Saturday, October 27, 2007

An Epidemic of Assery

Photo from this store, Gorey Details. I tried my best to tastefully illustrate this subject. By so doing, I was in no way implying that cats are a half-assed pet. To the contrary, cats so rarely make asses of themselves, and are so obviously mortified when they do, that they serve as excellent role models of Unassery. If there is anything inoffensive, in the world, on the subject of assery, it is cartoon cat butts.

There is a epidemic of assery loose in the country, and it is not hidden. Yet it is past time to step in and turn this raging inferno of assery back to the low, background simmer which is more containable. We usually cannot cure victims of Total Assery, but if we did not handle them in some humane manner, more good people will be lost to assery.

There are people who will always do things some half-assed way. Such people are unteachable. While not always slow to learn, they are certainly unable to learn this: Don't do things half-assed.

Now, Unassery consists very much of this First Law of Assery, Don't do things half-assed. That's because humans can sometimes have difficulty judging the importance of things. Being able to judge the importance of things when we can't stop doing things half-assed will at least mean we will never do anything important for the sake of humanity.

Because only Total Asses forget the Second Law of Assery: The degree of assery is inverse to the degree of consideration.

The danger of doing things half-assed is that, uncontained, it can progress to Total Assery. The Total Ass creates, in The Theory of Black Holes of Assery, a dangerous state of being wherein people raging with Assery Fever create a tremendous collapse of Utter Assery from which no living thing has ever returned.

We do not know the Threshold of Utter Assery. Urban legends abound of brave scientists pulled back from the brink who lived, but were afterwards a source of psychic pains in the asses of humans within range, and are obsessed with discrediting the theory of evolution on which all biology is based.

When it is the authorities who are being Utter Asses, the infection can reach critical mass in a terrible explosion of Utter Assery which has a half-life of decades, if not centuries.

Assery must be suppressed with a public health initiative. Once assery is destroyed by repeated injections of reality and constant compresses of ridicule, the afflicted should be treated for the rest of their lives in exchange for their quarantine from spheres of influence, from which the infection spreads.

These "Typhoid Marys of Assery" must be treated humanely, lest we all succumb to assery, but they are a terrible danger.

We must think of the children.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

New, Obsessive Interest

This blog is descending into an even darker level of neglect with the recent acquisition of a new kitten rescued from a shelter and the evolution of a blog in his honor:

the way of cats

What started out as a way to let farflung friends see his baby pictures turned into an activist blog to get cats homes, discuss their winning ways, and dispense my hard-won expertise in cat rescue.

If that interests you, please feel welcome to visit!

Because pooties make us feel better.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Wal-Mart Fallacy

In case the punchline of the cartoon at left is rather small, I will repeat it: "Pluggers know that quality equals quantity."

Well, Pluggers are wrong.

What do we really want? A cheap computer which crashes all the time, or a computer which works all the time? A bag of rags, or a pair of pants? A bunch of incompatible people to date, or finding the one who makes us happy?

I recently had a discussion with someone who did not believe me when I informed them that Wal-Mart sells different products from the name brands that can be gotten elsewhere. I explained that in order to meet Wal-Mart's price point, the companies have to downgrade their product's manufacture just for Wal-Mart.

The Lee jeans at Wal-Mart are not the Lee jeans at the Gap. That is why they are cheaper. Wal-Mart shoppers are not getting them cheaper.

You are, in fact, paying only what they are worth. This can be an advantage if you are buying products which you don't intend to use extensively, such as children's clothes which they will grow out of, a kitchen appliance for occasional use, or purely decorative items that don't get used.

But I think people are shopping at Wal-Mart because they want the same thing, only they think they are getting it cheaper. And that's The Wal-Mart Fallacy.

It reminds me of the old joke, "The food was terrible! And such small portions." The joke here is why anyone would want more bad food. Yet, in the age of Wal-Mart, that is what they are getting, but they don't know that.

They don't want to know that.

That is why my conversational companion fought me so hard. I pulled up articles by major manufacturers explaining why they sold to Wal-Mart, and what they did in order to accomplish that. And my conversational companion didn't want to believe.

