Sunday, May 31, 2009

What if Ron Paul Ran America

Although soundly rejected in his presidential bid, people keep talking about Ron Paul. It got me to thinking about what life today might be like if Ron Paul were in charge for the last one hundred years.

Without progressive taxes and anti-trust legislation, the middle class would be much smaller. Most Americans would be working class or poor with a small, but much wealthier, upper class. Small businesses would be much smaller and mid-sized business would all be either bought up, or crushed by the corporate trusts which would run the country.

With our currency tied to precious metals, the dollar would be very strong, but there wouldn't be enough available capitol to develop small businesses. Without banking or insurance regulations there would be just a few, very large banks, each owned by one of the trusts, and none of them particularly interested in the needs of the average American.

Lacking adequate health care or housing without medicare, medicaid, welfare, food stamps, ADC and other programs, the poor and the elderly would live in squalor and there would be few opportunities for people to move upwardly from one class to another. If you think it sucks to be poor now, things could have been much, much worse.

Without our involvement in foreign wars, Europe and Asia would be controlled by either the fascists or the communists, leaving us in a real bind when it comes to foreign oil, but it might not matter because far fewer Americans could afford automobiles.

There would be no Hoover Dam, no National Parks, no Panama Canal and no NASA. Advanced sciences, particularly advanced physics, would all be based in Europe or Asia as there would be no funding for it in the US.

I think it's important to have somebody like Ron Paul around, because there are always some really cool things about the path we don't choose in life and it's important to have someone to remind us of that. It's also important, though, to remember there were reasons, usually very good reasons, why we chose the paths we did, and although there are problems with the way things worked out, they could be worse if we had gone another way.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

No Politics or Religion at the Dinner Table

Many people have a rule about not discussing politics or religion. There's actually a very good reason for that: most of us use politics and religion, not as a philosophy or theology, but as a means of defining ourselves and placing ourselves within our vision of the social spectrum.

Most people don't mind if you challenge a philosophy they espouse, but if you challenge their politics and they use their political affiliations as a means to define themselves, then you're posing not an intellectual argument, but a threat to their very sense of being.

Humans are social creatures, but we're not communal (like ants or bees) so we constantly seek ways to position ourselves within our affiliated cultures and sub cultures. Because we can't actually surrender our individuality to the group, political and religious affiliations and behaviors become a prime method of expressing our desired social position. It becomes a matter of security and has a strong impact on our sense of well-being.

I actually love discussing, even arguing, politics and religion and philosophy. I find it very stimulating, but I've learned through the years that many times I should avoid it because the people I'm arguing with don't see it as an intellectual exercise, they see it as a challenge to their espoused sense of self, and honestly, I don't have a right to do that just because I enjoy discourse.

It's hard though, because the more a person uses these things to define themselves, the more illogical their arguments become and it's really, deeply difficult for me to leave an illogical argument laying on the table.

I am a gentleman though, (or at least I try to be a gentle person) and although I still slip up a lot, and it's not up to me to correct anyone on how they should define themselves, so I do try and bite my tongue quite a bit.

I do fell sorry for them though. This business of trying to define ourselves (socially in particular) is a fruitless effort. We are, by nature, utterly individual and undefinable. This concept of society and culture is really just an illusion we came up with to try and cover how very individual and alone we all are. Often I get the sense that the people who try the hardest to define themselves socially are actually the most lonely and the most insecure.

I get this outlook from my grandfather. Although my grandmother never agreed, my grandfather thought the people who ran around town joining every club and going to every party were fairly silly. As a result, he formed his own club with the express purpose of not trying to establish yourself socially, but to be silly and laugh at being silly and to use social situations, not as a means of positioning yourself, but as a time to enjoy friendships.

It was something of a horror for him when the second generation members in his club began to turn it into the very thing he and his generation formed the club to be against. Since there were already several clubs dedicated to men trying to position themselves socially, my Grandfather's club was no longer unique and since it lost its purpose, it eventually folded from lack of use.

If you know me, then I probably have argued politics or religion with you at one time or another. Please understand, for me, these things are pretty impersonal and external. Intellectually I know this isn't the case for most people, but like everyone else, I'm pretty much locked into my own point of view on the universe and it's often difficult to remember the way I see things aint necessarily so for anyone else.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Better Choice for Gay Marriage

I wonder if both sides of the argument are headed in the wrong direction with regards to gay marriage.

As it stands now, the states provide a one-size-fits-all social contract for marriage and many states are arguing whether or not homosexuals fall into that one-size umbrella. What most gay rights supporters believe (and I agree) is that whatever statutory rights a heterosexual couple have, a homosexual couple should also have, but I question whether or not the state should be involved in any marriages, gay or straight.

When most current statutes regarding marriage were drafted, there were very limited opportunities for women to support themselves outside of marriage and the marriage contract was the principal instrument for determining parental rights and responsibilities. The main purpose of these laws was to prevent men from abandoning their wives and children without providing a means for their support should he want out of the marriage.

Things have changed a great deal since then. Most women have as many opportunities to support themselves as men and the issue of parental rights and responsibilities have been defined in the law separately from marriage out of necessity.

The cultural and religious institution of marriage really is a matter for the individual churches to decide, not the state. If gay couples belong to a church that supports homosexual marriages, then that should be the end of it. If not, then perhaps they should join another church, or simply go without a religious blessing all together. After all, why should they support an organization which does not support them in return?

As for the more practical aspects of the marriage contract, couples can, and probably should, reach a social contract between themselves in a manner similar to other contracts without state involvement as well. Many people do this already with prenuptial agreements. It would be a simple matter of couples seeing legal council before entering into the contract to make sure their contract meets their needs. Certainly, most marriages would fall under the same contractual template, but there are many others that don't, and in either case couples should be making the choice of what their marriage contract entails individually, not following the form provided by the state.

Rather than battle over who gets to enter into these outmoded forms of marriage, I believe we should reconsider the entire arrangement so that it better suits the actual form of our culture as it exists today. If marriage indeed is a matter of choice for the individuals involved, then perhaps we should start over in our consideration of how the state gets involved, if at all. Marriage, after all, is a personal decision between two people and we shouldn't allow the state to supersede that decision.

Friday, May 22, 2009

I'm Not White Flight

Twenty-five years ago I moved to a house on the Rankin County Reservoir. I don't call it the "Ross Barnett" Reservoir because it embarrasses me he was ever governor much less naming anything permanent after him.

My original thought was that it would be really cool to live on the water and the only places like that in Jackson were triple my price range and situated on pretty pitiful ponds. At the time there were about nine or ten houses on my street and most of the land around us was pine forests. At the time, nobody thought the white-flight from the public schools might eventually lead to people moving out of Jackson all together.

I never particularly had a problem with the concept of living around black people. My parents were pretty liberal and I knew a lot of black folks so it never really crossed my mind. I liked the idea of semi-rural living though and the area I was moving to was pretty undeveloped.

What I didn't know at the time was I was just a couple years ahead of a mass migration of white people out of Jackson into Madison and Rankin counties. Pretty soon the pine forests around me were clear-cut and turned into middle-class and working-class homes. My street went from mostly empty lots to no empty lots and commercial real-estate produced store after store and eventually a sprawling mall on both sides of Lakeland Drive.

I never thought of myself as being part of the white-flight movement, but here I sit in the middle of thousands of white-flight refugees from Jackson. The only bright spot in this development is the refugees aren't all white. There are a lot of middle-class and working-class black folks out here was well, far more than similar developments in Madison county.

My heart was always with Jackson though, and I'll always consider myself a Jackson boy. Some people say I should move back to the city and I've given it a lot of thought. I still like being on the water though, and I hate moving, so we'll see what happens. This isn't the trip I signed up for though. I'm not white-flight, although I do find myself in the middle of many who are. Either way, I'm not all that happy about the way things turned out.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Race in Municipal Politics

There really are just two points of view when it comes to race.

The liberal point of view holds that race is just a social construct and we're better off trying to overcome and ignore these differences.

