May 17, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Journalism” by Joe Sacco (Metropolitan Books)
Sacco is known for his in depth work in Palestine and Bosnia, but this collection of shorter works allows readers to get a wider view of the grim world that Sacco has chosen to document.
In the Caucasus, Sacco spends time with Chechen women trying to survive the refugee camps which Russia is eager to force out in order to declare the problem solved. Sacco’s narrative darts between the reality of life in these camps and the nightmare of the experiences that brought the women there, adding up to a harrowing, depressing and angering piece.
In his Iraq pieces, Sacco documents the trials of American soldiers and their harsh lot in wartime, as well as that of torture survivors attempting to sue Donald Rumsfeld for the horrific treatment.
Sacco goes to his native country, Malta, to investigate the influx of African refugees that has created a nightmare of crowding and animosity between the desperate people trying to escape horror and death, and the small country that cannot handle what has descended upon them.
In India, Sacco visits lower caste villages that are beyond bleak. So poor and beaten down are these people that they have given up caring about any human rights they deserve. They survive by raiding rat holes filled with foraged grain. It is a shocking existence perpetuated by the corruption of the higher castes in charge.
As with any of Sacco’s work, the stories he tells will make you cringe and cry, and he does this with clarity as he explains the history and context on a larger scale that leads to the horrors you witness.
It’s reality as too many Americans are unaware of it, but so much of the rest of the world cannot escape. Sacco, in the tradition of the greatest journalists, is on the side of the little guy, and is determined to present the individual stories with dignity and compassion.
His success is greater than many print journalists, and his form of graphic storytelling adds layers that they could never capture. If there is one graphic novelist who should be mandatory reading in American high schools, it is Joe Sacco, an important voice beyond his chosen medium.
May 17, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Terrorists see USA as gun paradise
Of all the headlines I didn’t want to see post-Boston bombing, this one from NPR — “People On Terrorism Watch List Not Blocked From Buying Guns” — was very high on my list even if I didn’t know it when I woke up (http://n.pr/17ieyh0).
So determined are we to fight terrorism, we will remove our shoes to board a plane, we will lock down a major city to catch bombers and we will not, absolutely not, refuse to sell the monsters guns.
The article quotes from recent al-Qaida videos — one is embedded on the site for your viewing horror — that has terrorists practically pooping their pants, they are so excited at the ease with which firearms can be obtained in order to kill U.S. citizens, encouraging terrorists to go to gun shows.
Considering the recent revelation that the Tsarnaev brothers were inspired and educated by online terrorism resources, this isn’t a minor issue.
I wonder if all the security you have to go through to, say, tour the Empire State Building or get on an airplane will be enacted at gun shows? I wonder if there will be no-buy lists as well as no-fly lists? Probably not. Security requires sacrifice, and the Second Amendment fanatics have proven over and over again that they aren’t willing to go where most everyone else is. Shame on them.
The FBI and the one that got away
This article from Slate (http://slate. me/11ORYrA) takes a look at the last 10 years in terrorism and attempts to find some commonalities in the 52 cases since 2001 in which the U.S. has been a target. It doesn’t include the recent Canadian arrests.
What it does find is that those attempting the attacks aren’t very skilled at what they purport to do — cause destruction and terror. In this way, the Tsarnaev brothers certainly fit the profile.
The article links to an Ohio State University paper doing the hard data legwork. It’s pretty interesting, detailing each case, including ones you’ve probably forgotten.
One of the first things I thought of when I heard about the Boston suspects was the recent FBI penchant for setting up would-be terrorists by encouraging them and aiding them until the point that they attempt to blow something up and then arrest them.
In fact, note that the last three instances of terrorism in our country are exactly that. And note the Tsarnaev brothers fit that profile completely. I certainly hope that isn’t the outcome.
I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I do note that the bombers’ mother said on Russian television that the FBI had been targeting her older son (http://bit.ly/10zp7xj) though the FBI denies this (http://bit.ly/10zpdF9). It’s fairly consistent with actual entrapment cases, but not so much with the Alex Jones inside job stuff, I don’t think.
Even so, it’s been documented that the FBI did have warnings about the older brother, so you have to wonder why this one was able to slip through the cracks and bomb Boston, even though they had knowledge of him, even as they were busy with their entrapment efforts.
