Wednesday, December 25, 2013

This Holiday Message brought to you by your local Pasatafarians.

To my Christian brothers and sisters, the best of the season to you. I hope it finds you well and surrounded by all that you treasure.

To my fellow Pastafarians (and others on the fringe of the seemingly all-pervasive Christian model here in the good old U.S. of A.)- I know this time of year can leave you feeling a bit "left out". Don't despair weary traveller. Most of them don't intend to exclude you, it just comes with the territory of those in the dominant group. Never forget, you are also deserving and you also belong. Though I don't go for proselytizing, remember, His noodly appendage is outstretched for all. If you have need, allow yourself to be touched by His Noodliness, and know the warmth of self-reliance, the comradeship of other thoughtful travelers, and the keen sense of independence and personal power that accrues to those who stand unbowed staring face-to-face with the universe. Bend no knee in service to anything but what is right and what is true as best you are able to perceive it. 

Finally, my resolution is to cooperate with those on the other side when I can. Also, during the times when that’s not happening, I pledge to do my best to avoid fussing with them. Heck, in the end, we are stuck on this rock together.

Peace, out.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Laugh Test and why we don't do it just for grins.

I am highly skeptical. Think of the people who are backing this idea. I mean aside from the obvious loonies. Two groups. One is the emotional families of 911 victims who want there to be something more than a single act of a few crazies. Bless their hearts, I can scarcely imagine what the must have endured and I point no finger of blame at them. However, I can easily see how some of these distraught folks might feel as though the death of their loved ones might have more “meaning” somehow if there had been a conspiracy. Also there are some architects and engineers who put forward the same conspiracy theory that people planted explosives in the buildings. I believe they also have an agenda. A subtle one. They have a dog in the fight. They hate to think the buildings they design can be brought down so easily and neatly by a handful of crazies. Worse yet that the pancake collapse was not planned. Clearly, the crazies (if they gave any thought to it at all) were hoping that, if the buildings collapsed, they would do so in the most messy way possible. One could imagine how such a neat but unplanned and unplannable outcome might rattle some of the very smart people associated with the design and erection of such stuctures.

The truth is the World Trade Center was one of the best observed and guarded buildings in the country. After the bomb attack of 1993, security was heightened and never lowered. So, the idea that multiple highly skilled people planned and executed a "stealthy demolition" of the WTC, for my money, does not pass the laugh test. It would have only required one security guard or thoughtful maintenence worker to notice and report one strange event to thwart such a scenario. Of course it would have required hundreds of actions/events to fulfill such a plan. Also, if an unnamed shadowy "they" had orchestrated such a demolition setup, unnoticed by a legion of security and maintenence personnel over a period of weeks, there would be no need for jets to ram the buildings. Theoretically, little more than a cell phone would have been needed to trigger the blast. And why would they need someone else upon whom they might lay blame? At that point, they would have, by every measure, gotten away with it. And I don’t mean the perpetrators would have escaped detection merely for that moment. They would have effectively gotten away with it forever.

Add to this the fact that people love conspiracies. Love them. Think about it. What books do we read? What movies do we watch? It is much more exciting, interesting, engaging if bad things are a result of a vast conspiracy. Especially if there is a background love story, one or more attractive and scantily clad women who figure into the whole thing. If the “hero” is a handsome, strong but vulnerable hunk, well all the better.

So, I don’t care if it is a public broadcasting station airing this drivel. I think it was a poor idea on their part even if it garnered good ratings. And, I remain a public broadcasting fan despite an occasional dip in the otherwise high level programming.

Oh, and by the way, the National Institute of Standards and Technology conducted an extensive investigation of the structural failures and concluded the buildings collapsed due to strictly prosaic reasons. Further, beyond ruling out the evil-doings of shadowy insiders, NIST was tasked with understanding the reasons for the failures in order to improve future buildings. This might lead some to infer that NIST investigators would see it as being in their own interest to do the best job possible. On the other hand, if people wish to infer that NIST was in collusion with super stealthy and nefarious group(s), who am I to say they can’t take such a position? Given the current media offerings in America, I would not be surprised to see a televised seance in which 911 victims, speaking from “beyond the veil”, reveal everything between beer and car commericals. Of course, that would leave us to sort out which of the spirits might have been in on the whole thing. Seriously, I see no reason we'd trust them just because they're dead.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Big Bare Pole

The Bare Pole

Thanksgiving Day holiday shopping, Black Friday, Cyber Monday. Is the whole sad business driving you crazy? Leaving you frustrated and saddened? Perhaps you are borderline embarassed to be an American in the twenty first century. I feel your pain. This is the type of situation that can only be fixed by a complete overhaul. Think Healthcare dot Gov. That kind of overhaul.

