Monday, May 12, 2014


"Hero" by Jessie J

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Saturday, May 03, 2014


Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool

Thanks to Jeanie for bringing this poem to my attention.

I went into a public-'ouse to get a pint o' beer,
The publican 'e up an' sez, "We serve no red-coats here."
The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I:
     O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away";
     But it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play,
     The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
     O it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but 'adn't none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-'alls,
But when it comes to fightin', Lord! they'll shove me in the stalls!
     For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, wait outside";
     But it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide,
     The troopship's on the tide, my boys, the troopship's on the tide,
     O it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide.

Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.
     Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?"
     But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll,
     The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
     O it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.

We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;
     While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, fall be'ind",
     But it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind,
     There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,
     O it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind.

You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.
     For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
     But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;
     An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
     An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool -- you bet that Tommy sees!

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014


Here It Comes

Here are the lyrics.

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Sunday, March 09, 2014


For the Phin of it

The large wood mouth organ at 0:17 is called a kaen or khene. The double-necked electrified string instrument at 0:59 in the video below is called a phin.  The music seems to be a luk thung-influenced version of a traditional Lao folk style known as mor lam from the Isan region of Thailand--the northeastern part of the country sandwiched between Laos and Cambodia. The female lead singer is Angkana Khunchai and I can't find much information about her in English but she's been singing commercially since at least the 1980s though I'd guess the "Sa-la-wan rum wong" video is from the 1970s.

See also: "Mor Lam and Luk Thung: A guide to Bangkok's Thai folk music scene"

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Monday, February 03, 2014


Just because ...

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Puppets, Money, & Iran

Last December, in Puppets & Money I cited a Bloomberg report that said former Israeli central bankster Stanley Fischer (pictured at right) was the favorite to be Barack Obama's nominee for the No. 2 position in the US Federal Reserve System. And it came to pass that on January 10, 2014, Fischer was so nominated.

Also in December, Grant Smith published an exposé on Fischer identifying him as an ardent Israel-firster, the co-author, along with AIPAC, "of harmful U.S. economic policies on behalf of Israel". Below is an excerpt from Smith's "AIPAC's Fed Candidate Stanley Fischer on a Warpath Against Iran".
As Bank of Israel governor, Stanley Fischer played a central role in coordinating the implementation of AIPAC-generated sanctions against Iran – ostensibly over its nuclear program. Stuart Levey, the head of the U.S. Treasury Department's division for "Terrorism and Financial Intelligence," an office created after heavy AIPAC lobbying, met often with Fischer in Israel alongside the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and chiefs of both the Mossad and Shin Bet to explore how to "supplement" UN sanctions and end-run Russian and Chinese opposition.4 The Levey-Fischer strategy was "to work outside the context of the Security Council to engage the private sector and let it know about the risks of doing business with Tehran" particularly against European banks that had only partially drawn back their business dealings with Iran. In 2010, Israel dispatched Fischer to meet with Chinese and Russian "counterparts" in order to financially isolate Iran.5

See also: "Should dual citizen of US/Israel be vice chair of our Federal Reserve Bank?" on Mondoweiss

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Monday, January 27, 2014


Quotable: A Race of Angels

AMERICANS MUST be a race of angels – how else to explain the incredible patience with which they suffer the fact that in a vital sphere of US interests, American policy is dictated by a foreign country?

For five decades, at least, US Middle East policy has been decided in Jerusalem. Almost all American officials dealing with this area are, well, Jewish. The Hebrew-speaking American ambassador in Tel Aviv could easily be the Israeli ambassador in Washington. Sometimes I wonder if in meetings of American and Israeli diplomats, they don't sometimes drop into Yiddish.

Source: Uri Avnery. "Welcome, Chuck". January 12, 2013. Avnery is a former member of the Irgun, a veteran of the Nakba, and three-time former member of the Israeli Knesset.

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Quotable: Employee Ownership

I can't help but believe that in the future we will see in the United States and throughout the western world an increasing trend toward the next logical step, employee ownership. It is a path that benefits a free people.

Source: Ronald W. Reagan. "Project Economic Justice" (a speech presented at the White House). August 3, 1987.

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Friday, January 24, 2014


Qoutable: Who Loves Peace?

Der Eroberer ist immer friedliebend (wie Bonaparte auch stets behauptet hat), er zöge ganz gern ruhig in unseren Staat ein;

Source: Carl von Clausewitz. Vom Kriege (Dümmlers Verlag, 1832) Book VI, Ch. 5.

Howard-Paret translation: "The aggressor is always peace-loving (as Bonaparte always claimed to be); he would prefer to take over our country unopposed."

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Quotable: Church & State

... there never was a union of church and state which did not bring serious evils to religion. ... the Founder of our faith did not unite the church and state.

Source: Letter of Bishop John England to Daniel O'Connell, esq., Sept. 17, 1825.

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Tuesday, December 31, 2013


What a Wonderful World

This is my favorite version of Louis Armstrong's rendition of "What a Wonderful World". Armstrong didn't write this song but he sure made it his own.

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Sunday, December 29, 2013


Quotable: Hagel on Reason for Iraq War

So why did we invade Iraq? I believe it was the triumph of the so-called neoconservative ideology, as well as Bush administration arrogance and incompetence that took America into this war of choice. This ideology presented a myopic vision of a democratic Middle East that would inject a large permanent American force presence in the region to act as the guarantor of a regional realignment. They believed that by taking the relatively easy step of toppling Saddam, they could begin to realize this vision through the use of America's unequaled military power, thereby establishing America's preeminence in the Middle East and bolstering the defense of Israel.

Source: Chuck Hagel. America: Our Next Chapter. (New York: HarperCollins, 2008) p. 50. At the time the book was published Hagel, a Republican, was the senior US Senator from Nebraska. He is the current US Secretary of Defense. Even though it was widely known at the time that the neocons were leading the US into another war for Israel, Hagel still voted for the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002.

See also:

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Thursday, December 19, 2013


Puppets & Money

Last October, the Jewish Daily Forward reported: "[Janet] Yellen, whose nomination to head America's central bank was reported Tuesday, will follow her immediate predecessor Ben Bernanke who was Jewish, and Bernanke's immediate predecessor, Alan Greenspan, who was Jewish, too. There have been two other Jewish fed chairs in the past century. In fact, the other frontrunner for the position, Lawrence Summers, was Jewish too." This month Bloomberg reported: "Former Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer is President Barack Obama's leading candidate to become vice chairman of the Federal Reserve ..."

In light of these developments, Tablet magazine wistfully asked: "Janet Yellen Is Poised To Be the Third Jewish Fed Chair in a Row. Where Are the Anti-Semites?"  Author Weiss observes: "despite this historic Jewish run, anti-Semitic conspiracies about Jewish control of the world banking system seem, if anything, less common than they once were—all the more surprising because the degree of influence American central bankers have in the global financial system today surpasses anything the Rothschild tycoons were able to maintain at the height of their influence." While contemplating the curious Jewish dominance of the US Federal Reserve Bank, I was reminded of these words by Baron Nathan Mayer Rothschild: "I care not what puppet is placed upon the throne of England to rule the Empire on which the sun never sets. The man who controls Britain's money supply controls the British Empire, and I control the British money supply".

See also:
Update: Puppets, Money, & Iran

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Thursday, December 12, 2013


Quotable: Happiness

To be stupid, selfish, and have good health are three requirements for happiness, though if stupidity is lacking, all is lost.

