Saturday, February 14, 2015

Murder by any other name


Je suis Charlie . . . it came so readily to the fore, after some crazed gunmen assassinated cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, and at a Jewish business in Paris. Islamic terrorists are identified as the perpetrators. 
So, now, when a crazed gunman assassinates three beautiful, young students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, we are left with . . . oh it was a dispute over parking spaces.
Hmmm . . . really?? He assassinated three young students because he was pissed about their parking habits???
Why does that explanation ring hollow?
And he was, we are told, an anti-theist, which as I best understand it, is a militant step beyond just being an atheist.  Wiki speaks to the definition thusly, “The Oxford English Dictionary defines antitheist as "One opposed to belief in the existence of a god". The earliest citation given for this meaning dates from 1833. An antitheist may oppose belief in the existence of any god or gods, and not merely one in particular. Antitheism has been adopted as a label by those who regard theism as dangerous or destructive. Christopher Hitchens offers an example of this approach in Letters to a Young Contrarian (2001), in which he writes: "I'm not even an atheist so much as I am an antitheist; I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches, and the effect of religious belief, is positively harmful.
So, some degree of militancy is involved here.  And, as a result, the media has begun insisting that “atheists” share a role in this despicable killing.
Seems to me that atheists are not the issue here. Atheists simply avow that there is no God. They do not, as a rule, set out to purge the world violently of religious believers.  Mostly, from what I observe, atheists use ridicule and other forms of argument to set themselves apart. Guns seem rarely (never?) a means to their end.
Now, anti-theists could, I suppose, be a different kettle of fish, since they appear to hold antagonistic views, which could arguably turn violent.
But I have begun thinking of this awful killing spree as maybe one more example of what I now choose to call, “NRA-Terrorism”.  The NRA seems vaguely crazed on this issue of gun control (of which we have  nearly none). They seem terrified that someone is coming for their guns, despite all evidence to the contrary.
The shooter, in this case, seems to be a troubled person, who was heavily armed, to the point, I think, of obsession.  Perhaps, he began believing that guns were his solution of first resort to any dispute.  If he was a heavily armed person, who was actively opposed to religion of any sort, and he was being annoyed by his neighbors, some of whom were of the Islamic persuasion, how better to resolve his anger than by selecting the folks most obviously religious, because of their dress code.  That those people were non-violent, peaceful folks just trying to get an education so as to better their lives, was obviously irrelevant to this thoughtless, dangerous, angry man. Did NRA have anything to do with this killing? Well, maybe . . . maybe not . . . perhaps as much as Islam had to do with the Charlie Hebdo killings.
Just a thought.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Jon Stewart

An Open Letter to Jon Stewart, on his Announced Retirement:

Dear Mr. Stewart,
I am not sure where to begin . . . except, maybe, we are deeply touched by your willingness over these past 17 years to speak truth to power, instead of having dinner with your family. We (most of your public) don’t really think about such things as your family life while we are being informed/entertained by you and your talented cast of crazy characters.

When Bill Moyers left his post at the Bill Moyers Hour, we were sad . . . very sad.  He was one of the only sources of truth left on the air. Moyers was honest, thoughtful and fair in his presentation of the stories that matter. I told him so, and thanked him.

You are a special case, though, even more special than Bill Moyers. With you, we get not only a sense of what stories we should be thinking about, but why we should be outraged. You speak for us . . . all of us mere mortals who have no access to power, but who still think.

And, I should note for you that, we (my wife and I) do not fall within your normal viewership of 18-29 somethings. No, we left that land long, long ago. I recently passed by my 41st 39th birthday (gotta love Jack Benny) and my wife just completed her 40th . . . 39th birthday.  But, despite our advanced age, we sit glued to the TV, watching you skewer the rich and powerful. Your cast and spinoffs (Colbert, Wilmore) support your concept magnificently and all add to our viewing pleasure.

Every time some idiot passes from the scene (Shrub comes to mind), we ask ourselves, “what will Jon do now?” But, there is always Rupert and the Faux News Network, isn’t there?  That group of slimebags will likely always be around as targets of scorn.  And thanks for that, Mr. Stewart.