Of course you don't want to believe that! That's your whole retail reason for existing. Somehow, people who shop at Wal-Mart want to believe they have beaten the system. That they have gotten something for less! Our every fiber of American DNA rebels against this thought. We are good consumers! We manage to get a bargain against every market indicator that lives and breathes against our doing that. We have beaten the system!

Only we have not.

We are paying what the merchandise is worth. No more, and certainly, no less. Yet, Wal-Mart is convincing people that they are getting a bargain. A coffee maker that lasts nine months, a pair of jeans that lasts little more. But we got it so cheaply!


There's the rub. Is all you can eat of stringy beef and watery mashed potatoes the same as a real grilled ribeye and mashed red skin potatoes? Is it?

Is it?

If you think it is the same; no, if you think you are better off, paying less... for less.

Congratulations. You are an American consumer. In other words...

You are a sucker.

Which is against the whole American mythos. You can't be a sucker, paying less for jeans or coffee makers which... dagnabbit, don't last as long. But it was a bargain!

So be happy. That you've made China richer, and yourself... poorer.



Manufacturers are understandably reluctant to make this point public, so here are some articles I found:

The Wal-Mart You Don't Know
Bodega Goat Cheese
Cheap Cuts Both Ways

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Justice, For All

I think we should consider waterboarding Attorney General Gonzales.

Here we have an issue of national security, with reason to believe the person in question is not going to be forthcoming, who has already been caught in several lies.

Isn't this suggestion against the law? Not according to Gonzales. He finds the Geneva Conventions “quaint” and doesn’t think we need habeas corpus anyway. He has put out memos stating as much. This is the Attorney General of the United States.

He must know best.

It would be on CSPAN, naturally, but I think excerpts should appear on the nightly news. Probably with a disclaimer first. For the children. But it is always educational for citizens to see their democracy in action.

A proud moment, really. To show who we are and what we stand for.

And this isn’t anything that shouldn’t be shown on television, is it? There’s no nudity involved. He’ll be nicely dressed in a suit and tie.

Just a simple procedure, performed by professionals, doing what their government wants them to do.

When he appears in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the accoutrements should be waiting for him. I understand the materials are simple; some plastic wrap, a table, and a bucket of water. In keeping with the gravity of the Chamber, and the integrity of its carpet, there should be a tarp laid out; messiness seems unavoidable.

And an Attorney General who is not willing to be honest about the way he runs our prosecutorial system is certainly a danger to Our Way of Life. Isn’t he? Is it okay to let our justice system conceal its operations, obscure its procedures, and refuse to discuss what they are doing?

No. Of course not.

We should be willing to do whatever it takes. And it's not as though I'm advocating torture. Dick Cheney has said that he doesn't consider this torture. This is the Vice President of the United States.

He must know best.

It is a hallmark of justice that it be applied evenly. It is not justice if the rules apply to one person and not to another. The law is the law, and must be obeyed. And what greater committment to principle can a man make, than to submit to those same principles?

I don’t understand why anyone would think this is an outrageous suggestion. This is the man who legalized these procedures. This is the man who works for a man who authorized our military to perform these same kinds of procedures on people who have been deemed a danger to Our Way of Life. The President of the United States.

He must know best.

So I would think Gonzales would be proud to step forward and convey his admiration for the law, his reverence for justice, his committment to his own legal opinions.

And lie down on that table.

We should waterboard Attorney General Gonzales, in the Senate, on television.

You couldn’t ask for a better time, or a better place, or a better person.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Separation of Matter & Anti-Matter

Ye cain’t let them touch, Cap’n! Or she’ll blow!

As Scotty well knows, certain elements must be kept separate from each other, or there’s hell to pay. Fresh butter and old fish. Disco and metalheads. Church and State.

Theocracy uses government structure to enforce observance to a particular religion. Religion relies on faith which is built on belief. All of which, by their very natures, cannot be proven, only believed. And therein lies its explosive quality.