Source: Gustave Flaubert. Letter to Louise Colet. The Letters of Gustave Flaubert, 1830-1857, Vol. 1 (Harvard UP, 1980) p. 62.

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Thursday, November 28, 2013


Quotable: Two Qualities

I have the two qualities you require to see absolute truth. I am brilliant and unloved.

Source: Character of Miss Evangelista in Doctor Who, "Forest of the Dead," series 4, episode 9.

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Saturday, November 23, 2013


Quotable: The Law of Love and the Law of Violence

Below are some excerpts from "The Law of Love and the Law of Violence" by Leo Tolstoy, as translated by Mary Koutouzow Tolstoy (Rudolph Field, 1948) and transcribed and edited by I think the translation by Jane Kentish in A Confession and Other Religious Writings (Penguin, 1987) is superior but I don't have access to an electronic version of that text.

 Nothing should be more natural than that the working class should thus express itself [by rejecting government--VFPD]. But most of them continue their existence as martyrs in the police service, in financial offices, and in the regiments. Others, the minority, try to free themselves from oppression by revolt and by committing violence in their turn on those who oppress them, or, in other words, try to quench fire with fire and thus increase the violence from which they are suffering.

Why do men act so irrationally? It is because the long duration of the lie has caused them to lose all notion of the bond that exists between their servitude and their participation in violence.

Why do they not see this bond? Because they no longer have faith, and without faith, men are guided only by interest. In fact, he who is guided by interest alone cannot do otherwise than deceive or be deceived. [p. 16]

The Christian revelation was the doctrine of human equality, of the fatherhood of God, of the brotherhood of man. It struck at the very basis of that monstrous tyranny that then oppressed the civilized world; it struck at the fetters of the captive, at the bonds of the slave, at that monstrous injustice which allowed a class to revel on the proceeds of labor, while those who did the labor fared scantily. That is the reason why early Christianity was persecuted. And when they could no longer hold it down, then the privileged classes adopted and perverted the new faith, and it became, in its very triumph, not the pure Christianity of the early days, but a Christianity that, to a very great extent, was the servitor of the privileged classes. [This text appears in the epigraph to chap. 10 in the Kentish translation (although this is not the same version she uses); it does not appear at all in M. K. Tolstoy's translation. The text comes from "Thy Kingdom Come" (1889) by Henry George.]

Do not think that Church Christianity was an incomplete, one-sided, formal view of Christianity, but nevertheless Christianity. Do not think this: for Church Christianity is the enemy of true Christianity and stands in relation to true Christianity as a criminal caught in the act. It must either destroy itself, or continue to commit new crimes. [This text appears in the epigraph to chap. 10 in the Kentish translation; it does not appear at all in M. K. Tolstoy's translation. According to notes in the Kentish edition, Leo Tolstoy is quoting himself from another work.]

The social conditions of life can only be improved by people exercising self-restraint.

It is said that one swallow does not make a summer, but can it be that because one swallow does not make a summer another swallow, sensing and anticipating summer, must not fly? If every blade of grass waited similarly summer would never occur. And it is the same with establishing the Kingdom of God: we must not think about whether we are the first or the thousandth swallow. [This text appears in the epigraph to chap. 13 in the Kentish translation; it does not appear at all in M. K. Tolstoy's translation.]

The Christian can ignore the laws established by the State because he has no need of them for himself, or for others; he considers that human life is better assured by the law of love professed by him than by the law of violence that one wants to impose on him … Having recognized the efficacy of the law of love, he does not consider the law of violence obligatory, and he denounces the other as the most horrible of mistakes ...

The profession of true Christianity, which includes the precept of nonresistance to evil by violence, relieves those faithful to this doctrine from any external authority. Much better, it gives them the possibility of obtaining better
conditions in life, those that men seek vainly by changing its external forms. In reality, these forms change only after the modifications that have arisen in men's consciences, and in the measure in which this conscience has evolved.

It was not the orders of a government that abolished the murder of children, tortures, or slavery, but the universal conscience that caused these orders. Since the evolution of conscience determines the changes in the modes of life, the contrary, as well, should happen (or so they say). As it is more agreeable and easier to modify external forms (because the results are more apparent), this activity is preferred to the one whose aim is to modify conscience. That is why one is more frequently occupied with the foundation, rather than with the form.
[pp. 29-30]

A man who continues to live in error sees the incarnation of power in certain sacred institutions, which are the indispensable organs of the social body. The man who awakens to the truth sees this assumed by men sunk in error and who attribute to it a fantastic importance having no possible justification, and who accomplish their will by force.

For those with insight, these lost people, bribed as often as not, resemble brigands who hold up travelers on the high roads. For anyone who has awakened to the truth, the entity called the State does not exist, and therefore there is not the slightest justification, for him, for the acts of violence committed in the name of the State. And any participation in these acts is impossible for him.

To sum up, State violence will disappear, not with the aid of external means, but thanks only to the calls of conscience of men who have awakened to the truth.
[From the epigraph to chap. 15]

We are quite accustomed to find ways of managing other people's lives, and these methods do not seem odd to us. They would be unnecessary, however, if men were religious and free. They are, in fact, the result of despotism and of the domination of one or a few over many. This error is harmful, not only because it causes suffering to those who feel the oppression of despots, but even more so because their consciences no longer warn them of the necessity of bettering their condition. But only this conscience can have an effect on one's fellow being.

Not only has one man not the right to dispose of a great number, but a great number have not the right to dispose of a single man. (V. Tchertkov,
Daily Reading, November 22nd) [From the epigraph to chap. 16]

The superstition that causes one to think that he can tell in advance how society will be organized in the future has its origin in the desire of the transgressors to justify their conduct, and in the desire of the victims to explain and lighten the weight of the constraint. The former persuade themselves and others that they know the way to make life take the form that they consider the best. The latter, who undergo such constraint that they do not feel strong enough to free themselves, have the same conviction, for it permits them to give a certain excuse for their position.

The history of nations ought to destroy this superstition entirely.
  [p. 35]

... our idea of our social organization, founded on violence, is so impressed upon us that we do not perceive all the crimes that they commit each day in the name of the public good. We see only the rare violent attempts of those who are called murderers, burglars, or thieves.

"He is a murderer, he is a thief, he does not observe the rule of not doing to others what you would not have them do to you," say the same people who go on killing in war, who force nations to prepare for carnage, and who steal from and despoil their own as well as foreign nations. [p. 37]

Men already see the ignominy of the spy and executioner, and are beginning to see that of the police, detectives, and even to a certain degree, of military men. But they do not yet see it of the judge, the minister, the sovereign, chiefs of parties, or revolutionaries. And yet the work of the latter is as vile and as contrary to human nature, or even worse, than the work of the executioner or the spy, because it is more hypocritical.

Understand then, all of you, especially the young, that to want to impose an imaginary state of government on others by violence is not only a vulgar superstition, but even a criminal work. Understand that this work, far from assuring the good of men, is only a lie, a more or less unconscious hypocrisy, and is always hiding the lowest passions.

Understand it, you, men of tomorrow, and stop looking for an illusionary happiness by participating in the administration of the State by judicial institutions, by instruction, and by all kinds of parties that have the good of the masses as an aim. Pay attention to only one thing, that which you need the most, that which is the most accessible, and that which gives the most happiness to us and to everyone: the increase of love in us by the suppression of vices and passions that keep it from manifesting itself.
[pp. 39-40]

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Saturday, August 24, 2013


"Fatty Boom Boom" & Elysium

One of the first questions that popped into my mind after watching "Fatty Boom Boom" is what the hell was that? I came across the South African group Die Antwoord while trying to dig deeper into Neill Blomkamp's Elysium. It turns out that Die Antwoord's frontman, Ninja, was Blomkamp's first choice for the role played by Matt Damon. I learned this via a review by Steve Sailer that I read after I watched the film.