The conservative point of view basically says "my side comes first and the rest don't matter. They're probably inferior anyhow."

During the civil rights movement you saw both sides emerging in the black community. Martin Luther King Jr was a liberal and tried to work for a color-blind society. Malcom X headed a more conservative movement that really was only concerned with advancing people of African descent, not the whole culture.

If you have a problem seeing Malcom X as a conservative, remember he was a practicing Muslim and on pretty much every social issue Muslims are very conservative. His Nation of Islam followers might have espoused communism and socialism, but that really was just a means to the end of getting more economic and political power in the hands of ex-africans.

These opposing positions are pretty well evident in today's Municipal Elections in Jackson.

There is an element who wants to work with white Jacksonians and try to encourage white business people to invest in Jackson. They're opposed by a faction who wouldn't be all that upset if all the white people left Jackson. They want all the power and control for themselves and couldn't care less what anyone else wants.

The problem with that second point of view is that we've been there before, only it used to be white people looking for total control where now it's black people. It was a bad idea then and it's a bad idea now. No community functions well with just one side controlling everything.

We've seen this cycle all over the country. As demographics change, white people move out of a city at first voluntarily because they're afraid of change, but in the middle of the cycle the growing black power base starts actually pushing them out to gain more power for themselves, then at the end of the cycle, as the city gets poorer and poorer, white business interests are able to move back in and buy up land at pennies on the dollar.

The right get richer and the poor get poorer and nothing changes. Somebody could actually break the cycle by working to keep a city racially balanced by encouraging white people to stay in the city and invest in the city, giving black politicians a tax base sufficient to actually do something to help their constituents with.

That's probably not going to happen in Jackson. From what I've seen there's a pretty strong movement to actually prevent white business people from investing in Jackson or getting involved in municipal politics. That's probably exactly what's going to happen. Most of these guys aren't going to go where they're not wanted, especially when there are successful suburban communities practically begging them to invest in their cities.

What really hurts is that poorer communities have a higher need for social services like police and fire protection, but as the tax base shrinks, the ability to fund these needs shrinks as well, making the quality of life in these poorer communities worse and worse and ironically, as black citizens gain political power, they lose the ability to do anything useful with that power because they're no money in the budget.

The logical move would be to really push to keep middle class people, white and black, living in the city to keep the tax base high enough to fund needed projects in the poorer side of town, but since that might dilute the political power of black politicians I don't see it happening.

I hate seeing Madison prosper while Jackson deteriorates. It's Jackson's legacy to make really bad decisions when it comes to race though, so maybe it's the future as well. Even though the races changed, the stupidity remains the same.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Chokwe Lumumba Makes History

And so it begins...

If you've ever heard of this guy before, then you know there's never a dull moment around him. I kinna hope he wins just to see the Marshall Ramsey cartoons about him.

If you read his platform he's gonna bring the people jobs and justice and medical care and all sorts of great stuff if he's elected. He doesn't actually say how he's gonna do all this, but I guess that's not really important.

Lumumba is convinced white people hate him because he's black, when really they hate him because he's from mars.

From WLBT:
Posted: May 18, 2009 07:18 PM
Is Chokwe Lumumba a Democrat?

JACKSON, MS (WLBT)- Eleventh hour controversy surrounding Jackson's Ward 2 City Council race.

Democratic candidate Wydette Hawkins says he was shocked to see a YouTube video of his opponent, attorney Chokwe Lumumba, saying he is not a Democrat although he's running on the party ticket.

Lumumba is seen speaking to a group of people in which he says he's running on the Democratic party label only because he did not have to sign an oath to the party. And could not win as an independent candidate. The video was posted February 13th. Hawkins claims Lumumba is misleading the voters of ward 2. Here is a portion of that video and response from both candidates.

Video: "It's an election we intend to win. But there is no question we are not a Democrat like Barack Obama. We are not a Democrat period and I make that statement clear."

Hawkins: "He is running as a Democrat, but he has emphatically stated that he is not a Democrat. So my question is he misleading our people from day one and as a candidate I'm very concerned about it I'm bringing it to the attention of everyone."

We asked Lumumba, "Are you a Democrat?

"I am a Democrat. I am a Democrat, in that I believe the people be represented in the government. I believe in that I meet all the qualifications I am required to meet to list myself on the Democratic ticket," Lumumba said.

Lumumba says he is affiliated with the Mississippi freedom Democratic Party and that qualifies him to run on the Democratic ticket. He also says he intends to make history if he wins by creating a new political party.
Here's the YouTube video where he says he's not a Democrat:

Sunday, May 17, 2009

80's Music Videos Are Just Weird

80's videos are just weird. This video of Bonnie Tyler singing Total Eclipse of the Heart is a great example.

To look at this without the sound you'd think it was a horror movie. Choir boys with glowing eyes, who take flight for no apparent reason fighting a dozen dancers in Conan the barbarian leather costumes--and all with remarkably large hair.

I guess the choir boys with glowing eyes is a reference to the line "turn around bright eyes" in the song, but Holy Crap! These guys are worse than those kids in Village of the Damned.

Flying choirboys, leather clad half-naked male dancers: do you get the impression maybe the director was both gay and catholic?

Link YouTube

Welsh Girls Dream of Cowboys:

Bonnie Tyler is Holding Out For A Hero, but of all the heroes from British history, what Bonnie really wants is a cowboy.

I wonder if this is the same director that brought us the flying choirboys in Total Eclipse of the Heart. The production values on these videos are pretty high. Who knows how much they paid for the helicopter shots in the Grand Canyon.

I knew guys who would turn themselves into zombies staying up all night watching this crap on MTV. You really gotta wonder what the hell we were thinking.

Oh yeah, did I mention the glow-in-the-dark bull whips?

Link: YouTube

Ok, if there was any doubt Bonnie Tyler's director was gay, the greco-roman mud wrestlers in this one pretty much gives away the ending. Not only was he gay, he apparently did a lot of drugs too. Giant spider webs? Nurses from the blitz? What the hell is going on here? You'll notice her hair gets progressively bigger with each video. In this one it's just short of a full afro.

Link YouTube

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Atheism and Ritual

I used to say scientific atheists had everything they needed to be a religion except a deity and a ritual, then I realized they had the greatest religious ritual ever.

The scientific method is a ritual of prophesy. Lots of religions have prophesy rituals. They're a laid out set of steps, and if you follow them correctly and with due diligence then your reward is revelation of higher knowledge. Many of them include narcotics as one of the steps, and often the "higher knowledge" they receive is bullshit, but the form is essentially the same as the scientific method.

Children are taught the ritual of the scientific method at a young age. We even have festivals where children can display their mastery of the ritual called science fairs.

Most rituals appeal to some unseen mystic powers to make the process work. The scientific method appeals to the unknown rules of the universe to make it work. With religion, people often try to assign personalities to the rules of the universe, whereas scientific atheists believe the rules exist by themselves without any sentient force behind them. I can't tell you which is correct, but I have a problem with the concept of self-creating or spontaneously-creating rules.

Ancient mystics went to their oracles to find out why crops were failing and what to do about it, and today we repeat the same process replacing the oracles with scientists.

I don't think science ever intentionally tried to mimic religious behaviors. I think these patterns are just the way people work and we'll always repeat them no matter what our beliefs are.

In the end, science really is just an evolution of religion. I get pretty frustrated with scientific atheists because they present themselves as very separate and superior to religion when really they're doing the same things, just in a different way, and even then, sometimes the differences aren't all that great.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Empathic Life

I'm not psychic by any means, but I am empathetic. It's not that I can always tell what other people feel, but I almost always feel what they feel to some level.

I think we're all born with this ability, but learn to tune it out as we get older. If you watch small children, they laugh when other children laugh and they cry when other children cry, even if they don't know what they're laughing at or crying about. As we get older, these empathetic feelings get in the way of whatever we're trying to do or whatever we're trying to feel so we learn to block them out. They're still there though, always there.

The problem is that most of the time other people feel angry or annoyed or frightened or distracted and almost always lonely. Feeling those emotions of your own is bad enough, but when you share them from the people you encounter, it can become quite a burden.