Belief must be arrived at through each human heart. It is about trust and acceptance. It is a mythic structure we spin about what we do not know or incompletely understand. Belief is a product of consciousness and our own ability to speculate about philosophical questions. It cannot be explained, only felt. So, ultimately, true belief is about a lack of enforcement.

Because, dammit, if you have enforcement, it’s not belief any more.

Inquisitional Catholics saved souls with torture. Or so they deluded themselves into thinking. It was lip service; torn, parched, contorted lip service. This is the ultimate expression of theocracy; torturing people into paying lip service to something they do not believe in. The beginnings of this nation were both the product of, and the reaction against, just that kind of Ultimate Theocracy.

So if we sink down through the stormy seas of “Christian Nation” and “lost values” and the “Culture War,” through the cold sink of implacable resolve, we come to the depths where nightmare creatures dwell, distorted by the pressure above. Where we find the true desires of those calling for Theocracy to return. The desire to have their own lack of belief reinforced by judicial fiat.

Doubt, that demon beloved by Satan, dances in the back of every theocratic mind. If only doubt had no place to play; if only every media outlet, organ of government, and (wo)man-in-the-street had to think the way they do, doubt would vanish. And they could stop the ceaseless, yammering, tormenting cries from their own mind that imperils their immortal soul.

That’s what it is about.

Those who have never swum in the scummy waters of rabid fundamentalism are unaware of how pervasive, how acidic, how terrifying, the anxiety can be. One wrong move — a paragraph of secular humanism, a glimpse of thigh, a half-heard snatch of Pink Floyd* — and all one’s hard work can become undone. And then, oh, then, my brothers and sisters, there might be the runaway semi, the sudden heart attack, or the helpless immersion in hardcore Internet porn. While still in the limbo of Doubt. And that is the unforgiveable sin that casts one into the Fiery Pit** (type of pit may vary, please check your policy) without any hope for all of eternity.

Ugly creatures, indeed.

It is the despairing, last ditch cry of every failed authoritarian, whether parental or otherwise. “My way or the highway!” If you won’t go along, By God, I’ll make you go along. Not caring if the heels are dug in up to the elbows. Not caring if the belief is brain-washing sincere, or resentful, reluctant compliance. Not caring. Only compliance.

I’m sure some devoutly religious people are reflexively regarding it as a good thing. Who wouldn’t want to live their life according to God’s wishes? The problem remains: Whose God?

This is what the Founders wrestled with. And since they were, whatever else they were, Free Thinkers, and proud of it, they came up with: Freedom. The freedom to choose, or not choose at all. The free and unfettered practice of whatever beliefs their fellow countrymen might come up with. From dogmatic boxes to naked Pagans. And everything in between.

And I, for one, like that. A bunch.

There’s religion. There’s spirituality. There’s philosophy. And they should all be as free to caper in the groves of the mind as we can possibly make possible. Belief is neither as irrational as some of its practitioners, or as rational as its secular critics. It is a unrational characteristic of the human mind, which has a habit of creating three new questions for each one it answers. And messing with the unfettered ability to let each person find the boundaries of what they need to believe, what to believe, and come to believe, is where any civilization mucks up what should be their goal of: the most good for the most souls.

Because Belief can’t be legislated. To quote the Awakened, Enlighted, Grinch: It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes, or bags! Belief must come for each person, individually, sincerely, and wholeheartedly uncoerced.

That is the only way it has any meaning. At all.

In closing, I would like to remind everyone of what will happen when Belief becomes Legislated.

I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said "Stop! don't do it!" "Why shouldn't I?" he said. I said, "Well, there's so much to live for!" He said, "Like what?" I said, "Well...are you religious or atheist?" He said, "Religious." I said, "Me too! Are you Christian or Buddhist?" He said, "Christian." I said, "Me too! Are you catholic or protestant?" He said, "Protestant." I said, "Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?" He said, "Baptist!" I said, "Wow! Me too! Are you Baptist church of god or Baptist church of the lord?" He said, "Baptist church of god!" I said, "Me too! Are you original Baptist church of god, or are you reformed Baptist church of god?" He said, "Reformed Baptist church of god!" I said, "Me too! Are you reformed Baptist church of god, reformation of 1879, or reformed Baptist church of god, reformation of 1915?" He said, "Reformed Baptist church of god, reformation of 1915!" I said, "Die, heretic scum", and pushed him off.