Therefore I suggest open proselytizing! Pledge to do your part and make certain everyone hears about Festivus, the holiday for the rest of us. Though its origins are dubious and spoofy, I believe we can take up the Festivus Pole, wave it proudly and claim its rituals as our own. So, get your family, friends, and loved ones around the dining table and let the healing begin. Rest assured, there is nothing to buy, little to remember, nothing extra to worry about. Once you’ve erected your Festivus Pole and have your family around the table, you’re half way there. The customary beginning ritual is the “Airing of Grievances”. This should come naturally. After a few drinks and some conversation about politics, the ever popular ritual “Feats of Strength” should naturally follow. Later as things mellow, everyone will enjoy reciting “Festivus Miracles”.

Buck-up Bah-Humbuggers! Let’s be clear and have no fear, Festivus is here— to stayyyyyy….

Friday, October 4, 2013

This I Believe

For sometime now my local radio station running this series of essays sent in by listeners. The topic is, This I Believe. I have enjoyed several of them. Others, not so much. In short I have been rolling this topic around my brain for a while. I kept thinking that I would write something down- eventually. Then, out of nowhere, a friend asks me to comment on a quote by Robert Anton Wilson regarding belief. So, I figured I would just let it out.

I basically agree with R.A. Wilson when he says, "My own opinion is that belief is the death of intelligence". However, though he only died in 2007, Mr. Wilson was born in 1932 and though very knowledgeable and thoughtful, he belonged to another time. This doesn't make him wrong. I am just not certain that he was aware of the latest brain research, which turns out to be pertinent. This is my view and I will expand upon it momentarily.

One of the first problems we run into when discussing "Belief" is how many people, sophisticates and lay folks, conflate or overlap their usage of this concept. People regularly say things like, "I believe I will go to the gym", when they really mean, "I have decided to go to the gym". Here is another way we loosely use this idea. "I believe in love or family or values and so on)". They use this device when they really mean, "I like loving and being loved. It feels good". One infers the subcontext to be, "I observe loving behavior is also important to others". How about, "I believe in America". Or, "I believe in justice". I concede, these phrases have a nice ring to them. Sadly, they are often used in such a shallow manner that they have sunk to a level between insipid and meaningless. Many times such statements are made to glorify the person making the statement and/or laying blame/guilt upon those of a different opinion in a given matter. I refer to this as, 'The Belief as a Bludgeon' strategy. I suggest this is the last refuge for a mind that can not or will not engage in critical thought or rational discourse. Or, in the worst scenario, the first refuge.

Then further, we hear people essentially say, "I believe in an invisible, (often anthropomorphic, though sometimes disperse and all-pervading), being who is all-powerful, judgmental, and lives in the sky (or wherever) and who intervenes in human business through magic unseen channels". Now we are in different territory.

So, what is the problem with a person stating that they "believe in love"? If we cede the semantic ground and infer their real intent, nothing. Well, almost nothing. I suggest that one little problem does begin to rear it's ugly head in such discussions. Too often, those making such claims appear to have skipped right over the important bit. Huh, what important bit? In a word, Evidence. I purposefully capitalize the word. I suggest it should rightfully be captialized in keeping with its profound importance.

When a person says, she believes in love, a number of factors are at work in arriving at such a claim. I will not attempt to enumerate all of them but community norms might be one such factor. However, there is one thing we all can reasonably infer from such a statement, there was a groundwork of Evidence through experience that leads a person to this claim. Sure, we don't usually label things overtly in this manner as we go through our days. As in, "Wow, I had a loving interaction and this has provided me with further evidence for my claim".In fact, science now indicates that our emotions tend to mediate such experiences and inform our judgments. In other words, the whole system seems to be built-in to some degree and we are scarcely even aware of the process, at least consciously. *See suggested reading below.

I will make a brief aside regarding a complex topic to which I could not do justice in this small space. Recent brain research tends to show that we have a tendency to belief or, at minimum, imperative choice. An admittedly way-to-simplified expanation would be that our survival (early in our sentient development) necessitated making relatively quick potentially life or death judgments. This very roughly corresponds (though on another biological level) to belief. I know it's sketchy and others explain it rather better, though, I suspect, not in this little space.

Ok, now the tricky bit. What is the problem with believing in the Big Guy in the Sky? The short version is, there really isn't a short version that is easily stated, truly informative, and powerfully persuasive. With that said, what am I bound to do? Correct-a-mundo! Elucidate a short version. Disclaimer. For my believing friends and family and others, feel free to skip over this part or read it and dismiss it as you wish. And, now, (I hear a drum roll. Do you?) the short version of something for which I've already admitted there is not short version.

The believer perspective starts from the position, "I know how the world is (the BGS made the earth, and the flowers, and the mountains, and the stars and so on. Then, rather like a cherry on the top of an ice-cream sundae, he made humans. Now, it is incumbent upon me to go about and make the world fit into this model". The non-believer perspective is, "I don't know how the world is (except to the extent that, I stand on the shoulders of giants who came before and laid a road of discovery upon which I am priveleged to tread and marvel). And even then, I need to question, examine, and discover what is true, as best I am able, with the tools at hand. And, if I were to find a thing to be true, which ran counter to the claims of some previous giant, I sleep easy in the knowledge that this is nothing less than she would expect from her progeny of discoverers."