Sailer claims the "American culturati's hive mind" has got Blomkamp, who also directed and co-wrote District 9, all wrong. According to Sailer, Blomkamp is a "young Boer refugee" and his new movie is "about the horrors of mass immigration and nonwhite overpopulation". It is, like District 9, "another Malthusian tale" by Blomkamp, "a gun-loving Afrikaner whose movies are based around his fear that the rapid breeding of Third Worlders threatens to bring down civilization". I'm not sure if Sailer is right about Blomkamp or his cinematic intentions but he makes a compelling case and his review put the film in a different light for me.

Sailer also opines that "Elysium would have been more interesting with either" Eminem or Ninja in the lead and refers to Die Antwoord as "a satirical Afrikaner duo who are always on the verge of getting denounced as racist." I'd never heard of Die Antwoord before and was intrigued. Below is Die Antwoord's "Fatty Boom Boom" video. Following that is their response to some comments on the video by YouTube users (you can also watch a 'making of' video here).

The last video is an illuminating video essay by Chris English entitled "Wat Kyk Jy: Die Antwoord and the Appropriation of Jane Alexander's Butcher Boys". Jane Alexander is a South African sculptor whose 1985/86 work, The Butcher Boys, is widely recognized as an artistic critique of South African apartheid.

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Friday, August 16, 2013


Quotable: You Are a Soul

"... When mass murder's been answered with mass murder, rape with rape, hate with hate, there's no longer much meaning in asking whose ax is bloodier. Evil, on evil, piled on evil. Was there any justification in our 'police action' ...? Certainly there was no justification for what they did―or was there? We only know what that thing [a radio or television--VFPD] says, and that thing is a captive. The Asian radio has to say what will least displease it's government; ours has to say what will least displease our fine patriotic opinionated rabble, which is what, coincidentally, the government wants it to say anyhow, so where's the difference?"  (p. 281)

"You don't have a soul, Doctor. You are a soul. You have a body, temporarily." (p. 295)

"To minimize suffering and to maximize security were natural and proper ends of society and Caesar. But then they became the only ends, somehow, and the only basis of law—a perversion. Inevitably, then, in seeking only them, we found only their opposites: maximum suffering and minimum security." (p. 330)

Source: Character of Abbot Jethras Zerchi in A Canticle for Leibowitz (Bantam Books, 1959, 2007) by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

See also: "A Canticle for Leibowitz Is Divine, But It's the Opposite of Science Fiction" by Josh Wimmer on io9

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Tuesday, August 06, 2013


The Gospel according to Chief Broom

This will be my fifth post mentioning One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Yesterday, I finished reading A Casebook on Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by George J. Searles, ed. (Univ. of New Mexico Pr., 1992). Several of essays in the book make mention of the Christian symbolism in Cuckoo's Nest. This theme is central to one essay in particular, Bruce Wallis' "Christ in the Cuckoo's Nest: Or, the Gospel According to Ken Kesey," which was first published in Cithara 12:1 (November, 1972). Below is an excerpt from Wallis' article.
... the novel is expressly formulated as nothing less than the bible for a twentieth-century religion of self-assertive action, with a message of salvation modulated to the needs of repressed individuals in a constrictively conformist society.

The novel is replete with specific comparisons of McMurphy to Christ, references designed to elevate the protagonist's martyrdom to a high level of significance. But the novel is also integrated by a sustained Biblical analogy, of which those comparisons are only a part, that begins as a series of unobtrusive allusions in the early chapters, intensifies in the novel's third section (the fishing trip), and completely dominates its conclusion. The analogy compares McMurphy to Christ not merely in terms of their martyrdoms, but more extensively in terms of some of the principal figures and events in the life of each. By doing so, it enables the novel to assume the configurations of a gospel, which, like the original Gospels, may serve as a source of inspiration for emulative and redemptive action ...

The analogy between the lives of McMurphy and Christ is thus fairly complete, and the elements composing it are too numerous and too sustained—especially in their repetition—to be accidental or incidental. The analogy functions to elevate the action of the novel to a high plane of significance, for it suggests that contemporary civilization is suffering from a spiritual illness so severe, that a redirection of spiritual focus, such as that effected by the life and death of Christ, is in order. The analogy makes of the novel, moreover, a bible for contemporary action, because by systematically comparing McMurphy to Christ, it implies that the life of this contemporary redemptive figure must, like the life of Christ, offer a pattern for active emulation. The analogy culminates in the author's assignment of the narration to the particular "you" that the "giant come out of the sky" has most dramatically saved from the cuckoo's nest. In narrating the life of the martyred McMurphy, Chief Broom has become an apostle in the fullest sense of the word.

That the gospel Chief Broom prepares is intended for serious adoption by its readers is evidenced by Mr. Kesey's ensuing endeavor to emulate R. P. McMurphy's experiences in his own life. The failure of that endeavour, the dropping away of his own disciples and of the crowd of followers he initially collected, suggests that the doctrine he formulated in theory cannot be effected in practice. [The "failure" Wallis is referring to here is Kesey's 1960s escapades with the "Merry Pranksters" as documented by Tom Wolfe in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. I haven't read Wolfe's book but I have seen Magic Trip, the 2011 documentary of the 1964 cross-country bus trip by Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, and on that basis concur in Wallis' judgment.—VFPD] The cause of its practical failure is not hard to discover, for the religion he postulates, that of self-aggrandizement (call it by any contemporary term: "doing one's own thing," to the cost of the social fabric), fails to take into account original sin--the ineluctable depravity of man for which religion alone is necessary to atone.

It is no difficult task then, within the configurations of a purely fictional action, to demonstrate the felicitous effects of independent and self-centered activity. One is bound to sympathize with a fictional hero who performs as an adult the pranks we all engaged in as children but are inhibited from indulging in as adults ourselves. It is also safe to suppose that the people around such a hero, moved by a like sympathy with his basic human desire to indulge the self, will feel a natural inclination to act the way he does. But one is not bound to make a logical extension of fiction into fact, nor to suppose that such self-indulgence will have in reality the same meritorious outcome that it can be manipulated to achieve in art. One cannot gainsay the author's contention that the self-abnegation implicit in our conformity to social and ethical norms is dangerously frustrating. In theological, as well as psychological terms, it is inevitably frustrating to attempt to contain the beast within. Yet life presents little evidence that the release from frustration attained by allowing that beast a freer rein is to be more desired than feared.

It is ironic, of course, that Mr. Kesey should compare directly to Christ, the paradigm of humility, a man whose life is intended to exemplify the value of pride. Rather than lose the self in order to save it, the gospel according to Ken Kesey suggests, one must assert the self in order to save it. In contradiction to the fundamentally Christian view of human depravity, which considers the self one might assert as a potential Kurtz in the jungle, Mr. Kesey has predicated his novel upon the romantic philosophy that man is naturally benevolent, and that his natural actions, undistorted by the pressures of social necessity, will invariably conduce to the greatest good. Mr. Kesey fails at any point in his novel to consider the possibility that the natural, self-assertive actions of his protagonists might be at least as often destructive as the presumably unnatural actions of his antagonists—that all human action will in fact be subject to the same human limitations.