Smile and say cheese for your own safety
The debate about surveillance cameras has started again (http://politi.co/10dcQHm).
I might surprise a few people by saying that, in public spaces, I am not opposed to surveillance cameras at all. Actually, the more precise way of putting it is, I’m not bothered by it.
If you go back 20 years, you’d find a total opponent in me, but a funny thing happened in those two decades and it’s called the Internet. There is truly nothing funnier to me at this point than having a debate about privacy on a Facebook thread. Cyber-snooping is a greater threat to our privacy than video of us walking down the street, and yet CISPA — the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act — has been approved by the House and is headed for the Senate (http://slate.me/15GUVRU).
But CISPA is only part of the problem. We back-up our information to servers we don’t even know the physical location of. We send emails with all sorts of private details that sit in servers owned by Google and Yahoo and Time Warner and dozens of other companies. Despite privacy settings, the things we say on Facebook and anywhere else sit there, waiting, waiting, waiting to be hacked.
Our cellphones can be hacked. Our computers can be hacked. Easily. Our wireless networks can be broken into.
And we just hand all our information to the digital corporations, cozying up on the private sector Big Brother’s lap pretty willingly.
And people are worried about video cameras? It’s almost cute.
May 17, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Thank you very much for the Ricin
The ultimate American crime has finally been committed — an attempt to poison the president has turned out to be the result of a battle between two Elvis impersonators from Mississippi. Of course it has.
Can you think of a more American true crime case? Can you think of one that gets to the core of who we are more clearly? Not just hillbilly Elvis fanatics with tunnel vision, but hillbilly Elvis fanatics with tunnel vision who don’t care who else we bring down with us!
Turns out that the alleged culprit, James Everett Dutschke, is, of course, you knew it was coming, not only a Republican, but a former candidate for the party as a Mississippi state representative and, by all accounts, a frequent guest at GOP fundraising dinners down there.
And while he hasn’t exactly propositioned men for sex in public restrooms like so many others in his party, he has two court cases going on right now, one for allegedly molesting three girls under the age of 16 and one for exposing himself in public.
Oh, he’s exposed himself in public, all right, as a total idiot and another degenerate entrenched in the Republican party.
Republicans are a party of people who will knowingly do the wrong thing and actually hurt themselves just to prove a point that doesn’t make any sense anyhow, as shown in this report from National Geographic (bit.ly/12my33v).
The article details a study about the light bulb buying behavior of both conservatives and liberals when energy efficient light bulbs — products that will save you money annually despite your political leanings — are labeled as green products or good for the environment.
Liberals, it was found, are not more moved to buy the bulbs than previously, but conservatives can actually change their minds once they find out that these sinister bulbs were operating under an ideological agenda that they wished to distance themselves from — you know, protecting the environment.
With that kind of logic dominating the Republican brain, it’s not hard to see how an Elvis-impersonator-turned-sex-offender-turned-attempted-assassin can become some level of mover and shaker within their party.
It’s the same sharp logic at work with their virulent opposition to Obamacare, which also highlights a prime Republican tendency — if you don’t quite understand it, oppose it.
Second Amendment massacre
If you want to see the most damning data on what Republican ideas bring to the country, you need only look at articles like this one (bit.ly/18pi8oh) in which a 2-year-old girl in Kentucky was shot by her 5-year-old brother. The weapon used was a “.22 rifle the 5-year-old was given as a gift” known as a Cricket, a special gun for little kids.
“Just one of those crazy accidents,” the coroner on the case remarked to the press.
Yeah, nutty. Whoosh. Things happen, don’t they? Like Republicans overwhelmingly rejecting any sort of sanity in regard to guns. This is your Second Amendment in action.
But there are so many Second Amendment victories out there to point out.
Here’s a 6-year-old girl who shot herself in the face last week while playing with her parents’ gun (bit.ly/103nUYU).
Here’s a 4-year-old who got shot in the leg by the family gun (bit.ly/YmrqlP).
Here’s an 8-year-old in Alaska who killed a 5-year-old during target practice (bit.ly/1303QuX).
Two children were among the dead in a family gun shooting in Illinois (bit.ly/ZmBQNu), which killed more people than the Boston marathon bombing even if it wasn’t committed by radical Chechen Muslims and didn’t involve explosives.