It can be such a burden, that sometimes I prefer not to be around anyone at all. Feeling nothing but my own thoughts and my own emotions, although quite lonesome at times, is often better than sharing the suffering from the rest of the world.

A friend once suggested that I surround myself with happy, successful people and then I wouldn't mind sharing their empathetic experience. There problem there is that most happy, successful people don't usually feel that way, and if they do, they're often almost completely empty inside.

There is a payoff though. People do sometimes feel joy, love, laughter and beauty. Sharing these emotions with them can be a privilege. These things are valuable though because they're rare, and sometimes it can be a long dry patch between bright moments.

Sometimes I meet people whose need to share what they're experiencing is so great, that being around them almost crushes me. I let them do it though because I can feel how badly they need to share their experience, but it's pretty draining, and afterward I usually need sometime alone to recharge.

John Donne said "No man is an island", but he's wrong. All men are an island. We're close enough to signal each other and exchange goods, but ultimately we have to isolate ourselves to keep any identity at all.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Darwin's Reputation and Dark Matter

Critics of Darwin like to say "evolution is only a theory", which is true, but misleading. Evolution is a theory as opposed to a hypothesis, but there's a heck of a lot of work which substantiates the theory.

I've seen supporters of Darwin who come back saying a theory is the "highest form of scientific thought", which isn't true, but is more accurate.

The highest form of scientific thought is a law. Laws are theories worked out to a point where we can model them mathematically and use these models to accurately predict outcomes. That's the difference between Newton's Laws and Darwin's theory. Evolution will probably never become a law. There are too many variables and too many aspects of the process we don't understand to ever become a law.

People generally credit Darwin with the idea of evolution, but the concept that life changes gradually over time from one form to another predates Darwin by some four thousand years. That concept on the formation of life is actually contemporary to the creation story in Genesis, although from another culture.

What Darwin brought to the table was this idea of Natural Selection as a mechanism to drive evolution. Darwin saw random chance as the initial movement in Natural Selection which is how he ran afoul of religious people. Had he said God motivated natural selection, the religious community probably would have embraced him.

Natural selection is a pretty solid concept and comes pretty close to something we could model mathematically. The aspect of random chance creates a problem though. The problem is time. Just relying on random chance in conjunction with natural selection, there hasn't been enough time since life began on earth to explain the variety of life forms we see now.

There has to be some other force or forces acting on evolution besides random chance and natural selection. I'm not saying it has to be an intelligent force (there's simply no evidence for that) but there has to be something, and if we knew what that something was we probably could develop mathematical models for evolution.

Even though there's no evidence for it, I happen to believe there is some sort of intelligent force driving evolution. It's probably not a kind of intelligence we currently understand though, which would prevent us from finding any evidence for it. It might be something much closer to the Greek concept of universal forms rather than the Abrahamic concept of God.

If you have trouble believing there are layers to evolution that are still invisible to us, consider this: science is only now becoming faintly aware of what they're calling Dark Matter and Dark Energy which we still have no way of measuring or perceiving but can only deduce its existence mathematically.

It'd be one thing if dark matter and dark energy were rare and distantly removed from us, but if current thinking is to be believed, dark matter and dark energy are far more common in the universe than the matter and energy we know. The idea that the most common elements of the universe are completely invisible to us and undetectable by us should really change your perspective on the very nature of reality itself.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy -- Shakespeare; Hamlet Act 1,

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sheriff McMillin Defends His Actions

Recently Bert Case interviewed Sheriff Malcolm McMillin and asked if Karen Irby got preferential treatment after her accident and when she turned herself in for arraignment. Sometimes Bert asks the really hard-hitting questions everybody already knows the answer to.

It turns out, it does help to be rich and sort of a local celebrity when you get in trouble with the law. Gee, aren't you shocked? Mostly it helps with stuff that ultimately doesn't make a whole lot of difference though, like getting a deputy escort into the detention center to keep the media away and allowing a person to turn themselves in rather than sending a deputy out to bring them back in handcuffs.

What counts is what happens in court and preferential treatment is a sword that cuts both ways. She might be more comfortable in these early stages of the case, but there's no place in the country where they can try either the criminal or civil aspects of this case and the jury won't be prejudiced against the accused because of her wealth and privilege. The more she uses the privileges of her class, the more juries will resent her for it.

Lawyers know this, that's why it's always an issue over whether their client shows up in court wearing street clothes or an orange jumpsuit. On one hand, an orange jumpsuit might make the client look like a criminal, on the other hand, street clothes might make them look like they're getting preferential treatment.

It works like this: If you go to a restaurant and act like a big shot throwing money around and show your behind, yeah, you might get the best table in the joint and get seated ahead of everybody else, but it won't keep the waiter from sticking his thumb in your soup and you don't even wanna know what the cooks did to the steak.

It's the same thing with the law. Preferential treatment might help the defendant in some aspects of the process, but it hurts them in others which are actually much more important.

In the end I think the Sheriff probably did the right thing. Some people were denied the spectacle they wanted, but he also saved the county thousands and thousands of dollars in medical expenses by delaying her arrest. I think he did the right thing in keeping her initial processing from turning into a circus too. Some people at home might get a thrill seeing her do the perp walk, but it does nothing for the people who died.

Some may not agree with this, but Sheriff McMillin has a reputation for trying to allow even the poorest of people who go through his system some dignity in the midst of their ordeal. Some might say it makes him soft on crime. It suits me fine though, and I know of cases where he did it and the accused didn't have a dime to contribute to his campaign.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Illusion of Justice and the Reality of Forgiveness

Have you ever considered how much we spend on the concept of justice?

All over the world, hundreds of thousands are in prisons. Maybe even millions. We pass around lawsuits like Christmas cards and the people: police, lawyers, judges, clerks, wardens, secretaries, guards, bondsmen, on and on, every country has an army of people all trying to find justice.

And the armies. How many wars have we fought seeking justice? All of them? How many died fighting wars for justice? How much property destroyed? How many wounded inside and out?

The thing is: for all we've done to find justice, but have we ever done it? Even once? Did we even come close? Or, was it all just vengeance?

Tom and Ben get in a fight and Tom shoots Ben in the head. Whatever happens in the future, however wrong and illogical his thinking was, in that moment Tom thought he was justified in doing what he did. Only now Ben is dead, and whatever was happening between the two of them, now it's a matter for us all.

Justice is the one thing we can't have here. Justice would be to turn back time and make Ben no longer dead and have these men resolve their differences without injury. Because we can't go back, because we can't undo what was done, justice is something we'll never have.

Because we want only this justice we can't have, our mind slips back into the most primitive parts of our brain and brings forth the only answer we've ever known: revenge. "You killed him so now we'll kill you".

It's not justice. We had one dead person, now we have two. Even if we don't kill Tom, we have one dead person and another in prison or some other punishment we devise to satisfy this craving for revenge. That's not justice though, that's just two suffering people.

Jesus offers us an alternative. Instead of vengeance, he offers us redemption, mercy and forgiveness. You don't have to believe in Jesus to see this though. Logic will tell you these are superior choices.

No matter how much the beastly side of our brain screams out for it, logic tells us that punishment doesn't cancel out any transgression. You can't undo what's been done.

Justice is an illusion. We can never have it. Forgiveness though, forgiveness is real and available to us all.

Some of you may think, it's easy for me to talk about forgiveness because I've never been transgressed against. You're wrong. I've been sinned against many, many times and I've sinned many, many times as well.

This is hard. It goes against human nature to forgive, our nature cries out for revenge and only revenge. We're not bound to our nature though. We can transcend beyond it, if we choose to.

Andy Mullins Lecture about Jackson Schools

Below is a video of a lecture Andy Mullins delivered to the Mississippi Teacher's Corps last year.

I first became aware of Andy when he was a history teacher and football coach at St. Andrews. He left by the time I was old enough to play on the high school team, but he did coach my brother and the boys seemed to really like him. Andy was really dedicated to education and soon drew the attention of a lot of people who were also interested in education, particularly former governor William Winter.