*Suggested reading: Why We Feel: The Science of Human Emotions, by Dr. Victor S. Johnston.
Yes, it is, like most everything else, available on Amazon.
Spoiler/Warning: If your personal operating system is not yet upgraded to include Evolution by Natural Selection, this book could cause a mind melting dissonance.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Navy Yard Massacre and the ensuing policy debate

Gosh, another massacre and another flare up of the so-called "gun control" debate. First, the whole thing is misnamed. I believe intentionally by the "gun huggers" (defined entirely by me as: those who value their supposedly inviolate second amendment rights more than they value the safety and security of their fellow citizens). The real thing we are discussing is the thoughtful rational approach to public safety and crime prevention as it relates to firearms. 

One of the popular gun-hugger positions is that baseball bats, automobiles, or a dozen other prosaic items cause more deaths in a time period than do assault weapons. This is truly specious argument. The fact is hammers are not designed to kill as many human beings at a distance with as quick and overwhelming a force as possible. Neither are cars. Or feet. Long range semi-automatic weapons are designed to do that. Oh, and for those "deep thinkers" who are going to bring up the notion that these weapons are also used for target shooting, sorry, but no. Sure they are used for this purpose but using that argument to justify the proliferation of such weapons throughout our society to virtually anyone who wants one is prima facie wrong. The desire of "gun huggers" to target shoot is, in the estimation of thoughtful people, entirely outweighed by public safety concerns. I unapologetically suggest that people who love their guns more than the safety of their fellow citizens do not deserve to have their arguments acribed the same weight as those of more rational public policy advocates.

The time for agreeing to disagree is over. It is time for us to stand together and convince our Legislators to do the right thing or vote them out.
Senator Gabrielle Giffords, a gun owner and victim of gun violence stands firm with thoughtful majority on this issue. The thoughtful majority needs to stand with her. Her group is Americans for Responsible Solutions.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Dog fighting, puppy-kicking, and logical thought.

Given the paranoia/histrionics of some of my fellow citizens, I offer the following disclaimer. Simply because a I put forth an opinion at variance to yours, one should not infer that puppy-kicking is one of my recreational activities. Nor do I condone dog fighting. I have owned pets (dogs and a cat) most of my life and felt a deep affection for each one.

With that said, I have difficulty with the following quote: "I believe if Dante were alive today and were rewriting the Inferno, that the lowest places in hell would be reserved for those who commit cruelty to our animals and to our children." - U.S. Attorney George Beck speaking about the three year investigation (on dog fighting).

First, set aside the lack of evidence or logical argument for a physical hell. From a standpoint of reason alone, I would suggest the such statements are based in fuzzy thinking and serve only to muddy the waters in any thoughtful debate. It is less clear to me whether the writer is attempting to suggest an elevated status for the canine or a diminished status for the human child. Does it occur to anyone else that a certain beneficial moral clarity is implicit in the ability to identify members of ones own 'Team'?

I am proud to state for the public record, I consider humans, as flawed and often annoying as they are, to be the other members of my Team. Yes, I may love the (canine or feline) mascot. However, if a teammate and the mascot are both drowning (and, for the logicians, I have an equal chance of saving either and only one can be saved) this is not a judgment call. This does not require existential angst or hand-wringing on my part. To be clear. When you agree to go to the lake with me, you should assume that, if such a dire situation were to arise, I'd save you and mourn the dog. And, frankly, I'd prefer to know your stance on the issue prior to our outing. Life vests notwithstanding.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Animal Holocaust

I responded to a Facebook post regarding a so-called animal holocaust.
One respondent to my post stated that, "Youre assuming that humanity and its ways are superior, why?"
In order for the reader to understand my response to this question, it might be helpful to know what I posted that prompted the question. I include the text of that post here: Yes, cows and pigs and sheep and so on are living creatures with whom we share the planet. I am sympathetic to the argument that humans should be mindful in our stewardship of the resources of the Earth. However, the lives of our ungulate planetmates were not tragically cut short before they could pen the next great symphony or discover a new anti-viral, or figure out how to end poverty. They weren't going to settle down with a beloved family and send their offspring to livestock college for the upward mobility. They were converted into food for humans. One could reasonably choose not to participate in that cycle. One might reasonably argue about the conditions under which that happened. I've also read a bit of Temple Grandin's work and found it thoughtful. But with all due respect, comparing this activity to any human genocide does not elevate the livestock. It demeans the survivors of those atrocities, the memory of those who perished in them, and their families.

I am blogging on this because I thought if wasn't right to dominate this poor fellow's Facebook page with my response.

My response to the superiority question above.