A sobering report about Denver gun crime finds children are 10 times more likely to die of gun injuries than anyone else, and people have nearly double the chance of dying by shooting than a car accident (bit.ly/YmrUbD). These statistics do not include Columbine or Aurora.
Take a look at this count that Slate maintains of all the gun deaths in our country since Newtown (slate.me/1031TbM) and make sure to note the number of children who appear on that list, which doesn’t compile injuries.
Every figure on that chart stands for a grave that Republican legislators are gleefully dancing on — and as of this writing, that totals 3,775 gun deaths since Newtown.
So if you are every worried that the Second Amendment is not doing its job, it most definitely is. Its victory is a Republican victory.
February 15, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Local politics is of national concern — that’s one of the lessons from Scott Thurman’s documentary covering the attack on evolution by the Texas Board of Education.
The film began as Thurman’s graduate thesis and eventually expanded to focus on the state board of education debate on science standards. Thurman attended board of education meetings and turned his lens toward a Republican Christian dentist who was also chairman of the board, Don McLeroy. McLeroy seemed to spearhead the efforts to call into question the veracity of evolution as a valid scientific fact in the school text books.
“The biggest complaint here was that Don wanted to put his religious beliefs in the public schools, and the problem with that is that public schools are paid for by all of our money,” said Thurman. “It shouldn’t be used to promote or denigrate one religion over another, so he’s walking on a thin rope in people’s minds for that reason.”
Texas is such a large market for the text book industry that its standards often dictate information contained in text books published for the entire country.
“I’d read about what Don was doing and I didn’t like what I’d read,” Thurman said. “It was part of my interest in focusing on him from the beginning, more to catch this guy showing how his evolution arguments were really religious arguments in disguise. I think there’s more of a sincere attempt to be scientific on Don’s part, but it’s put in a new light when you see it from the perspective of his personal life.”
McLeroy is shown as the type of guy who lectures patients in his dentist chair about evolutionists, and shares misinformation on the subject with the Sunday school class he teaches — all with friendly laugh and smile. Thurman says some people on the right oppose bringing a person’s religious convictions into the argument, but he thinks it’s mandatory to the issue.
“I think with political figures, you need to shed light on them, we need to know who they are and what they believe personally if those personal beliefs make scientific claims,” he said. “I think those claims need to be subject to the same kind of debate and critical review as scientific theories.”
For Thurman, the real controversy became obvious following the evolution debate, when the board began bickering over the social studies and history curriculum, with a transparent agenda to remove many liberal-leaning facts and highlight multiple conservative ones.
“It put the science deliberations in a whole new light,” Thurman said, “when you see some of the types of arguments, and then the process of including certain words and using particular language certain ways that came out of the creation-evolution debate. That formulated into a strategy in the social studies and history. The motive is more clear.”
The best weapon against such actions, Thurman says, turned out to be enlisting the help of moderate Christians and Republicans, such as Lubbock board member Bob Craig, who is shown in the film trying to combat some of the far right efforts.
“He did challenge them and stepped up and said, look, we are listening to experts and they’re saying this is creationist disguised language, strengths and weaknesses, and let’s move on,” Thurman said.
Thurman feels that, despite the obvious agenda, most of the board members, including those on the far right, were fairly sincere in their actions, though he also points to the political possibilities that anyone would have felt in that situation.
“For a lot of members, it was a pride in their district, like I’m standing up for what these people in my district are telling me,” he said. “And more importantly, that’s going to get them re-elected.”
“People see Texas politics in general — or at least we here in Texas seem to think that it’s a stepping stone for national government.
People especially see the state board of education as a stepping stone for other political office, the House, usually, sometimes even the senate or higher. State board of education is really an entry point, a lower form of government that a lot of people don’t really pay attention to.”
The key in Texas, Thurman says, is not to focus on getting Democrats elected, but again to enlist the help of moderate Republicans, putting them in the forefront and helping them win primaries.
“People aren’t going to vote for the Democrat because they don’t even care,” he said. “It’s a ‘D’ by their name. When they fill out their ballot, they’ll just say give me all Republicans, not really knowing how extreme they are or how opposed they would be to some of the views held by these state board of education members.”
The situation has changed after the last election, with an equal 5-5-5 split of moderates, liberals, and far right.