The lecture is to students with MTC who would be working in around Jackson and he gives them a really interesting, concise and complete evaluation and history of the educational situation in central Mississippi including issues of poverty, racism and white flight. If you're from or interested in the Metro Jackson area, you might find this a very interesting discussion.

In particular I enjoyed shot stories he tells about two guys from Jackson I always really liked. One is Bob Fortenberry who was the Superintendent of Jackson Public Schools most of the years when I was growing up. He was also an avid fisherman.

The other is Joe Lee Gibson who was a janitor at Millsaps College for many years. You really had to go to Millsaps in the 70's and 80's to know what Joe Lee was all about, but if you recognize the name, you'll enjoy the short bit Andy tells about him.

Video Link You Tube

Mississippi Teacher Corps Website

Starting the Horrible Machine for Karen Irby

This week a pretty grotesque spectacle begins here in Jackson.

I suspect Karen Irby wants nothing more than to return to her old life, but because two people died from her actions, she'll be the center of a vast, horrible machine trying to find justice instead. Her life will never be the same.

I think justice really is just an ideal. It's a concept. We reach for it and we struggle for it and we devote whole portions of our society and culture to it, but it remains forever beyond our reach. Real justice would mean bringing the dead back to life or making the injured whole again. That's not possible though so we try and get as close as we can to it, which is usually pretty pitifully far away.

The process she'll go through is vile and dehumanizing and really quite beneath us, but it has to happen. We have to try and make things right, even if it is impossible. Vast amounts of money and energy will be spent prosecuting her and defending her but none of it will be any help to the dead.

Sometimes I feel really sorry for lawyers. They're only engaged when the worst of us comes out. They're the gladiators, pirates and garbage collectors of human frailty. We'd like to think they're Atticus Finch or Clarance Darrow, but most of the time it's not like that. Most of the time they're defending or prosecuting people who aren't bad, even though they are guilty.

Some will say, "whatever the legal system does to her won't be nearly as bad as what her actions did to two innocent people" and that's probably true. It is different though. The incident that caused these deaths was the result of just a few people acting, maybe just one, but what happens now with the criminal and civil process acts on behalf of us all and that makes it very different. Barbarism from the acts of one individual or a few is an apparition, barbarism on behalf of us all is a judgment of mankind.

This process Karen faces must happen because without it, the people of our society would seek justice on their own and that can only lead to chaos. We call it justice, but let's never forget it has a true name: vengeance. Calling it vengeance should help us remember that what happens now isn't a sport. It's not entertainment. It's cruel and ugly and it's a side of life we really should want to keep hidden, only we can't keep it hidden because we must know it's done without preference or favor.

Any of us could be where she is. We want to distinguish ourselves from her and say we'd never do that kind of thing, but we all do things that are stupid and selfish and could hurt innocent people, although for most of us it never happens that way.

Any of us could have been Daniel Pogue or Lisa Dedousis too, in the wrong place at the wrong time and suffering for it. So often that happens and there's nobody to blame, so when we do have someone to blame for the random suffering of innocent people, we make the most of it.

I can ask for mercy for Karen because I ask for mercy for anyone, no matter what they've done. No matter how upsetting the actions of one person may be, it's nothing compared to the terror of our whole society's wheels grinding in on one person, no matter how guilty they may be. This has to happen, but let's never forget how horrible it really is.

Friday, May 8, 2009

No Civility on the Internet News

In the old days, I might read an article in the Clarion Ledger, and I might make an ugly comment about whoever they were writing about, or my friends might, but we never dreamed of letting anybody else know what we were saying. We'd even shut up when the waitress came to our table so even she couldn't hear our gossip or gripes.

We all do it. We have opinions about the people in the news , and we might want to say something unpleasant, but it's never intended for public consumption. It's just us blowing off steam to people we know. If people we don't know hear words like that coming out our mouths, it's actually quite embarrassing, or it should be.

At least it used to be that way before the news was on the web, and every story had a segment at the bottom where just about anybody could throw in their two cents no matter how vicious or vile.

I like reading the news on the web. It's more convenient for me and I don't have to muck around with a physical paper, but it shocks me when I read an article on the Clarion Ledger website and get to the end and see what people are willing to post in the comments section.

I know people always thought like that, but it was a very different deal ten years ago when they'd have to be satisfied with venting their bile at home rather than laying it out for the world to see. I wonder how many of these people would be willing to type these posts if their real name were attached to it rather than an internet pseudonym.

I think they forget that Jackson's still a fairly small community, and the people they spew such vitriol toward on those message boards have friends and family who read those posts.

It's actually pretty cool that regular people can now add whatever comments they want to a news story, but have a little class about it will ya? And for heaven's sake, don't attack another poster for their comment while you're making yours. The whole point of the thing is to let people say what they want to say, not start a riot.

Some people say the C/L should moderate the comments more carefully, but that's no good either because then somebody has to go in and decide which comments to leave and which to cut and there's no way to do that without giving preference for people speaking from your own bias.

The answer is for people to remember that the internet acts and feels like any other avenue of social discourse and act like it. Ask yourself how different your comments might be if your real name were attached to it.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Politicians Don't Lie

We put far too much faith in our leaders.

Suppose a guy ran for Mayor somewhere, and as part of his campaign, he promised the city's professional sports team would make the playoffs if people elected him.

People really love their sports. Making that kind of promise should give a candidate enough votes to win the election, but the sports-loving candidate came in last place. Why is that?

Nobody believed him. They probably would vote for a guy who could deliver a spot in the playoffs, but most people know politicians can't really do much about sports, so the guy who promises wins on the field if he's elected mayor is either deluded or stupid or just lying.

This sort of thing happens every election though, and people fall for it all the time.

When you see a candidate promising things like more jobs and less crime, try and remember these are things politicians can't really do very much about. If they could, somebody would have done it long ago and these things wouldn't be problems anymore.

People have this blind faith that the right leader can do almost anything, but it's simply not true. Leaders are great, and a good leader can make a difference, but in the real world, individual people have far more control over what happens to them and around them than any politician ever could.

Lyndon Johnson energized America when he promised a war on poverty. For forty years we've acted on his promise and done our best to deliver on it, but statistically there's just about as much poverty now as there was when we started.

Johnson really did want to "do something" about poverty. So did all the people who followed in his footsteps. It's just not that easy though. What Johnson should have promised was to make life easier for poor people. That's a promise he could deliver on, and the way things turned out, that's exactly what we did. There's still as much poverty now as there was forty years ago, but it doesn't suck quite so bad to be poor.

Frank Melton is another example. Melton was elected on the promise that he'd "do something" about crime. He meant it too. Once elected, I never saw a politician try harder to "do something" about crime as Frank Melton. He was fanatical about it, and repeatedly put his own life and reputation and fortune on the line in the effort to fight crime.

If all it took was devoted leadership to diminish crime, then Jackson would be crime-free by now. That's not what happened though. Crime actually went up a little when Melton was mayor. It wasn't his fault though. In the real world, politicians simply can't do all that much about crime, no matter how much they may want to.

The only thing politicians can actually do to reduce crime is build really big prisons and put as many people in them as they can. Your city has less crime, but it also has a lot of people in prison who shouldn't be. Iran is a great example of this. They have far less crime than the United States, but the people live in constant fear of false persecution. Would you really want to trade your life for theirs?

We need politicians to administer our shared resources and make our laws. You have to be realistic about them though, and remember it's a lot easier to make promises than to deliver on them. Most of these guys believe what they say, they really do, but that doesn't mean they'll actually be able to do it. It's true what they say: when somebody tells you something that's too good to be true, it usually is.

Saying this is probably pointless though. The next time a Ronald Reagan or Barak Obama comes along, people are going to line up in the desert ready to be led to the promised land just like they always have. Try to remember this though. You're far more likely to make it to the promised land under your own guidance than by following anyone.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I Hate College Sports

It's not just the corruption, or the vast scale of the corruption, or how invasive and pervasive, or even how everybody knows just how corrupt it is but still lets it happen, That's not why i hate college sports.