The case

I don't assume humanity is superior. I state it outright on the basis of evidence. It is clear that humans ponder over these matters because they are (and I can't overemphasize this) able to do so. If I had any substantial evidence that say, sheep, were pondering over similar matters, this would give me pause in my dinner choices.

I consider myself an ominivore. Further, I suggest the scientific evidence clearly indicates that humans evolved as omnivorses. With that said, I do ration the amount of meat I consume based on a number of factors including health risks associated with excessive consumption. Also, I would not consider eating another primate or a cetaecan. These creatures appear to be too close to human style thought processes for my comfort level. Also. I would not consider eating some sentient alien from another world simply because it was not "human".

The challenge.

Here is my challenge to those who daily lay claim to the high ground with their compassion and concern for animals. Examine the boundaries of your own concern. Where is the "bright line" for you?That is to say, I've yet to meet anyone for whom this compassion is boundless. (Don't get me started on Buddhists, as we haven't the space here.) Mostly such compassion extends to higher order mammals. Below that folks have the same "kill-as-many-as-needed-so-I-don't-need-to-step-over them-in-the-grocery-store-or-shoo-them-from-my-bed" attitude as everyone else. So, where is the line for you? Is it rodents? If you were around for the bubonic plague (caused by the fleas that lived on the rodents) would you have clamored for the "rights" of the rats? Are rats still a bit too furry and cuddly for you? How about parasitic worms? A substantial fraction of the world's population are infested with and debilitated by such creatures. Why do we not see folks chanting with protest signs outside the clinics devoted to killing these animals by the millions? In the interest of brevity, I will not bother with single celled animals.

The olive branch.

In the end, if a person feels that not eating meat is a good choice, bless your heart. I have no issue with you. Shouting into the public marketplace of ideas that there is a ongoing "holocaust" is a different matter.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

What if it wasn't a matter of Belief?

The Official UFO Debunker Plans & Policies

1- Point out that very large percentages of things reported as UFO's turn out to have conventional explanations, but do not talk about  the widely varying observational abilities and critical thinking skills of individual observers. Do not acknowledge that serious ufologists attempt to screen out the goofy bits and bring some rigor to the investigation of the promising cases.

2- Always refer to people interested in UFO's as "believers", implying that their positions are always faith-based.

3- Argue that any given case could have been something conventional and we will never know because we never have all the facts. Never acknowledge that intelligent, educated, rational, and generally well-qualified observers have reported thousands of unexplained craft displaying extraordinary performance, highly unusual characteristics, and seemingly intelligent control.

4- As a corollary to rule three, avoid mentioning that such reports have spanned many decades and often include patterns of behavior on the part of the unidentified craft.

5- Focus on well-known problems and limitations of human perception, implying that giving any credence to eye witness testimony is tantamount to stupidity. Never mention that our court system regularly incarcerates our fellow citizens based upon eye witness testimony. Also avoid discussions that point out the fact that, if human perception was as flawed as debunkers claim, most people would be too frightened to cross a busy street, drive a car, or fly in an airplane.

6- Comment regularly on human credulity and wishful thinking. Sprinkle in comments about a desire for "Saviors from Space. Do not mention that every group has its cultists and fringe elements. Also do not bother to share that most close encounters do not leave the witnesses feeling as though they were visited by angels but rather they are left frightened and bewildered.

7- Always act as though no one before you has really conducted a thorough investigation into the classic UFO cases and consistently maintain that it's only a matter of time and diligence before the "real answers" to those cases are found. Avoid mentioning that the suggested answers proposed by debunkers have already failed to account for the features described by the witnesses.

8- Demand that UFO "believers" produce just one spaceship or physical evidence that one has been here. Do not mention that serious UFO investigators do not claim to know for certain that there are alien visitors. While they may personally believe this to be true, the thoughtful ufologists simply advocate that serious scientists/engineers gather evidence in an attempt to answer the open questions of a real phenomena witnessed by hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.

9- Pretend that every ufologist strives to have people agree on the alien visitor hypothesis. If they shout anything about keeping an open mind while we pursue serious scientific study, pretend that you don't hear them.

10- Forget that many ufologists are just as smart as you. Then condescendingly explain to them how they have stupidly and/or foolishly drawn a fantastical conclusion from insufficient evidence. Do not offer to help gather more evidence or even admit more evidence may exist.

11- Act as if you do not understand how the worst UFO related drivel comes into existence or gets propogated. Help to shield the public from the following ideas. The fact is most UFO witnesses are regular folks who see something extraordinary and are left on their own to puzzle out the nature of what they saw and what it may mean in some larger context. Most people intuitively understand when they have witnessed something that contradicts their understanding of the world and the way it works. From this point, it is a simple matter of human nature. There are a number of ways to describe human nature but one of the clearest and most consistent is that humans are pattern recognition machines. This is one reason people enjoy puzzles. When something falls outside established patterns we are programmed to notice and determine why.

