Monday, January 12, 2015

Non-Omniscient Friends

I love it when people leave over a thing that I didn't even know was a thing.
I've written hundreds of thousands of words they all loved, then I said one thing they didn't agree with, or think they don't agree with (it's not like they actually bothered to find out why or what I meant), and they stormed out in high dudgeon. 
The only thing I can say is, well, thanks.
(Courtesy Jim Wright)
Was posted by a friend on Facebook just a few seconds ago.  I love it when people leave over a thing that I didn't even know was a thing was my dead honest response. I love it because I don't know everything, and it gives me something to go research for a few minutes or hours.  I love it because it gives me new things to write about, to muse over. Most of all I love it because, as Jim says in his rant real friends don't do that and that's the one tool that is lacking in social networking as it stands these days.  A good winnowing tool to separate the chaff from the wheat; to separate real friends from hangers on.

Real life needs that tool just as badly as social networking does; unless you are willing to be dead honest with everyone around you and suffer the consequences of that. So few people are even willing to admit that they are uncertain, that they don't know the thing that the other person it ranting on about, that the average interaction between strangers resembles nothing more than posing and pretense of interest; all while both parties and their observers are wondering what the hell is really being discussed here.

It doesn't matter the subject, or the names in question.  Any two people discussing any given subject will eventually stumble across something that one person thinks is the most important thing and the other person has never heard of that thing, or has heard of it and thinks it is a waste of time even to discuss it.  What happens next determines if they really are friends, or not.

Friend really isn't the right word, anyway.  Friend is too casual, like someone you occasionally meet while out drinking, but you wouldn't trust to help you dispose of that body in your trunk (hypothetically. Like a zombie plan) you wouldn't expect that person to know everything that is important to you.  What followers on social networking engage in feels more like worship than friendship. Which is just setting yourself up for disaster in the end.  There isn't anyone out there who is perfect, who has perfect knowledge.  At some point, even your closest brother in arms will say something that you think is unforgivably stupid.

A real friend forgives anyway, or at least accepts the imperfection. It would be mighty dull being surrounded by perfect people.  That would be my personal hell, being surrounded by people who  agreed with everything I said. I live for the next good argument, the next time someone disagrees with me and then offers a counter-argument that makes me think.  You can never do enough thinking in this life.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Obama Best President Since Eisenhower

In an argument on DC's forums last year, amidst all the caterwauling, hair tearing, and general hatassery concerning the President and the upcoming elections, I proposed the following; that Barack Obama could well be considered the best President since Dwight D. Eisenhower.  I said it at the time largely because I like to take a devil's advocate position, but also because I've become quite weary over the last 6 years listening to idiots run down the sitting President.

Generally, I'm right there with them.  I mean, given the track record of Presidents in recent history, it's not hard to thrash a President and have a receptive audience.

I first started paying attention to politics when Carter was in office. I couldn't vote back then, but I thought Carter was getting a raw deal leading up to the election of 1980. His policies weren't anything to brag about, but the weakness of the President and the country that conservatives railed about was largely an illusion that they invented simply as a tool to use against him.  As history has demonstrated, Reagan didn't know anything more than how to hit a mark and say a line (mostly) correctly; and people in his employ did negotiate with the Iranian hostage takers to insure that the hostages were not released until after the election.

Reagan's term in office was hardly anything to brag about either; in spite of what armies of conservatives say otherwise.  Yes, it's true, the Berlin wall fell on his watch, but that falling had almost nothing to do with US policies in the region, and everything to do with ham-handed bureaucrats behind the iron curtain, and a Soviet President elected to usher in a new era of openness demanded by the people. What Reagan should be known for, the albatross that he should wear, is Reaganomics or trickle-down economics; which has been shown to be a complete failure and has actually contributed more to economic instability than any other action committed by any other US executive in modern history.

(Courtesy information aesthetics website)
Reagan's real legacy is the S&L debacle, brought about by loosening regulations on financial institutions, almost exactly as predicted by people opposed to that action.  The Iran-Contra affair that I mentioned previously barely moves the needle compared to the destructiveness of Reaganomics.


But Ronald Reagan was popular and was elected to two terms.  His popularity even earned his Vice-President, an almost political unknown named George Herbert Walker Bush, a term as President. But the damage done by Reaganomics continued to plague the nation, and not even a short, victorious, righteous war to stymie the aggression of a Middle Eastern dictator could secure him a second term in office.