I hate college sports because everybody lets it happen because they just want their team to win. They're afraid if they do it right, if they do it the way it's supposed to be, they won't be able to compete and win.

It's the only reason I can think of. If people suspected there was academic corruption at just a small fraction of what goes on in collegiate sports, they'd call for a complete overhaul of the system.

What they don't realize is that corruption in sports almost guarantees corruption in academics. If a school admits an unqualified student so they can play sports, that's academic corruption. If a school "arranges" for athletes to pass their classes so they're eligible to play, that's academic corruption.

Go to your average college campus. Compare the facilities and budget they have for sports to the facilities and budget they have for the arts and letters. Compare the cost and age of the football stadium to the cost and age of the library. Worse than that, compare the number of people who go through the stadium to the number of people who go through the library. Now, tell me if you think corruption in sports doesn't lead to a corruption in academics.

You might say "it's boosters and donors who pay for the stadium", and that's probably true, but all that tells me is the people who support the school are more concerned with the football team then they are the academic life of the college.

If we allow the popularity of college sports to overshadow the academic life of the school, then we're contributing to the corruption, not only in sports, but corruption of the academic program as well. We shouldn't even be talking about the academic program vs. the sports program. Sports is an extra-curricular activity. It's supposed to be something you do in your spare time, with spare money, not become the life of the college.

I don't think you can repair college sports. Since the end of World War II, it's just gotten worse and worse and we're at the point now where the only way we can possibly change the trend is by shutting the whole thing down for a few years and starting over from scratch.

As a governing body, the NCAA is a joke. It should be shut down and it's members tried for misappropriation of public funds.

The American academy from Junior High all the way through Graduate school is rotten and corrupt and it's only going to get worse until we decide to put a stop to it and I can't think of a better place to start than with the most corrupt part of the whole system, and that's sports.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

My Dream Production of A Midsummer Night's Dream

Unlike a lot of directors, I've always believed Shakespeare's comedies should actually be funny. Actually, to be fair, most directors try to make them funny, but all too often, they're not very funny themselves, so the result is pretty boring.

The scripts themselves usually do have lots of funny bits in them, one only needs to present them in funny ways to complete the task. Therein lies the rub.

Most people try to make A Midsummer Night's Dream beautiful, even though none of the characters in the play act beautiful. Most of them are self-obsessed, boorish assholes--which is where the comedy comes in.

My dream project would be a film of A Midsummer Night's Dream. It would mostly work on stage, but, since it's a dream project, there are a couple of special effects I'd like to add, but probably not what you think.

The play has two worlds. The human world, which despite having classic Greek heroes as characters, the people are petty and incompetent and have a much higher opinion of themselves than they should.

Then there's the fairy world. Here's where most directors go wrong. The fairy world is a sort of absurd reflection of the human world. If the humans have over-inflated egos, the fairies have insanely over-inflated egos. If the humans make stupid mistakes, the fairies make three-stooges level mistakes.

Since it's a film project, I'd make the fairies actually fairy size, maybe a foot tall. This presents a slight problem when Bottom encounters Titania, but since he's enchanted anyway, it's no problem to shrink him down for the scenes of him amongst the fairies.

If the fairies are a reflection of the human world, then I'd have them create their world using found objects from the human world. A thimble might make a nice hat. A cup could be a wagon, a handkerchief a coat and so on. The fairies aren't beautiful. They have big noses and big feet and big ears. Their hair is a mess and they have no taste at all. They believe the are beautiful though, so the actors would have to present themselves like they were really grand, even though they're just ridiculous.

Usually there's a problem with the four human lovers. Most directors cast four equally beautiful young people which becomes a problem because four equally beautiful young people are basically interchangeable so there's no conflict (and no comedy) when they fall in love with the wrong person. The audience must have a sense of who belongs with who just by looking at them. That gives them some concern that they end up with the right lover.

Hermia and Lysander belong together and Helena and Demetrius belong together, but at the beginning of the play, Helena believes she should be with Lysander and Demetrius believes he should be with Hermia. Now, how do you make this funny instead of tragic?

Since these four are supposed to be teenagers, why not use high-school stereotypes? Hermia is a cheerleader, she could even wear a cheerleader outfit, and Lysander is the quarterback on the football team, he could wear a letter sweater. They have perfect hair and perfect smiles and in the Athens High School Yearbook, they would be the most beautiful couple. They're the kind of people who are so perfect, it's fun to hate them.

Since most of the comedy comes from Helena and Demetrius, why not make them nerds? Hermia calls Helena a "maypole" so maybe she's the tallest of the four, much taller than Demetrius. Demetrius should be short and scrawny. When he demands Hermia's hand at the beginning of the play, the audience should react like "dude, give it up".

Now, this set up gives you unlimited comedic possibilities whenever these four are on stage. Stereotypes are funny, no matter what anybody says, so just get over it. The adage "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" comes up several times in the play, and having Helena and Demetrius realize they're really hot for each other at the end plays into that.

What's funny about the mechanicals is that they're actors playing actors. There's a good bit of comedy already in the script, but there's much more to be had if you cast actors who match the type of actor each character represents. Then it becomes a matter of trusting them to find their own sensibilities about the character and the situation and develop the comedy already in it.

A director should probably spend more rehearsal time with the mechanicals than with any of the other sets of actors. I would look for people who are not only really good character actors, but also good at improvisation and use that improvisational sensibility to bring out the comedy. Fortunately, they are written as fairly mature characters, so you can hire fairly mature and experienced actors. Bottom is, of course, the plum role here, but any of the mechanicals have the potential of stealing the show so don't scrimp on these guys.

A lot of people spend a lot of time on Puck, but Puck really is just the catalyst for the other characters, so don't over do it with Puck. He should be well spoken, of course, because he has that last soliloquy. Other than that, Puck tends to be the straight-man for other characters, so he should be a very generous actor.

I like the idea of double-casting Theseus and Hippolyta with Oberon and Titania. What's fun with that is you have them set their characters at level five when they're human, but level ten when they're fairies. What's funny about these characters is their egos, and since you're working with actors that shouldn't be a problem. The comedy is pretty broad here, so don't be afraid of going over-the-top when they're in fairy form. They should be loud and brassy and bossy and completely unaware of how completely incompetent and impotent they really are.

The other characters should react to them like they're sucking up to the boss, because they are. The fairies act very obedient and respectful when the king and queen are looking, but as soon as they turn their backs, the fairies show how they really feel about being ordered around like that.

I knew a fellow one time who was directing this play, and he told me he wanted it to be "a gay sexual fantasia". Those were his exact words. When I saw the finished product, that's exactly what he got and I can't tell you how dull it was. Thank god he cut out about twenty pages or I never would have made it all the way through. I don't pretend to think my interpretation is the ultimate version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, but I gotta think it'd be better than that!

Monday, April 27, 2009

I Hate Target

I went by Target today because, although disillusioned long ago, I'm still fascinated by marketing and store design and when it comes to these things, particularly class position marketing, Target is the best of the best.

First you have to understand Target makes not the least pretense at reaching the straight male market segment, so my presence there is pretty alien, both for them and for me. I put on my NASA approved containment suit and forged ahead though, in the interest of science.

Target does an amazing thing. They make a living selling consumer goods and household products to women who consider themselves slightly better than Walmart. They have a men's clothing department, but that's only because, shopping for husbands and sons, women actually purchase more men's clothes than men.

Target walks a pretty fine line though, because their customers actually prefer the same brands offered at Walmart and Kroger, so Target has to offer them in the same price range. Since they don't have Walmart's volume, they're probably making less profit on these products than Walmart, even though they sell them for a few cents more. They also have higher per foot real estate costs because they put their stores in locations slightly more visible than Walmart.

To make up the difference, they add a few premium sections to the store. They can't have a premium clothing section because women are pretty particular about where they buy their clothes and the market segment they're going for wants their work and dress clothes to come from boutiques rather than mass marketers. They may be mass market boutiques, but let's not split hairs.