Less in the way of politics guides the board’s decisions as they are about to start reviewing books. Also, the state senate changed the rules of that process, downgrading the required compliance to Texas standards from 100 percent to 50 percent, offering much more leeway for publishers and stripping the broad power of the board itself.
Thurman sees it as a cautionary tale worth keeping in our collective memory, one that highlights the clash of two specific world views that are incompatible, especially when they spill out into the realm of governance.
“One sees the world in terms of absolutes and the other sees it in terms of probability,” said Thurman. “Gravity is a probability, right? We’re going to drop this ball and it’s going to fall and there’s a pretty good chance it’s going to happen again, because we’ve tested it, done it over and over. When you see it in terms of absolutes, something like science is hard to understand.”
Thurman stresses that he and McLeroy’s relationship was never, and is still not, touched by any animosity. They may stand on different sides of the issue, but McLeroy is a familiar type for Thurman, a Texas native, and a lifetime in that state has taught him to function happily with political and religious opposites.
“I can really relate to Don quite a bit,” Thurman said. “I’ve got family members, and I grew up in the same kind of religious philosophy, so I deeply respect him on a personal level and can sit at the dinner table with him and chat about everything, from politics to other things, and be okay with it, and not have a personal enemy.”
Thurman’s confident that his portrayal of McLeroy is evenhanded and points to the number of emails he gets in support of McLeroy, thanking him for what he is shown doing in Thurman’s film, as proof. These people see McLeroy as the hero of the film.
Others who write Thurman, of course, are not so supportive of McLeroy’s efforts, including religious moderates who want to make sure that people know McLeroy’s views do not represent their own.
The irony for Thurman is that the process of the board itself illustrated exactly what McLeroy was attempting to downgrade as a fact of the universe — natural selection.
“I was looking at this political body, this creature that’s active, and it’s fighting internally for the winner,” he said. “There’s this struggle. Everything to me, I was relating to evolution. I was looking at this board and saw it more as an anthropological study.”
“In fact, jokingly towards the end, when we were looking at narration, we thought David Attenborough would be a perfect commentator to say, ‘Look at these board members.’”
February 15, 2013 § Leave a Comment
No matter how hard I try to ignore it, the whole national gun dialogue seeps its way into my perception, and I cannot escape it. I know that the NRA has warned me again and again that it is the only line of defense against a totalitarian government — and I also know that Obama is doing his best to make that claim seem entirely sane with his ridiculous memo about the conditions under which he can legally have an American citizen assassinated (bit.ly/11KTBLH) but the news tells me otherwise. The news tells me that a gun is the best way for me to get hurt or killed by the guy next door or, worse, the guy sitting across the room.
It’s really an undeniable fact that the single best way to get shot is in a circumstance where someone, anyone, with any level of gun training high or low, has a gun.
I sleep easier knowing guys like this (bit.ly/11pAuro) are out there, armed and ready to protect me from random passers-by at the drop of a hat. A car full of people pulls into the wrong driveway, tries to back out and one of the people is dead.
But that was an on-purpose shooting. That guy truly believed the NRA rhetorical insanity that all that stood between him and lawless, predatory chaos was his gun. But the news is filled with accidental shootings in which neither the shooter or the shootee had any agenda other than standing in the wrong place at the wrong time. There’s this one in Georgia where a handshake apparently set off the gun (bit.ly/XNVgKT), this one in Kansas (bit.ly/WQAU2D) and one in Pennsylvania where cleaning the gun caused the shooting (bit.ly/11KU54t).
Here’s one where the gun went off because four people “over handled” it (ohne.ws/YaeTvq). Yeah, happens all the time with knives, too.
And don’t argue training. Training is meaningless. You can claim that those people weren’t trained to handle guns correctly, so of course that happened.
This is what happens with a soldier in a gun range when he cleans his gun (bit.ly/Wui6cV). This is what happens when a soldier tries to scare his friend in order to cure hiccups (cbsn.ws/Wxq17n).
In this one, the father refuses to blame the sacred gun for the accidental shooting of his son (bit.ly/11KUSCF) though he refers to it as “unreliable” — why did he own a gun if it couldn’t be trusted? — and touting how all the gun training in the world didn’t stop his son from doing something stupid, counting his blessings that it wasn’t fatal, and generally doing his best to argue effectively for the other side while claiming not to.
