private misfortunes and has been pining to weep and adequately lament, as it is by nature desirous of this, is the very part which receives satisfaction from the poets in the theatre and enjoys it. That part of ourselves which is the best by nature has not been sufficiently educated either by reason or habit, and it relaxes its watch over the lachrymose part because it is watching another's suffering and there is no shame involved for itself in praising and pitying another man who, in spite of his claim to goodness, grieves excessively. Moreover, there is, he thinks, a definite gain, namely pleasure, and he would not welcome being deprived of it by despising the whole drama. Only a few will reflect that the enjoyment will be transferred from the spectacle of another's sufferings to one's own, and that one who has nurtured and strengthened the part of him that feels pity at those spectacles will not find it easy to hold it in check at the time of his own misfortunes. ...
"Does not the same argument hold about ridicule? You greatly enjoy on the comic stage, or even in private conversation, things at which you would be ashamed to provoke laughter yourself, and there you do not hate them as wicked. Indeed you do the same as in the case of the pitiful, for that part of you which wants to provoke laughter was held back by your reason, for fear of being thought a buffoon, but you let it loose in the theatre, not realizing that, by making that part strong there, you will be led to being a comedian in your own life. ...
"So too with sex, anger, and all the desires, pleasures, and pains which we say follow us in every activity. Poetic imitation fosters these in us. It nurtures and waters them when they ought to wither; it places them in command in our soul when they ought to obey in order that we might become better and happier men instead of worse and more miserable. ...
"And so, Glaucon, I said, when you meet those who praise Homer and say that the poet educated Greece, that he deserves that one should take up his works, learn from them the management of human affairs and of education, and arrange one's life in accordance with his teaching, you must welcome these people and treat them as friends, for they are as good as they are capable of being. You can agree that Homer is most poetic and that he stands first among the tragedians, but you must know for sure that hymns to the gods and eulogies of good men are the only poetry which we can admit into our city. If you admit the Muse of sweet pleasure, whether in lyrics or epic, pleasure and pain will rule as monarchs in your city, instead of the law and that rational principle which is always and by all thought to be the best."  Plato, The Republic. Book X [605b-607a] (trans. G.M.A. Grube 1974)
Through his annoyingly overbearing mouthpiece, Socrates, Plato asserts that rationality and law should govern political discourse, not the emotions—passion, pity, ridicule, hate, fear, etc.—inspired by poets. His primitive gynocomorphism© and stoicism aside, his ultimate appeal is to what is thought "by all" to be "the best". Plato's "all" was limited to those free, male, property-owning citizens who could vote in the Athenian assembly. And by "the best", of course, he means rule by educated aristocrats, philosopher-kings, the oligarchs, if you will, who have not succumbed to the shallow subjectivism, materialism, self-interest, and relativism taught by the political scientists of his day, i.e., the Sophists.

10 May 2012


Make no mistake about it, we have all just witnessed a deft wedge driven home on the national political stage. It has to do with timing, seeing the opponent's vulnerability, and delivering a devastating PR blow while, at the same time, bolstering one's own bona fides.

Last week, Willard "Mitt" Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee for President of the United States, kowtowed to a right-wing, nominally christian, radio preacher and refused to stand up for his own chosen foreign policy spokesman because the spokesman was an openly gay man. The spokesman resigned under pressure, and Romney said nothing—presumably out of fear of challenging his outspoken right-wing christian base of support.

Then, on Sunday's Meet the Press on NBC, Vice President Joe Biden floated a trial balloon, asserting that he had no problems with marriages between homosexual men or homosexual women. The next day, Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education, a former college and professional basketball player, also voiced his support for marriage equality.

Claiming sotto voce he was forced into it by VP Biden's freely speaking his heart, on Wednesday, President Barack Obama announced he has "evolved" on this issue and now recognizes marriage as a civil right to which all, gay and straight, are equally entitled.

