Thursday, June 30, 2022
A pit-viper is a dangerous animal. That's your rattle-snakes, etc., so-called because they have a little pit on each side of their skulls. My adopted country is full of pit-vipers of many varieties. (No rattlers.) They are not very large snakes, but they do have very impressive fangs, backed by large sacks of venom. Two kinds of venom, actually. Either necrotizing, or neurotoxin. Some lucky examples of the type have both! If you get bit, you must get your ass to a hospital ASAP, or else. That's the bad news. (Hospitals in Thailand are all stocked with anti-venom, so not to worry about poor Mr. Blogger. Only pythons and large monitors by me.)
The good news is that pit-vipers are more afraid of humans than humans need to be afraid of them. The snakes can always hear you coming, and they stay clear of people if it is at all possible. If you hear of someone being bitten by a snake, it is likely that they put the snake in a position that made the snake feel cornered. Having no alternative, it struck. And then split the scene, no doubt. A hominid, especially a full grown hominid, is not a fit dinner for a pit-viper. An anaconda, sure, but that's another animal.
Our modern society has put religion on the back foot. In America and Western Europe, more people every year are answering “no” to the question “do you practice religion?” Also popular are the answers, “no preference,” and “I am an atheist.” The majority of people in the Western Democracies have realized that gay people are not a threat to anyone, that race is not an issue unless you make it so, and that religion is most essentially superstition. Religion, cornered, is striking back.
European cultures seem to be handling this transition away from superstition very well, or at least better than the United States. Religion in America has been taking a beating in popular culture for the last fifty years or so, but our experience, we Americans, has seen the religious among us circle the wagons and return effective fire. That prick Reagan welcomed them into his Republican party, and after that they just took over the joint. Now we see a very white, Christian, militant brand of religion emerging and perfecting the technique of minority rule in our ever weakening, vulnerable form of democracy.
The people who are taking control in the name of religion are not generally religious themselves. They cynically convince people to vote for them in the name of “family values,” or “anti-abortionism,” or homophobia, or more tribal appeals to get rid of races that are out of favor with the white soon-to-be minority.
Their tactics have worked all too well. Much to our detriment. Religion, in power, gravitates towards totalitarianism, and America is no exception. We have already been deprived of many of our much bragged about civil and political rights. Voting has become a joke, probable cause is now a lost dream, the right to counsel now only awards the defendant seven minutes of attorney time, and reasonable searches and seizures now include a gunshot to the head, if you're black.
This defensive reflex of failing religiosity is noticeable not only in America, but in many countries around the world. And it's not only Christianity taking the hostile position, it's different religions wherever you look.
There are Majority Muslim countries suffering unrest against minority religions; there are countries and regions where different sects of the same religion are at each other's necks; we have seen the rise of something that I would have thought impossible: Buddhist terrorism (confined to one country, but even so an amazing development); a majority Hindu country has fallen into fits of self-aggrandizement and exceptionalism; at least one majority atheist country is striking out at all religions and the very concept of religion. In effect, the entire snake-house at the religion zoo is throwing itself at the people in front of the glass simultaneously.
Being American, I worry most about America. The preferred religion in America is Christianity, which is the poster-religion for internecine warfare. All of Europe was solidly Christian, and Catholic, before the coming of the Renaissance, which cleared the way for the Protestant Reformation, which precipitated four or five hundred years of religious wars between very similar Christian sects. The majority Christian sect now ascendant in America is the Prosperity Gospel of faux Christianity of the Mega-Church variety. What a bunch of snake-handlers, if I may return to our earlier theme.
When I was a young man, those types were considered beyond the pale. They were expelled from polite society, Christian society, and forced to make a living out in the woods with nothing but a Bible, a tent, and a collection plate. Now they run the United States. The Rubes still go for the speaking in tongues routine, and the phony faith healing, but now the Rubes are watching on TV and sending the unaffiliated “preachers” money from all over. Tax free. “The more money you send me, the more Jesus will love you!” Gag me with a spoon.
Back then, real Christians were affiliated with established Christian sects. In big cities, these sects were older and more established, and their politics was mostly centrist. It was all much more polite. The mainstream Christians had even learned how to coexist with the Quakers and the Amish. In smaller, less enlightened cities, the many sects of Baptists or Congregationalists held sway, but they were still less disposed to extremism than our current crop of Christian cultists. They had learned to tolerate Catholics in their midst. That collegiality is gone now. All of the really Christian things, like charity, good deeds, kindness, peace, and love, have gone out with yesterdays garbage. Our mega-church Christians have gone full MAGA.
And now, as the minority-rulers of America, they are coming for the rest of our rights. They have been handed the Supreme Court of the United States by misguided Republicans who foolishly believed that they could control the demon that they were summoning. The last few weeks have seen habeas corpus further degraded from its already moribund state, the fifty-year precedent of Roe v. Wade overturned, and guns legally put into the belts of every gangster and juvenile delinquent in America. That Roe thing, I hate to tell you, means that all of substantive due process is next. Say goodbye to condoms and say hello to new sodomy laws. Bob and Steve, you're not married anymore. Mr. Justice “pubic hair on my Coca Cola can”, you may not be married to your fascist wife anymore in some states either. The “law of unintended consequences” is just getting started.
Praise Jesus! If you don't know how, you'd better learn quickly.
Tuesday, June 28, 2022
Monday, June 20, 2022
It was the worst job that I've ever had, but it fit my schedule. Driving the cab four nights every week left me three evenings to take classes at our university, which was a twenty-minute walk from our apartment. My wife was a full time student, and I took care of our young son during the day. For fun, I faithfully attended the five-pm class at a neighborhood Taekwondo gym on the nights when I had seven o'clock classes. I also went to the noon classes on Saturday, before showering and running out to the taxi garage to pick up a car.
I kept that up for well over a year. The energy of someone that age is hard for me to imagine now.