As a peacenik, someone opposed to war in general if not in principle, George H.W. Bush's willingness to go to war didn't earn any points with me.  None of the things his successor said or did made me believe he was any different.  Bill Clinton's term in office benefitted from the investment of the LBJ administration in space technology, in the form of microchips that were finally small and powerful enough to drive the information technology revolution that we are in the middle of; which makes his term in office seem halcyon in hindsight. But his willingness to involve the US in every correct world event (with the exception of Rwanda. Which he says he wishes he'd gotten involved in as well) lobbing missiles like they were footballs at every hotspot on the globe, provided the grist for the mill of anti-American sentiment around the world.

Packing a bomb which exploded on 9-11.  That's the take-away that history will draw from this era, the post-post WWII decades. When the US fumbled the ball handed to it by the old-world European powers, and let someone else take up the lead internationally (who that will be remains in question) the election of Bush II will not be remembered for what Al Gore supporters would like it to be remembered for, but for the results of America being asleep at the wheel internationally almost since the end of the Vietnam war.

Bush II didn't steal the election, he simply won it on a technicality. So he got to be the guy in charge on the day when the buzzards came home to roost.  The saying roughly goes we get the best enemies money can buy and we made the enemies who attacked us on 9-11; both figuratively and in reality.  We trained a good number of terrorists to resist the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, including some who later worked for Al Qaeda, possibly even OBL himself. The administration was warned but ignored those warnings, and then set about fighting a war that would end up being the longest in US history, and arranged for that war to occur based on false evidence.  In the process the Bush II administration destroyed American credibility on the world stage (whatever was left of it) torturing innocent people who just happened to be in a warzone at the wrong time.

To finish off his term, Bush II (prefer W? Use that) also failed to act on the looming financial crisis (also about which he was warned) and consequently handed the election of the next President to the Democrats, who could have run the proverbial yellow dog, and it would have won.  If it hadn't been for Sarah Palin's circus show, there wouldn't have been anything of interest about the election of 2008.

With that as a backdrop, you can imagine what I thought of Barack Obama going into his first term.  Don't get me wrong, I voted for him in the primary in a vain (?) effort to throw the election his way instead of towards Hillary Clinton (I have no use for political dynasties) but I voted straight Libertarian for my last time in that general election. Held my nose and voted for a Republican in Libertarian clothing. Won't be doing that again.

But Obama pretty much did what he promised.  Oh, I know, he cratered on a lot of things that privacy advocates and conspiracy mongers think he should have taken a hard line on.  But he has ended the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan without looking too ridiculous in the process; and no matter how much saber rattling the Conservatives do, the anarchy currently afoot in Syria/Iraq doesn't amount to much in the scheme of things unless you happen to have business there.  Happen to live there (if you do, you have my sympathy. But do you really want to help Bashar Assad stay in power?  Really?) It managed to win them seats in the midterms, blowing out the possibility of a more productive congress in 2015, but in the end they remain on the wrong side of history.

Why, you ask? Why are they on the wrong side of history?  Why would Obama be considered a good President? Because the general trends are predictive and obvious.  I tripped over them even if you, dear reader, did not.

Since the Cold War ended and we blithely went on unchanging in or priorities, the Old World powers found their legs and stood on their own again.  If you want to visit countries with the highest ratings for health, productivity, happiness, etc., look no further than the old economies that hard liners in the US still wrongly dismiss.  Proof of this can be found by the ease with which Germany absorbed the poorer provinces of Eastern Germany, long held back under Soviet rule.  How the French absorb refugees into France at a rate that rivals the US.

Canada's adoption of the Canada Health Act hasn't proved disastrous for the Canadian economy as predicted. It's services continue to improve at an impressive rate, leaving the US in the dust. Even Mexico City has better healthcare than we have in the US, finally making the claims of liberal agitators like Micheal Moore truthful, if only in hindsight.

The writing is on the wall, has been on the wall for sometime and US citizens apparently never noticed. Socialized medicine, for lack of a better appellation, appears to be the future.  The notion that individuals can pay for health services as needed and build the kind of infrastructure that the average person wants (emergency services, research, etc) has been effectively shown to be a pipe dream; and that systems can and do function with the amount of complexity required to provide services in a timely fashion.

Ergo we will all be charged something to provide the services we all say we want but don't want to pay for; or rather, underestimate the cost of.  But that subject is beside the point I'm trying to make, and I don't want to be distracted from it.