Now today, YF Washington Post runs an on-line story in which, with five confirmed witnesses, it is alleged that Mitt Romney physically assaulted a fellow high school student because the boy bleached his hair and wore it combed over one eye and was believed to be gay, or "queer" in the parlance of that time. Romney led a group, a "prep school posse", wrestled the boy to the ground, held him down, and cut his hair with a pair of scissors while the younger boy screamed for help and cried.

Romney claims he doesn't recall this or any of the "pranks" he may have pulled when he was in school over four decades ago. Some have called it "bullying". Others have called it everything from "assault and battery with a deadly weapon" to a "hate crime".

Romney apologized for anything he might have said that hurt anyone. (The victim of the assault is now dead and can't speak for himself.) He claims no one in those days knew anything about "the GAY".

Doesn't matter. The Obama campaign has succeeded in tying Romney to the intolerant American Taliban, in solidifying his own credibility in the LGBT community, and tagging Romney as an insensitive bullying bigot who, to this day, refuses to acknowledge the impropriety of this behavior. Rmoney himself fell into this last trap by claiming not to remember such a horrific, callous incident (even though everyone else involved, even peripherally, did remember it and was disturbed by it) and by failing to renounce bully-boy bigotry in this day and age.

Even though Romney doesn't remember doing such a thing, he does recall that no one thought about the victim's sexual preference at the time. Simply incongruous.

This was a deft political operation. Of that there can be no doubt. Much of the nation's politically astute were focused on North Carolina's Amendment 1 which bans gay marriage (inter alia). President Obama says he believes marriage is a civil (not a religious) right and cannot be denied by the state to same-sex couples. Romney, by contrast, is demonstrably not only against gay marriage, but, as demonstrated by his past behavior, he's a bigoted gay-bashing bully who is entirely callous to the rights of others. This is the last big news cycle before graduation days and Memorial Day. It will be the lingering taste of the campaign over the summer and until the conventions.

One can only imagine what other pieces of political theater this President's political team have in store for us after Labor Day.

07 May 2012

Publishers' (etc.) Clearinghouse

In 2004, Ben Bagdikian showed us how five huge corporate conglomerates control the U.S. media (now it's six): AOL Time Warner, Disney, News Corporation (Rupert Murdoch's joint), Bertelsmann, Viacom, and GE. World-wide, Vivendi Universal is in the same category. (Not sure where Google and FaceBook fit into this picture)

This means that a vast amount of the news, opinion, and entertainment (however mixed and matched) we get—whether from direct sources or second-level aggregators like Huffington Post—is filtered through a corporate lens. (Likewise, the published "literature"; but that's another story) By 'corporate lens', of course, I mean profit-oriented; corporations have one and only one purpose for being and that is to make a profit for its owners. As with health care, the profit motive is not necessarily congruent with the delivery of information. Where there are conflicts, self-sustaining profit must prevail over information (or, as the case may be, healing and research). That doesn't mean that a liberal or progressive or left-wing or socialist or anarchist point of view will necessarily be censored or squelched (or that sick people won't get healed); but such views will be heard only to the extent they are consistent with the publishing organization's viability and profitability.

Here's a cool visual:


Industry consolidation is a feature, not a bug, of the global corporate environment—as is, of course, diversification. The current cycle clearly favors the former. Three systems theorists from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology
"have taken a database listing 37 million companies and investors worldwide and analyzed all 43,060 transnational corporations and share ownerships linking them. They built a model of who owns what and what their revenues are and mapped the whole edifice of economic power. They discovered that global corporate control has a distinct bow-tie shape, with a dominant core of 147 firms radiating out from the middle. Each of these 147 own interlocking stakes of one another and together they control 40% of the wealth in the network. A total of 737 control 80% of it all."
The above paragraph is taken from Forbes's website. The paper itself by is Stefania Vitali, James B. Glattfelder, and Stefano Battiston and is available online hereHere are the top 50:

