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.