So, we await with some great expectation how you and your network guys plan to replace you with someone(s) equally as grand, creative, and brilliantly sarcastic


Thank you sir. You have enriched our lives, even as we roar down our path to oblivion. Thanks for keeping us laughing. It’s harder each year to laugh, as our world gets crazier, more dangerous, and less caring. We know now that life really is all about money. If you don’t have lots of it (and we don’t) you don’t matter. We know that. But you have spoken to and for us anyway. So thank you. You will be missed.  We thought you should know.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Be Happy

I have been trying to work out the republican strategy for America, if there is one. It has been a tough slog, but I think I’m approaching an approximation.

First, of course would be, what is their long range goal? Well, one goal seems to be the elimination of the middle class. That is the biggie, but there may be others, for example, securing the wealth of the 0.1%, their owners.

Now, on the middle class, what created the middle class? Because, if you’re going to eliminate that class, it would be helpful to know what created it. First and foremost, I would guess is the public school system. Yep, give everyone a pretty good education and they will begin learning how to cope, building a better economic life for themselves.  So, the first target should be the public school system.  So, how are we doing on that, and what might be the strategic approach to its elimination?

Well, the first thing would be to create some kind of chaos in that system, to get parents all up in arms. So, first, you freeze or even reduce the salaries of teachers, making the teachers unhappy—hopefully unhappy enough to leave. Over a couple of years, you begin to see the system crumbling—see Charlotte-Mecklinburg under Dr. Pete and his clone Mr. Morrisson.  Suddenly, a system that was pretty well respected with schools ranked high nationally (see Myers Park) suddenly dropping into the toilet of rankings.
Little by little, you begin to see parents becoming unhappy with that system. But, and this is a big BUT . . . most parents can’t afford to send their kids to private schools. What to do, what to do? Well, I’ve got it, you create a system of fake public schools and pretend they’re like private schools, and you call them “charter schools”.  Yeah, so first, the new system of fake public schools.

What’s next? Well, the fake publics—the charters—begin to fail, as they would inevitably. You know, they have unqualified faculty and little in the way of facilities, no libraries, or gyms, and stuff.  So, the parents continue to be unhappy.

Now, the next step is true genius. You create fake charter schools—yeah . . . for-profit, on-line “charters”.  And you begin to send the kids to these fake-fake publics.  Well, actually, you don’t send them anywhere. They just stay at home and go on-line.  So, no big facilities, few “teachers”, lower costs.   Then, next step, how to grade? Well, you subdivide the kids by zip code. You rate each zip code by average income level, and you adopt a grading curve system. And you just assign grades randomly, using the zip code income levels as the guiding principle—with the upper income zips getting the higher grades.

Then, onto the next stage. As parents become even more fed up with the on-line system, you return to  . . . TEXTBOOKS. Yeah, you create a new textbook publishing firm that makes textbooks that will guide the kids while at home—home schooling is now the last option.  And you create a text book for each grade—Fourth Grade is a textbook.  And the kids have to read it, and send in their work—yeah, you require work—to a central place—actually to the same folks who created the textbooks. Then you use the same zip code grading system . . . so kids won’t get confused.

Finally, the last stage, you adopt a fully libertarian (see Rand Paul) education system. All parents are free to educate their kids however they please (sort of like the republican strategy for vaccination, hand washing and other public health issues).

Folks might become a little annoyed at the fact that their kids can’t read, or they don’t really know anything, but you can then point out that their kids are just like the college kids who play football and basketball.  See, it’s like their kids are already in college. Wow, dazzling.

And, then like allowing a thousand flowers to bloom, each family will grow and prosper as it wishes. If they don’t wish to prosper, that’s their choice.  The perfect society.
So, let a thousand flowers bloom folks. The republicans have decreed that everyone should be happy.

Let it be so.