If only accidental shootings just affected careless gun owners. This guy was killed at a Super Bowl party by a friend who was just showing the gun to him (bit.ly/VIjj1O).
There’s this depressing story (gaw.kr/Xo1FL3) about a three-year-old who died because he found a pink gun that he thought was a toy.
And there’s this one (on.lsj.com/14S0uut) that has a 14-year-old handling a gun while the parents were out and shooting his 13-year-old sister in the head.
It turns out that not only do people kill people, guns actually kill people, too.
Of course, there are always the ones that aren’t accidents. Murder-suicides by gun show that people compelled to take themselves out of life aren’t always happy to go alone — whether the other person wants to or not — as this husband-wife incident in Texas shows (dallasne.ws/WOEr4n), as does this Rocky Mountain shooting (bit.ly/Xo1Qpu) and this horrifying incident involving a father shooting himself and his two kids, not to mention the family dog (lat.ms/Yafpd3).
The investigating officer describes them as “upstanding members of the community.” In other words, not criminals.
Here’s the kicker — all these guns were legally purchased. None of the shooters were criminals. And none of these involve using the guns against criminals. Not one crime was stopped by guns in any of these incidents, but many citizens died because of them.
The most revelatory recent gun murder story is that of renowned military sniper Chris Kyle (ind.pn/YTsCNk).
He was shot dead by a gunman while he himself had a gun, in a gun range, with other people who had guns. If a gun didn’t help this guy stay alive, then the gun debate is effectively over. This was a best case scenario, the one that the NRA argues for, put into a real life test situation, and failing.
Obama doesn’t have to worry about actually sending out drones to kill Americans, because we’re doing away with each other for him.
February 4, 2013 § Leave a Comment
“Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt” is a pretty grim account of not just the corporate victory over America, but the historical context of why such a victory is not unusual or unexpected. In documenting lives within the so-called “sacrifice zones” — that is, areas that have been destroyed in the name of profit, leaving a ravaged and dazed populace that cannot save itself — Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco provide a passionate exposé of the price of our corporation- dominated country. As they travel through the dark and forgotten corners of American life, they uncover corruption everywhere.
What makes the book different from most is the collaboration between reporter and cartoon journalist, who tag team in their portrayals of these bleak areas. Hedges is a passionate writer who can pound out a sentence to move you to tears and then provide the research to back up the emotion you’re feeling. Sacco is the premiere non-fiction cartoonist in the world, and here, his immense talents are utilized to personalize the larger situation, taking personal stories of interviewees and bringing them to vivid life. It’s a powerful combination that drives its point home until you feel ashamed.
The book opens with a jarring portrait of Native American life as it currently exists, the result of a free fall of cultural destruction at the hands of moneyed interests and government. The process is simple: Steal from the victim, obstruct opportunities for the victim, offer no support for the victim and then blame the victim when shattered lives lead to desperate behavior. From there, you can stick them in jail and say it’s their own fault.
This is pretty much the standard thread of history anywhere Hedges and Sacco investigate, whether it’s in Camden, N.J.— a wasteland built on a corrupt political machine defined by graft and run by state Democrats and recently, frighteningly embraced by the popular Chris Christie — or West Virginia, where historically, coal mining companies were able to routinely rape the land after they stole it from the people who lived on it and continue a campaign of terror against anyone who opposes them, even as they create a nightmarish ant colony of sunken graves beneath the ground. (Not to mention the thousands of new corpses each year from the industry’s pollution).
The book also covers the absolutely depressing and shameful virtual slave labor endured by migrant workers in Florida— with a complete history that makes it a sadly inevitable situation — and the Occupy encampment in Zucotti Park.
As Hedges delves into the Occupy movement, he frames it as the final assault by money and business upon American citizens, where it’s no longer the minorities and the aliens who are used and destroyed, but anyone else that can be, including supporters of the very institutions doing the raping. The premise is that by not correcting the wrongs of minorities and the poor, we, the middle class, have failed to fortify our own battlements and are probably doomed. It’s a dreary vision of America. It’s also a clear one. As Hedges points out, though, historically, the oppressed eventually explode — and often effectively.