You learn a lot about people driving a taxi. You learn about people in general, and you also learn some of the secrets that many people carry around with them. You, the taxi driver, are a perfect audience for a confession. You have no idea what the passenger's name is, where they work, or who they know. You will never see each other again. It's late, and the interior of the cab is dark. Oh, brother, do you hear the damnedest things. Especially after the confessor has had a few drinks.
Sure, the job was demanding. New York traffic is no picnic. Just a small radio on the seat next to you for company most of the time. Twenty-five to thirty-five mostly boring rides up and down the avenues and across the streets of the Big Apple. Walking home after two-am could be a lonely moment. I must admit, though, that it did get interesting occasionally.
You need to get up off of your couch to hear people confess to murdering a group of P.O.W.s twenty five years previously, in the Korean War.
Sunday, June 19, 2022
Coming to the end of a long journey often brings a melancholy feeling. You've been traveling for days, but finally you can see it up ahead, the destination. A long drive; an interstellar adventure; a walk through the woods to grandma's house. You've done the hard work, but now you can see it, the object of the exercise. How do you feel?
You set off full of resolve. You found the rhythm of the road, and you rode it. Maybe you saw remarkable things. Maybe you overcame setbacks or surmounted obstacles. Now, you can see it. You are almost there. How do you feel?
Life is like a strange, stupid game. You must be lucky to avoid all of the snares and traps that life sets in your path. The unfortunate truth is that you cannot be lucky enough to beat the game of life.
The lucky ones among us cruise through the early phase of life, through grammar school and high school, with friends, even girlfriends, perhaps we discover talents within us. Maybe get married, maybe have a couple of healthy children, maybe make some money, maybe even achieve some happy equilibrium within the constraints of life's many rules and surprises. Keep the ball in the air, as it were, because we all know, to an absolute certainty, that when the ball comes to rest, it will spell doom for our sad little bet. The house always wins in the end.
It is, to me anyway, a melancholy thing to approach the end of life. It gradually comes into focus, beginning around the age of forty, but it starts out easily. As my father told me when he was about eighty-something, “fifty is nothing, you don't even notice it; sixty is the same; but seventy will kick your ass.” I can now officially add my two cents: whatever kind of life you have led, seventy falls on you and it hits you like a house. It hits you like a train. That's your three score and ten, brothers and sisters. Was that in the Bible? I believe it was. It accelerates the process of disintegration that has already begun to spread through every subsystem of your body. And life, before long, will bury you as sure as you were born.
As our seventies flip by, rather quickly, we must concern ourselves not only with suffering the ministrations of an increasing number of medical professionals, but also with coming to terms with death. Or not, I suppose, some people prefer to dance right into death with a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other. That's probably a good plan, now that I think of it. No worries. You barely have time to change the expression on your face. Then you are in the clear, back in the undifferentiated void of potentialities from which we all spring.
Most of us will wonder about things in the meantime. In five years, will I still be able to walk? Will my hands start to shake soon? When must I give up my drivers' license? Why am I getting shorter? Is my memory degrading? Have I always been so cranky?
You may already have reached my stage of life. The test is: when you lay yourself down to sleep at night, do you give a passing thought to whether you will ever wake up again?
I hope that many of you are at an earlier stage of life. Ideally, at a much earlier stage. This message is really directed to you. You will never regret taking some care with your physical selves, although you must never forget to have a lot of fun while you are being a bit careful. Small acts of kindness, of which only you are aware, will contribute to your self esteem. Be generous and kindhearted with your family, your friends, your wives, your children, and even with strangers. Be a good boss; be a good employee.
Love your parents without reservation, even if they have proven their lack of regard for you. They are just regular people to me, but they are mom and dad to you. I may criticize their parenting skills, but you must accept them as the only parents that you have.
Regarding mankind in general, I have found no simpler expression of the life well led than is found in the three rules of Buddhism: do good things; don't do bad things; try day by day to become a better person.
May the road come up to meet you, dear reader, and for the religious among you, may you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you're dead.
Sunday, June 12, 2022
Thursday, June 9, 2022
Wednesday, June 8, 2022
It was 1972 when Kim Phuc became famous. She was called, “the girl in the picture,” or, “Napalm Girl.” The famous photo, still available for viewing everywhere, shows a group of very frightened Vietnamese villagers running towards the camera. They include a girl, about ten years old, who had been directly in the path of a napalm explosion. Her clothing was all blown off of her, and she was covered in burns. She holds out her arms as if to keep burned skin from rubbing against burned skin. The expression on her face is pure desperation and terror.
Our news coverage was very different then. They tended to show everything. They certainly showed this photo on news programs of every visual medium. There were no questions of consent in those days. Nor were there any qualms about displaying a completely naked little girl. It was news! That's all there was to it.
No doubt about it, this photo had a powerful effect on people. While it is true that by 1972 the number of people who were firmly against that war had grown into a majority of Americans, there were still a lot of Americans sitting on the fence. They had been anti-demonstrator and pro-government, but they were starting to wonder. Richard Nixon was still the president, and there were a lot of Americans who still backed him 100% and were waving flags and attacking protesters. This photo moved many of the fence sitters into the anti-war camp.
I got to thinking about Ms. Kim the other day in connection with all of the mass shootings in my country. I, like most people, find the often shockingly successful school shootings completely horrifying. No offense to high school kids, but I find the mass murder of younger grade school children to be the worst category. Why not, I wondered, show the photos of those kids blown to shit by military grade ammunition, low-mass, high-energy bullets that would go right through most body armor? Wouldn't that help to change our ridiculously permissive gun laws? Why does anyone need an AR-15 anyway? If you think of a good reason, let me know.
Today, showing the photos is out of the question. The blown to shit children, of course, cannot consent. They are also far beyond caring if, or for what purpose, the photos are used, but that does not matter. Of the parents, many would talk about their privacy, and some, maybe quite a few, would hire lawyers who broached issues of copyright and money. Children's Rights groups would file Friend of the Court briefs complaining about the dignity of the children and their rights to their own images, and “adding insult to injury,” etc.