The problem in Mr. Kesey's philosophy is not that the Combine, his word for the establishment, is less evil than Mr. Kesey supposes (although it may possibly be so). It is rather that it is not the Combine which generates the evil Mr. Kesey observes, but the evil which generates the Combine, or at least makes of it what it is. The flaws in the system exist only because of anterior flaws in the men who created and maintain it. Attacking the system itself is attacking the symptom instead of the disease. That alternative systems will fall heir to the same human failings Mr. Kesey discovered. His Utopia collapsed as Utopias have persisted in doing.

But Mr. Kesey's Utopia was more foredoomed than most, since his prescription to combat the symptom, as we see in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, was simply a larger dose of the disease. The most fundamental precept of the religion Mr. Kesey exploits for his literary analogy is the danger of pride, the original sin in the sense of that self-love or self-absorption that makes all other sins possible. Yet the cardinal virtue in what might be termed the "cuckoo philosophy," repeatedly exemplified by McMurphy despite his paradoxical (and improbable) self-immolation, is that very self-loving self-assertion. Kesey suggests that by throwing butter at walls, breaking in windows, stealing boats, and doing in general whatever comes naturally, the inmates will become carefree and vital individuals at last. A Utopia composed of such self-centered children can spare itself the trouble of making any long-range plans.
Wallis' article was published in a journal of a Roman Catholic institution, St. Bonaventure University. One need not subscribe to Roman Catholic doctrine on, for instance, "original sin" to see the strength of Wallis' case or to appreciate the depth of his analysis. In fact, I don't completely agree with Wallis and I still like Kesey's novel but I do appreciate that Wallis has helped me to see more in the book and to see it more truly than I had before.

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Saturday, August 03, 2013


American Jackass

This post is dedicated to Gloria.

Take a close look at "Big Bertha"--the world's largest tunnel boring machine--in the photo below. At the top you'll see that some American jackass has hung an American flag. This flag-waving expression of nationalism is ridiculous and out of place. You see, Big Bertha is being used to dig a tunnel in Seattle but the machine was built in Japan by Hitachi Zosen and the main contractor for the project is Seattle Tunnel Partners, whose majority stakeholder is Dragados USA, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Spanish conglomerate Actividades de Construcción y Servicios, S.A. The tunnel project is also a not-fully-funded $4.25 billion (if, miraculously, there are no costs overruns) publicly financed, pro-car Big Labor/Big Construction boondoggle. On second thought, maybe Old Glory does belong up there.

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Friday, July 26, 2013


No Contradiction between Genesis and Darwin

Note: The text below uses "true" and "false" in a manner that perhaps provides a useful illustration of Ludwig Wittgenstein's concept of Sprachspiel or language-game. However, in positing the Genesis account as an example of "other practices than dividing truth from falsehood" it incorrectly implies that true and false are concepts which belong particularly in the realm of science. This does not do justice to Wittgenstein's complex understanding of truth.

Most of us wonder about our origins.

There have been two apparently contradictory accounts of it.

There is the account in Genesis of how God created heaven and earth and all living things in six days. And there is Darwin's account of how things evolved over enormously long periods, the mechanism of which is genetic variation and natural selection.

To many there is a hopeless contradiction between these two accounts.

The notion of language games helps us here, for it focuses on action rather than truth and falsehood.

We use the terms "true" and "false" in certain contexts.

Chiefly when we are investigating whether something is so or not, as in a scientific investigation.

Darwin was imbued with the methods of science, observing, sorting the true from the false; using the methods of scientific inquiry to give an account of the origins of things.

But why can't there be other ways of accounting for the origin of things, using other language games, ones that focus on other practices than dividing truth from falsehood?

A person for whom the practices of worship and prayer are central to his or her life might respond to fundamental questions in a different way and might find the account of origins in Genesis more real.

His search would be conducted differently from a scientist's. He might pray for guidance. This would not necessarily produce an answer in the scientific sense, for he would be seeking different satisfactions.

So there need be no contradiction between Genesis and Darwin, but what is important is to be clear on the nature of one's commitments.

Source: John M. Heaton & Judy Groves. Introducing Wittgenstein: a Graphic Guide. (Icon Books, 2009) pp. 120-122.

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Friday, July 19, 2013


European Slaves in the Medieval Period

For if the Vikings were the pioneers, the princes of Europe, or some of them, were the middlemen in the new slave-trade. They licensed it and they profited by it, though they left the direct traffic in it to the Jews, who could move most easily across the frontiers of the two societies. We have plenty of evidence of this trade and its routes ... Liutprand of Cremona, the ambassador of the West who, in the tenth century, stood agog before the kaleidoscope pageantry of the Byzantine court, tells us that it was the merchants of Verdun who, for the immense profit of the trade, made boys into eunuchs and sold them through Moorish Spain to the rich Moslem world ... The trade has left its mark in the languages of both Christendom and Islam. Sclavi, 'Slavs', has formed, in every European language, the word for slaves; and the same word, Sakaliba, has provided the Arabic word for eunuchs.

Source: Hugh Trevor-Roper. The Rise of Christian Europe. (Harcourt, Brace & World, 1965) p. 92.

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Saturday, July 13, 2013


White's "The Science Delusion"

It is very advisable to examine and dissect the men of science for once, since they for their part are quite accustomed to laying bold hands on everything in the world, even the most venerable things, and taking them to pieces. –Friedrich Nietzsche, epigraph to The Science Delusion.

Curtis White's latest non-fiction offering is The Science Delusion: Asking the Big Questions in a Culture of Easy Answers (Melville House, 2013). For those who wonder about such things, a self-described atheist, White is not critiquing science from a religious perspective. White's attack is grounded in the notion of classical Romanticism as a counterculture to a science or scientism that seeks to subsume or devalue non-scientific human enterprises such as art, religion, and philosophy.

White begins by taking a look at the "new atheists"--Dawkins, Hitchens, Rosenberg, and Harris—observing "that the story these writers have to tell is one that a very powerful part of our culture wants told and emphatically so" (p. 3). He develops the idea of science's "too-comfortable place in the broader ideology of social regimentation, economic exploitation, environmental destruction, and industrial militarism," declaring that "how the ideology of science meshes with the broader ideology of capitalism will be a consistent interest of my investigation here" (p. 11). In this vein, White wonders: "Where is Richard Dawkins's book on the almighty, self-correcting Market God? Or on the military-industrial complex that science and technology has made possible? But, then, it's not in science's interest to notice such things" (p. 55).

After taking on the new atheists, White goes after biology, neuroscience, and physics. Lawrence Krauss, Watson and Crick, Richard Feynman, Stephen Hawking, and Sebastian Seung, among others, fall under White's withering gaze. Along the way, he also brings to bear the arguments of others more attuned to Romanticism, citing for example, Friedrich Schiller: "Art's primary purpose as antagonist to the 'robot' is to 'model freedom.' 'Art models freedom' is Schiller's aesthetic mantra, and it is the Romantic aesthetic in full force. Do you want to know what it is like to be free? Then live in art. ... Art is a counter-discourse, it is a counterculture, or it's not art" (p. 69).

Contra reductive physicalism/materialism, White also cites physicist Arthur Eddington: "The stuff of the world is mind-stuff" (p. 174).. And James Jeans, also a physicist: "I incline to the idealistic theory that consciousness is fundamental, and that the material universe is derivative from consciousness, not consciousness from the material universe ... In general the universe seems to me to be nearer to a great thought than to a great machine" (p. 174).

In closing, here are two excerpts from White's final pages:

"We [Americans] are a culture in which self-evident lies, supported by stunning lapses in argument, are eagerly taken up by our most literate public, which is happy to call it 'fascinating' and 'provocative,' while also assuming it is our inevitable future" (p. 182).