Thank you, Bill Hicks. I’m sure you had a soul, and I’m sure it’s resting, or not, somewhere.

And far be it from me to dictate anything else.

This is my post as part of Blog Against Theocracy.

Find out more with First Freedom First .

*For some reason that really should be studied by dedicated sociologists, (grant application available on request,) Christian Fundies hate Pink Floyd. I’m talking foaming at the mouth, over the top, ranting and raving, hatred. I think it’s because they like it. And they’ve been told they should, under any circumstances, Not.

**Fiery Pit most lovingly realized in the works of Jack Chick. See Chick Tract Reviews — My Guide to All Things Chick.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Equations Have Changed

Living as we do, in the back of beyond, what most people consider “shopping” is more than an hour away. So if I can’t get it locally, I find what we want online, and let it arrive via a Big Brown Truck which is coming to town anyway. There’s the key to a vast energy saving solution.

Bring back delivery.

When you look at how many things used to be delivered, you realize just how much companies have outsourced what used to be a part of their service. Instead of one truck from each store going around, dropping off the milk, the produce, all the myriad things we need every day, the stores have persuaded us, all of us, thousands of us, to get in our cars and go out and get it.

They did it by cutting their price by a little, and persuading us the bargain was worth it. But is it? We’re not paying delivery fees, but then again, we are. In more gas, more rubber worn from our tires, more time taken from our busy days to go to the store, drive around to a parking spot, drag our stuff back to our cars and drive them home again. We’ve become such reflexive bargain hunters we’ve lost sight of our own bottom line.

A while back I helped keep Wal-Mart out of our little town. As I researched Wal-Mart, I discovered how deeply they have committed to this delivery outsourcing concept. They open a store with lowered prices to drive all the competition under. Ah, the rejoicing. Such low prices! Once all other stores are ground under, they raise the prices, because where are you going to go? Less rejoicing, but at least we have all this selection! When that has gone on for a while, the third stage is to close the store, forcing everyone to drive further away to reach another Wal-Mart. Too late, Wal-Mart reappraisal begins. But where are you going to go?

In a ruthless, capitalistic, sold-my-soul-to-the-company-store sort of way, it’s brilliant.

It’s not just Wal-Mart. It’s the very Big Box concept. Any purchase, from home entertainment to lumber, big things to little things, becomes An Expedition. You are driving more miles to a huge place and waiting in long lines just to buy a screw. And boy, are you.

To quote a favorite movie, Galaxy Quest, “By Grabthar’s hammer, what a savings.”

Segments of our society, mired in the Wal-Mart concept of “low prices,” has lost a vital part of the math involved in not just acquisition, but also satisfaction. A few years ago, I needed something to lug around all my Daily Stuff, from a laptop to a cell phone. I could have looked for a bargain by driving around to a dozen stores, trying to find something I’d like and settling for something that wasn’t quite right, then getting exasperated a few months later and repeating the search, hoping they were now stocking something that would work better for me. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Instead, I went to Build a Bag on the Timbuk2 website. I customized a bag, from colors to handles to accessories. It’s made in San Francisco, by people who make a living doing artisan labor, and they made me a bag just the way I wanted it. Now I have a sturdy, well made object that will serve me for years to come, and is so obviously useful two friends have gotten their own custom bag. A bargain? Yes, indeed.

The equations have changed. Carbon footprint is going to be the new cost multiplier in the way we shop. The whole economic structure will be shaken up as countless spreadsheets burn through the shortest distance between two points. And that is simply: the right goods-the right people. There won’t be money or energy left over to make things people will wind up not wanting. The middleman must fall.

Our circumstances, so unusual in the modern world, have paradoxically made us much more aware of the cost/benefit tradeoff. Between taking us to where the goods are, and bringing certain goods to where we are. Those big buildings, full of a buyers best guess of what people might want, all heated and cooled and lighted and staffed and populated with people who all drive cars to get there; obsolete.