I wondered my way through this landscape of political correctness and the illogic of what passes for privacy and dignity these days, and then I came up against the deal breaker. We can't make these photos public. Without reference to the dead kids and their parents, I came to consider the effect that it would have on our living school children. They don't miss a trick. They have the Internet. All of the children in America would see the photos. Hell, they're already afraid to go to school, just from watching the stupid news coverage that we get already. They also know, and now they're sure, that their own “Protect and Serve” police forces WILL NOT LIFT A FINGER TO HELP THEM. If they saw the photos of the dead children, with those huge holes in them, and the blood everywhere, and the guts and brains splashed over the classroom, they'd never go to school again!
“Mom, no offense, but hell-to-the-NO on that shit. Uh-uh. No way.”
I guess it's “no” to showing the photos at this point. Then the usual script will play out. People will forget about Uvalde. These things only get fifteen-minutes of fame now anyway. Next week it will be a new crop of dead kids. The Republicans won't move an inch from their “freedom” agenda. They cherry-pick the Constitution just like they cherry-pick the Bible. They love that Second Amendment, but don't talk to them about Substantive Due Process. (For the uninitiated, that's abortion rights, and gay rights, and contraception, among other things.) Republicans hate activist judges, unless the activism is to overturn precedent that they don't like. (See also: Roe v. Wade.)
Re: the Bible, they love the parts about homosexuality bad, and women subservient to men good, but I notice that they do not grow beards, they do allow their wives to sleep in the house while they are menstruating, and they do love their pulled-pork sandwiches and their shrimp. They don't seem too worked up about fornication either, as long as it's them doing the fornicating. You can forget the New Testament all together. Keep a lid on all of that blessed are the poor shit, and welcoming the needy stranger. Jesus loves Trump! Prosperity Gospel my ass.
Miss Kim seems to have come down on her feet. Back in the 1980s, the Soviet were flying her from Cuba to Moscow and they stopped to refuel in Canada. Miss Kim and her new husband asked for political asylum in Canada, which was granted, and I'll bet that it was granted pretty damn quickly too. Welcome to Canada! After some much needed high-quality medical care on the old burn scars she regained her mobility and went on with her life. To her eternal credit, she is an activist for forgiveness and peace.
Thursday, June 2, 2022
Tuesday, May 31, 2022
Many things that have until recently been considered societal problems have fallen off of the list. Perhaps it was compassion fatigue. I mean, you can't be upset about fifty things forever. Perhaps it was societal adjustment, like we simply got used to it. Whatever mechanism is involved, our judgment regarding the problematic nature of a thing evolves over time. I won't pretend to understand it, although politics does seem to be involved.
What follows is a very unscientific list of things that are somehow no longer problems. Not, as I say, according to any social or natural science, but based only on the bloggers own readings, correspondence, and observations of the masses. Here goes:
One: RACISM. Racism was considered a huge problem for most of my life. Not only in America, but also around the world. All of that has changed, and believe me, I did not see that coming. Most people point to the election of a black American president as the miraculous turning point. We can't be racist anymore! We elected a black president! Twice!
We must be post-racist!
Two: CLIMATE SHINNANIGANS. Most people need only look out of a window to prove that there is no problem with our climate. It's a beautiful day! (Almost always.) The shops are full of fish, and shrimp, and veal, coffee and chocolate, all kinds of exotic fruits. What were we thinking? Obviously, there's no problem with the climate.
Disclaimer: SARCASM ALERT! This is only going to get worse, so read on with a gentle spirit.
Three: ILLEGAL DRUGS. A big part of this problem was solved with the stroke of a pen by making a few of the drugs legal. This is creating a great number of jobs and bringing in huge tax revenues, so the safe bet is that the phenomenon will only expand from here.
It was a wild conundrum for our elected representatives when the problem of addiction to opium based drugs became a huge money maker for American corporations. There were large financial donations to consider! Oxycontin/ Oxycodone was as American as apple pie. The owners of the company, as holders of the copyright on the drug and the trademark on the products, raked in many billions of dollars. This money was expertly shared with other American entrepreneurs, doctors, pharmacists, Walmart, state and Federal legislators, and all of that was part of the calculus that made the problem so hard to deal with.
Heroin came to the rescue when laws were changed to end the Oxy bonanza, but Heroin can be expensive. Laboratories, mostly overseas, now came to the rescue with cheap, plentiful generic Fentanyl. Fentanyl has real advantages as an internationally distributed illegal drug. It is so fantastically powerful, that a vast number of doses can be contained in a small package. This makes the smuggling much easier, and much safer to boot. The profit that can be made on a smallish box is a smuggler's dream come true. Mixing a bit of Fentanyl in with the ever popular Heroin even brought the end-user price down, so everybody was happy!
This, unfortunately, has become one of those problems that has worn out its welcome. People just don't give a shit anymore. YouTube is full of videos of junkies doing the “Fentanyl Shuffle,” which I believe is supposed to be the modern equivalent of a simple Heroin nod. In the case of Heroin, the junkies would slowly lower their heads with their eyes closed, very gradually assuming an “S” shaped posture. When they got to a certain point, and that point was reached quickly, they would jerk themselves back erect and open their eyes, trying to look like nothing had happened. (“How long was I out?”) On Fentanyl laced Heroin, the junkies bend over at the waist until their foreheads are almost touching their shins, and they stay there. They stand still for long periods of time, folded over like a closed pocket knife. These videos are intended to be informative, but serve better as entertainment.
The videos are made on big-city streets that are famous junkie hangouts. I have yet to see any police activity. Junkies are buying and selling, and injecting, in plain view. No one seems to care.
So, no problem here.
And what happened to meth? I suppose that people are still ruining their lives with meth, but you don't see it in the news anymore. No TV coverage, unless you're watching Breaking Bad.
Four: GUNS. Guns don't kill people; mentally ill people kill people! If they had no guns, they'd kill people with knives/bats/machetes, etc. Donny Jr. blames it on crazy teachers, among other things.
The Constitution! The Second Amendment!