In their attempts to solve the puzzle of their experience, clearly some witnesses employ shoddy thinking, some are taken in by hucksters who sell books and videos promoting their personal theories/delusions and so on. However, even if a witness possesses a basic understanding of how the world works (for instance, a bit of physics and some rational thought) the "high strangeness" of what they've seen naturally gives rise to some rather incredible possible interpretations. A person need not be stupid, irrational, or crazy to consider these interpretations. Furthermore, the consideration of or even adoption of a wild interpretation does not necessarily indicate that a person is unwilling to hear or accept other views. In fact, any number of serious sober witnesses would love the opportunity to consider other views based upon sound scientific investigation. Sadly, such an opportunity is unlikely given that the organizations possessing the necessary resources have not been engaged.

(found a version online and tweaked it to fit. JF 060413)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The value of clear thinking

National Day of Reason, May 2, 2013

The value of Clear Thinking can not be overstated. Though I am the first one to cut a person slack for believing what they want, bringing those beliefs out into the public arena and making claims about the truth of those beliefs is an entirely different matter. The personal belief argument comes from a position of, "I own myself and my thoughts and can believe as I wish". My starting position is, I feel strongly about ownership of my own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs therefor I must likewise accord others the same right.

It is my considered opinion that we all hold, at some level, two incompatible mental states about the world around us.  Which is a short hand way of saying that our internal belief system does not fully match up with what we could substantiate in a debate in which there was a high bar of logic/evidence. It seems to me that this is part of the human condition and it is unlikely to change. I base this on the axiom, "We are not essentially thinking beings who can feel, but feeling beings who can think." This is an idea which gains further traction everyday with our understanding of the human mind through advancements in neuroscience.

The important bit is, what we do with the innate discrepancy between our mushy/emotion/fantastical/imaginative inner selves and the need to solve problems and get-on-with-it in an external world where we depend on logic and reason to be our universal language? I am sure there is a longer answer and I wish I was knowledgeable enough to state it. I suggest the short answer is, we start with seeing ourselves as clearly as possible and humbly admitting that our default starting position is, "I don't know".

This brings us to the religionists. First the disclaimer. Most people in the world, currently, are religious. Therefore most of the people I know, care about, and deal with are religious. We can reasonably infer that, though I differ from them on this, I do not feel any need to be hurtful, overly judgmental, etc. In truth, the vast majority of us, from both sides of the "belief fence", have much more in common than we have difference. I have no doubt that my believer friends and family are mostly decent, loving, intelligent folks who care about their loved ones and are simply looking to prosper in their own way in this life. I feel connected to them and I hope they feel similarly.

With that said, there are things about the way believers look at the world which are troubling from a clear thinking perspective. Believers, by definition, start out from a place of, I know how and why the world works as it does. God did it. Maybe they see a God who made the whole enchilada then sits back on his/her throne watching the sublime and the heinous with equal relish. Or perhaps, they favor a more interventionist God. Do this and don't do that and I will answer your pleas and prayers (sometimes and with varying conditions). All of it is held together with a basic tenet. The believer knows at the outset that a certain set of things are true. It is the way it is. Period. From there they attempt to backfill with evidence. But how could we have confidence that evidence found in this way would not be tainted? The best scientists in the world, fully aware of the possible taint of their own beliefs and biases, are constantly questioning and tweaking their assumptions, methods, and results to insure their work stands on its merit.

Given the problem set currently facing humans on this planet, my contention is simply this- we need a century of reason. On the other hand, I am willing to start with a day.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Gun violence and policy