When it comes to Internet shopping, this is only the guns of April, 1775. The real revolution is yet to come. The end of actual stores, and the beginning of virtual ones. The fall of the Big Box, and the rise of Vast Choice.

In the back of beyond, far from where you might find the cutting edge, I have already made the leap. Into the future of shopping.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Reality Handling: Under Siege

Remember your T S Eliot:

Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

Our brains filter reality through narrative and story. That's the point of myths; they are stories that help us understand. The difference is that myths are to inspire and cohere, they are a standard we are to strive towards and use as cautionary examples.

They are not meant to substitute reality; they are meant to illuminate it.

Our brain evolved for thousands of years with some immutable touchstones regarding our senses. If you saw it, if you heard it, it was there.

And that is no longer true.

Once, there were portals separating the myths from your life; you'd go to the big stone amphitheatre, the big tent in the muddy field, the big vaudeville or movie house. You'd leave here and go there. Then you'd come back from the there into the here, hopefully with lessons learned.

The portals have broken down. The television in your living room brought movies and television shows and news and video games into our lives without seams, without doorways, without a pause to recognize what we are leaving and where we are going. There aren't any simple obvious markers to what your brain believes. Now, it needs help.

And it's not getting it.

Television is delibrately blurring the line. It used to be the the "shows" had some markers; you watched a comedy, you watched the news, and there was some definition between them. Not anymore. The television is a constant flood of "mockumentaries" and "reality shows" and "photo ops." The shows are like the soaps and that's the news.

I think our current media is deliberately cultivating this gap, this "reality gap" in their audience. It's not just that they are heartless shills that go where the money is. They want a confused audience that believes what they are told. The more they cultivate the suckers, the more impact their commercials will have.

People already think a pill can make them lose weight, that an infomercial gadget will get them to cook, and that terrorists attacks are more to be feared than their lack of health insurance.

They would rather believe that, than actually change their eating habits, change their cooking habits, or realize the depth of the chasm that might loom before them.

And it works because so many people have become helpless to distinguish between cunning artifice and actual reality.

We laugh, now, looking back at Orson Welles's production of War of the Worlds on the radio. All those people streaming out of their homes, fearing the alien invasion.

But we shouldn't laugh. It was a warning.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Having it both ways.

The above is a screen shot of a section from the Woman's Day Magazine Website which is pretty darned representative of the women's genre of magazines, so I'm not picking on any of them in particular. They all do it.

They all imply one can have it both ways.

The covers either have a slim woman or a luscious dessert. Inside, they always have both. And we all want both, despite the fact that it's highly unlikely for that to happen. Only in fantasy land can we have a slim body and unlimited (18 varieties!) of gooey goodness.

I've got nothing against health or chocolate. I've got nothing against fantasy land. But what they are promising just doesn't happen. We know that. We don't want to believe it.

I've always gotten an inner chuckle when I hear the phrase, "I don't believe in..." Ghosts. Entropy. The cholesterol theory of heart disease. Some of these may exists, some may not. But one's belief does not change any of their existence, or non-existence, one iota. That truth dwells in reality, which may, or may not, have anything to do with one's belief.

I've been hearing about The Secret, a film that reveals the amazing claim that "wishing will make it so." This film is pretty persuasive, judging from the comments I've been hearing. But I think it falls less into the area of powerful ideas or good production values than in the simple wish for all of us, that it be so.

And if we all wish it were so, then it must be so, right?

Belief is powerful stuff, no question. It's the important first step to making one's dreams a reality. But it's only a first step. It's not the whole thing. Or... everyone would have a pony. And that's not happening, is it?

What does wanting it both ways lead us to?

The healthy doughnut.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Focus on: The Reality Challenged

I just finished reading Bob Altemeyer's extraordinary online book, The Authoritarians. He's a soon-to-be-retired Professor of Psychology from the University of Manitoba, and in this work he sums up the most pertinent findings of his career-long interest in Authoritarianism.