I think Target generates a lot of their profit from their confections, coffee, furniture, and linens sections. The one I went to even had a Starbucks at the front of the store, which is interesting because the Walmart down the street has a Subway in the same spot. When it comes to class marketing, Subway vs Starbucks pretty much tells the whole story.

You could never have a Target for men. Most men simply aren't as attuned to the fine striations of class as women are. Not all men are immune to this type of marketing, but usually the stores who market to men that way are much smaller and locally owned and usually restricted just to clothing. People who try class marketing in typically male stores like hardware or electronics usually fail. They're still out there though, but their customer base is pretty small.

The only stores that have much consistent luck at class marketing to men are some brands of automobiles and sometimes Apple computers. At Lowes or BestBuy though, they actually shun class marketing because they know it could drive many of their customers away, regardless of their income.

Although I recognize class and all it's machinations in human society, I tend to think it's bullshit, so I usually think of class marketing as a fine, seven-layer, serving of bullshit too. One day, I think people will come to realize that all these folks who serve them by observing class distinctions are really manipulating them and there'll be some sort of backlash against it. Until then, I'll visit stores like Target occasionally, just fascinated to see what these people are up to now.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Telephone Pollsters

There's been a lot of talk recently about Zata3's poll about the Jackson Mayoral race. Some say it's valuable and accurate, some say it's not, but what nobody's talking about is how really annoying telephone polls are.

I find it pretty dehumanizing for anyone to try and reduce my opinion to a point on a graph and damned annoying that anyone would call me saying they want my opinion, when they really don't. They want to know where I fall on their pre-determined graph, not what I think.

Many of these companies conduct their polls without human operators, but those who actually do employ live human beings give them a script that reduces them to a mechanical operand so they might as well be a computer.

If a computer-controlled, recorded pollster calls, I just hang up. I refuse to have a telephone conversation with a non-biological entity saying it wants my opinion when it's incapable of even understanding what human beings are.

If I'm lucky enough to get a human operator, I generally find it terribly unfair that they want me to give them information, but they won't give me any, so I turn the tables on them.

First I ask who they work for. I think they may actually be required to answer that question. It's a matter of ethics really.

Next I'll ask who their client is. The poll company isn't calling for their own sake, they make money collecting opinions for other people. Most of the time, they won't tell me who their client is.

If someone's calling to get information, "who wants to know?" is a fairly logical response, but usually the pollster doesn't want us to know who's probing our psyche so they won't say. I find it terribly unethical for someone to know who I am and try to gather information from me, but remain unwilling to say who they represent. If they refuse to answer, then I usually hang up.

Most pollster calls never get past the second question. If they do, then I hit them with a third question and so far nobody has ever gotten past that. "And what is your name?" I ask.

It's a reasonable question. They have my name, my telephone number, and god-knows what other information about me, but you'd be surprised how many don't want me to know their name. If they do give me a first name, then I insist on knowing their last name.

I've never actually had one give me their last name. One went so far to say it was a matter of security. "Matter of security?" They call my house, but I'm unable to find out who they are as a matter of security? What am I going to do? Call them at their house just like they've called me at mine?

I suppose there is some useful purpose for opinion polls, but when it comes to politics, I prefer the actual ballot itself, which is the only opinion poll that really matters.

I Hate Andy Warhol

I never much cared for Andy Warhol. His contemporaries like Andrew Wyeth and Jackson Pollock did amazing things working with the traditional elements of painting like, form, line, light, color, and texture. Warhol had some mastery of these elements, but no more than the average art student.

The primary element of Warhol's work was culture. By presenting us with a rectangle full of familiar images, he re-contextualized the television experience. Television though, constantly contextualizes itself, so Warhol didn't really add anything.

People are more likely to buy a painting if there's somebody famous in it. Artists have been doing this for thousands of years. You can go down to Jackson Square in New Orleans this very afternoon and find a couple dozen artists doing exactly what Warhol did in that respect.

The art movement attributed to Warhol would have happened without him. The television experience was already producing dozens of artists doing exactly what Warhol did. By the time he retired, there would be thousands. Now that his techniques are fairly easy using a computer, there are millions.

Warhol's fame comes mainly from being at the right place in the right time. The New York art scene has a way of propagating and inflating bullshit to mammoth proportions and Warhol became its beneficiary. His work and his personality made him, effectivly, the Perez Hilton of his day.

I'm glad we live in a world where an artist can become as famous as Andy Warhol; I just wish it'd happen to better artists. My suspicion is that better artists would shun the social situations Warhol thrived on, and since those social situations are probably the biggest part of Warhol's fame, it's probably unlikely that a better artist will ever achieve his level of noteriety, at least in their lifetime.

The Cockroach: Victim of Our Perception

I sat on my deck yesterday and watched a cockroach climbing on a tree. It was one of the big European cockroaches people hate so much, and it made me think about how limited and how selfish our perspective really is.

The first thing you have to understand is cockroaches are remarkable and beautiful animals. Clean and efficient, they are perfectly suited for their environment. Their bodies have evolved to the size and shape and color of a pine bark nugget, which is good because their preferred environment is pine forests, which is why they're so common in the South.

We hate them, not because of they're ugly or dirty or carry disease or are dangerous in any way. None of that is true. We hate them because they inadvertently enter our homes. We'd hate bluebirds and unicorns if they occasionally showed up in our kitchens.

The reason we don't find bluebirds and unicorns in our kitchens is because they're not able to get into the house because of the doors and windows. Cockroaches, on the other hand, evolved to navigate small spaces and crevices so windows and doors are no obstacle for them. I doubt they even know they've gone from "outside" to "inside" out homes, since the concept of "house" probably doesn't mean anything to them. To them, it's just another pile of dead wood, and for them piles of dead wood is where they find food.

Because cockroaches are food for other creatures in the forest, they evolved to hide in the shadows and either run or freeze when they detect large movements. That makes them extra creepy to us because they remain hidden when we're moving, cooking or cleaning or doing things around the house, but they come out when we settle down to eat or watch television. We see it as an invasion, but they see it as simply a sign of "all's clear".

It's doubtful cockroaches even have a very good sense of who or what we are. Their eyes can't focus so they probably don't have any idea at all about our shape or form. Their minds can't comprehend the idea that we built the structure they're in. As far as they know, our homes are just another part of the forest and we're just another large animal moving about the forest, like a cow or a triceratops. (Yes, they are old enough to have experienced the triceratops.)

Most people probably won't read this article because of the title. If they did read it, there were probably moments when they experienced completely unnecessary senses of revulsion. That's how much a slave to our own perceptions we really are, even though we have the mental capacity to see beyond them. Our crazy perceptions make us believe these completely innocent and beautiful creatures are disgusting and close to evil simply because they are inconvenient to us.

Consider this: Raccoons eat cockroaches. If raccoons lived in houses, they might see the occasional entry of cockroaches as a surprise gift. To them, cockroaches would be beautiful and delightful, not repulsive and ugly. For us, it'd be like coming home and finding a ripe, red apple sitting on the counter.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

100 Years of Magic Drawings

Sometimes artists many years apart have similar ideas.

Below is J. Stuart Blackton's The Enchanted Drawing, produced in 1900


Over one hundred years later, Dutch artist Evelien Lohbeck updates Blackton's idea to incorporate modern technology.

Noteboek from Evelien Lohbeck on Vimeo.

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Vision For Millsaps

One thing I keep hearing about this fight between the president and faculty at Millsaps is that some people worried the president didn't have a vision for the college. I've been worried Millsaps might lack vision too, but I don't blame Dr. Lucas for it.

The American Academy as a whole has gone so far afield of its stated purpose that I don't see how any college comes up with a meaningful vision for itself.

What people want from the college experience is to get themselves or their children into the middle class. There's actually no direct connection between academics and the middle class so colleges all over the country struggle to find ways to make themselves relevant to what people want from them.

My dad once told me "Americans want the University system for their colleges, but they're not very interested in the University Ideal. Most of them don't even know what it is."