Every President since and including FDR talked about doing something about healthcare in the US.  Every President since Truman has actively asked for and/or crafted legislation to fix the US healthcare system. Barack Obama, in the face of the stiffest opposition faced by any President in US history, helped to craft compromise legislation that at least advances the goal of universal access to healthcare for the first time in US history.  No one likes it, to be sure, but it appears to be working all the same.
The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index is out this morning and reveals that 15.9 percent of American adults are now uninsured, down from 17.1 percent for the last three months of 2013 and has shown improvements in every major demographic group with the exception of Hispanics who did not advance. 
Courtesy; Forbes "The Real Numbers On 'The Obamacare Effect' Are In-Now Let The Crow Eating Begin"
If it continues working, if we actually expand on the basis set down by the Obama administration, What then? When Presidents back to the time of Truman tried to get this done?

Why Eisenhower? Because Eisenhower was the last President to put his name on a fundamental change that was positive to the US as a whole. LBJ might have done this with his Great Society, but his term was marred with Vietnam (which could have been avoided) Eisenhower managed to avoid any major conflicts, and established the Interstate system with funds Congress had given to the military.

I'm not planning on doing an exhaustive search back though 60 years of Presidential history just to make my point.  Truthfully, when I first proposed the idea, I just stated best President in our lifetimes. I was born in the age of Kennedy, and while his ending was tragic, what LBJ achieved in his name was of more importance than anything he did aside from not starting World War Three during the Cuban Missile Crisis. In the grand scheme of things that is what he will be remembered for, aside from his words that took us to the moon on LBJ's watch.

Which is really all that matters to history.

LBJ might pull a close second, even with Vietnam on his record, but that just really speaks to the lackluster nature of our leaders post-WW II, not to any high achievement on LBJ's record.

What's funny is, I've heard similar talk in the news media of late, which is why this subject came back to mind. Obama took the shellacking of his party in stride, decided he wouldn't sit out the last two years of his Presidency and play golf; at least not yet anyway (If you ask me he's earned it, having taken less vacation than the last two Presidents) and took his Presidential pen in hand (something else he's done less than recent Presidents) to reduce the suffering of people who it was in his power to help.
It is noteworthy that every president since and including Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower has taken executive action on immigration without facing threats of lawsuits, government shutdowns, impeachment, or loss of executive authority
The title caught my eye Every President Since Eisenhower.  Well that's interesting.  Not a recommendation, but at least a true observation on the obstinacy of Congresses across the years. So I went looking farther.

A piece from this time last year in the New York Times lays the case out pretty well;
Mr. Obama, barring tragedy or resignation, will get to serve eight years, but his margin of victory last November was not overwhelming. He won 62 percent of the electoral vote, which ranks 16th among the 30 presidents who sought re-election after their first terms. Mr. Obama’s electoral vote percentage was better than any of the 10 first-term losers, of course — but among the 20 winners, it exceeded only James Madison in 1812, Woodrow Wilson in 1916, Harry Truman in 1948 and George W. Bush in 2004.
That's just going on percentages. Puts him in the running with Clinton, well below Eisenhower or LBJ in historical importance based on electoral percentage.

But that's a little dry, don't you think? Surely it means more than that, historical importance? More than the President's popularity with the voting public?  Not necessarily.  Specifically, I have a hard time believing that Reagan will maintain his high rating (historically ranked 10th in importance) even with his overwhelming second-term victory percentages, given the looting that his administration ushered in and is only now coming to light.

Still, the cost-cutters will be hard pressed to nay-say Barack Obama's place in history if he stays on course through the rest of his term;
Courtesy Forbes Magazine
You are reading that right.  Obama most conservative federal spender since...
...Dwight D. Eisenhower. Don't hold your breath waiting for your conservative outlets to spin this the right way, they won't; or they will take Heritage Foundation's tack on the subject and insist that Bush II's war costs should be saddled on Obama. In any case, the groundwork has been laid. My work here is done.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas Music

As a general rule, I avoid it like the plague.  There hasn't been any Christmas music worth listening to since Bing Crosby gave up his crooning license (number 8 on this list of 25 best Christmas albums of all time) back in the days of my youth.  Still, every now and then there is a song that captures my imagination;




I mentioned this song in a previous entry, but it's that time of year again.  I had pointed the song out to The Wife the other day; she poo-pooed it, pointing out how it was clearly a song written by an atheist to make fun of the holiday.

