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.