Category Archives: Culture

The Limits of The Enlightenment

Our modern world is a marvel. By any measure of the ancient world we live lives that are simply miraculous. Our social structures, our technological triumphs, our incredible knowledge are built upon the foundations laid by the Enlightenment. With that revolution in thought we, for the most part, abandoned a world view dominated supernatural forces and acted the truth that the universe was governed by rationality and could be understood through reason alone.

The base assumption is that not only can causes be understood but that everything has a causal force. For the natural sciences this has been a tremendously successful assumption but it begins to break down when applied to the fairly fuzzy field of human action.

This need for causality was applied to the Leopold and Loeb murders, using the nature of the their backgrounds and lifestyles to explain but not excuse their murder of the 14 year old boy Robert Franks. Charles Darrow’s explanation for their hideous deed is often seen as the reason that they were not sentenced to death and the start of the processes where we search for why someone does the evil that they do.

I will admit that there is often a causal link between a person’s environment and their nature. It is noted that no known serial killer has ever come from a functional extended family and all suffered forms of abuse when they were younger. So there is a great deal of truth to Hannibal Lector’s line that Billy was not born a monster but made one by years of systematic abuse.

And yet we look at Paddock, the man who with greater care and planning than Leopold and Loeb, strafed a crowd of strangers and we can find no cause. Desperately we need a cause. we need a reason, even one cloaked in the vague generalization ‘insane,’ but we can’t seem to find it. So far nothing in his life comes within light-years of explaining such a monstrous and cowardly action. He was rich, he was successful, he lived a life of leisure, he apparently wanted for nothing except the blood of his fellow human beings. What can possibly explain that?

Have we reached the limits of The Enlightenment? Are we forced back to a supernatural assumption.

In our rational world is there room for evil?

Or will find a brain tumor like with Charles Whitman and call that the cause?

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Thoughts of Prohibition

Now, I do not mean specifically the 18th amendment and the USA’s disastrous experiment with alcohol prohibition, though that does factor into my thoughts. I want to expound on the nature of prohibiting the possession of items through the power of the state. Naturally that would encompass the events around the 18th amendment but the discussion is not restricted to just that terrible idea.

In general society engaged in prohibition when the misuse of an item or substance appears to carry such a heavy communal cost that the state bans the ownership in an attempt to curtail those societal burdens. This was the case with alcohol; the rampant drunkenness throughout the country empowered the temperance movement. It is also the argument, not persuasive in my book, on other drugs and of course on firearms.

Prohibitions perpetual problem is that by its nature it is trying to prevent an occurrence rather than render judgment for one that has already taken place. That means it must ensnare individuals who were never going to incur a societal cost in hopes of preventing those who may. People who drank responsibly and in moderation were equally impacted by the 18th amendment as the drunkards who squandered wages and impoverished families.

Think about it this way; you have two people, John and Bill. John will miss use a particular item or substance but Bill will not. Before you enact prohibition you can only bring the legal system to bear on john after he has inflected his damage, whatever that might be, and as you can never undo the damage, there will always be a cost.

After enacting prohibition you can now bring the legal system down upon John before he does his damage, but you also bring it down upon Bill who has never caused harm and would not have. Bill must face fines, courts, and imprisonment solely because John may present a danger at a later date. Or Bill must surrender his interest in the item or substance simply because John cannot be responsible.

Bill is a real cost created by prohibition. The cost of enforcing it against both is real, the cost to the people ensnared in the legal system is real, and cost to society, particularly if the prohibition, like the one against alcohol or drugs, is routinely flaunted by the populace, is real. This isn’t even the practical enforcement of a prohibition. With the coming revolution of 3D printing soon prohibition will also have to entail forbidding even the knowledge, i.e. the computer files, for making the banned item or substance.

When you advocate for prohibitions think not only about John and the damages he cause, but also about the Bills and ask yourself if it is worth sending him to prison over this?

It might be, the answer is by far not always no, but that is a very real consequence and one too often ignored when people say ‘there ought to be a law.’