The following is something I plucked from the internet, tweaked with my thoughts and share here. At the bottom are my own thoughts on gun manufacturers.
There has been yet another mass shooting, something that now seems to occur on a monthly basis. Every time another tragedy like this occurs, gun advocates make the same arguments about why we can't possibly do anything to restrict the weaponization of our culture. Here's a guide to what they'll be saying in the coming days:
1. Now isn't the time to talk about guns.
We're going to hear this over and over, and not just from gun advocates; Jay Carney said it to White House reporters today. But if we're not going to talk about it now, when are we going to talk about it? After Sandy hit the East Coast, no one said, "Now isn't the time to talk about disaster preparedness; best leave that until it doesn't seem so urgent." When there's a terrorist attack, no one says, "Now isn't the time to talk about terrorism." Now is exactly the time.
2. Guns don't kill people, people kill people.
Maybe, but people with guns kill many, many more people than they would if they didn't have guns, and guns designed to kill as many people as possible. We don't know if the murderer in Newtown was suffering from a suicidal depression, but many mass shooters in the past were. And guess what? People suffer from suicidal depression everywhere in the world. People get angry and upset everywhere in the world. But there aren't mass shootings every few weeks in England or Costa Rica or Japan, and the reason is that people in those places who have these impulses don't have an easy way to access lethal weapons and unlimited ammunition. But if you want to kill large numbers of people and you happen to be an American, you'll find it easy to do.
3. If only everybody around was armed, an ordinary civilian could take out a mass killer before he got too far.
If that were true, then how come it never happens? The truth is that in a chaotic situation, even highly trained police officers often kill bystanders. Additionally, combat trained professionals can't always easily detect the good guys from the bad guys at any given moment. The idea that some accountant who spent a few hours at the range would suddenly turn into Jason Bourne and take out the killer without doing more harm than good has no basis in reality.
4. We don't need more laws, we just need to enforce the laws we have.
The people who say this are the same ones who fight to make sure that existing laws are as weak and ineffectual as possible. Our current gun laws are riddled with loopholes and allow people to amass enormous arsenals of military-style weapons with virtually no restrictions.
5. Criminals will always find a way to get guns no matter what measures we take, so what's the point?
The question isn't whether we could snap our fingers and make every gun disappear. It's whether we can make it harder for criminals to get guns, and harder for an unbalanced person with murderous intent to kill so many people. The goal is to reduce violence as much as possible. There's no other problem for which we'd say if we can't solve it completely and forever we shouldn't even try. We can't allow perfection to be the enemy of the good.
6. The Constitution says I have a right to own guns.
Yes it does, but for some reason gun advocates think that the right to bear arms is the only constitutional right that is virtually without limit. You have the right to practice your religion, but not if your religion involves human sacrifice. You have the right to free speech, but you can still be prosecuted for incitement or conspiracy, and you can be sued for libel. Every right is subject to limitation when it begins to threaten others, and the Supreme Court has affirmed that even though there is an individual right to gun ownership, the government can put reasonable restrictions on that right.
And we all know that if this shooter turns out to have a Muslim name, plenty of Americans, including plenty of gun owners, will be more than happy to give up all kinds of rights in the name of fighting terrorism. Have the government read my email? Have my cell phone company turn over my call records? Check which books I'm taking out of the library? Make me take my shoes off before getting on a plane, just because some idiot tried to blow up his sneakers? Sure, do what you've got to do. But don't make it harder to buy thousands of rounds of ammunition, because if we couldn't do that we'd no longer be free.
7. Widespread gun ownership is a guarantee against tyranny.
If that had anything to do with contemporary life, then mature democracies would be constantly overthrown by despots. But they aren't. We shouldn't write laws based on the fantasies of conspiracy theorists. Anyone who imagines that they could own sufficient firepower to stop "the government", if it was dedicated to overpowering them, is either delusional or unfamiliar with the weaponry available to our government.
8. Guns are a part of American culture.
Indeed they are, but so are a lot of things, and that tells us nothing about whether they're good or bad and how we want to treat them going forward. Slavery was a part of American culture for a couple of hundred years, but eventually we decided it had to go.
9. The American people don't want more gun control.
The truth is that when public opinion polls have asked Americans about specific measures, the public is in favor of a much more restrictive gun regime than we have now. Significant majorities would like to see the assault weapons ban reinstated, mandatory licensing and training for all gun owners, significant waiting periods for purchases, and host of other restrictions (there are more details here). In many cases, gun owners themselves support more restrictions than we currently have.
10. Having movie theaters and schools full of kids periodically shot up is just a price we should be willing to pay if it means I get to play with guns and pretend I'm Wyatt Earp.
OK, that's actually an argument gun advocates don't make. But it's the truth that lies beneath all their other arguments. All that we suffer because of the proliferation of guns—these horrifying tragedies, the 30,000 Americans who are killed every year with guns—for gun advocates, it's unfortunate, but it's a price they're willing to pay. If only they'd have the guts to say it. Here is an plea that is often advanced by people on both the right and left of the political spectrum. If we could only save one person from being needlessly harmed or killed (this or that) action or policy would be worth it. Heads up! This is almost never really what people believe. Perfection is not a realistic option in any human endeavor and there is always a cost/benefit analysis.

Gun Manufacturers and their de facto lobbying arm, The National Rifle Association.
I assert that it is beyond question that the firearms manufacturers regularly and in a calculated manner engage in advertising strategies designed to appeal to paranoia, thrill seeking behavior, and the lowest common urges in order to market their products. Furthermore I believe that one unintended consequence of the removal of firearms advertisements from television is that many non-gun-owners and non-gun-enthusiasts are wholly unaware of the aggressive and disturbing marketing campaigns that exist just beyond the view of most Americans. I contend that these, admittedly legal, businesses have for many decades skated by unscathed by public scrutiny and outrage as they deal out the instruments of violence and unnecessary carnage in our society.
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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Abused by Race

It might be good to have a look at this first:
The Enlightenment’s ‘Race’ Problem, and Ours

I have been championing this idea for quite awhile now. My efforts are met with a range of responses from bemused stares to outright hostility toward the idea (and occasionally toward me). It seems clear that every time scientists look for "race", they don't find it. There are a number of limitations that inhibit our ability to absorb this fact. One is so obvious that it might be too easily dismissed. We are quite at the mercy of our limited sensory perceptions and the visible differences between humans (skin, hair, facial features, etc.) are very compelling. This tends to ensnare our brains in outmoded thinking. 