I never noticed those lyrics.  I have always been captured by the imagery of sharing a drink with family in the sun of a summer's day.  Tim is from Australia, and Christmas in Australia is probably a lot like the 4th of July is in the US.

Coincidentally, the imagery that is my favorite way of remembering the family I grew up with is in the sun of a summer's day; picking cherries from gramma's cherry trees, making ice cream, and sharing a cold drink. I can see her sitting on the covered porch in her favorite chair, grampa sitting next to her and dad helping the kids hand-crank the ice cream maker.  A beautiful image captured in amber that I wouldn't mind being able to revisit if I could turn back time.

That is what I see when I hear White Wine in the Sun and it never fails to move me.  Thank you Tim for taking the time to write this one.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Card Humor

This is the year for updates. This one was first published by me in 2005.  Back in those bad-old days, people would want to share things and have no place to do it. Frequently these items were placed on their company servers unbeknownst to the all-powerful system administrators (praise them!) and then emailed widely, opening the systems up to inexplicable external traffic and potential hacks.  This activity frequently got the individual in trouble with their company as well as getting them in trouble with the author of the work.

For many years the card that inspired me to write this post was incommunicado, taken down when posted on Youtube, because Youtube was where pirates went (and still go) to publish works that aren't theirs.  What authors have discovered recently though, is that it's also a good place to attract attention to their own work.

Consequently the card that was originally housed on a Reuters server is now on Youtube for everyone to see;


(Courtesy Joshua Held)

The version of White Christmas being used to back up the animation is one that I have liked since I heard it featured on The Santa Clause more than a decade ago. Me being the curious foot chewer that I am, I wrote a reply e-mail;
So who is singing that version of the song? I don't recognize the singer.
Should have known what response I would get;
not sure who that is????....sounded/looked like santa to me, with a reindeer accompaniment???????? :-) but i realize there are a lot of santa impostors out there....nothing is sacred anymore it seems....everyone trying to cash in on holy-days seasons.....aloha
Yeah, really set myself up for that one, didn't I?

So who is the voice behind the big red guy? Well, I tracked down the singers on my own. It would be The Drifters. Have a Funky Christmas.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Santa Claus, the Spirit of Giving

Continuing the trend of all that is old is new again, this one was first written in 2006. As I mentioned in a post a few years back, I find that atheists and skeptics generally step on the sense of wonder in their haste to squash pseudo-science, religiosity, false-piety and fear-mongering.  I understand their goals, and for the most part agree with them in principle, if not agreeing with their often ham-handed tactics.

One of the subjects that they tend to stomp on mercilessly is Christmas as a christian holiday, and the figure of Santa Claus in particular.  I've lost count of the number of people (Penn Jillette in particular) who have specifically targeted Santa Claus in their personal lives, trumpeting raising children without fostering a belief in imaginary beings. I couldn't disagree more.

(courtesy the Coca-Cola Company)
I celebrate the secularized solstice holiday referred to in the US as Christmas, which involves a jolly fat guy who delivers presents dressed in a red suit. We spend the holiday with family and friends, giving gifts and trying to brighten the winter (Winter in central Texas is a frame of mind more than anything else; it certainly doesn't have much to do with the weather) I also spend time reflecting on what the passing of this year means to me, and preparing to celebrate the New Year.

The Wife and I discussed whether or not to share the myth of Santa Claus with our children before they were born. I was all for bursting that bubble; better yet, just not even going there. My memories of Santa Claus are anything but pleasant.

My mother and father did Christmas to the hilt. Large tree, Santa decorations, pictures with Santa, the works. Once, when we were staying at our grandfather's house in Sacramento, my sister and I heard a noise in the living room. We nearly made it to the door before our fear of being discovered, and not getting any presents, sent us scurrying back under our covers where we finally fell back to sleep. When we awoke the next morning, there were snow footprints on the fireplace hearth. That was the best year. The next to worst was the year when we were particularly nasty to mom and dad, and got switches (sticks to get spankings with, for the uninitiated) in our stockings instead of candy.

Why is that the next to worst? Because the worst year was when we found out that there was no Santa, and suddenly the magic was gone from the holiday. Santa never came to our house again. Not too long after that, there was divorce and hardship of an all too real nature as the family was torn apart, and there was no more talk of silly little things like Santa Claus. So you can imagine the mindset that I carried with me to the discussion.