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The Weekend’s Rampage

I will not call it a tragedy for that removes the sense of an actor with agency that performed this senseless murdering. I also will not go deep into the gun control debate, on that front both sides present few minds left to persuade. There is one prediction I will make, but without a time line, and that is unless things change the forces of gun control will eventually have their way. To me the logic is simple and inevitable, people, mainly men, will keep doing this, people will keep dying, and only one party in our two party system will keep advancing a solution. Eventually that solution, regardless of its efficacy, will be implemented. The conservative offers nothing to prevent such murders except platitudes and resistance to change, that is a holding action and given a limitless number of incidents it is a holding action that must fail. Lots of people will be murdered and I doubt that the GOP will ever break out of their siege tactics.

One thing I do want to address is the charge that is being thrown about that the NRA has bought the GOP politicians and that ‘follow the money’ explains their lack of action. This gets the cause and effect back to front. The NRA gives these politicians money because they already support the sort of things the NRA wants.

To put it in counter example; how much money would it take to get Diane Feinstein to vote the NRA way? Or how much to get Elizabeth Warren to push legislation in favor of big business and banks? You can’t buy those votes; it would destroy the politicians’ credibility with their constituents and their conscience.

The charge that the politicians are bought on a subject so emotional and so important to their voters is really just a charge that the politicians are bad people and your politicians are noble following principals over lucre. By the way that works perfectly in reverse as well, the conservative change that the Democratic Party is own by the trail lawyers is a way to avoiding the idea that the Liberals might be in favor of civil actions as a manner equalizing the power between individuals and corporations. The Democrats are ‘bought’ by the trial lawyer and the Republicans aren’t ‘bought’ by the NRA, both are political actors serving the interests, however much you may not agree with those interests, of their constituents.

The de-legitimization of the opposition is virus killing our democracy.

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Cinematic Time Capsules

All art reflects the times that its creation. This is true of poems, paintings, sculptures, prose, and movies. As a fan of film it is always interesting to me how many decades have a distinct tone and feel to them reflecting to social mood and issues of their periods.

Recently my sweetie-wife and I watched three films from a few decades ago and the time capsule effect struck me fairly strong. The movies in questions were The Italian Job, Get Carter, and The Heroin Busters. All three captured a distinct mood from their societies and culture, and though all were produced and filmed outside of the United States they reflected the changing tastes and expectations of the American audience for whom that had been intended.

The Italian Job is a comedy/heist movie. Produced during the rule of the Production Code it is a foregone conclusion that film’s protagonists cannot get away with the money. Hailing from the mid 60s the movie reflects both a traditional and non-traditional viewpoint. Our heroes are thieves and criminals, their lifestyle are not presented as self-destructive this is most non-traditional when compared to the noir of the 40s and 50s or the gangster films of the 30s. Yet the target of the heist ends up being Red China making their illegal actions a part of the larger Capitalism vs Communism struggle, and you can hardly get more mainstream than that.

Get Carter produced during the early 70s, just a few short years later, is a completely different animal. Jack Carter, a London hoodlum, has returned to his detested home in the north of England to find out who killed his brother and why. Carter is often called a bastard and it’s very hard to argues with that label. he is ruthless and cruel. Every person associated with the murder of his brother he kills, often in a cold blooded fashion that further his hunt for the next target. Like many films of the 70s, Get Carter, presents a flawed main character whose victory is pyric and hollow.

The Heroin Busters is an Italian exploitation movie about undercover police infiltrating and destroying a heroin smuggling ring. Cynical and violent the movie reflects that the low budget cinema had moved to a tone and style meant to reflect a ‘street’ sensibility. With violence and nudity more gratuitous that Game of Thrones, this movie captures the low entertainment of the grindhouses, a venue and style of films not found only in history and nostalgia.

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Wow, This has all Sorts of Stupid

I have been seeing links to this (Your Refusal to Date Conservatives is One Reason we have Donald Trump.) piece bouncing around the internet for a few the last week but today was my first chance to read it first hand. Truly this is awful stuff.

Apparently what set the writer off was a dating site that is allowing people to self-identify as support Planned Parenthood. The impression I get is that Laber seems to feel that supporters of Planner Parenthood are rigid and unyielding. (And of course we know that the Right is so compromising when it comes to Planned Parenthood.)