The larger swathes of Hedges are brought down to earth by Sacco’s monologue vignettes providing the stories of individuals who he and Hedges come into contact with. Whether he’s following the tragic story of a Mexican family seeking the American Dream, a New Jersey resident trying to negotiate the way dirty politics ravage an ordinary life or an ex-coal miner fighting black lung disease and the trauma of watching his West Virginia world fall apart, Sacco manages to frame the political as the personal and show how the larger movement of governments and corporations can ravage the lives of any of us.
January 25, 2013 § Leave a Comment
There is much outrage, tittering and more about the revelation that Beyonce lip-synched the National Anthem at the Obama inauguration.Taken on its own, it’s a wonderful symbol of our nation’s current existence. Right after she performed, my Facebook and Twitter feeds lit up with adoring gushes that made it seem as though that was the most transcendent American moment ever, so the next day information that lip synching can now elicit deep emotional nationalistic feeling reveals just how shallow we’ve all become.
Does no one just put themselves out there anymore? Certainly not Yo Yo Ma who, it was pointed out, string-synched at the previous inauguration. I had forgotten about that, but upon being reminded, my first thought was, “that’s stupid.” And I’m sure no one felt stupider than Yo Yo Ma doing such a ridiculous thing.
So the argument has become about whether it is OK to be fake at the swearing in of our country’s leader, at least in regard to the entertainment. No one is questioning whether it’s okay for the president-elect to be fake, but they almost always are, right? It’s like going to one of those coming out balls down south, where the white debs cling to a world that is gone, gone, gone, but they can fool themselves for one night that there is something of actual substance going on.
There’s not, though. And there isn’t at a presidential inauguration. It’s all overblown pop stars phoning in a performance because it’s too cold.
Thankfully, you can’t escape the rigors of technology — they will always bring us back down to earth. This home video of one person’s experience at the inauguration (youtu.be/BYlKsWW6jz0) captures the metaphor better than any professional television cameras.
It’s footage of the Beyonce performance via Jumbotron, which is how most of us normal citizens get to see the inauguration, standing in a park, in the cold, using our actual live voices to converse and cheer and sing.
The Jumbotron experience makes everything better, though. Watch gleefully as the audio portion not only keeps dropping out, but returns again and again as some kind of distorted electronic weirdness.
So not only do we get to see the bottled joy of Beyonce’s national anthem performance, not only do we get to see someone who’s invited to celebrate the president and can’t sacrifice a moment of honesty in the freezing cold to just be an American, we get to see her chopped up into technological bits and spit out to the crowds.
There are chuckles after it’s all over. Isn’t that a little sad? The ascendancy of the first African American presidency into his second term has been reduced to a glitchy moment on a cheesy Dick Clark New Year’s show.
That’s the problem. We’re so focused on the spectacle of our joy and sadness, so determined to make sure that our national moments are pristine, perfect, calculated to make everyone feel, that we forget how extremely terrible we are at actually doing so. Spectacle reveals us for what we really are, announces to anyone who is paying attention why we don’t get anything done. Spectacle tells us that it’s not important to know and do, it’s just a matter of how we feel.
That’s certainly how the Republicans have held onto their confused rabble — they feel angry and that party is willing to create bogeymen for that rage. The Democrats, on the other hand, count on the rest of us to feel hopeful, regardless of what reality tells us.
The government, too, is Beyonce on a stage, pretending to sing in the freezing cold, with the gathered masses huddled outside listening, but hearing only technical glitches that pierce the illusion and threaten to force reality onto them.
Oh, wait, this guy on the Internet says she wasn’t lip synching (bit.ly/UkFd8t).
Never mind. We’re perfectly healthy as a nation.
January 19, 2013 § Leave a Comment
NRA goes from bananas to ape crazy
This week’s firearm legislation in New York might seem like a good idea to some of us, but that mild-mannered gun safety club the NRA certainly doesn’t agree with that. But the NRA has become a special kind of crazy, at least those sitting at the top.
I heard head paranoid gun nut Wayne LaPierre say on NPR this week that the government confiscating guns was actually a strong likelihood following a national gun registry. That’s the sort of thing unhinged white people worry about when they get their minds off “city dwellers” and other varieties of dark-hued individuals that are coming to invade their homes. Always vigilant against bogeymen!
Even their regular paranoia doesn’t come close to matching that on display in this new video that makes the claim that your children need the same amount of security as the president’s do, and because the president is out to stifle your God-given right to have the same firepower as a team of Secret Service agents surrounding a world leader.