The other major difficulty we encounter is a bit more subtle. It relys upon a basic understanding of human psychology/motivation. It is clear to those who look at such things, that historically, one key to survival in humans was and remains our ability and inclination to detect and focus on difference. This includes novelty in our environment as well as our ability to detect "the other". That is to say, those not of our group. When we consider this ability/compulsion, we are right to ask, is it adaptive for survival or an ancient trait that can run amok? In my view, both is the correct answer. 

We all carry the seeds that can produce behaviors we label, "prejudice". We all carry the seeds that can produce behaviors we call "racism". We are all subject to a sense of our own superiority and the resulting behaviors that lead us to act dismissively towards another person or group. Further, I would assert, the single greatest obstacle to our improvement is our seeming inability to honestly confront ourselves. Why? A quirk of human behavior ensures that we most often reserve terms like racism and prejudice for use as verbal bats with which we can strike others for their presumed morally deficient behavior. Not surprisingly, we feel quite uncomfortable when presented with the idea that those same "low urges" reside in us as well. To be fair, many of us have reasoned our way through to a much better place in terms of expressing (or avoiding the expression of) these baser urges. I suggest it is also true that our moral evolution is fragile and requires regular maintenence.

There is, at minimum, one more constraint on reaching a more perfect assessment of ourselves. This requires a very brief (I promise) bit of history. As a citizen enmeshed in the milieu of American culture in the twenty first century, one might be forgiven for inferring that the "victims" of racism/predudice/etc. are people "of color". For those so deluded, allow me to suggest reading some history. One would be hard pressed to explain to an Irish immigrant to America during the last bit of the nineteenth century that she could not possibly be an object of prejudice due to her pale skin color. Likewise, one would also find frustration explaining to an African tribesperson residing in one area of that continent that she could not be a victim of prejudice or hatred by a tribesperson living in an adjacent area, because the persons inflicting injury were of similar skin tone to hers. Try telling Chinese people that Japanese people could never have treated them in a barbaric manner because, after all, the Japanese are also Asian. In short, I would suggest that there is no place one could visit on planet earth where there are no abusers nor victims. If this behavior is a condition of "race", it would be the "human race".

With the history out of the way, I feel compelled to give some thought to the practicalities of our current circumstances. In all our "philosophizing" it is important to keep sight of the fact that many injustices and injuries have been done and continue to be done. No person in his right mind denies that acts ranging from rude to vile and heinous are part of our history and our present. With that said, I would assert it is always better to call a thing what it truly is and face it in the most rational way possible. Why is the name so important? There is a longer answer but, for this moment, suffice to say that if we start with an incorrect premise our efforts to change/solve/better our position is compromised from the start. Also, if I suggested that a person in the abuser "role" had a stake in keeping the status quo, most would consider it a statement of the obvious. However, if I suggested the person in the vicitm role also has a stake in the status quo, that is judged as tantamount to siding with the abuser. I want to suggest this is not the case. To be clear, I do not imagine the victim is hoping for their pain, humiliation, etc. to continue. I am only postulating their resistance to changing the "roles" of the participants and therefore the "rules" of the game. Why?

Imagine if you were totally unfamiliar with sexual assault and the related wisdom that is now commonly understood from listening to our news outlets. Now imagine if I told you that after a sexual assault, a woman often questions her own behavior and blames herself in some way or begins experience a shattered self-worth, as though she deserved what happened to her.  Many of us would intuitively grasp this type of reaction. Why? Almost all of us have found ourselves assuming blame for some random tragedy that has befallen us. We ping pong back and forth in our minds. One minute we are convinced that we are blameless and a bad thing simply happened to us. The next moment we are equally convinced that if we had just done something different we could have or should have sidestepped the event. When something bad happens, we've all that the feeling that somehow this has happened to us because we were not good enough, smart enough, quick enough, strong enough. Also, if it were not sufficient to blame ourselves, we often worry that others at looking at us with blame in their eyes. We just "know" what they are thinking. "How could you let that happen? Are you not good enough, smart enough, strong enough to have prevented this?" In short order, we find ourselves on a path from a loss of self-respect to an imagined loss of communal respect. In other words, the victim blames himself and it is mentally consistent to believe that others are doing the same. Any psychologist will attest that this can easily become a viscious downward spiral of self-doubt, blame, depression, and worse.

It is my assertion that similar thought processes take place in persons abused by, what we have in the past termed, racism and prejudice? Further, given the inherent nature of human psychology, the anger and outrage that naturally results from being abused, appears justifiable only if everyone remains in his "role". From the perspective of the victim- I need to see myself as a victim to be outraged by my victimization. My anger seems internally jusitifiable only so long as my victimizer also remains in his "role". 