Is anyone else surprised that there are only 400,000,000 guns in America? Because I know a couple of individuals with at least twenty of them, and that's only in California.
Five: DOMESTIC TERRORISM. See above, re: Second Amendment. See also Constitution for freedom of assembly, and those Confederate Battle flags and Nazi flags are political free speech. The actual killers are not terrorists, they are mentally ill murderers. This is really not that hard to understand.
Six: RICH PEOPLE. If someone starts a business based upon a stolen product, which then goes on to give thousands of people jobs and make hundreds of billions of dollars for the original entrepreneur, they are a maker, not a taker. And if they get to keep almost all of the money, well, it's their money, isn't it? They provide jobs to people, who then also pay taxes. Where could there be a problem here?
Seven: FAILED STATES. Whole giant swaths of the earth are covered with failed states. Nations with no functioning economy and no money, where the citizens try to remain alive by growing their own potatoes. There's no medicine in the hospitals, most of the doctors have left for greener pastures, there's no water in the taps, and most of the children do not go to school. But whose fault is it when an entire country goes tits-up? Why should we care, and more importantly, why should we enable their insane total failure by giving them food-aid or money? You know they just steal the money anyway. Venezuela was always great for a really beautiful Miss Universe contestant, but for most of the others, we never knew anything about them in the first place.
Eight: WARS ALL OVER. Countries all over are getting themselves into wars. Other countries are threatening their neighbors with war. Or threatening their whole neighborhood! Go, have some fun, Google, “victor orban greater hungary.” And he's not kidding. He wants all of that territory back. Putin has at least four or five European countries and several Central Asian countries on his Christmas wish list.
Is this really a problem? First of all, there's a tremendous amount of money in it for us. War is the championship Money-Pit of all time. Half of what we sell them actually blows itself up in normal use, requiring immediate replacement. The other half gets blown up by the opponent, requiring replacement. Think of the destruction of buildings, personal property, and infrastructure. That will all need to be remade or replaced some day, at a huge cost. Countries currently at war, and countries currently being threatened by war, are desperate to buy as many weapons as possible. At the rate the world is going, this will revive the entire rust-belt of the United States! Net positive for us.
Nine: POVERTY. Just ask Ted Cruz: anybody who is poor in America is just not paying attention. They are either lazy, or addicted to drugs. America is the land of opportunity! Start a business and, bingo! You're not poor anymore! Just ask Willard Romney: borrow some money from your parents and start a business! Or you could get elected to some legislature somewhere by mastering the arts of begging for campaign contributions, skimming some off the top, and investing with the help of insider trading information! This so-called poverty problem is simply a failure of individual initiative. Just go make some money.
Besides, nobody goes hungry in America. Those homeless people, that's a choice. Personal freedom. We have the greatest social safety-net in the world. Ask a politician! If you have no money and you get sick, just go to any hospital and there's no charge for anything.
Now there's cheap, legal weed, everybody has a big screen TV, we have Netflix and Disney+. Poverty in America isn't so bad. Eat pizza; drink beer. If you insist on being a lazy asshole, at least you can do it in style.
THIS is the narrative that the Republicans present to their legions of fans every day. A truly amazing number of voters go for it. The Republicans even get the tweekers off of their couches, pausing that John Wick movie, to go out and vote for Mitch McConnel, who has personally saved Kentucky from the evil talons of Satan as far as they are concerned.
It's enough to make you sick.
Monday, May 30, 2022
Wednesday, May 18, 2022
Monday, May 16, 2022
There was a time when an Ivy League education conveyed certain characteristics to its recipients. Not only the Ivies, but any of the more respected research universities, any of the elite schools. They were like America's Cambridge and Oxford. The education was first class, certainly, but they were also in the business of turning out ladies and gentlemen. They turned out refined individuals who could carry on sensible, knowledgeable conversations on subjects like literature, sociology, art, politics, and current events. They kept the point-of-view neutral, and they could express mild disagreements without resorting to tribal rage. They could competently speak a foreign language, and they understood the value of that ability.
The lucky young people who attended those universities in bygone eras learned how to get drunk quietly and politely.
They learned not to announce, and then defend, propositions that were obviously, foolishly wrong. They learned how to accept, without arousing suspicion, benefits, financial or otherwise, in return for support or assistance that could be either political, business-related, or social. They learned how to keep those transactions well hidden, and always maintained a surface of impeccable decorum.
They learned to make decisions that were based on evidence and reason. They learned about history and philosophy, which are great sources of common sense and feelings of human dignity. They learned to honor properly established scientific and legal precedent, which only makes sense, when you think about it.
They may have been on the conservative side or rather liberal in their politics, but in those days almost all politics took place in the center anyway.
It's not like that anymore.
Ron DeSantis got his undergraduate degree from Yale, magna cum laude, followed by a JD from Harvard, cum laude. Does it show? You can decide for yourself.
Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida looks and acts like a working member of the Three Stooges. I have never heard him say an intelligent thing. He starts hostile, tribal arguments at the drop of a hat. Recall that uncomfortable video of him bothering those two or three hapless high school students for wearing medical masks at some event that he was speaking at. “We have abolished that liberal mask mandate!” says Ron DeSantis. “You have your freedom back!”
Ron DeSantis has set off on a massive crusade against the Disney corporation, a legal crusade that will encompass property rights, contract rights, tax responsibilities, the provision of police protection, and insurance requirements, and that is only the short list. Being of the brotherhood myself, I can tell you that which any lawyer with an ounce of brains could tell you: NEVER FUCK WITH DISNEY. A friend of mine once represented a defendant being sued by Disney. At his client's deposition by Disney, Disney sent nine (9) lawyers to question the defendant.
What motivated Ron DeSantis to initiate this great battle? What was so important that it was worth this fabulously expensive, multi-year struggle? Just this: DisneyWorld gave a few mild signals to reassure their customers that the Disney Corporation welcomes its gay friends.