His solution to the issue of a vision for the college was to build up the business and pre-med. departments which actually do help students enter middle class lines of work. It worked great for a while, but before too long all of the colleges we compete against developed the same plan. Dad died before he could figure out what the next step might be. He had some ideas, but none of them were developed enough to deploy yet.

Several colleges Millsaps' size decided to pick one side of the culture war and turn that into their vision, making the college a sort of extended boot camp for the left or the right. The culture war doesn't particularly have anything to do with academics, but it has everything to do with the middle class life, so it was a successful move for them. I would never attend a college like that, and I question what those parameters do to their academic integrity, but I can see their point and if that's what they want out of life, then I suppose that's the kind of college they should have. It's a steaming pile of bullshit though, and I just wanted to go on the record saying so.

Major Millsaps had a great vision for the college and we've made good use of it for over a hundred years now. The problem is, most Americans don't really care all that much about that sort of thing, no matter what they say.

If you ask most people how their alma matter is doing, they'll say how the football team did last year, or how many pledges their fraternity got, but ask them what's happening in the academic life of the college and they haven't a clue. When was the last time you heard somebody say "Wow! Dr Moore presented a great paper on the Peloponnesian War last month. I'm SO glad I took her class."

That's what college is though folks. It's not football teams or fraternity life or manicured campuses, it's the pursuit of knowledge, only we've gotten so far away from that, nobody really cares anymore.

Our motto is: "Ad excellentiam", short for "Ad excellentiam consequendam", or "In Pursuit of Excellence". The excellence it refers to is academic excellence, which is a pretty good vision for any school, if you can keep up with it. The problem is that the pursuit of excellence in knowledge for its own sake isn't what most people really want anymore. You can't have a college just for academics. Nobody will support it.

They want a three bedroom house, with two and a half baths and granite counters. They want a winning football team and their candidate to win the election. They want their favorite show to stay on the air. They want the blind kid to win American Idol. In a land of such rampant mediocracy, can you really blame Millsaps for struggling to come up with a relevant vision for itself?

I say college education, since the war, has become so a matter of course, and such a fashionable necessity, for those either of or aspiring to the vast middle class, that we espouse it as a matter of right, and we have ceased to ask, "What is it good for?"
--David Mamet, Oleanna; 1993

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Ghosts Among Us

As a lot of you may know, Millsaps is going through some turmoil right now. This is pretty hard for me because Millsaps was always part of my life and will always be really close to my heart.

I'm really having a hard time resisting the urge to call my dad or call my mom to talk about this. I know they're gone, but I guess they're still such a big part of me that I still really feel like I need to talk to them.

I guess, no matter how long somebody's been gone, if you still love them, they're never completely gone from inside you.

The God Box Paradox

Suppose I gave you a box. A simple cardboard box like a gift box without the wrapping and a simple cardboard top.

Then I told you, inside the box was all the proof you ever needed and all the information you ever wanted about God. There's just one catch: if you ever open the box, it'll be empty. So long as you keep the box closed, then it's full of the most amazing thing you could imagine, but if you open it, there'll be nothing.

Would you believe me? Could you believe me? If you believed me, could you keep from ever opening the box, just to make sure? Would you shake the box and weigh the box and put your ear next to it, hoping for some clue about what's inside?

If you believed me, how would it change your life to know you had this box with all the mysteries in the universe inside, but you could never open the box and see them.

That's what faith is like. You have a box, and you believe a bit of God is inside the box, but if you ever open it, if you ever try to prove to yourself there's something in the box, there will be nothing in it, but as long as you keep the lid on, it's the most amazing box possible.

It doesn't mean there's nothing in the box because you can't see it, it's that trying to see it will make you unable to see it, but if you accept that you can't see it, then you'll always know it's there.

That's why there are atheists. They opened the box and, just as I predicted, they found it empty. So now they say the box was always empty. Surprisingly, many atheists have no trouble understanding the paradox of Schrodinger's Cat, but they'll just laugh at my God Box paradox, even though it's the same idea.

Some people will say you can prove God's existence without opening the box, but they're wrong. Trying to prove God makes the box empty no matter what you do. The only way to keep the box full is by accepting you can never open it. So long as we know we can open the box any time we want to, but are willing to keep it closed, then we're able to keep God with us forever.

So, what about you? What would you do if I gave you a box?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Bully Bullshit

Kids are pretty smart and they're pretty good at knowing when we're feeding them bullshit.

We tell kids to avoid bullies and gangs, but then we send them to school where the biggest gang of bullies are on the payroll. The teachers and administration have one simple rule for kids: do as you're told or else! If that's not a bully, then I don't know what one is.

Kid bullies might cause temporary discomfort with wet willies, wedgies and purple nurples, but that's nothing compared to the punishment the adult bullies dish out with suspension, expulsion, failing grades, sitting in the corner, running laps and more.

When I was a kid, it didn't take me very long to figure out this was bullshit in its truest form. A lot of times, I had a better understanding of the material than my teachers. They'd been repeating the same data for so long that it ceased having any real meaning to them.

To me, it was new and exciting and I wanted to know more, but the teachers wanted me to follow their set pattern of exercises and tests and hoops and carrots and if I didn't, then I'd be in real trouble and then I'd get to see just how much of a bully these people were willing to be.

I wasn't very long before I said "screw that" and went my own way. My grades suffered horribly, of course, but learning was beautiful for me and I wasn't going to let these assholes, whose only concern was for me to shut up and do as I'm told, ruin it.

You see, life is easier for grownups if kids do as their told, whether it makes any sense or not. It's even in the bible. Leviticus gives parents license to stone children who don't obey. STONE them, as in: throw rocks at them until they're dead.

It sets us up for a life, even as adults, where everyone has a level of power where people with more power get to tell you what to do and you get to tell people with less power what to do.

We allow it because societies and classrooms must have some order to function and this is a fairly effective way to create and maintain order. There are other ways to achieve order, but they require more time and effort which generally boils down to more money, so we choose not to employ them, because they're just children after all and it's not like we get much return for investing in children.

It's not just about money though. I went to the most expensive schools in town, and even they were convinced this was the best model for teaching children. There are other models out there, but in the U.S. only people with extreme political or social issues use them.

Homeschooling and tutors are the oldest forms of education, but they require a pretty hefty commitment from the parents so they're the least employed. The European model requires the least commitment from parents. With fewer responsibilities at home, parents can then devote more time to the factories and fields, so most governments favor it.

Here's my proposal. We're far from full employment in this country. Most of these unemployed people could be pretty good educators with the proper training, and would do it if they could make a living at it. If we turned these people into educators, then we could tear down the militaristic European model educational system and build something that makes much more sense and works much better.

To pay for it would require a real commitment though. We could afford it if we reduced military and social spending by a third and ended the war on drugs. These are moves that would solve a lot of other problems as well.

None of this will happen for a million reasons though. I think the biggest reason is that people like the feeling of telling somebody else what to do. It makes them feel powerful, even if the person they're bullying is just a kid.

It's OK to keep doing what we're doing, you just have to always remember, there are better ways if we were strong enough to commit to them, and what we're doing now comes with a really big portion of steaming bullshit.

Republican Melt-Down 2009

If you haven't noticed, the Republicans are having some sort of a melt down.

Part of it is just because they lost the election and there's always a purge after losing an election. Since they lost both the presidency and congress, this purge might be worse than most.

The other part is that the Republicans have always considered themselves masters of the economy and no matter how much people criticize their other stuff, they've always been able to point to that to justify themselves. When we went into a recession with the Republicans on watch, with some of their policies in the spotlight as the probable cause, it kind of threw them into a state of shock.

Normally a purge isn't that bad, but it creates a power vacuum and right now they don't have anybody to fill it, so they're dredging up some old horses like Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich. Both of them were pretty well discredited years ago though so their return is pretty impotent.

Some of the faithful have left the party and now call themselves libertarians. I can't see them really embracing most of the libertarian agenda though so that probably won't last. There's an outside chance they could end up taking over the party from the real libertarians, which would suck because they serve a useful purpose as is.