And it was so.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Inverse Correlation Systems

The Bigger the Subject . . .
Apparently the powers that be are examining the evidence now to decide how big a fine to levy on BP for that Gulf oil spill—you remember that huge eruption of oil that engulfed the gulf, while BP executives sat around with their thumbs up their collective asses, trying to decide how to dodge responsibility? It occurs to me, maybe the bigger the better. Perhaps BP will have to go out of business. Of course, what would happen then? Their resources would be sold to a bank, who in turn will sell the oil company to some other bunch of incompetents, who will resume drilling without any clear idea of what they are doing. That’s the way in this world of ours.
And then we have the bankers and other assorted financial wizards, including especially the world of economists.  I have finally been forced to conclude, with perhaps an exception or two, that economists are largely trained in sociology 101 and the fine art of statistical extrapolation.  Bankers are trained in Monopoly.
And then there is our collective politician world. What can one say? They were trained in, hmmmm, what training could possibly explain their seeming total lack of knowledge about almost any subject deemed a subject? Well, to be fair, they seem adept at discovering what is pissing off the public at fixed intervals (every two years, say).
So the trend here seems to be something like this: As a people, we tend to employ a negative correlation model for placing people in various fields of endeavor. That is, as the field becomes increasingly more important to the survival of our species, we place increasingly lower IQ folks in those fields. So, the rule might follow the chart below:



For example, we apparently permit the world of finance to gamble with the world’s supply of money, with the explicit understanding that, when (not if)  various of the global financial groups appear to be at risk of running out of the money we have given them to play with,  we will give them some more money. And this is also with the explicit understanding that their games (it’s really only one game, called Monopoly) will result periodically in crashes of the world’s financial systems, resulting in further global depressions which cause thousands, sometimes millions, of people to lose much of their savings.  That is the known outcome of the games. In between these crashes, of course, the world’s bankers, and other assorted financial managers, will make billions of currency units, which they are free to tuck away into offshore accounts in places that do not tax them.
The main question in my mind is, why . . . why do we the affected public allow such a system to exist? It would seem to me that, if we have the brain power to successfully land folks on the moon and then return them to Earth, we might be capable as a species of designing a global financial system that does not lead every few years to complete crashes.  And that we would design that more stable system to include more of the world’s population in the benefits of the risk-reward calculus.  Because that is the other peculiar characteristic of this system that the financial doofuses of the world have designed—the reward part of this system is targeted at fewer and fewer people, with the result that, now, a few hundred doofuses own more wealth than the rest of the multibillion global population.
At some point, surely, the collective will of the rest of humanity will begin to weigh in on the design of our financial system, and on the general lack of technical expertise within the various fields of energy. Maybe it is really time to halt for a time our exploration of that big space beyond our world, and to put some of that masterful brainpower to work trying to rescue the world from the collective idiots who now control many of the most important fields affecting the survival of our species on earth.
Just a thought.



Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Troubled World

What to Say??
It is getting difficult to know what to say about some of our more recent episodes of craziness.  I can’t tell whether the world at large is simply dumbing down on its way to pre-Neanderthal status, or whether we just don’t care any longer.  Several issues are driving my mind into a state of permanent disarray.
1.      We continue to suck our thumbs concerning the issue of racial misadventurism between our police and our citizenry, especially our non-white citizenry.  Charles Blow penned a recent article in which he states the obvious—we have apparent racism operating within our various police forces (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/05/opinion/charles-blow-privilege-of-arrest-without-incident.html). Mr. Blow states: Police officers are human beings making split-second decisions — often informed by fears — about when to use force and the degree of that force. But that truth is also the trap. How and why are our fears constructed and activated? The American mind has been poisoned, from this country’s birth, against minority populations. People of color, particularly African-American men, have been caught up in a twister of macroaggressions and micro ones. No amount of ignoring can alleviate it; no amount of achieving can ameliorate it. And in a few seconds, or fractions of a second, before the conscious mind can catch up to the racing heart, decisions are made that can’t be unmade. Dead is forever.”  Yet, we seem to have little if anything occurring within the country at almost any level to examine this issue. To be sure, a few communities have begun small efforts in police-community relations, but I can see little, if anything, happening to correct the apparent problem(s).
2.       Three Islamic (Qaeda??) gunmen broke into the editorial offices of the political satirists Charlie Hebdo and killed a dozen people, including the editor, cartoonists and policemen.  They have been identified, but not yet apprehended; they apparently decried the paper for its anti-Islam publications. Actually, the newspaper is quite an equal-opportunity offender when it comes to religion. They are as offensive to Christianity as they are to Islam.  Yet, oddly, no Christian missionaries have attempted to dynamite their offices.  I am still awaiting the outcry from the Muslim priestly order. Perhaps I missed the cries of outrage from the Ayatollah community.  I assume that ordinary Muslims are afraid of saying anything publically, for fear they too will be assassinated.  What should we assume here . . . that the Muslim clerics are also afraid, or that they actually agree with the gunmen . . . choose your conclusion.
3.       In another article, it is claimed that throughout Europe, there is a growing neo-Nazi community that seems to hate all “Non” people, i.e., everyone who is living within their borders, but not quite “them”.  Evidently, the Roma (gypsy) population takes much of their anger, but assuredly, they will also turn against the Muslim population living within their borders.  And this growing trend is not limited to one country. It is taking shape throughout Europe.  
Now, we have seen each of these phenomena occurring at varying times and we have generally uttered the appropriate tsk, tsk. Indeed, in Europe, we can see "Je suis Charlie (Hebdo) signs appearing everywhere, as though that helps.  And here, we have many protesting crowds, waving signs that say things like, “I can’t breathe”. A few communities have begun exploring the police-community relations problems. But largely, I continue to see no evidence that we are serious as a nation, or indeed as a world in resolving these grotesque issues that now infect the globe. Mainly, I never see us trying seriously to define the real problems.  If we find ourselves unable to bomb somebody (our default solution), we tut tut a lot, or sometimes debate the issue in the halls of that institution of vapidity, Congress. And when Congress is not allowed to demand that we bomb someone, they often, in a fit of hysteria, or generosity, throw borrowed money at the problem, so that they can claim a solution and then walk away.
It would be pleasant to see someone, somewhere, attempting to define real problems, no less attempting to resolve any of them.
For example, what do we know of the real reasons that ISIS/ISIL exists? And why do such folks walk into the offices of cartoonists, for heaven’s sake, and shoot the place up? Worse, why/how could such people convince young people to strap on dynamite vests, walk into a crowded marketplace and blow themselves up?? I cannot, for example, imagine any sergeant, captain, or general ordering his men to don such vests and walk into any facility and blow themselves up.  Apparently, when you remove God/heaven from the equation, people become a little more resistant to committing such acts of stupidity.   What, in fact, is the so-called “Arab Spring” all about, cuz it sure as hell isn’t about God.  For starters, I find it interesting that the Mullahs, the Ayatollahs, and the various priestly classes of the world haven’t said much about all the killing taking place throughout that region of the world.  They are almost entirely absent as a force for good, or evil. So, could all this killing be about, simply, power? One group desiring power wants to unseat another group currently holding positions of power.  And religion is just a convenient way to get people to do really stupid things in order to effect the transfer of power.