"... Romanticism goes science one better: it also liberates us from the scam—the delusions—of science, of technology, and of the reign of the ever more efficient administration of life that has been the essential problem in the West for the last two centuries" (p. 192).

See also:

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Tuesday, July 09, 2013


Nothing Better than a Noble Failure

Cardinal Altamira (to Father Gabriel, concerning the politics over the fate of the Jesuit reductions): ... I assure you that the courts of Europe are a jungle in comparison with which your jungle here is a tidy garden.

Don Hontar (during a visit at the San Miguel mission): ... your Christian community is commercially competitive.

Cardinal Altamira: Yes, it's very prosperous. Isn't that precisely why you want to take it over?

Don Hontar: No, you should've achieved a noble failure if you wanted the approval of the state. There's nothing we like better than a noble failure.

Father Gabriel (to Father Rodrigo, on the eve of the destruction of the San Carlos mission): If might is right then love has no place in the world. It may be so but I don't have the strength to live in a world like that ...

Don Hontar (after the Portuguese massacre at, and the razing of, the San Carlos mission): You had no alternative, your Eminence. We must work in the world. The world is thus.

Cardinal Altamira: No, Señor Hontar, thus have we made the world. Thus I have made it.

Source: The Mission (1986)

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Monday, July 08, 2013


Mental Illness as Construct

"Here's the problem," Frances* said. "There is no definition of a mental disorder."

I mentioned that that hadn't stopped him from putting one into the DSM-IV, or the people who were then making the DSM-5 from fiddling with it.

"And it's bullshit," he said. "I mean you can't define it." [p. 23]

"the personality disorders are not at all clearly distinct from normal functioning or from each other," [p. 263; quoting Allen Frances; emphasis mine]

What Insel heard "over and over again" on his tour [of "hospitals and universities around the country"] was that psychiatrists were tired of being trapped by the DSM. "we are so embedded in this structure, " he told me. He and his colleagues had spent so much time diagnosing mental disorders that "we actually believe they are real. But there's no reality. These are just constructs. There's no reality to schizophrenia or depression." [p. 340]

"Whatever we've been doing for five decades," [Insel] told me, "it ain't working. And when I look at the numbers–the number of suicides, the number of disabilities, mortality data–it's abysmal, and it's not getting any better. All the ways in which we've approached these illnesses, and with a lot of people working very hard, the outcomes we've got to point to are pretty bleak–especially, he added, compared with the "extraordinary" progress in other fields, such as the 70 percent drop in mortality from cardiovascular disease since he went to medical school or the steep reductions in deaths from auto accidents and homicides. There are some people for whom some of what we do is enormously helpful," he said. But even so, "we don't know which treatments are working for which people." And this litany of failure, he said, "gets us back to your interest in nosology. Maybe we just need to rethink this whole approach." [pp. 351-352]

Source: Gary Greenberg. The Book of Woe: The DSM and the Unmaking of Psychiatry (Penguin, 2013).

    *Allen J. Frances, MD is the former head of the Duke University School of Medicine's psychiatry department and was once referred to by The New York Times as "perhaps the most powerful psychiatrist in America." Frances served on the American Psychiatric Association's (APA) personality disorders work group for the 1980 DSM-III. He was chair of the APA task force responsible for the 1994 DSM-IV.
     †DSM is an abbreviation for the APA's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
     ‡Thomas R. Insel, MD, is the Director of the National Institute of Mental Health.

See also:

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Quotable: Every Journalist Knows

Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people's vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse. Like the credulous widow who wakes up one day to find the charming young man and all her savings gone, so the consenting subject of a piece of nonfiction learns—when the article or book appears—his hard lesson. Journalists justify their treachery in various ways according to their temperaments. The more pompous talk about freedom of speech and "the public's right to know"; the least talented talk about Art; the seemliest murmur about earning a living. 

Source: Janet Malcolm. The Journalist and the Murderer (Vintage Books, 1990). p. 3.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013


"Promised Land": Playing Both Sides?

Spoiler Alert

Promised Land is a 2012 environmentalist/anti-corporate fantasy film. I call it a fantasy film because I've rarely heard of a corporate tool like Damon's character, Steve Butler, making the sudden turnabout we see in Promised Land. Butler, who has just been offered the job of Vice President for Land Management of Global Crosspower Solutions is shocked, shocked to learn that large corporations deceive and manipulate people to get what they want.

You see, an environmental campaigner has been trying to thwart Butler's and Sue Thomason's (Frances McDormand) efforts to get the residents of the rural hamlet of McKinley to sign leases so Global can frack for natural gas. But the campaigner, Dustin Noble (John Krasinski), is revealed to be a ringer from Global whose job is to run an anti-fracking campaign and then blow it up at the last minute by getting caught deceiving the good people of McKinley. After Noble actually slips up and let's a surprised Butler know who he really works for, he explains: "Steve, companies like Global, they don't rely on anyone. That's how they win. They win by controlling every outcome. And they do that by playing both sides."

Promised Land can be fairly characterized as an anti-fracking film. I didn't realize that when I first started watching it but once I did I began to wonder if the film wasn't playing both sides against the audience. As it turns out, the film was bankrolled by Abu Dhabi Media. Abu Dhabi Media is owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates. The government of the United Arab Emirates is owned by hereditary, absolute monarchies--the Emirs and their families who got phenomenally rich off the oil and gas deposits under and offshore of the country. Of course, they wouldn't have any interest is opposing fracking, now would they?

In any case, Promised Land is a good and interesting film but just keep in mind when you watch it that you might be being played. Ask yourself, too, why the film got an R rating by the MPAA.

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Thursday, June 20, 2013


Quotable: Excerpts from "Letters from Abu Ghraib"

Was Rome dispensing "God's divine Justice" when it forbade Pater and Paul from preaching public? Were Peter and Paul "justly reprimanded for their sins" by being imprisoned and executed? Was Jesus being justly punished for his sin when the Sanhedrin sent him to be executed by [Pilate]? Was Germany dispensing divine wrath to Israel, Poland, etc., when they plotted to take over the world and exterminate all non-Aryans? ... I am trying to say that the State does not have a license to do anything it wants ... and when we are ordered by the State to violate God's law, we must not bow to Baal. Civil disobedience is just as mandatory as civil subservience. It all must past through the filter of conscience, not to mention Christ's mandate that we recognize that the Kingdom has already come. We are now its citizens. ... we are under no obligation to abdicate conscience on behalf of the State. [pp. 64-65].

Every day I talk with the enemy. But I do not see an embodiment of "he who opposes goodness." If we approach the war on terrorism with the fervor of a Christian jihad against Islam, our battle is already lost, for we have become what we opposed and we are now the fundamentalists. Our battle is not one of flesh and blood, but against the spiritual powers and principalities which rule this present darkness. We cannot allow ourselves to be caught up in "war mode" against a fleshly enemy, or the true enemy is already within us, and we have failed to believe in the power of a redemption which (we say) we believe has saved us. ... My comfort and liberty must not be won by the sacrifices of a new and foreign poor now paying the price for our moral failings of diplomacy. economy and statesmanship, turning our Republic into an Empire. [pp. 71-72].

Joining the army is not a sacrament, it's a pagan allegiance. [p. 91].

We must at least allow the pain inflicted upon us by our enemies to be a megaphone to our own deafness to the world, waking us up to the needs of others, to the violence inflicted upon them. [p. 92].