4 AXA 

(One Forbesian wag has narrowed the analysis down to just four companies. Most of these global investment firms, he finds, rely on certain indexes to control their investments. "That means the real power to control the world lies with four companies: McGraw-Hill, which owns Standard & Poor's[;] Northwestern Mutual, which owns Russell Investments, the index arm of which runs the benchmark Russell 1,000 and Russell 3,000[;] CME Group which owns 90% of Dow Jones Indexes[;] and Barclay's, which took over Lehman Brothers and its Lehman Aggregate Bond Index, the dominate world bond fund index. Together, these four firms dominate the world of indexing. And in turn, that means they hold real sway over the world's money." [bold and italics and semicolons mine]

This information is useful. If you believe the financial world will only continue to consolidate in order to perpetuate its own wealth and power, you might want to form your own sort of fund that invests only in these colossal firms (perhaps Forbes's POV?) [or at least tailor your IRAs, 401ks, &c. to these benchmark indexes—at a minimum saving yourself considerable 'management fees' in your mutual funds]. If you feel that financial consolidation will, cyclically, eventually diversify, you might consider a fund which shorts them all. If you feel that the latter process needs to be goaded along and that, say, way, way less than 1% of international corporations should no longer be allowed to control so significant a portion (80%!) of global wealth, you might encourage your friends and allies in Operation Wall Street and other underground movements to concentrate their efforts—research, action, and politics—in appropriately targeted manners and at accurately targeted offices.

Similarly, here's a graph of the major household brands and the ever-consolodating number of corporations who own them (from wfmu.tumblr.com; h/t BDR):

Hi-res. If you were a Warren Buffett type, you might find these sorts of corporations more to your long-term buy-and-hold investment liking. Or, if you were more, say, an anti-corporatist locavore sort, you might find these brands just the kind of thing you might want to avoid as a way, you know, of, like, protest.

Here in the U.S., we're seeing a further area of consolidation, to wit: political lobbying and legislation. An organization called the American Legislative Exchange Council (aka ALEC). ALEC creates model legislation that benefits its corporate membership and distributes these bills to its legislator members to introduce in their respective states. It's all very efficient and, for a time, very secretive.
"ALEC has attracted a wide and wealthy range of supporters in part because it’s done its work behind closed doors. Membership lists were secret. The origins of the model bills were secret. Part of ALEC’s mission is to present industry-backed legislation as grass-roots work. If this were to become clear to everyone, there’d be no reason for corporations to use it.
Unfortunately for ALEC, that’s exactly what’s happening. Last year, government accountability group Common Cause successfully filed Freedom of Information Act requests with state legislators to learn more about their dealings with ALEC. At the same time, someone leaked ALEC’s internal bill library. All told, thousands of pages of internal ALEC documents were put online, including minutes and attendee lists for the last two years of meetings.
ColorofChange.org, a civil rights group, discovered in ALEC’s now-public library a model bill for voter ID laws passed by 34 states. The laws’ opponents say they suppress voting by minorities. In December the group began sending letters to ALEC’s corporate members asking how much they valued their minority customers. Since then McDonald’s (MCD), Wendy’s (WEN), Coca-Cola (KO), PepsiCo (PEP), Yum! Brands (YUM), Procter & Gamble (PG), and Intuit (INTU), among others, have stopped donating to ALEC. The corporate departures accelerated after the death of Trayvon Martin: Florida’s so-called stand-your-ground law also sits in ALEC’s model bill library."
A list of ALEC's corporate members as of June, 2011, according to Common Cause, can be found here (and, of course, in the Wikipedia link above which also identifies a number of its legislative members—all of whom, coincidentally, are Republicans). If you are a shareholder in any of these companies, or a customer, you might want to contact them and either (a) congratulate or (b) organize a boycott of them for their participation in an organization to which, apparently, Republicans in state legislatures have decided to outsource their lawmaking.

Lawmaking in U.S. legislatures is, in theory, supposed to be representational. That is to say, lawmakers are supposed to introduce legislation which represents the interests of his/her constituents. It should also be transparent. So, when bill writing is outsourced to a secretive organization which is funded by and for the interests of its membership, conflicts between the profit motive of the organization's corporate members and the interests of the electorate will necessarily, at times, conflict.