For her part, The Wife never experienced an end to the myth. Even after she knew there was no physical person named Santa Claus that visited her house on Christmas eve, the presents from Santa still showed up. The stockings still were filled, even for mom and dad. It wasn't until I met and married her that there was any magic during the holidays for me, and then only because of her.

She presented an argument that I couldn't defeat. That there was something good in nurturing a sense of wonder in the children. That perhaps Santa isn't a person, but is instead the charitable spirit that lives inside all of us. That the giving (and receiving) doesn't have to end at all.

So, I tell my children that Santa comes to our house, and there is no lie involved in that statement. Santa Claus is the Spirit of Giving, the anonymous benefactor who gives out of the kindness of their heart and doesn't seek to be recognized for charity. He leaves presents that are from no one, and fills stockings for the people sleeping under our roof, no matter the age. His is a kindly old soul that doesn't get recognized enough these days.

The Daughter figured out that spirit meant just that, a feeling that comes from within, a few years ago. I know that she has figured it out, because gifts appear under the tree, or in the stockings, that The Wife and I have never seen before. Santa Claus lives on in my house.

(courtesy Berkeley Breathed)
Oh, you can point to the Wiki entry on Santa Claus, and tell me how he's actually St. Nicholas, and how his gifts were given personally. That he was a real person and he is really, very dead now. Or you can say that he's the mythological figure, Father Christmas, and that as a mythological figure he never existed at all. It's all fine by me, I love a good story. The Red Ranger came calling is an excellent story about Santa Claus, and it's just about as true as any of the rest of them.

You just go right on believing whatever suits you. I know Santa will visit this house on Christmas Eve, no matter what anybody else believes.

Willful ignorance? If you like, call it that. It is a game, the same game it has always been. A game shared by adults and children down through the years whether they knew it or not.  It can be a fun game or a hurtful one, but it is a game; as an inveterate gamer myself, it's one I've come to enjoy now that I understand it.  It can be a valuable teaching tool when used correctly, and a crushing burden when used incorrectly. So play it wisely, always with the knowledge that a game should be fun. Otherwise, why play?

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Reason for the Season

(abridged and enhanced from this post)

Every year I hear the same thing; Holiday this and Holiday that and the counter mantra they're taking god out of Christmas. There seems to be some confusion about the origin of Christmas amongst the general population; and this year is worse than most, with Kurt Cameron's latest christian film (labeled a comedy for face saving reasons I'm sure) Saving Christmas currently out in theaters.

On top of everything else, FOX's mindless genning up of  the War on Christmas, the incessant whining of the christian majority of the US that they are in fact an oppressed minority, and their demands that they be allowed to persecute actual minorities or they really will be oppressed; this year Texas is allowing a nativity scene to be displayed in the Capitol rotunda. (this is probably in violation of  the US Constitution, which clearly states that no preference for any religion can be shown in public spaces, and in decision after decision handed down by the courts) Apparently they look forward to being forced to allow atheist, pastafarian, festivus and even satanist displays in the rotunda as well, since that is the only way that religious displays of any kind are allowed.

It's almost hopeless, the idea that facts when presented without bias can change minds, especially when polls like those conducted by the Pew Research Center show;
...that most Americans believe that the biblical Christmas story reflects historical events that actually occurred. About three-quarters of Americans believe that Jesus Christ was born to a virgin, that an angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus, and that wise men, guided by a star, brought Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh. And eight-in-ten U.S. adults believe the newborn baby Jesus was laid in a manger.
In total, 65% of U.S. adults believe that all of these aspects of the Christmas story – the virgin birth, the journey of the magi, the angel’s announcement to the shepherds and the manger story – reflect events that actually happened. Among U.S. Christians, fully eight-in-ten (81%) believe in all four elements of the Christmas story. Even among people who are not affiliated with any religion, 21% believe all these events took place, and 37% believe at least one (but not all) of them occurred.
But still I soldier on, year after year, attempting to point out the silliness that surrounds us.

The word christmas is a bastardization of Christ's Mass, which is specifically a Catholic celebration. The Catholics, being the earliest example of admen on the planet, realized that they could more easily sell their religion if they simply adopted the holidays in the areas that they wished to convert. When they moved into Northern Europe, they took on the holiday known as Yule and incorporated it into their religion as the day of Christ's birth (even though it's considered most likely that the date would have been in spring) it is even more likely that the celebrations of Saturnalia spread around the Roman Empire, influencing the the celebrations held informally long after Rome had ceased to be a power in the region. Whereby Roman celebrations influenced Yule which in turn influenced celebrations in the later christian eras.