I don't complain about "the military" because of inconvenience or discomfort ... I complain about how perilous it feels to attempt an authentic Christianity in the midst of "exploiting persons of their intelligence value," and then listening to the news, hearing of the bombing campaign just undertaken in the town that I just wrote an intelligence report on only days previous. Those bombs are given coordinates by my reports. Mine ...

Since the day I walked onto Academy grounds at West Point, I have been in an ongoing and quite conscious battle with my military service. Whether it was my first decision in college to turn away from military service altogether, or my post-September 11th decision to return to service, I have been attempting to mitigate conscience and duty for the past seven years. In the absence of a clear and articulate objection to service, I have defaulted to evolving forms of duty as my guiding principle. ... Conscientious objection is now the only way dutifully to fulfill my obligations both to faith and to nation, and to my own internal commitments to personal courage. [From the conscientious objector application of Joshua Casteel, pp. 115-116].

Source: Joshua Casteel. Letters from Abu Ghraib. (Essay Pr., 2008). Casteel was an interrogator with the US Army's 202nd Military Intelligence Battalion. He based in the Abu Ghraib prison in 2004 and 2005.

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013



Felon (2008), starring Val Kilmer and Stephen Dorff, is certainly not a perfect movie but it is a generally good, if disturbing, film with an important message about America's out of control police-judicial-prison-industrial complex. The film was made in a New Mexico prison and was inspired by actual events. In 1996, the Los Angeles Times published "Tales of Brutality Behind Bars" concerning the brutality of prison guards at the California State Prison, Corcoran; this is the real-life background of Felon. Mark Arax's article and Felon illustrate that there is no shortage of criminal gang members wearing uniforms and badges. Without really trying, I found a more recent example of this in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, "Suit says guards made inmates fight 'gladiator-style' in St. Louis jail," from last year. Another point Felon makes is how vulnerable even the most seemingly unlikely people are to being ensnared in the system. Felon writer-director Ric Roman Waugh has followed up Felon with Snitch (2013), starring Dwayne Johnson and also inspired by true events, which deals with much the similar subject matter. At right is an infographic from the Snitch official web site.

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Friday, May 24, 2013


Quotable: Cooperation

The rich cannot accumulate wealth without the cooperation of the poor ... If this knowledge were to penetrate to and spread amongst the poor, they would become strong and would learn how to free themselves ...

Source: Mohandas K. Gandhi as quoted in Gene Sharp,  The Politics of Nonviolent Action. "Part 1. Power and Struggle." (Extending Horizons Books, 1973, 2006) p. 47.

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Quotable: From Two Speeches of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood. -"Beyond Vietnam," April 4, 1967. Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word. -"Beyond Vietnam," April 4, 1967, quoting Arnold Toynbee.

Now a lot of us are preachers, and all of us have our moral convictions and concerns, and so often we have problems with power. But there is nothing wrong with power if power is used correctly

You see, what happened is that some of our philosophers got off base. And one of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites, polar opposites, so that love is identified with a resignation of power, and power with a denial of love. It was this misinterpretation that caused the philosopher Nietzsche, who was a philosopher of the will to power, to reject the Christian concept of love. It was this same misinterpretation which induced Christian theologians to reject Nietzsche's philosophy of the will to power in the name of the Christian idea of love.

Now, we got to get this thing right. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. (Yes) Power at its best [applause], power at its best is love (Yes) implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love. (Speak) -"Where Do We Go From Here?," August 16, 1967.

... I'm concerned about a better world. I'm concerned about justice; I'm concerned about brotherhood; I'm concerned about truth. (That’s right) And when one is concerned about that, he can never advocate violence. For through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can't murder murder. (Yes) Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can't establish truth. (That's right) Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can't murder hate through violence. (All right, That’s right) Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that. [applause] -"Where Do We Go From Here?," August 16, 1967.

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Saturday, May 18, 2013


Habits & Social Movements

On page 217 in his chapter on "Saddleback Church and the Montgomery Bus Boycott," Charles Duhigg explains in The Power of Habit:
A movement starts because of social habits of friendship and the strong ties between close acquaintances.

It grows because of the habits of a community, and the weak ties that hold neighborhoods and clans together.

And it endures because a movement's leaders give participants new habits that create a fresh sense of identity and ownership.
He refers to this as "a three-part process that historians and sociologists say shows up again and again".

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Thursday, April 18, 2013


Jane & Janeway on Science & Religion

I like synchronicity. A couple of days ago I saw an episode of Star Trek: Voyager that I thought nicely spoke to the difference between a belief in science as a tool and when that belief becomes scientism, which "exalts the methods of the natural sciences above all other modes of human inquiry." Then, today, I happened upon an essay by primatologist Jane Goodall that also touched upon the subject. In neither case, was I expecting the subject matter to include the so-called conflict between science and religion. Below is an excerpt from Goodall as published in chapter 13 of The Faith of Scientists in Their Own Words by Nancy K. Frankenberry, ed.
I was taught as a scientist to think logically and empirically, rather than intuitively or spiritually. When I was at Cambridge University in the early 1960s most of the scientists and science students working in the Department of Zoology, so far as I could tell, were agnostic or even atheist. Those who believed in a God kept it hidden from their peers.

... there are many windows through which we humans, searching for meaning, can look out into the world around us. There are those carved out by Western science, their panes polished by a succession of brilliant minds. Through them we can see ever farther, ever more clearly, into areas which until recently were beyond human knowledge.

... Yet there are other windows through which we humans can look out into the world around us, windows through which the mystics and holy men of the East, and the founders of the great world religions, have gazed as they searched for the meaning and purpose of our life on earth, not only in the wondrous beauty of the world, but also in its darkness and ugliness. And those Masters contemplated the truths that they saw, not with their minds only but with their hearts and souls too. From those revelations came the spiritual essence of the great scriptures, the holy books, and the most beautiful mystic poems and writings. That afternoon [in May 1981 in the Gombe forest], it had been as though an unseen hand had drawn back a curtain and, for the briefest moment, I had seen through such a window. In a flash of "outsight" I had known timelessness and quiet ecstasy, sensed a truth of which mainstream science is merely a small fraction.
Below is an excerpt of dialogue from the Voyager episode, "Sacred Ground" by Dr. Geo Athena Trevarthen a.k.a. Geo Cameron. The encounter has a delightfully wry feel to it. The setting is that Captain Janeway has undergone an arduous religious ritual in order to obtain scientific data to help a crew member, Kes, mortally injured by a "biogenic field" after approaching a shrine. She has returned to Voyager with her information but it has proven fruitless in helping Kes. Desperate to help Kes, Janeway returns to the sanctuary where she had earlier encountered three elders while undergoing the "meaningless ritual".
Male Elder 1 (ME1): Well. Look who's come back. So, your little adventure didn't quite work out the way you'd planned it. You put yourself through a lot of trouble and for nothing, didn't you?

Male Elder 2 (ME2): Don't feel bad. You wouldn't believe some of the things people have done to themselves on their way to seek the Spirits.

Janeway (J): So there's no real ritual after all.

ME2: "Real" is such a relative term. Most of the challenges in life are the ones we create for ourselves.

Female Elder (FE): And you are particularly hard on yourself, aren't you?

J: I've always been driven to succeed.

ME1: Stubborn, I'd say. You didn't really consider sitting and waiting with us, did you?

J: Well, I'm here now, and I'm asking for your help. I want understand the purpose of waiting in this room.

FE: But isn't it enough enough to sit and be sociable? We're good company.

J: That's what I'm supposed to do, talk to the Ancestral Spirits.