In the case of our racial issues here in the US of A, we seem incapable of discussing the real issues of racism in America.  In response to Mr. Blow’s article in the New York Times, I suggested that it might be nice were we to actually get down to defining the real source of the community problems. I said:
Your article is correct. But what troubles me is that I see no action agenda by anyone in a position of responsibility/authority aimed at figuring out how we get ourselves out of this ridiculous situation.  The mayor says things about it, and police officers turn their backs on him.  Then some idiot with a gun decides that his preferred solution is to assassinate some police officers.  Now there’s a great solution.
It is arguably true that whites and blacks fear each other.  Perhaps it is even historically true.  OK, but where do we go from there?  Is there anybody in a position of responsibility in this Land of Ours who cares enough to even discuss the whys and wherefores of this tragic mess?
It seems to me that we need a whole lot of things examined and/or changed.
1.       What do we know statistically about this issue? We (I . . . the public) know anecdotally that white police officers have been shooting/killing black “civilians” in questionable situations (questionable because deadly force seems, to ordinary thinking adults, not to have been required). We also have a few cases in which seemingly very dangerous white “civilians” were disarmed without use of deadly force.  OK, that’s alarming. But what is the larger picture?
                                                               i.      How many blacks are killed by police annually, vs. how many whites are killed by police annually?
                                                             ii.      How many black police officers kill white “suspects”, vs. how many black officers kill black/minority “suspects”?
                                                            iii.      How many white police officers kill white “suspects” vs. how many white police officers kill black “suspects”?
                                                           iv.      Are the statistics the same, or do they differ by the racial makeup of the community and/or the racial makeup of the police forces?
                                                             v.      Is there any statistical evidence that mixed racial police units act differently from either all white or all black units?
2.       When such shootings/killings occur, what actions follow, regardless of the willingness of grand juries to act, i.e., do police forces react immediately to engage their officers in discussions of these events, or do the events largely pass without official discussions?
3.       What do we know of the cultural and educational backgrounds of police officers?  Does the background appear statistically to be related to the frequency of violent incidents?
4.       Suppose we discovered that such shootings are in fact racially based. What are plausible actions that could reasonably and logically follow from such a finding?  Are any such “solutions” plausible at the level of municipalities, or must they come inevitably from higher levels, e.g., state or Federal?
5.       Does the public at large have any role to play in seeking plausible solutions to this problem? Realizing that we elect people precisely to deal with such issues, it still might be the case that we need to engage the public in some way, either informally or through some legislative process.
These questions keep dangling themselves in front of me as I read articles such as yours. Yet, I never read anything by either opinion-makers, or officialdom that appears to even begin to address any of my questions. Maybe I have the wrong set of questions, but then can we have someone pose the right set of questions?
I see no solution on the horizon, mainly because I see no one seeking a solution. But somewhat like the wealth inequality issue, no solutions could give rise downstream to violence within the general public, or some large segment of that public. I keep thinking about what happened after “Let them eat cake”. “
The apparent rise of extreme right wing, i.e., neo-Nazi, sentiments throughout Europe suggests to me that the inevitable reaction to the “let them eat cake” mentality is violence. Sometimes the violence occurs within the ranks of those who have “nothing left to lose”, but sometimes it occurs within the ranks of the privileged, those who fear losing what they have.
So, I suggest to the rulers of the world, your time may well be limited. But it is up to you to decide how power will be shared/transferred. Begin addressing real problems, with potentially real solutions, or the crowds of the world may well choose their own solutions.