It really speaks for itself, and when someone does bother to talk about it, it’s usually accompanied by words like “crazy,” “whacked out” and other varieties with the same meaning. Is there anyone out there who wants to start of an actual national gun safety advocacy group, or do we all prefer the distinct Jack D. Ripper-styled concerns of the current group?
It’s okay, though, because if science comes through for us, it’s all going to turn out to be bunk, anyhow. I mean reality; I mean how we perceive it.
This Slate article not only examines the idea that we don’t live in a real universe, but rather a Matrix-like simulation, but says this is something that can be tested.
Not only that, the Daily Galaxy is offering the research of string theorist Erik Verlinde, who is working to show that gravity and the Big Bang, like temperature, is not what it appears to be to us, but an illusion based on circumstances in the quantum level.
Without going into all the hubbub, the basic idea is that there is no “nothing”: The smaller you go, the more you find something that is imperceptible to humans and therefore makes the human perception of any force of nature to be far from the reality of what that force is.
Kon nichi wa, Jesus
A force people can quantify a little better is that of some kind of god — not me, of course, but that’s what makes such stories as this Smithsonian coverage of the Jesus legend in Japan so amusing and, well, charming.
The little burg of Shingo offers itself as “Christ’s hometown” and has a funny little legend to go with it:
Apparently, Jesus was not crucified. That was his brother Isukiri. Jesus had come to Japan during his famous lost years and returned after he faked his own death, taking the name Daitenku Taro Jurai, marrying and having a daughter. Jesus’ remains are buried there. He has descendants. Every spring there is a Christ Festival. The town has the Legend of Christ Museum.
You didn’t know all this and you call yourself a Christian? No surprise really. You’re only just now accepting Mormonism, and even that is tough because you’re doing your best to ignore its update of the Jesus story, so I understand if the Japanese addition is challenging to embrace.
January 19, 2013 § Leave a Comment
A new documentary film focusing on the Philadelphia jail system reveals harsh truths about public safety everywhere, and what really needs to be done to find solutions for what ails the institution.
The movie is a direct result of director Matt Pillischer’s present working with his past. Currently a lawyer in Philadelphia, he attended Bennington College and studied art with a focus on film — his film playing at Images is a double thrill for him since that’s where he used to go see movies all the time.
“Broken On All Sides” resulted from an effort to create a public education piece about prison overcrowding.
“I worked on my firm’s last lawsuit against the city,” Pillischer said, “and went in and interviewed prisoners and saw some of the conditions first-hand. That’s actually how I started the movie.”
He first created a short version that focused on overcrowding, and continued work on it to expand it into the current movie.
“Strangely enough, law school lead me back to filmmaking,” said Pillischer. “I love what I’m doing right now. It’s a very unique combination of all my interests and skills, and I’m hoping I can continue doing this public education/advocacy through storytelling and filmmaking. That’s where I’m hoping to continue going. “
As captured in the film by Pillischer, the system of incarceration as we currently practice it is one of a replacement for the social programs that are routinely dismissed by conservatives. The money is going to be spent because the problem is not going away, with poverty and crime becoming a government expenditure that’s impossible to dismiss from the spreadsheets — it’s more about the form that spending takes.
“We could have instead had an increased war on poverty, but instead, the war on poverty was ended and the war on drugs was started to deal with the same problems, the same communities,” Pillischer said.
“If you’re really interested in public safety and dealing with crime, the current system actually creates more crime, and creates a permanent second class citizenship, particularly for people of color, that are permanently cut out of the legal economy.”
Pillischer cites affordable housing, increased education efforts, better healthcare, job training, drug treatment programs and mental health programs as all proven initiatives that bring down crime and incarceration rates, but have been politically decimated as options. It adds up to a societal manifestation of blaming the victim.
“We hear personal responsibility, it’s a catch phrase, and it moves away from societal responsibility,” he said. “If we can convince society that poor people are that way because of their own failings, and not necessarily because of certain institutions in society, then that takes the blame or the responsibility off society at large, the government and the majority of people, to even care about the problem. It makes us say that those people deserve to be in jail because it was their choice to not get a good education and instead turn to a life of crime.”