Note: Referring to hurtful hateful actions as racism, prejudice, or something else entirely does not excuse bad behavior. A change in terminology will not erase the resultant physical/mental scars of bad treatment. The point here is simply getting our terms and motivations assigned properly, such that we can look for an appropriate way forward.

We are all potentially the abused and the abuser. If we feel sobered and/or horrified by this realization, it's because we should. 

*The journey of a thousand miles does not begin with the first step. 
*It begins by knowing where you are.

Friday, January 25, 2013

You can't fix stupid. Or, at minimum, it is unlikely.

Bobby says, stop being the stupid party! 

 I know that I am likely to regret being drawn in by his smooth talking anti-stupid speech before the year is out. I hope I am wrong but, my best guess would be that they don't actually change the "stupid" but discipline their members from speaking it outright. I know the cynical Repubs will infer that I am just being a smart-ass and don't really want them to improve their game. Let me assure any who might presume this, that nothing could be further from the truth. If those on the political right managed to extract their craniums from their rectums and got into the game, the left would have something sane off of which to bounce thoughtful ideas. In short, maybe we could get some badly needed policy enacted.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

More on guns

To his statements, I would like to add the following.

The way we will finally get something done with regard to public policy on guns and gun violence is when reasonable responsible gun owners "take point" in this debate.

In addition to the usual but important topics like the size of ammunition magazines and assault rifles, background checks, etc., I would also like to hear something about gun manufacturers who, in my opinion, have skated under the radar in all of this.  Because most Americans who are not hunters or otherwise members of gun culture do not see advertisements on their television screens, they are likely unaware of the agressive and glamorized marketing of military style weapons. Also, I would like to hear about significantly higher taxes on firearms and ammunition. This should be specifically applied to dealing with the social costs resulting from the improper use of firearms. We think nothing of taxing the heck out of cigarettes largely because they come with a big social cost. It is clear that firearms are often used by responsible people who have no intention of breaking any law but asking them to bear some of the cost of the social negatives is well within reason.

Finally, what I would like to hear from the gun-huggers is- the truth about why they so desperately want to own these weapons. My interpretation of the truth: gun-huggers value the testosterone thrill of shooting these powerful guns more highly than they value the safety and security of their fellow citizens.

As a public service, I provide my definition of gun-hugger.

A gun hugger is distinguished from a sane reasonable responsible gun owner by the following factors: 

Gun-huggers (as stated above) value the testosterone thrill of shooting these powerful guns more highly than they value the safety and security of their fellow citizens.

Gun-huggers are likely to have more guns than the average gun owner by factors of three, four, five, or more. They have no reality based need for so many weapons. However, the sheer number often appears to correlate to their personal paranoia level.

Gun-huggers live in a dream world where the government is always about two minutes from sending their agents to gun owners homes to rob them of their freedom, their guns, and their right to fill their heads with right-wing radio 24/7. Furthermore, if their paranoia alone were not sufficiently high on the batshit crazy scale, they also operate under the laughable notion that their personal arsenal will protect them from that vividly imagined fateful day when agents show up at the door.

While we are all here and presumably paying attention, let me clear this up for any stray gun-hugger who may have wandered here. If the local sheriff or patrolman shows up at your door with a warrant or whatever, you may overpower that person. However, I can assure you that, the next iteration in this scenario will not go so well for you. In case you have failed to stay abreast of the facts regarding the personnel and firepower of your government, you may want to brush up on some facts before putting your faith in this course of action.

And, oh by the way... the following is on a personal note. If you own more weapons than Sylvester Stallone's character used in his latest action movie, perhaps, you may have slipped a gear and begun to fancy yourself as a character in one of these movies. If you feel this may apply to you but you fail to see how such behavior is a problem, well, that is a real problem.  Normal cultural behavior includes watching a movie or television show and engaging in a "willing suspension of disbelief". Failing to re-engage ones disbelief is not considered normal. Granted, this is only one interpretation but feel free to roll it around in your cranium just for shits and giggles.

Sunday, January 13, 2013


This morning I am missing the voice of the Occupy Movement. I know, they totally failed to live up to my expectations also. But, at least somebody was pointing the finger in the right direction (which is to say at the small number of people who own everything and control everything to the detriment of everyone else).

How is it that years after the financial crisis, I can't think of one banker or CEO that went to prison? I know lots of people who have lost their jobs, lost their homes, lost the value in their homes, lost all they ever worked for to pay medical bills, and so on. At minimum there should be a public list of shame with the names of hundreds of people who ruined the lives of millions with their greed and stupidity. In an age when there is a television show to depict anything one wishes to view, why is there not a channel where I can watch these people pace in six by eight foot cells?

Click here for a view of the-
Ongoing Misery