Christ's Mass (Mass being what a protestant refers to as a 'sermon') was thereby invented, placing a holiday that directly coincided with celebrations already being held on the shortest day of the year, accurate calculations of which could be made (and were and still are essential for agriculture) with the crude technologies of the time. What I'm getting at is, if you are calling the holiday Christmas and you aren't a Catholic, you are referring to the secularized holiday formerly known as Yule. There is no need to further secularize it by calling it a Holiday.

My son attended a charter school that was hosted at a Catholic Church for a few years while he was in grade school (long past now) and they used the phrase Holiday Party to describe thier Christmas Party. If there is one group that should be using the word Christmas it's the Catholics.  They certainly didn't hesitate to tell him all about god in that school (which was the main reason his attendance there was brief) I can't imagine why they wouldn't just say Christmas.

Christmas being Yule modernized isn't nearly the earth shattering revelation that FOX and their devotees might think.  A good number of the names for things that we use daily, even the names of the days themselves, are related to Germanic/Northern European traditions, whose gods were not the gods the Romans worshipped (Remember to think of Odin on Wednesday next time it rolls around) nor the later god of the christians that Rome would officially adopt. Our traditions in the US are a literal smorgasbord of celebrations cobbled together from every major culture on the face of the planet.

So, if you hear me wish you a Merry Christmas, it is because May your feast of the Winter Solstice be enjoyable is too cumbersome to say repeatedly. Christmas has as much to do with Odin as it does with Jesus, and has even more in common with Coca-Cola ads from the early 20th century than it does with any god; Coca-Cola having created the figure of Santa Claus that most of us recognize today.


(courtesy the Coca-Cola Company)

I can hear it already, in stentorian tones even "Jesus is the reason for the season". 

Axis tilt (22.5 degrees) is the reason for the season. Lack of sunlight causing depression is the reason for the celebration.

It also bears mentioning that the pilgrims that the average US citizen credits as founding the American colonies specifically targeted Christmas as being a pagan influence introduced by the Catholic church, and they exorcised it's celebration from their religious practices, even punishing celebrants caught loafing during the early years of the colony.

But that view is a oversimplification anyway. No one group can be said to be the founders of the United States, unless you are talking specifically about the authors of the Constitution, a group that consciously kept all mention of religion out of the document (aside from the proscription against religious tests) If you go beyond their ranks, you are faced with the fact that there were French colonies as well as Spanish colonies, and if you want a contrast with the straight-laced Puritans it's hard to find one more glaring than the types of celebrations held in New Orleans down through the years.

The US is not a christian nation. Establishing a new christian nation would have placed the Constitutional authors at odds with the cause of a good many early colonists moving to the Americas, to escape religious persecution in European state-run christian orthodoxy. Jesus was not a capitalist.  Jesus does not want you to buy gifts to give away on the winter solstice, not only because he wasn't born then, but because you should give gifts every day of your life. If you really want to know, that is What Jesus Would Do, as well as washing the feet of the poor and feeding hosts with loaves and fishes. The United States exists as a celebration of reason not religion. Reason is the basis for Humanism and the Enlightenment, this country's real foundations.

Yes, I know, I've ruined Christmas for you. I'm sorry. The world isn't as simple as you want it to be, it won't change just because you or I think it should, and like those toys you bought for the kids, it won't go back in the !@#$%^&*! box so that you can return it to the pimply-faced clerk that sold it to you, so that you can just get the preassembled one that has all the pieces in the right place! The kid will be happy for the gift anyway, he probably won't notice the missing parts, and the world will continue to spin on it's (tilted) axis whether we will it or not.

Just relax, sit back, and have some more eggnog (or whatever your beverage of choice is) it's just a few more weeks and then we'll have a whole new year of problems to deal with. Now isn't that a refreshing outlook?

...Oh, and Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Gaming The System

I haven't written on the subject of shootings (justified or otherwise) in quite some time.  Well, that's not quite true. I've written plenty on the subject in other places over the last few years, a smidgen of which is reproduced here.  But I haven't posted much of what I've written on the subject on this blog since I last wrote about the Joe Horn case in Houston several years back.