Laura Ingram of Fox Entertainment is another furious tribal warrior. She graduated from Dartmouth and then collected a JD from the law school of the University of Virginia, which is a top school. She sounds rather clever, while adhering very closely to the block-headed right wing talking points of the day. It all seems like a waste of a good education. Sean Hannity manages it with no education at all.
Kayleigh McEnany is a sleeper. She does not openly display any intellectual talents of any kind, yet she is a graduate of Georgetown University, including a year abroad studying at Oxford. Yes, that Oxford. She then went on to obtain a JD from the Harvard Law School. She reminds me of that movie, Legally Blond, except that there is no happy ending where the audience discovers that the protagonist is actually a highly talented lawyer.
Tom Cotton never lets on that he is an intelligent person, but the paper trail suggests that he is. He graduated from Harvard, magna cum laude, and he did it in only three years. He also graduated from the Harvard Law School. He also joined the Army and served as an infantry officer. That was attention to detail right there. This man actually is highly intelligent. I suppose, therefore, that we can believe that he means the things that he says. Tom Cotton frightens me. He probably frightens Harvard as well. They'll have to own him when he installs himself as The Leader someday.
Josh Hawley is an interesting case. He is best known as a person who sticks close to his base in his public utterances. He is also prone to the occasional faux pas (that raised fist during the January 6th insurrection). He graduated from Stanford University “with highest honors,” a member of Phi Betta Kapa. He went on to graduate from the Yale Law School. Even if he is a smart man, I doubt if he could find the bathroom in the dark. Fine education notwithstanding.
With academic credentials like those, you would expect these people to carry themselves with much more dignity than they display. You would expect them to say or do something intelligent once in a while. You would be disappointed.
Every now and then, one of their golf buddies will be quoted describing how these over-educated phonies really feel about the fascist Q conspiracies that they talk about ad nauseum on their shows or at their current job, like member of congress. In public we are only accustomed to the mask that they wear to fool the rubes into thinking that they believe all of that harebrained stuff in the talking points. We have become accustomed to hearing them offer opinions that elicit nausea in individuals more in tune with modern academia and mainstream American society.
All of the “own the libs” people really need to wake up. They are being milked for their votes. They have been drafted into the army of right wing hysterics by people who only want to relieve them of their money, their property, and their rights. It is a problem for all of us, because they are using the Rubes to come for all of our stuff as well.
For any Rubes who may be reading along, listen closely: Yes, masks help; yes, Fauci and Biden are doing good jobs; yes, Biden won the election fair and square; yes, you should keep your vaccinations up to date; and no, definitely no, the Democrats are not cannibalistic pedophiles. Read my lips: Putin bad.
The above mentioned individuals must realize that they are embarrassments to their alma maters, their families, and themselves. Forgive me for asking the obvious: why would they say such lurid, obnoxious things out loud? (Clue: “it makes a joyful sound! It makes the world go round!” Not there yet? Think Cabaret, think Joel Grey and Liza.)
The interesting issue for me is that we must now question the value of educations such as those described above. How was it possible for them to earn those honors? Are those elite universities still offering the same top-drawer educations that made them famous? Or are they now only catering to children of privilege, and even then, only trying to keep them happy? The things that some of these famous graduates say now make them seem dull-normal at best, often with a bit of crazy on the side. (A legal war with Disney? That is the biggest strategic error since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.)
What are we to believe now about our elite schools? It wasn't long ago that I was favorably impressed when I was introduced to someone who had a BA from Princeton, or Cornell, or other schools in that strata. And I was almost never disappointed when I had gotten to know them a little. They were a cut above; they were very intelligent ladies and gentlemen. Now I'm not so sure.
Have we gotten to the point where the schools themselves are just going for the money? Someone shows up who is arguably qualified academically, and does not need to borrow any money or get a scholarship to pay the huge tuition, so of course you let them in? Let them pay! Mischief be damned, baby needs a new pair of shoes! Somebody has to pay the bills around here.
I have seen a lot of that myself, and gotten a whiff of it in the recruiting materials that I have seen from universities around the world. Universities in countries with reputations for scholastic rigor. I hear echoes of, “foreign students paying cash for advanced degrees? Open wide the doors! Put on your best smiles! We welcome them!” (And we will make sure that all of the professors have been warned that they need to pass every subject, and get the degree, or else.)
Disclaimer: I am on the Law Faculty of a large, government university in an ASEAN country. I've been teaching there for fourteen years. We are a good group, and we take the job seriously.
When someone with the academic credentials of Ron DeSantis, or Tom Cotton, appears to lower his IQ by fifty points to appeal to a certain uneducated group of voters, you know that something is happening here. It may be the individuals, or it may be the institutions, but some damn thing is happening here.
What do you think is happening?
Blogger's Note: Why leave out Trumpski? He's an Ivy, right? I'm not buying it. That whole Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania thing was bought and paid for. Trump never opened a book. Trump is lucky if his IQ cracks 120, and he is a lazy-minded oaf besides. Big Mr. Businessman? He lost money IN THE CASINO BUSINESS. His book should have been called, “The Art of the Skim.” Trump should be on the Putin's Friends Sanctions List. If you showed him a simple mate-in-two chess puzzle he'd say, “it can't be done.”
Saturday, May 7, 2022
Saturday, April 23, 2022
Friday, April 15, 2022
Wednesday, April 13, 2022
)h, look! Mr. Blogger is angry again!
The world is now as full of annoying things as the oceans are full of salt water. Most people are annoyed, even though they try to hide it. Most people are afraid, although they don't admit it. Many people are participating in one or more of the annoying things, while carefully hiding that fact from their coworkers and families. I find that annoying too.
The most annoying thing from my point of view is that so many people are maintaining their composure and publicly acting as though nothing unusual or annoying were happening. Nope! We're fine here! Jobs are secure. Banking apps are working. Investments are generating earnings. Wi-fi is strong. Starbucks is still delicious. Weather has been beautiful. I love my new hybrid Camry. Nothing to see here! Keep it moving.