The attempted consolidation of the 50 states' lawmaking by Republicans in power is another feature of the system. Nolan McCarty, in Political Polarization and Income Inequality, finds that partisanship increases as income inequality grows:

Hi-res. Dr. Paul Krugman discusses this point with Dr. Rachel Maddow here:

Polarization: The way I see it, the forces of organization and authoritarianism (represented by ALEC, the so-called Tea Party, and corporate consolidation) are winning. They have understood the great consolidation of wealth in the upper, upper tier of corporations (public and private) and individuals; they have actively formed institutions to further this development; and they have effectively, though not yet completely, set about to control the media prism through which we perceive these developments.

Only now are opposing forces mobilizing (e.g., OWS, locavores, anti-corporatists, rights organizations, workers groups, etc.), the more radical of which are anarchists (who have their anti-authoritarian hearts in the right place, but who, in my opinion, have no idea of the enormity of the forces marshaled against them, see supra). If McCarty is correct—though it isn't 100% clear which way causation flows—it seems that efforts to stem the growth of income inequality could help to ease the political polarization we are seeing and, in effect, disrupt the agendas of such as ALEC.

The only question is how.

04 May 2012

Miscellaneous Pics

[As always, click pic for slide show; mouse over for occasional tag.]
Sasha Unsinkable +
Some guy's yard in the hood (While I was snapping pics, he came out and told me there was some inside joke attached to all these and invited me onto his property for a closer look. I got spooked and left.):

Dog and turtle:

Cat and mouse:

This is the first Spring Wesdom and I have not been involved in baseball. His new school doesn't have a team. But they do play Ultimate—and they're ranked nationally. Here's a couple shots from the tournament last weekend. It's a great game. I played it briefly at Carolina back in the '70s, and that mainly at around 2:00 am on weekend nights when we'd stumble onto the astroturf lacrosse field and turn on the lights and play 'til the campus cops would come and run us off. Now it's totes legit:

Love the shoes!

03 May 2012

The Senses of "The Sense of an Ending"[s]

"I remember, in no particular order:
—a shiny inner wrist;
—steam rising from a wet sink as a hot frying pan is laughingly tossed into it;
—gouts of sperm circling a plughole, before being sluiced down the full length of a tall house;
—a river rushing nonsensically upstream, its wave and wash lit by half a dozen chasing torchbeams;
—another river, broad and grey, the direction of its flow disguised by a stiff wind exciting the surface;
—bathwater long gone cold behind a locked door.
This last isn't something I actually saw, but what you end up remembering isn't always the same as what you have witnessed." Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending — first section.
"You get towards the end of life—no, not life itself, but of something else: the end of any likelihood of change in that life. You are allowed a long moment of pause, time enough to ask the question: what else have I done wrong? I thought of a bunch of kids in Trafalgar Square. I thought of a young woman dancing, for once in her life. I thought of what I couldn't know or understand now, of all that couldn't ever be known or understood. I thought of Adrian's definition of history. I thought of his son cramming his face into a shelf of quilted toilet tissue in order to avoid me. I thought of a woman frying eggs in a carefree, slapdash way, untroubled when one of them broke in the pan; then the same woman, later, making a secret, horizontal gesture beneath a sunlit wisteria. And I thought of a cresting wave of water, lit by a moon, rushing past and vanishing upstream, pursued by a band of yelping students whose torchbeams crisscrossed in the dark.
"There is accumulation. There is responsibility. And beyond these, there is unrest. There is great unrest." Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending — final section.
<====================  =  ======================>
"It is not expected of critics as it is of poets that they should help us to make sense of our lives; they are bound only to attempt the lesser feat of making sense of the ways we try to make sense of our lives. This series of talks is devoted to such an attempt, and I am well aware that neither good books nor good counsel have purged it of ignorance and dull vision; but I take comfort from the conviction that the topic is infallibly interesting, and especially at a moment in history when it may be harder than ever to accept the precedents of sense-making—to believe that any earlier way of satisfying one's need to know the shape of life in relation to the perspectives of time will suffice.
"You remember the golden bird in Yeats's poem—it sang of what was past and passing and to come, and so interested a drowsy emperor. In order to do that, the bird had to be 'out of nature'; to speak humanly of becoming and knowing is the task of pure being, and this is humanly represented in the poem by an artificial bird. 'The artifice of eternity' is a striking periphrasis for 'form,' for the shapes which console the dying generations. In this respect it makes little difference—though it makes some—whether you believe the age of the world to be six thousand years or five million years, whether you think time will have a stop of that the world is eternal; there is still a need to speak humanly of a life's importance in relation to it—a need in the moment of existence to belong, to be related to a beginning and to an end.