Then he dives from Planned Parenthood and assertive dating into tribalism and the fact that we are boiling our electorate down into extreme bases. That’s true, but it is hardly the ‘plague on both house’ both sides are guilty sort of affair.

Of course he tries to support his position with a spot of evidence.

First up: Pew pole from 2014 Republicans holding ‘very unfavorable views’ of Democrats 43%, Democrats holding the same for Republicans 38%. Seems clear to me who is more extreme, particularly since that started out 20 years earlier only 1 point apart on that same issue. (Note how in the article itself he uses numerals for one and words for the other, hiding the sausage with a bit of typographic trickery.)

So then he transitions into how this drives primaries and election more extreme candidates. Hey, that is also true and look he pops up with more evidence.

Second up: 2010 Delaware Republican Primary, Tea party Purists Christine ‘I’m not a witch’ O’Donnell wins the primary and costs the GOP a seat. Looks to me that once again his evidence does nothing to show ‘both sides’ or that hot women rebuffing Conservative Men are at fault but rather the hard, ‘compromise is a dirty word’ Republican base is the more extreme faction. (It’s also interesting how his evidence keeps going back further and further into the past yet continues to show the Conservatives as the hard liners refusing the bend. Seems to me there’s a clue there about where this started.)

His third point, that Trump’s appeal was to ‘economically anxious’ voters and that they were really ‘culturally anxious’ he presents without supporting evidence. Frankly that fight is still being fought but you can hardly ignore the fact that from the very first moments of his campaign, Trump ran on racial issues. Laber thinks that Trump would not have done as well had we been less polarized.

Yeah, that I think is true, but it also ignores the years and years of lies, distortions, and hyperbole coming from the Right on this issue. Death Panels, Born in Kenya, Secret Muslim, this poison in our politics is deadly and it did not come equally from both sides and it has nothing to do with women preferring to date men who aren’t enemies of their constitutional rights.

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The C.O. is Always Responsible

When a ship or military unit suffers a disaster the reasonability falls on the commanding officer. It doesn’t matter if junior officers messed up, it doesn’t matter if the civilian government gave them unrealistic goal, it doesn’t matter if the weather turned terrible, the C.O. is responsible. It isn’t fair but it is the way it is.

The same is true in politics, hence Harry Truman’s ‘The Buck Stops here.’

From reviews from both her supporters and opponents it would seem that Hillary Clinton would like to pass the buck for her electoral loss. Certainly before her book was released I heard from the left side of my internet friends that she shouldn’t be blamed, that we should say she was a bad candidate, that other forces and events stole the election from her.

Bullshit.

Before I go further let me just make something clear. Trump is the worst person to ever occupy the office of President. I did not and do not want him there. His damages are incalculable.

Hillary Clinton won, in round figure, three million more votes than Donald Trump and yet she still managed to lose the election.

Yes, she had headwinds, the media’s obsession with her emails, the interference from foreign powers, being on the wrong side of the insider vs outsider divide. All these things hurt her campaign and made the road longer and rougher.

You know what? Life’s not fair. None of those elements were unknown during the campaign. None were so powerful that there was no counter. IN fact despite all those things she got those three million more votes still.

She lost because she ran a poor organization. She wasted resources on states like Arizona trying to run up the score while ignoring the cries for desperate from help coming out of states she had to have to win. She lost because for decades now that Clintons have favored loyalty over competence. It is why Barack Obama beat her in the 2008 primaries. Right or wrong the Clintons act from a state of continual siege, seeing enemies all around and because of that they pick their inner circle based on personal loyalty. (Trump is similar but loyalty for him equates subservience and boot licking yielding even worse people.)

Hillary Clinton was a bad campaigner because she could have won this election. She could have watched the details and focused on the states that mattered instead of assuming her opponent’s terrible nature would deliver the win she and the nation needed.

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Time Scales

As a writer of science-fiction I often have to think about the time scale of future history, which wraps around and has me thinking about the time scale of actual history.