Historically, when a party is in power for a long time, they end to take things too far, so the electorate eventually gets tired of them and kicks them out. If you look at our history, this see-saw from left to right has happened several times, so rather than pull their hair out, the Republicans should probably use this down time to work on their fundamentals and clean up their act and just wait until it's their time again.

They could also work on their sportsmanship some too. Losing is part of playing the game and you have to take it with some grace or you come off looking like an asshole. The Democrats aren't much better when they lose, but it's never too late for somebody to come forward and start acting like a grown-up about it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sarah Palin Assaults Bigfoot

For years, scientists have debated the existence of the mysterious creature said to roam the northern pine forests, but photographic evidence surfaced recently that proves without a doubt that Sarah Palin is real.

As presented in the Weekly World News, the beast once known as John McCain's running mate was captured on film after she shot and killed a native Sasquatch resident of Alaska.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Libertarians Vs Progressives. Who the Hell ARE These People?

I've written before how the Democrats don't want to be called "Democrats" anymore, they want you to call them "Progressives". Well, now the Republicans have gotten in on the act and they want to be known as "Libertarians".

They're the same people they always were, with the same affiliations and the same beliefs, but they're not happy with the press their party received over the past few years so they're looking to re-brand themselves.

There actually already are Progressive and Libertarian parties, and I'm sure they're just thrilled with all the new members. Neither party has anyone elected to congress, so they must see this new-found popularity as a real opportunity. Ten years ago the Libertarian and Progressive parties had to join forces just to have enough people to field a softball team. Now, they're having to bring out the folding chairs so their new members have a place to sit.

These people who used to be Democrats will probably be shocked when they find out the biggest success the progressive party ever had were little programs known as Prohibition and Teddy Roosevelt's New American Empire.

The people who used to be Republicans will probably be shocked when they find out that, until recently, the biggest planks in the libertarian platform were the legalization of drugs and prostitution, making abortion more accessible and eliminating the FCC's decency regulations.

You see, Re-Branding is bullshit.

These people don't want to join a new party, they just want to get rid of all the negative baggage their old party carried around. It doesn't really work though because everybody knows it's the same old bus, just with a new coat of paint.

You see, parties aren't too good at achieving their stated agendas. What they are good at is achieving their member's real, hidden agendas, the ones even they are ashamed to admit.

The republicans say they want smaller government, but what they really want is power, so government grows substantially when the republicans are in office.

Likewise, the democrats say they want to help the common man, but what they really want is control, so life gets worse for the common man when the democrats are in office.

Both parties actually do their best work when they're out of office. The lack of power forces them to stick to their stated agenda, and a lot of times, that's when they make the most progress at getting what they say they want.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Curiouser and Curiouser

Not an hour after I posted saying I was sorry for spreading the Susan Boyle meme and comparing her to Celene Dion singing the Titanic theme, and somebody sends me a link to Boyle singing that very song on Larry King live.

Link: YouTube

Who is Guillermo, Why I Twitter Him and Why You Should Too

Sometimes things get really big and I have no idea why.

Twitter is probably the least useful of all the social networking sites, but right now it's all anybody wants to talk about. Likewise, Oprah Winfrey and Ashton Kutcher are people of really moderate talents, who, for some reason, amassed huge followings.

Recently, these massive but impotent forces combined. Kutcher challenged CNN to a duel to see who could get more twitter followers and beat them, only to have Oprah announce on her show that she was starting to twitter and have her twitter followers suddenly challenge Kutcher's minions.

I hate mob mentality. It just goes against everything I'd like to believe about human beings.

To battle these evil forces, I'm trying to get everyone I know with twitter to follow Guillermo Rodriguez, the parking lot security guard from the Jimmy Kimmel show. Just follow this link to begin following.

Even if you don't use twitter, join now and start following Guillermo, just to show the world how much you hate Oprah and Ashton. It'll also give you an idea of what the twitter experience is all about and why it's just...bullshit.

Sorry I Infected You

Last week I inadvertently exposed you guys to the latest internet viral meme.

Susan Boyle, also known as the ugly Brit who can sing like an angel, was seen originally by an estimated eleven million viewers of Britain's Got Talent, then her segment was posted to YouTube where in just a few days various copies of it received over twelve million hits.

That's just the beginning though. As I write this, five of the top twenty videos on YouTube are copies of the Boyle video. At this rate, she should be bigger than Chocolate Rain and the Star Wars Kid combined in less than a week.

Back in the real world, Boyle is getting some compensation for her internet fame as requests for interviews roll in, including one for the coveted Oprah Show.

I apologize to any of you who read my post and have since gotten really, really tired of seeing the same video, over and over again. Just because I was an early adapter doesn't mean I didn't contribute to this really pernicious viral meme.

Rest assured, the Susan Boyle video won't do any harm to your computer, but you may soon start having a negative reaction to hearing her sing, the same way people eventually started reacting to Celene Dion singing the Titanic Theme.

For more about the Susan Boyle phenomenon, check this news story.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Last King of Scotland

I'm fascinated by Africa, both its history and its present, although I have to admit, most of it I don't understand. Americans, both white and black, know and care very little about the history of Africa and there isn't all that many works available about it, so I was pretty excited about the film The Last King of Scotland.

In most movies about Africa, the actual African people are usually less important to the plot than the wildlife or the scenery. There are a few exceptions though, and The Last King of Scotland is one of them.

The film is historical fiction. Some of the people and events are based on history and some are made up. Set in the 1970's Uganda, that presents an unusual problem in that it's pretty hard to know what was real and what wasn't.

It tells the story of the first part of Idi Amin's presidency. Amin is thought responsible for killing an estimated 100,000 to 300,000 people in Uganda. Just the fact that there's a 2/3 margin of error in these estimates gives you some idea of what must have gone on in those days.

Because the film and the novel it came from were intended for a western audience, there had to be a western guide to the utterly alien world of African culture so they created the fictional character of Dr. Nicholas Garrigan, a Scottish national who travels to Uganda after medical school to minster to the villages, but ends up as the personal physician to the new dictatator, Idi Amin. Garrigan was fictional, but most of the other characters in the film were based on real people.

I've watched the film twice now and it's still very difficult for me to take it at face value because so many of the forces that shaped the modern world also shape the film itself. It's impossible to tell if the characters shape this story, or if they're just floating on the waves of historical and social issues that make up the fabric of Uganda in the '70's.

If you come to the film without knowing the history, it's a fantastically powerful human drama, and a true tragedy in the original Greek sense of the word. You see hubris change a man who truly loves his country and his people turn into an ogre and slave to his own insecurities and ambition.

If you come to the film knowing its history, then it's all those things plus an intricate piece of the puzzle that is modern Africa. To give you an idea how difficult it was to divorce the story from it's history, the climax and end of the film occurs right at the beginning of the infamous raid on Entebee, that so shaped the course of the modern conflict over Israel. To bring it back to the world of cinema, there are four other entire films that begin at the very end of The Last King of Scotland.

Forest Whitaker was nearly buried in an avalanche of awards and nominations for his portrayal of Amin, including the coveted Academy Award for Best Actor. He struggled mightily to humanize a man remembered in history for atrocities approaching the levels Hitler or Stalin. Part of his struggle was knowing how the white, western world uses stories like Amin to dismiss Africa and Africans as hopelessly savage and alien.

I think he's wildly successful in his portrayal, although it gives us no clues how to respond to what's going on in Africa, even today.

If you're wondering about the title. Uganda was once a colonial holding of Great Britain, as is Scotland. As a young man, Amin took a job as soldier for the British African Corps and the officers of his unit were all from Scotland. Amin saw similarities between Scotland and Uganda, which, ironically obtained it's independence from Great Britian before Scotland. During his presidency, Amin sought to wring out the forces of colonial control in Uganda and make it stand on its own. He never forgot his Scottish friends though, and offered himself as the new King of Scotland to help free the Scottish from Great Britian as he'd done for Uganda. He even invited himself to visit the Queen to discuss the matter, but she declined.