I can't help but wonder: are these folks all okay with our new world of drought, fire, floods, atmospheric rivers, wars, refugees, corruption, political terror, internecine warfare between generations, between races, between world-views, between political tribes, and between demographics?
Are they okay with the very popular abandonment of reality-based thinking, Enlightenment values, and, apparently, the whole concept of reading and knowing things?
It's almost like we were forbidden to discuss the terrible trouble that we are in. That would be strange.
I shouldn't get into specifics, because I am sure that I have annoyed enough people already. Is it even legal to express possibly aberrant opinions anymore? But since when can I help myself?
I don't want to harsh anyone's mellow, but it might be more appropriate if you got mad about...
The melting sea-ice and permafrost
The war in Ukraine in general
In particular, the first steps of the war in Ukraine into outer space (today we were informed that the Soviets, I mean the Russians, have cut off Sweden and Finland from the GPS satellites that they rely on, which are not, by the way, Russian satellites)
The upcoming election in France (if you liked Brexit, you'll love Marine le Pen; so will Putin)
Saudi billionaires handing over two billion US dollars to a certain Trump White House flunky as an “investment,” after the flunky facilitated a hundred-billion-plus arms sale to the Saudis for use in their genocidal war against Yemen, I mean Iran, I mean Yemen
The total mess that is being made of our Constitution and our democratic institutions by a bunch of idiots that is getting stupider year by year
Sri Lanka slipping into darkness, along with the usual suspects around the world, without anyone seeming to give a good God damn.
There are many things that are going horribly wrong. Most of which we are no longer allowed to discuss. I've been reading that maybe this Ukraine debacle will be the slap across the face that wakes us the fuck up, but I'm not so sure. Maybe people are waiting for Putin to actually blow off a smallish tactical nuke in Ukraine. We may get a chance to see what will happen in that case.
Any of those things would be worth an ounce of rage. Myself, it enrages me that simply saying that Hon. Ketanji Brown Jackson is extremely qualified to serve on the Supreme Court causes certain people to label me “pro-pedophile,” or even “a pedophile,” or at least part of the “radical left.”
It enrages me that expressing anything less than total endorsement of the limitless availability of sex-change operations to people of any age group makes one automatically a homophobe.
It enrages me that any objection to people “choosing their own pronouns” makes one a homophobe.
It enrages me that simply saying the name of a certain nation of people who live in the Levant, have pretty much always lived in the Levant, and until recently lived in a country named after them, well, now just saying their name makes one an anti-Semite. This happens regardless of how well documented your love for the Jews may be, and overlooks for the moment the fact that both nations are Semitic.
I am quite angry about the entire concept of “cancellation,” and the possibly related concept of “woke.” I swear, if anyone so much as tells me that they are “non-binary,” and instructs me in which pronouns that I am required to use, I'm moving to a smallish, more-or-less developing country. Oh, I forgot. I already have moved away.
Honestly, does anyone else agree with me that more thought and care should go into our consideration of the entire world south of the equator? Admit it, no one seems to think about them, with the possible exception of Australia and New Zealand. We think about those two because they are white and they speak some weird simulacrum of the English language. The white ones and the brown ones are equally our brothers and sisters, and most of them are in terrible shape.
Corruption? I could harp on the corruption problem all day. I'm afraid, however, that corruption has won its battle for our souls, and that it will destroy us sooner or later. Corruption has co-opted our opposition by extending its benefits through a sufficient portion of the population. A preponderance of the key people around the world receive benefits in sufficient measure to bind them to the engines of corruption. These can come in the form of cash, artificially inflated salaries, long term benefits, big retirements some day, book deals, jobs for dependents, otherwise unobtainable fantastic health care, titles and honors, access to devices and properties, scholarships for children, or other things of value. It's all chump-change to the real money, but it's enough to bind the necessary collaborators to the corruption teats.
There is a great deal of corruption in the southern hemisphere as well, but down there it's all on a more affordable scale. Freedom from hunger is a miraculous benefit for a hungry family. A mobile phone will buy a vote in a surprising number of countries. Terror, of course, remains a cost-effective way to facilitate corruption.
Our prosperity, for those of us who are lucky enough to qualify for the term, is on a year-by-year basis now. First, therefore, let's all hope that we get through this year okay. The next few years will be real Wild Cards. Maybe we'll get lucky. That would be nice. Or maybe not so lucky. Maybe it'll be a bust-out. Time will tell.
What will you do on the morning that we all wake up to find that the entire Internet is gone? Gone for years, all of it, four-corners gone. It might be a good idea to start keeping more flashlights, batteries, real books, and cash around the house. Small bills, please. I wonder about small gold coins sometimes. Anything could happen, and probably will.
Wednesday, April 6, 2022
Saturday, April 2, 2022
Anyone who has ever been involved in a court case will tell you that it's a tough row to hoe. Plaintiff or defendant in civil court, or, for the truly unlucky, defendant in a criminal case, you have passed through the looking glass into a world of strange linguistics, arbitrary decisions, and bored participants. A world where the law is whatever the judge says it is, and the truth is generally left up to a jury, whether they understood the case or not. If you think the judge made mistakes of law, you can, perhaps, appeal the error. That takes money, and comes with no guarantees. If you think that the jury was wrong in their decision, well, there is really nothing that you can do about it. Almost always, “nothing.” They often get it wrong, sometimes on purpose (see, State of California v. Orenthal James Simpson).
Appearing before the court as a party to a case is a lot like making sausages, with the state providing the casing, and the parties providing the chunks of meat, gristle, and bone. Spices optional.
(Redacted) are going through a divorce right now. The petitioner has retained counsel, filed the case, and served the petition on respondent. Respondent had retained counsel, and they had answered the petition, but around that time things took a wild swing towards the ditch. People who appear quite reasonable in good times may discover that they are capable of great mischief without half trying. They ask unqualified friends and acquaintances for advice, and they get it. And they may act on it. Destination: misadventure! In this case, the fallout included respondent's attorney substituting himself out of the case, which is a nice way of saying that he fired respondent as a client. His potential billing in this case was a vast treasure, so one is driven to the conclusion that respondent did something that had the potential to get them all in trouble. Lawyers prefer not to go down with the ship.