For example take a hypothetical person born around the time I was 1960. (I was not actually 1960 but it good enough for an example.) If that person lives until they are 80 they die in 2040, that an interesting stretch of history. Now say that person has a grandchild or great-grandchild born when in 2030. The kid and the oldest hang out for ten years because the oldster has cool stories before personal computer, home video, cell phones and so on. The kid born in a better time has a better run and dies when they are 90, or 2120. That kid, when they die, has spoken with and interacted with a person who was alive before man flew in space, but is passing away in the 22nd century.

With the rapidly expanding abilities of our medical technology there’s no doubt those number are on the conservative side. To me this gets more staggering when you play these numbers against history.

Move it all back and we have someone passing away in 2020 who had direct contact with someone born in 1860. That old person in 2020 could very well have known someone who had born on a plantation as a slave. That’s how tight and close our history truly is. Things and events we think of as the distant past are really just barely one step removed from living memory.

It is staggering.

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Confederate Statuary – A Modest Proposal

Recently the statues, plaques, and memorials to officers and soldiers of the confederacy of states that rebelled against the Union have surged into controversy. There are many who wish these icons removed from public spaces, arguing that the items honor the legacy and evils of slavery and those who defended race-based chattel slavery. Opposing arguments have been raised that to remove the

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Monument_Ave_Robert_E._Lee.jpg
Used with common license

statuary and such is in effect ‘erasing history’ and that these memorials are not honoring the issues but the courage and bravery of the men who fought for their states,

Let’s set aside for a moment what the statues and such represent, not because the symbolism is unimportant but because for those who have already come of a conclusion about what they represent are already unlikely to change their opinions no matter the force of the arguments.

The question most people as is should the memorials stay or be removed, but I think there is another angle to approach the issue from.

How do we remember the past and give it the context it requires?

To my knowledge there are no memorials or icons honoring the end of slavery. We do not have a host of statues dedicated to the brave people who put their lives on the line to eradicate that evil practice. We have no solemn places where we atone for the millions enslaved and murdered.

Let us now rectify that. Let us now erect statues to the slaves, sculptures to celebrating the America Exodus, when a people were released from the bondage of a modern Pharaoh. Let us place each and every one of these next to an existing confederate memorial so that context will always be present.

You can get creative, perhaps simply listing with their statue the names of the slaves each confederate owned.

There can be no claim that history is being erased.

There can be no claim that an evil system is being honored.

There can only be an absolution for past sins, an honest appraisal of our shared history, and acceptance of what that means.

Of course if the idea of these statues and sculptures angers and offends you, then you might ask what exactly you want those traitorous statues are honoring.

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Questions for the GOP

Specifically these are some of the questions that I think the GOP needs to ask itself, it is not meant as a pile-on or as an option for others outside of the GOP to smugly assert their superiority. (And trust me questions aimed at the Democratic party would yeild people acting just as smugly. As I have head ‘self-righteousness is an addictive drug.’)

 

Why are neo-Nazi’s attracted to your party?

Why would neo-Nazis believe that they were welcome in the GOP?

Why do the racists and ethno-nationalist brand themselves as alt-right?

What actions and or policies have the GOP enacted or attempted to enact that may have welcomed the neo-Nazi?

Are there line of discourse that you have pursued that welcomed the neo-Nazis?

Why was a political novice and outsider able to become the leader of your party?

Which is more important victory or principles?

 

A serious and dedicated study and answer to questions I think are vital to the survival of your party.

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It’s Worthless

Trump’s belated and forced condemnation of the virulent ugly racism from some of his longest supporters is as worthless as any of his promises. As many others around the web have noted when Trump is genuinely angry there is very little that can be described as moderation or carefully considered. He lashes out with vitriol, hate, distortion, and lies. None of that was present in his forced condemnation. We know it, he knows it, and most important of all the racists know it.

They can see the political calculation as clearly as anyone else. Trump has their back, they know that. Trump employs their own, they know that. Trump has picked a side and it theirs.

Too many people in the Republican part thought that they could uses Trump to achieve their ends. The naïve believed that such tools still allowed them to produce pure results; the cynical didn’t care willing to use anything to achieve their personal petty ambitions. We are hurtling towards crisis and it may the crisis that defines this nation for generations. It is a crisis of the soul and it will define what it means to be an American.

 

Choose wisely.

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