And a thoughtful reader has penned a response to my posting, adding another important insight into this global issue . . .
"I do think there is a larger context that makes these questions more difficult: Our world is rapidly changing from an Industrial Age to an Information Age and I see several examples that closely parallel the shift from the Agricultural Age to the Industrial Age in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Both transitions had newly-empowered (but imperfectly empowered) groups with legitimate grievances (workers in the emerging Industrial Age;students/young people in the nascent Information Age); both witnessed large-scale violence (several regional conflicts [Crimean War, Russo-Japanese War, etc] leading to the carnage of WW I; the entire Middle East, much of Africa, Ukraine, etc, leading to God-knows-what in the near future); both saw the fall (Austrian-Hungarian Empire, Ottoman Empire, beginning of the end of the British Empire) and rise (USA, USSR) of new international powers; both included large-scale demographic shifts (farm-to-town then; international mobility now), etc., etc.,  The instability and uncertainty of such systemic upheavals, across so many different sectors of our lives, creates an environment which tears people from their traditional roots in places, family, religion, work, etc. and breeds class/group/national grievances that cannot be resolved (or mediated) by traditional roots because these roots are no longer relevant.  Chaos is a predicable result, as we are now seeing.

That leaves the two most important questions you raised:  OK, it is what it is, so what are we going to do about it?  And, who is going to lead the way?  I don't have the breadth of knowledge to addrerss these questions on a global scale, but in our country I thought Bill Clinton would be the answer (or, at least, the beginning of the answer.)  I thought he had the best combination of intelligence, vision, and political skills since FDR.  I thought he understood that if we are to take "all [persons] are created equal" seriously, then everyone must have a fair shot at success.  If education is the new coin of the realm, then in order to give everyone a fair shot quality education must be available for everyone.   If good health is (usually) an important part of a good life, everyone must have access to quality health care.  Etc., etc.  I thought he understood these things and had the skills to get things started.  Unfortunately, he couldn't keep his zipper up, and his was a wasted presidency.  Then I had high hopes for Barack Obama, but he turns out to be a terrific campaigner but a lousy political manager, and his is (in my view) another wasted opportunity.


So that leaves us exactly nowhere.  To pull back from the chaos and create conditions for a new burst of growth and improvement we need stability (real stability, not something that relies on military force or political domination bought and paid for by the highest bidder, but something based on shared norms and values and built on solid political structures,businesses, organizations, communities, and families) and a comprehensive, inclusive agenda.  The agenda, I believe, is straightforward: Everyone counts, everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone must contribute to the common good.  The problem, again in my view, is with the stability."  

Monday, December 29, 2014

2014: The Year That Was

2014: A Summary
Enemies No More: Maybe the biggest shock wave in our political circus that masquerades as our Government was the move to normalize relations with Cuba. What can one say, except, “hmmm . . . what took us so long?”
Die-Ins and Protests of Police Abuses: The killings of unarmed black people by the people who are paid to protect us . . . and them . . . is a shocking tale of unaccountability. When followed by the execution of two innocent officers who were sitting in their patrol car, it raises all kinds of questions about the state of morality in this country. We have not heard the last of this sad story, mainly because we have chosen to take up sides –us against them—choose your side—rather than engage in civil discourse about the issue.
Bombing Syria and Iraq: ISIS: The Middle East continues its path to  . . . to what exactly? The so-called “Arab Spring” has led to organized murder by religious fascists, who have nothing to do with any actual religions.  ISIS represents the worst we could devise in murderous thugs who masquerade as religious power brokers. The Middle East seems to be moving very fast in the direction of the 12th century.
The Senate Goes Republican: What can one say, except . . . how very sad for this nation. The Koch’s have officially bought our government.
Putin Invades Ukraine: And speaking of out of control, Russia and Czar Vlad are running hard, also backwards. They seem to have reached maybe the 18th century and are moving fast in the direction of 17th. Russians must be so proud.
An Epidemic Out of Control: Ebola . . . whatever are we to do?  We apparently have lost control of this pandemic and will be very lucky if it can be contained within Africa. But how many thousands of Africans must die before we declare that “too many Africans have died?”
Executive Action on Immigration: Well, our Republican joke-folks refused to act, so he had to.
The Details of Torture Revealed: Ahhh, the Shrub and his Cheney-master live on in this sordid tale of right wing fascism run amok. No morality here folks. Move on.
More States Legalize Pot: Well Dude, it’s about time . . . sort of like Cuba, but way more fun.
A Minimum Wage Workers Can Live On: Good.

And now, for a real look back at 2014, let’s take a look at some of the finest artistic endeavors of the year. That’s right—Richard’s Art Walk pictures . . . well a small sampling of his best from the year of Art Walks. So, let’s get to it. This is the real stuff that happened during 2014. 
Here's some from February--it was still winter remember:


And then came Spring and the April Art Walk:


And then came June . . . ahh summer has arrived:


September . . . always a nice month for an Art Walk:


Finally, we close pout the year with the November Art Walk. Christmas is coming folks . . .



 Ta ta folks. See you in 2015 . . . if you're good . . .

Monday, December 22, 2014

Happy Birthday Love

And following hard on the heels of my 41st 39th birthday last week, comes my dearest wife's birthday--her 39th of course. And I attempt below to provide a bit of context for a life filled with love and much excitement . . . so far. With much more love and excitement to come. Here below, a few snippets from her glorious life . . . all prior to her current 39th birthday of course. We begin with her earliest with her mom and then with her granddad. We then trace a few episodes from her happy times on this planet . . .