While the Zimmerman case was being argued in the court of public opinion and later in actual court (to little effect) I wrote extensively on Dan Carlin's bulletin board system about the problems with Stalking and Shooting, the categorical description of the behavior that Zimmerman engaged in.
Zimmerman made a affirmative SYG case, so SYG has everything to do with it. The problem with Trayvon Martin, the problem with Marissa Alexander, is that both of them have black skin. Consequently they are looked down on, even by people who have the same color skin. This fact is borne out by statistics. So Trayvon is threatening simply because of the color of his skin; it certainly wasn't the presence of a sidewalk, 20 feet from where he was fatally shot. Marissa was assigned a duty to retreat because she had the double curse of being female and being black. Women are routinely jailed for daring to defend themselves.  
The problem with SYG is specifically this; we SHOULD have the duty to retreat in public places.  Zimmerman had no business profiling and stalking that teenager. No one should expect to get a "get out of jail free" card simply because they claim self-defense. EVERYONE (including cops) should be  subject to trial when someone dies at their hands. Had Zimmerman not been emboldened by what they lyingly said he was unfamiliar with, he would have stayed in his car, and Trayvon would have been alive today. 
How we get to the point where we legally 'have to' allow women to defend themselves, is a separate discussion. Clearly special laws are required, since general laws yield outcomes like Marissa's. Special laws giving women permission to shoot abusive men. Yeah, that'll happen.
Being the briefest of brief rehashes of content posted to a 42 page thread, and that typed up and added as a comment to an article on Reason Magazine's site concerning the attacks on Stand Your Ground Laws that occurred after those laws were so horribly and hypocritically applied in Florida and elsewhere.

But this latest slew of problems isn't about SYG as a perversion of an offensive action into a defensive one.  It isn't even necessarily about guns, since one of the deaths in question involved a choke hold, not gunfire. It is about police using their unique relationship with their local prosecutor's office to make unjustified homicides look like justified ones, allowing the offending police officers to claim vindication in the courts, when no court trials have occurred.

This was all brought back to mind when I wrote and posted yesterday's entry on calling torture torture and not some other nicer sounding phrase. I wrote the line Police officers are filmed strangling and shooting unarmed men, and remain unprosecuted and wondered if I'd ever get around to writing that piece.  This is that piece.

Much like the torture post, this post remained unwritten because the solution to me was so obvious, and has even been related by talking heads on various news outlets.  The prosecutor's office in nearly every county and city in the US works closely with the police, or as Jon Stewart observed at about 7:50 in this clip;


Yes, it's Law & Order, and a serious (but humorous) oversimplification, but still it has to be observed that police departments have internal investigations departments (and all of them should have) there really need to be special prosecutors appointed specifically to prosecute cases against police officers. There should be citizen oversight everywhere there is a significant police department, too.

Prosecutors work too closely with the police to be able to effectively prosecute cases against them, all of their protestations to the contrary. It is a breach of trust to even allow them to bring cases against police that they work with.  The real surprise to me is that it has taken this long for this conflict of interest to be brought to the public's attention.

This has been true for awhile now, as many people more versed in the subject than I am have pointed out, over and over again. I'll just point to Radley Balko as one shining example.  Time and again he has documented how police excesses go unchecked, and how most people turn a blind eye to the real costs, because it is too painful to witness.

Well, if torture hadn't come along to interrupt the outrage, we'd still be talking about this mess.  We will probably be talking about it again after the New Year's passes, because it isn't going away anytime soon unless we do something to fix this broken system of ours.

You might well say, what do these police cases have to do with Joe Horn, or Zimmerman or that other case?  If you really have to ask that question, the answer of skin color probably isn't going to sit well with you. But it is true all the same. In all these cases, the public dialog has gone out of it's way to give latitude to the aggressor.  The dialog in Joe Horn's case was largely supportive of his actions; and I still think he was legally justified to take the actions he took, even if I would have listened to the operator's advice myself and let the cops handle it (because they were there and witnessed the shooting) still, his victims were black, making them easy targets to dismiss.

It's not the race of the shooter that is in question, because the statistics show even black cops distrust black faces. It is the race (skin color) of the victim that allows their deaths to be easily dismissed.

Outside of the black communities who are protesting and outraged over the dismissal of charges against the police, the attitude still remains largely dismissive of the victims rights, of the needs of survivors and family members to see justice done, to have their day in court.  FOX (as Jon Stewart and others point out) seems willing to lead this parade of monkeys consistently seeing no evil, hearing no evil, but managing to sound pretty evil all the same.