FE: Oh (giggles), first we were a test, and now we're the Ancestral Spirits.
J: Are you?

ME1: That would be nice and quantifiable for you, wouldn't it? If the Spirits were something that you could see and touch and scan with your little devices.

ME2: If you can explain everything, what's left to believe in?

J: I know it's an important part of your religion to trust the Spirits without question, but I wasn't brought up that way. It's hard for me to accept.

ME1: So much for your tolerant, open-minded Star Fleet ideals.

J: There's a difference between respecting the spiritual beliefs of other cultures and embracing them myself.

ME1: Fine. Don't embrace a thing. It's all the same to us. Go on back to your ship and play with your molecular microscanner.

FE: You've tried all that already, but it didn't work, did it? Kes didn't get better.

J: No, she didn't.

FE: Why not?

J: The Doctor couldn't explain it.

FE: So, it's inexplicable. A miraculous non-recovery.

J: We haven't found the reason yet.

FE: But of course you will. You'll find all the answers eventually with enough time and study and the right sort of tools. That's what you believe, isn't it, as a scientist?

ME1: Be honest.

J: Yes, that's what I've always believed.

ME2: Even when her science fails right before her eyes, she still has full confidence in it. Now there's a leap of faith.

FE: Unconditional trust. Now that's promising.

J: All right ... if you're saying that science won't help Kes, what will?

ME1: You won't like it.

J: I'm willing to do whatever's necessary.

ME1: Kill her ...


Monday, April 01, 2013


Gun Fight

Below are some excerpts from Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America by Adam Winkler (Norton, 2011).

Despite the utopian dreams of some gun control advocates, guns in America aren't going anywhere ... Nevertheless, disarmament was the motive behind the D.C. laws challenged in the Heller case. The D.C. city council hoped that its ban on handguns would trigger a nationwide movement to eliminate civilian ownership of guns. The folly of its idealism was highlighted when, a decade or so after enactment of its strict gun laws, the District came to be known as the "murder capital of America." ... In the absence of any short-term hope of disarmament, gun control extremists throw their support behind poorly designed and predictably ineffective reforms. The statistics that clearly suggest bans on handguns and assault weapons don't reduce crime—or even the number of handguns and assault weapons in circulationdon't seem to matter. [p. 10]

Few people realize it, but the Ku Klux Klan began as a gun control organizations; after the Civil War, the Klan and other violent racist groups sought to reaffirm white supremacy, which required confiscating the guns blacks had obtained for the first time during the conflict. To prevent blacks from fighting back, the night riders set out to achieve complete black disarmament. In the 1960s, race was also central to a new wave of gun control laws, which were backed by liberals and even some conservatives, like Ronald Reagan. Enacted to disarm politically radical urban blacks, like the Black Panthers, these laws sparked a backlash that became the modern gun rights movement—a movement that ironically, is largely white, rural, and politically conservative. [pp.13-14]

Nelson "Pete" Shields III, one of the founders of Handgun Control Inc.—later renamed the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence—argued for eliminating all handguns. "We're going to have to take this one step at a time ... Our ultimate goal—total control of all guns—is going to take time." The "final problem," he insisted, "is to make possession of all handguns, and all handgun ammunition" for ordinary civilians "totally illegal." Sarah Brady, who serves as chair of the Brady Center, argues that "the only reason for guns in civilian hands is for sporting purposes," not self-defense, and supports the creation of a national gun licensing system in which only people with government approval can have a gun. Self-defense, the core reason why many people in America own guns, would not be a proper basis for government approval to be granted.[p. 35]

...Used to losing battles over gun control, gun controllers latch onto any proposal popular enough to make it through the legislature—usually right after some school shooting or other tragedy. Whether or not a proposed law will actually curb gun deaths is irrelevant; gun control extremists will stand behind it. ... Consider the federal gun ban on so-called assault weapons, adopted in 1994 during the Clinton Administration. The controversy flared up a few years earlier, when Josh Sugarmann, founder of the pro-gun control Violence Policy Center, published a study entitled "Assault Weapons and Accessories in America." Sugarmann called for a ban on guns he termed assault weapons—a name derived form a German World War II-era battle rifle called the Sturmgewehr, or storm rifle. ... Machine guns have been heavily regulated in the United States since the 1930s [civilian ownership of new machine guns has been illegal since the 1986 passage of the Firearm Owners' Protection Act - VFPD], Sugarmann was referring to semiautomatic rifles that just looked like machine guns. A semiautomatic rifle can't spray fire like a machine gun. Instead, when you pull the trigger on a semiautomatic rifle, it fires only one bullet. ... Sugarmann was unusually frank about how public misperception of assault weapons would make banning them the sale of them easier. "The weapons' menacing looks, coupled with the public's confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semiautomatic assault weapons—anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun—can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons." [pp. 35-26]

... in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, law enforcement began confiscating guns from law-abiding people even though police protection was nowhere to be found amid the looting and theft. Often, if there's a crisis, the easy solution is to do away with the guns. [p. 40]

Not only did killing [in Washington, DC] become more common after the [1976 Washington, DC] gun ban, but guns also became a more common way to kill. [p. 42]

Concerning the legislative debate over the federal Gun Control Act of 1968, Winkler writes: Gun rights advocates managed to defeat registration and licensing by arguing that such measures would lead eventually to confiscation of all civilian guns. In the House of Representatives, The Michigan Democrat and NRA board member John Dingell warned his colleagues that the Nazis adopted mandatory registration and used the records to disarm the Jews and political dissidents. This law, too, could be the first step toward a holocaust. While others dismissed the analogy to the Nazis, it didn't help that [US Senator from Connecticut] Thomas Dodd had in fact asked the Library of Congress to provide him with a translation of the German laws of the 1930s when he was drafting his bills ... [p. 252]

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Thursday, March 07, 2013


Guns & Crime

Gun control supporters frequently like to point out that the US fares poorly (or worst) in comparison with other industrialized countries on firearms-related homicide rates. They often further correlate this with "lax American gun laws" and imply or openly claim that correlation is causality. There is some logical basis for this--guns, as compared to other weapons used in crime, are generally more deadly.

The illogic comes in play when gun control advocates suggest that the answer is more gun control laws and more draconian ones at that. I have pointed out to such people that there are countries with much stricter gun laws and lower gun ownership rates than the US that nevertheless have higher firearms-related homicide rates, which suggests that the solution to reducing the use of guns in homicides is not so simple as more and/or stricter laws.

More evidence for this comes from Craig. R. Whitney, author of Living with Guns: A Liberal's Case for the Second Amendment (Public Affairs, 2012). Make no mistake, Whitney's case is truly a liberal's--he's no "gun nut" or libertarian when it comes to gun control. But he seems to be sincere and striving to be honest.

Any way, on p. 156, Whitney points out:
... a closer look at the statistics shows that strict gun-control laws by themselves do not lead to less gun violence. Census bureau figures show that the homicide rate in Massachusetts, where the gun laws are pretty strict, was much lower in 2008 than it was in Georgia or Mississippi, where they are pretty lax. But the Massachusetts rate was barely below Vermont's, a state that has no statewide gun laws at all, and it was almost twice as high as the rate in Utah, where guns laws are also very relaxed (Utah adopted the Browning M1911 .45 pistol, invented by a native son, as the state firearm, in 2011).