Friends and neighbors, finding yourself in court is so far away from fun that you would need the Hubble telescope to see fun from the courtroom. It was Oscar Wilde that said that he had had a good life, all in all, but that in the course of said life two very terrible things had happened to him. Once, he was sued in court, and he lost, even spent some time in prison, and that had been a terrible experience. Another time he had sued someone in court, and he won! That, said Oscar, was just as bad as the other thing.
In my opinion, the only winners in the courtroom are the court reporter and the interpreters. They don't care who wins; they get their money either way; and they are almost never sued. Even the court clerk has pressure on him, and the bailiff's life can often become very lively, suddenly. Of the parties, no one wins, not really. All of the parties go home worn out and poorer for it, unless they are criminal defendants who get carted right off to prison.
I went through a divorce myself about ten years ago. My ex-wife and I had been married for over forty years, so there were no issues of child support or custody. I am confrontation-adverse, so I did not wish to push for settlements that were well within the reach of a decent family lawyer. (I make no claims for my abilities in the field, although I rubbed up against it in my own practice.) My advice to my wife was that we should jointly hire a specialized divorce mediation lawyer. Let's just go with the simplest, most straightforward division of the property. It went well and was handled expeditiously by a talented young woman with good experience. I lost money on the split, but I would have lost any likely additional benefit by having to pay a good family lawyer.
Isn't that a nice euphemism? Family lawyer. The lawyers who preside over divorce battles are called “family lawyers.”
Most lawyers are simple journeymen, dragging a briefcase around all day between courthouses and the offices of other lawyers, trying to find odd moments to either bring in new clients or work on pleadings and correspondence. The greatest lawyers are like magicians. They are great actors, adept at mind-control and misdirection. There were a huge number of lawyers in the jurisdiction that I worked in, and most by far were either sleepwalking or operating at the top of their limited capacity. When a great one showed up in the middle of a case that you were involved with, they were a joy to watch.
Not to mention the driving! I often had days where I would appear in San Bernardino in the morning (one hundred miles each way), and be at a law office in Newport Beach in the early afternoon. Substitute Ventura, followed by Pasadena. Every single thing that a lawyer does between about six in the morning and, if she is lucky, seven in the evening is stressful. It should be a mystery to no one why many lawyers drink too much.
It's much the same with judges, without the driving. Oh, they also have more predictable hours. Their jobs are stressful though. They are under close scrutiny, and they must sit there all day and listen to lawyers lie to them. They all understand that the lawyers are probably lying, or at least holding something back. All judges were lawyers once, and they did their job the same way. My greatest shock as a lawyer was the realization that telling the truth was often considered unethical under the rules of legal ethics. Telling the truth could be malpractice, and you could be sued.
Most judges are just trying to color within the lines and not get themselves into trouble. The occasional highly intelligent judge was a rare treat. The more pedestrian judges have a threshold issue when they are deciding a matter: is this lawyer or law firm likely to take me up on a writ or appeal if I rule against them? If the answer is “yes,” that side wins, regardless of the merits of the issue.
Self interest is evident at every stage of every proceeding.
It's nothing like what you've seen on TV. No, on TV someone commits a crime, the matter is investigated, the alleged perpetrator is arrested, and there is a trial to a final verdict, all within one hour. Even in theatrical movies, it is a rare example that gives you any sense of the real timeline, which can seem like forever.
My friends, my sincerest wish for you is that you and your loved ones can manage to avoid courts and hospitals for the rest of your lives! Do whatever it takes to avoid them.
If you are already stuck being a lawyer, keep your nose clean and learn to stay loosey-goosey without drinking too much. For you judges, may I suggest that you place a nice sign on your bench where only you can see it, reading, “Not My Circus; Not My Monkees.” You didn't get those Jimbonies into this trouble, and it's not your job to get them out of it.
Wednesday, March 30, 2022
Monday, March 28, 2022
Human beings are born helpless. This is due to the unreasonable size of our heads. They are too big. It is already all a woman can do to express one in the natural manner. The baby, having been so delivered into the outside world, is nonplussed, perhaps somewhat angry, and totally helpless.
Horses, on the other hand, are born from an altitude of about three feet and, upon falling to the ground, almost immediately stand up and start to walk around. The mare nudges the already substantial beast, and soon he is moving faster and kicking a bit with his hind legs, to get the feel of things. Before long, he can almost keep up with the other horses. Which is a good thing, because horses are prey animals in many of the habitats that they call home. The predators are hungry. Predators are always hungry, and doubly so when they smell a birth in the area.
Horses do need the assistance of a mother, for nourishment, and a herd, for protection. Humans, however, need orders of magnitude more assistance from a whole team of adults. We need to be carried around for at least one year! It will require at least one additional year before we can successfully guide a spoonful of food into our own mouths. Thus, the existence and importance of families.
I often wonder, or “have wondered,” because it's not so often anymore, how the baby feels about all of this. The temperature has suddenly dropped by about twenty degrees F, for one thing; where did that light come from? Oops, I'm upside down; what is that smacking my feet? Now there's a new sound, and it's coming from me! Now I'm being passed around like this is a game of some kind! That blanket feels good. Thanks for that. Something is missing...oh, there it is. I'd know that heartbeat anywhere. This could all be worse, I suppose. Why can't I see anything but white light?
It doesn't always go that smoothly. Luck is involved, right from the beginning.
Then, immediately, you find yourself at the big-stakes table. One hand, and you're all in, no questions asked. The hand is dealt. Five cards, no draw. You are now part of a family. You may be dealt any hand that it is possible to create with fifty-two cards, and you are stuck with that hand for the rest of your time on earth. You may either grow up and go on to have a happy family of your own, or you may run away and become a carny at age fourteen. You may experience love and security throughout your upbringing, or you may be treated badly by people who are so far short of loving that they can't even see it from where they are. You may appreciate your lot in life, or you may die of an overdose in a filthy stairwell, or both! Whatever comes to pass, you will carry the residue of your family in your veins as long as their blood runs inside of you.