What is Authoritarianism? My own take on the subject is that it measures one's vulnerability to accepting authority over reality. Thus, those who score highly on the Authoritarianism scale, (People With Authoritarian Tendencies, or PWAT,) despite any other traits they may have, are those who most successfully ignore reality. They are most likely to be prejudiced and blindly obedient, and least likely to think for themselves and adjust their conceptions to new information.

They have chosen understanding via what they are told instead of through their own thoughts and experiences.

One of the most interesting sections is chapter 3: "How Authoritarian Followers Think." This thinking processes is characterized by:

Illogic-deficiences in logical reasoning; if PWAT's like the conclusion, they ignore any logical fallacies in the steps that got there.

Highly Compartmentalized Minds-a conclusion reached in one area does not affect another area; PWAT's ideas do not form an overall structure, but rather a series of "files."

Double Standards-a natural consequence of rigid compartmentalization; PWAT's don't see the hypocrisy in their views because the conclusions occupy different "realms."

Hypocrisy-the inevitable conclusion of such compartments; a PWAT can demand a rigid moral code yet support leaders who do not follow it.

Blindness to Themselves-PWAT's have little self-understanding and cannot see the contradictions in their thinking.

Profound Ethnocentrism-PWAT's motto is "With Us or Against Us," with no middle ground.

Dogmatism-accepting what you are told without question or flexibility; ably summed up by the author as "You don't know why the things you believe are true." Thus, it is difficult for PWAT's to defend their beliefs without parroting defenses they have been told, and have no ability to counter an unexpected challenge. Their beliefs have to be defended with the same blind obedience by which they were absorbed, since they were never subjected to thinking in the first place.

Of course, we all have these tendencies in ourselves. We can be blind to our own contradictions, unable to explain why we think a certain way, and have certain files that rarely rub against other files. PWAT's, though, have them everywhere. This is their response to everything. This explains a lot about the rigid, dogmatic individuals we all know, and probably, avoid: their imperviousness to logic, their unthinking prejudices, their complacency about contradictions, and their angry reaction to any reality that challenges these tendencies.

To further contemplate just how dangerous this kind of citizen can be to the still unspooling story of the Enlightment (yes, we are still in it, and yes, it's still in danger of getting derailed) one can read John Dean's book, below, which drew heavily on Dr. Altemeyer's research.

It is nice to be certain about things. That's why we all strive for it. But certainty should be as rigorously challenged as any other aspect of reality. If not, it isn't really certainty, is it?

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Evolutionary Principles of Reality Assessment

How did we get here?

By that I mean: having a discussion about the nature of reality. Isn't reality just, you know, stone obvious?

And yet, it is stone obvious reality is not stone obvious.

Misconceptions are not unique to humans, of course. There are many dogs who believe themselves boss of the house, (and many dogs who are.) I once inadvertently scared my cat with a pair of those claw-footed animal slippers. And for all we know, amoebas regard themselves as powerful beings with free will and a conscience.

I do believe we are the only creatures who have taken belief in unreality as far as we have. It is difficult not to encounter someone whose grasp of reality is woefully inadequate. And I don't believe there's a person anywhere whose record in this area is perfect. We are all prone to believe what we want to believe.

But how far, and for how long? These are the crucial elements that separate rational beings from the wearers of tinfoil hats. So why did we develop this ability to be so wrong?

Because the downside of reality warping is so great, the upside is equally great. We have the ability to imagine, a greater ability than any other creature on earth. The advantages of combining our opposable thumb with our imagination is the way we have been able to shape our environment, for good or ill, far more than any other species. Which makes us so successful that we have become not only a danger to all other species, but also a danger to ourselves.

To create, one must first imagine. And so we do. And because our imagination is so powerful, so delightful, so seductive, we can so easily fall into the trap of rearranging the truth for ourselves. And sometimes, such is our powers of persuasion, for others as well.

Why hasn't the genetic tendency to be able to fool oneself into awful situations been taken out of the population by now? Because it's not one gene, or one cluster of genes... it's about the very way our brains work. Remember, I said we are the best at imagination. We are not the only ones.