Even in cities where handgun ownership has been so severely restricted that it amounted to a ban, it is hard to see what effect that has on gun violence. Chicago banned handguns in 1982. Yet in the years that followed, the crime rate and the murder rate rose steadily. The rate of murder involving handguns in Chicago was 9.65 per 100,00 residents in 1983, the Supreme Court was told in the McDonald case, but by 2008, with the ban in effect, it was even higher at 13.88 per 100,000. Similarly, in the District of Columbia, the homicide rate also rose in the 1980s, after the district banned handguns--in fact it rose even more than it did in forty-nine other comparable major cities, as Justice Breyer conceded in his dissent in the Heller case. In 2008, the murder rate per 100,000 of population in the District of Columbia was 31.4, far higher than the rates of 6.3 per 100,000 in New York City (where handguns are not banned but only 37,000 people are licensed to own them and only 4,000 have concealed-carry permits) and 3.1 in Austin, Texas, where as everybody knows, it's a lot easier for anybody legally to get a gun.
Below, using the source Whitney consulted, Table 304 of the Statistical Abstract of the United States, 2011, are the homicide rates for the five states he mentions. The figures in parentheses are the percentage, by state, of the 201,881 respondents to the CDC's 2001 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey who said they kept firearms in or near their home (I couldn't find any more recent figures).

Georgia 7.1 (40.3%)
Massachusetts 2.6 (12.6%)
Mississippi 8.9 (55.3%)
Utah 1.5 (43.9%)
Vermont 2.8 (42.0%)

I also want to point out that Vermont does not issue permits/licenses for the concealed carry of firearms. In Vermont, anyone who can legally own a handgun can lawfully carry a concealed handgun.

See also: Don B. Kates and Gary Mauser. "Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide? A Review of International and Some Domestic Evidence." Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy. Vol. 30, No. 2. Spring 2007.

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Friday, February 15, 2013


Assault Weapons



Government (and War) Explained

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Gun Control Graphics

The gun control graphics below all came from International Liberty, the blog of Cato Institute Senior Fellow Daniel J. Mitchell. Although, like much political rhetoric, they tend to exaggerate for effect, I think they all convey at least a grain of truth.

I will only comment on the first graphic. A common objection to such assertions is that Barack Obama and his family need armed security because they are very high-profile targets. Fair enough, but the fact is that hundreds or thousands of innocent victims of gun crimes in the US are not VIPs. They are ordinary folks and they're not asking for Secret Service and police/military security details, they just want the right to use guns to protect themselves and their families.

You may think this is misguided and there are good grounds for such an opinion but no one is forcing you to buy a gun. So, why not try to change the minds of the people who don't see things your way instead of trying to empower people with guns and badges to force your opinions about guns on otherwise law-abiding citizens?

Clicking on the images below will enlarge them.

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Saturday, February 09, 2013


Honesty and Depression

A curious thing happened as I was listening to the radio Friday night. Two different shows, separated by only an hour, featured segments touching on the same general subject--what cognitive science tells us about honesty and depression.

First at 7 PM was Radiolab, replaying an episode called "Lying to Ourselves". It first aired in 2008 and featured psychologist Joanna Starek and the team of psychiatrists Harold Sackeim and Ruben Gur.  Below is a partial transcript from the last two minutes or so of the episode. 
Co-host Robert Krulwich: ... denying certain facts about the real world ... according to any number of new studies produces people who ... are better at business and better at working with teams. And now here's the real kicker: They turn out to be happier people ...

Sackeim: ... people who were happiest were the ones lying to themselves more ...

Krulwich: Time and time again, researchers have found that depressed people lie less.

Sackeim: They see all the pain in the world, how horrible people are with each other. And they tell you everything about themselves, what their weaknesses are, what terrible things they've done to other people. And the problem is, they're right. And so, maybe it's, the way we help people is to help them to be wrong.

Krulwich: It might just be that hiding ideas we know to be true, hiding those ideas from ourselves, is what we need to get by.

Sackeim: We're so vulnerable to being hurt that we're given the capacity to distort, as a gift.
Then, at 9 PM, a 2012 episode of To The Best of Our Knowledge came on. Entitled "You & Your Brain," the segment featured an interview by Senior Producer Anne Strainchamps with neuroscientist Julian Paul Keenan. Below is a partial transcript from the last three minutes or so of the interview.
Strainchamps: I just keep thinking that what you're saying is that much of our experience of life and of the world and even of ourselves is a lie.

Keenan: Yeah. And you can either be depressed about it or just go for the ride. A lot of this remains still to be confirmed and, uh, replicated, but a lot of the indications are that we are living in a deceptive world, at best, perhaps a false world in its most extreme.

Strainchamps: ... I'm trying to figure out what the consequences are of everything you've laid out. We have no free will, we're basically lying ourselves through life. What do you do with those insights? Should you just sit back and enjoy the dream or should we all be meditating very hard and trying to lose our sense of self?

Keenan: I, you know, I'm going to go with the former. I think a lot of self-deception goes a long way, that giving yourself positive affirmations in the mirror, whether you believe them or not, would probably be the route I would suggest taking. You know, surrounding yourself with people who, even though you know they're lying to you, as long as they're saying good things, that's probably a healthy way to go. The alternative scares me. We used to think people with clinical depression didn't see the world realistically, you know, they saw it in an overly negative light. Well, it turns out, they're seeing it quite realistically and it's you and I who were seeing it in an overly rosy light, we're the ones not in reality. So, the suggestion is that reality is a somewhat scary place to be.

Strainchamps: So the purpose of therapy is to learn to be better at lying.

Keenan: Absolutely. It clearly puts into question this idea of deception is morality, "Thou shalt not lie." Well, then thou shalt be depressed.
So, here's what I found striking, even disturbing, about both of these programs. No one--not the researchers, not the interviewers/hosts--ever raised the idea that the solution to the depression that realism and honesty bring to some people is not to train or encourage people to "distort" or "just go for the ride"--to engage in deception--but to work to figure out how make the world a less painful, a less  depressing place. Yes, of course, there will always be the pain of loss and death but to suggest that deception is the only desirable or viable solution for coping with "all the pain in the world" seems to me to evince a defeatism of the worst, saddest, and, ultimately, the most ethically bankrupt sort.

12 Feb 2013 Addendum: It is has been suggested to me by a friend and reader of this post that religion is a form of deception or dishonesty that people employ in order to avoid reality. I have two responses to this: First, yes, religion can be and has been used for deceptive and dishonest purposes but that is not inherent in religion; science, too, can be so used.

Second, the idea that religion is an invalid or false way of knowing about the world and that only a scientific approach can tell us anything meaningful or true about reality is itself a deception and logically invalid. The supposed conflict between science and religion is a subject I have blogged about on several occasions and my comments on it here will be brief. This viewpoint that rejects religion is known as scientism and even the National Academy of Science and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have published statements rejecting it.

I'll close with the thoughts on the subject of two noted physicists. According to Freeman Dyson:

"Science and religion are two windows that people look through, trying to understand the big universe outside, trying to understand why we are here. The two windows give different views, but they look out at the same universe. Both views are one-sided, neither is complete. Both leave out essential features of the real world. And both are worthy of respect.

"Trouble arises when either science or religion claims universal jurisdiction, when either religious dogma or scientific dogma claims to be infallible. Religious creationists and scientific materialists are equally dogmatic and insensitive. By their arrogance they bring both science and religion into disrepute."

Ian Barbour writes:

"I suggest that the concept of God is not a hypothesis formulated to explain the relation between particular events in the world in competition with scientific hypotheses. Belief in God is primarily a commitment to a way of life in response to distinctive kinds of religious experience in communities formed by historic traditions; it is not a substitute for scientific research. Religious belief offers a wider framework of meaning in which particular events can be contextualized."

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