This is the part where I generally start to complain, but I'm not in the mood for complaining today. I look around me and I see too much misery. I see too much block-headed stupidity from people in positions of great authority. I see people who were dealt a full-house, aces over tens, and still they complain because someone else got the four ladies.
How can I complain when we are now, for the first time since the ice age, together, every man, woman, boy and girl, together on the same train? Destination, “Doom on the Express Track.” And it's such a shame, because as I look around I see only problems susceptible of solution. I see, for the first time ever in our history, as plainly as the nose on my face, that our world, and our people, possesses all of the money, talent, and resources necessary to straighten out every mess that we find ourselves in. But I know for an absolute certainty that it will not happen.
The Family of Man is doomed, because it will not let go of corruption, it will remain mired in the Rasputitsa of self-interest. We will continue to be ruled by the graspers, the robbers, and those disinterested in anything outside of themselves, unless it is something that could enrich them.
Our situation longs to be poignant, but really it's only pathetic.
Monday, March 21, 2022
The study of language itself is a wonderful source of amusement, the origins and the development, etc., and the many languages themselves present endlessly fascinating possibilities. The points of intersection and divergence of languages that share a similar background can be surprising, or obvious, or dubious. The student can always find sources of information, but sorting them out can be difficult. They agree; they partially agree; they disagree. You can come to your own conclusions. You may be right, or you may be wrong, and it really doesn't matter. Language is a very elastic thing.
Take, for instance, the term, “carpet eater.”
I am currently one third of the way through the marathon epic that is “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.” One of the few silver linings in this COVID mess is time to read. The term carpet eater has a common meaning in English slang, and I have been familiar with it for many decades. Imagine my surprise when Shirer rather casually quotes a friend, a German anti-Nazi editor, as referring to Hitler as a carpet eater.* That took me rather aback, it did.
The editor made the reference in the original German, “ein Teppichfresser.” (Der Teppich: carpet; fressen, the verb to eat, applied to animals. For humans, the verb, to eat, is essen.) The matter was quickly cleared up to Shirer's satisfaction, if not to the satisfaction of anyone else.
I cannot judge the quality of Shirer's German, but he claims that the friend told him that Hitler was so hysterically nervous that he was literally throwing himself onto the floor and chewing the edge of the rug in a tizzy about Czechoslovakia. This is highly unlikely, since Teppichfresser is a slang term in German, strictly figuratively, for anyone who frequently flies off the handle in fits of rage.
The French also use the term for someone who is subject to fits of nerves, using it to indicate a person who may pace back and forth over the same space, wearing out that piece of carpet.
Note that in neither case does the term have any similarity with our impolite, but well known, usage in English. And no, Hitler was not on the floor biting the carpet. Nor was Eva Braun involved in any way.
*Kindle location 9554 to 9560, 31% mark.
Saturday, March 19, 2022
Tuesday, March 15, 2022
Monday, March 14, 2022
Is Common Core Math good for anything? Probably not, but then again, maybe.
I had no experience with Common Core Math when I came across a short video on YouTube the other day. A real teacher was running down multiplication using the Common Core principles.
The problem was “35 x 12.”
She made a box on a white board (imagine the boxes; they don't copy-paste to other company's products):
The top line is for the “35,” (three tens, thirty, and five ones, five) and the side labels are for the “12,” (one ten and two ones).You multiply the left by the tops and fill in the intersecting box:
10/ 300 50
2/ 60 10
You need to work with me here. Ten times thirty is three hundred; ten times five is fifty; two times thirty is sixty; two times five is ten.
Then you put the four numbers into column formation, positionally, and add them up.
Adding them up, you get a total of 420.
Of course you do! Most adults just say, okay, 35 times ten is 350; two times 35 is 70; 350 plus 70 gives you the answer: 420.
I could see the pedagogy for this kind of introduction to multiplication, however misguided I believe it to be. Then I wondered: since Roman numerals are not positional, could this system make sense in that context?
What do we get if we try that?
XXXV times XII
The top of the box shows three tens, thirty (XXX), and five ones (V);
The side of the box shows shows one ten on top (X), and two ones on the bottom (II). When you multiply them out, this box is the result:
X/ CCC L
II/ LX X
Ten times thirty is 300 (CCC); ten times five is 50 (L);
Two times thirty is 60 (LX); two times five is ten (X).
You can make a column to be added, but positionality does not occur in Roman numerals.
Adding them up, from top to bottom, just following them along in your head, you get a total of CDXX (420).
The box works for Roman numerals, but someone with more patience than I possess would have to multiply 127 x 1,795 to really see if it worked all the way out. It's so much easier to do the simple positional multiplication that we are all familiar with:
You know how that goes, so I won't bother. The calculator says 227,965. I'm going to take their word for it.
No wonder that the entire world uses Arabic numbers.* That positionality thing really comes in handy. And the zero! Those fellows were certainly onto something. The Romans did not know about the zero.
I have no idea how Romans did it, but they did. They could obviously perform complex calculations, I mean, just look at the architecture. Huge domes! Aqueducts! However they did it, they understood complex math, at least for engineering purposes.
*Thailand does not use the Roman alphabet. The Thai alphabet is unique to Thailand, although it is very similar to the Lao alphabet. Both are based on an Indian alphabet still used to write in Hindi. (The Indian words look so different because they put a line over the word, right across the tops of the letters.) Thai has its own numbers as well, probably also from India, but they are after the fashion of the Arabic numbers and therefor fully positional, and they do employ the zero. They function exactly like Arabic numbers. The Thai numbers would work fine for accounting and complex math, but they are slowly disappearing from Thai life. You see almost exclusively Arabic numbers, everywhere. I've spent several hundred days proctoring Thai university examinations, and the only subject where you are likely to encounter Thai numbers is Thai Language. I've never seen Thai numbers in test from a math class, or an accounting class.