"The physician Alkmeon observed, with Aristotle's approval, that men die because they cannot join the beginning and the end. What they, the dying men, can do is to imagine a significance for themselves in these unremembered but imaginable events. One of the ways in which they do this is to make objects in which everything is that exists in concord with everything else, and nothing else is, implying that this arrangement mirrors the dispositions of a creator, actual or possible:
...as the Primitive Forms of all
(If we compare great things with small)
Which without Discord or Confusion lie,
In that strange Mirror of the Deitie.
Such models of the world make tolerable one's moment between beginning and end, or at any rate keep us drowsy emperors awake. There are other prophets beside the golden bird, and we are capable of deciding that they are false or obsolete. I shall be talking not only about the persistence of fictions but about their truth, and also about their decay. There is the question, also, of our growing suspicious of fictions in general. But it seems that we still need them. Our poverty—to borrow that rich concept from Wallace Stevens—is great enough, in a world which is not our own, to necessitate a continuous preoccupation with the changing fiction." Frank Kermode, The Sense of an Ending — first paragraphs.
 "We have our vital interest in the structure of time, in the concords books arrange between beginning, middle, and end; and as the Chicago critics, with a quite different emphasis, would agree, we lose something by pretending that we have not. Our geometries, in James's word, are required to measure change, since it is on change, between remote or imaginary origins and ends, that our interests are fixed. In our perpetual crisis we have, at the proper seasons, under the pressure perhaps of our own end, dizzying perspectives upon the past and the future, in a freedom which is the freedom of a discordant reality. Such a vision of chaos or absurdity may be more than we can easily bear. Philip Larkin, though he speaks quietly, speaks of something terrible:
Truly, though our element is time,
We are not suited to the long perspectives
Open at each instant of our lives.
   They link us to our losses ...
Merely to give order to these perspectives is to provide consolation, as De Quincy's opium did; and simple fictions are the opium of the people. But fictions too easy we call 'escapist'; we want them not only to console but to make discoveries of the hard truth here and now, in the middest. We do not feel they are doing this if we cannot see the shadow of the gable, or hear the discoveries of dissonance, the word set against the word. The books which seal off the long perspectives, which sever us from our losses, which represent the world of potency as a world of act, these are the books which, when the drug wears off, go on to the dump with the other empty bottles. Those that continue to interest us move through time to an end, an end we must sense even if we cannot know it; they live in change, until, which is never, as and is are one.
"Naturally every such fiction will in some measure repeat others, but always with a difference, because of the changes in our reality. Stevens talks about the moment out of poverty as 'an hour / Filled with expressible bliss, in which I have / No need.' But the hour passes; the need, our interest in our loss, returns; and out of another experience of chaos grows another form—a form in time—that satisfies both by being a repetition and by being new. So two things seem to be true: first, that the poet is right to speak of his giant as 'ever changing, living in change'; and secondly, that he is right to say that 'the man-hero is not the exceptional monster, / But he that of repetition is most master.' Moreover, he is right about another thing, which for us who are medium men, living in a reality which is always February, is the most important of all. If he were wrong here we should have to close up our books of poetry and read somebody on Necessity:
                        Medium man
In February hears the imagination's hymns
   And sees its images, its motions
And multitudes of motions
And feels the imagination's mercies...."
Frank Kermode, The Sense of an Ending — final paragraphs.