Studies of the great apes indicate tool using and language skills that are counterparts to our own, including the ability to visualize something that is not there and to predict the consequence that would follow from an action. It's not just close relatives; studies have shown that dogs, pigs, cats and others also have these abilities.

So, just like our opposable thumb, we can use this great ability for good or ill. We need to remember it's a valuable ability that we all should treasure, and use properly.

Thumbs up, or thumbs down.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Disbelief Can Kill.

When I say disbelief can kill, I'm not speaking metaphorically. I'm thinking of Aiko Koo.

She was a fifteen year old hitchiker who made the terminal mistake of accepting a ride from Edmund Kemper, the "Coed Butcher," on September 14, 1972. He drove to a deserted spot and showed her a gun. It should have been clear what was going on, and what the stakes were. But disbelief must have offered its siren song.

Kemper got out of the car and locked himself out of it. "She could have reached over and grabbed the gun," he said later, in an interview, "but I think she never gave it a thought." She wanted so much to think this wasn't really happening. She must have wanted to think of it as a delusion, a mistake, a joke.

She unlocked the door and let him back in.

Let me repeat that.

She unlocked the door and let him back in.

Her remains were not found until the following May.

Edmund Kemper had a high IQ, and despite his large size, an ingratiating manner. The day after he killed Aiko Koo, Kemper was questioned by two psychiatrists, since he was still on parole for killing his grandparents. He'd enrolled at a community college where he'd made good grades. He'd become drinking buddies with local police officers. No one knew about his extra-curricular activities. So the two psychiatrists declared him no longer a danger to society and he was a free man.

It's somewhat understandable that a bright person who had become adept at hiding his true nature fooled psychiatrists and cops. He was on his best behavior with them. He wasn't in front of Aiko Koo. She had every reason to believe he meant her harm, but she didn't want to believe it.

We are all confronted with unpleasant facts. We know, intellectually, that not facing unpleasant facts allows them to become more unpleasant. Yet, all too often, we don't face them anyway.

Usually it is not as clear as the situation in a out-of-the-way spot in a California September. There is wiggle room, there are extenuating circumstances, there are abundant rationalizations for us not to face unpleasant facts. Facts are rarely as unpleasant as they were for Aiko Koo, not as stark.

Yet... and yet...

She unlocked the door and let him back in.

That is the power of disbelief.

And it could kill you. Metaphorically, or otherwise.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Without the War

I mourn the loss of those dead in the Iraq war.

I also mourn those who lost their previous life, dead in the Iraq war.

The latest statistics I have read equate one dead to every six wounded. And usually, greviously wounded, unable to take up the life they knew before. Whether destroyed in either body or spirit, there is a great deal of loss for us to mourn.

And that's not even counting the civilians of Iraq, who never had a say in anything that went on, and no longer even have a home to think of going back to.

I say this to allow us to understand what I mean when I say: Where would we be without the war?

Where would we be?

If Bu$hCo, that great juggernaught of profit over life, had passed up this opportunity, and instead just concentrated on the water-on-rock drip of lowered services, predatory financial practices, and slow descent into indentured servitude: would people have woken up in time? Would they have rolled along, cursing the insidious grip without realizing its deeper meaning... without the war?

Without the war, would we have the Democratic majority that just took office today?

Terrible loss brings with it a reorientation of priorities. Concepts emerge from the mist of misunderstanding in sudden, stark clarity. What is going on? the populace wondered. Someone is dead, someone has come home so grievously different than what they were before, and what is the purpose?

What was the sacrifice for?

Bush has come out with that freighted word, sacrifice.

And it makes us wonder.

With wonder, with re-evaluation, comes enlightenment.

I wonder, myself, what the country would be without the war. Without that terrible rallying point, without that undeniable reality, would business as usual gone on as before? And for how long?

Past the point of no return?

It may be small comfort. It may be no comfort at all. But I do think our soldiers sacrificed for the ideals on which our country was founded. They did give up their lives for us to be able to consider all that we have at stake. And I think they did save our country. Their lives, all of their lives, past, present, and future, were for us.

I think, without the war, people would not be awake.

It was the point. Our freedom, our rights, our lives.

It was not in vain.