Pillischer draws a straight line to laws during slavery and the Jim Crow era that put limits on the African American population and then held them responsible for the results of those limits. Though shifted on paper to the criminal population, these attitudes affect African American communities more than any other, thanks to inequality in targeting and sentencing. The white population use drugs statistically the same as the black one, but the black population is victim of more vigorous law enforcement efforts.
“If you control for joblessness, compare jobless white men to jobless black men, the differentiating rates of violent crimes disappears,” said Pillischer. “We know that people are put into certain circumstances where they are chronically jobless. That leads to violence and has nothing to do with the color of their skin or their race.”
“I don’t think most people understand that or know that. Independent media and activists need to be mindful of creating a narrative that is telling the truth and trying to hammer it across these people’s heads that some of the things you believe just aren’t true. Even things like violent crime in poor communities.”
Pillischer says that the result of this is a bigger crime rate and less public safety. What is often missed in the debate is the way incarcerated felons are transformed into permanent ones who, through entirely legal efforts, are stripped of their ability to just get by in life. No opportunities breed desperation, desperation breeds crime. Punishment breeds more crime. The simple fact is that even hard-liners on crime, even racists, will benefit from humane prison reform.
“If we can reduce the amount of people in prisons, if we can start to talk more humanely and compassionately about people who go to prison and are branded with criminal records for the rest of their lives, it actually helps all of us,” Pillischer said. “You don’t want people pushed out of mainstream society and marginalized to the point that they can’t survive in a legal way. That is just going to perpetuate crime, because they have to figure out some way to make money in this society, especially as social service programs and social safety nets are being cut, cut, cut.”
“People have less access to welfare, public benefits, job training, education, and if on top of that employers are legally allowed to discriminate against them because of their criminal record, if the government is allowed to not give them certain grants for school, if the government prevents them from getting certain licenses like becoming a barber or bus driver, things like that, because of a criminal record, this just forces them into the illegal economy. That’s the way we create more crime. “
Pillischer says that though there are very definite solutions to many of these problems, he can’t actually point to many legislative examples of enacting them. One he does cite is the recent California reform of the three strikes law.
“In some cases you had people going to prison for life for their third offense, which might be stealing a videotape from a K-Mart or really ridiculous things, the possession of a joint of marijuana. California modified the three strikes law and I think that’s a great example of how we could start to change sentencing laws.”
Pillischer also points to the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado as positive moves forward as well. The ideal, he said, would be for full legalization and a new strategy treating drugs as a public health problem, but these are small steps. The point is that the standard methods have not lessened drug use and the time has come to try something different, something that would not only cope with the drug problem, but the crime and incarceration problem as well.
“We should be shifting to look at more of a restorative justice approach, rather than a law enforcement, criminal justice approach,” Pillischer said, “which means we need to look at the harm that it’s done in the community when a crime has been committed, and try and right those wrongs, instead of just the state punishing the actor.”
Pillischer points to the idea of drug courts and mental health courts, which some programs are trying to introduce in the United States, and which have be appearing in Africa. These would divert the appropriate issues to savvier courts and allow the criminal courts to better handle crime sentencing.
Pillischer says that the traditional way such things have happened has been through the public making it happen. In today’s current protest-friendly climate, and the echoes of the Civil Rights movement showing what good crowds can accomplish, it no longer seems impossible, especially in the kind of economic times where anyone could find themselves incarcerated just trying to survive.
“We’re probably only really going to start to see some of these major reforms if a real social movement puts some pressure on politicians and courts to enact some of these things,” he said.
January 2, 2013 § Leave a Comment
My New Year’s resolution? To stop bothering with things I can’t solve. Sadly this adds up to just about everything.
Take the hot topic of the day, gun control. For instance, I’m perfectly willing to admit that the idea of a society that is mature enough and has a high enough level of self-responsibility to own guns in a proper fashion might well someday exist. I’m also pretty positive that America is not that society, and among the industrialized world, we may be one of the least-worthy of gun ownership. On this issue, I fall in line with the gun fanatics, but I guess I come to a different conclusion.
It would be nice if the laws that were currently in place were actually enforced. As this analysis points out, our state governments can’t be counted on to take responsibility for our safety, as only about a quarter of states even bother with mental illness background checks on gun purchasers. http://www.alternet.org/34ths-states-ignore-mental-illness-background-checks-gun-buyers
As any informed gun advocate should be able to tell you, firearms cannot legally be sold to someone who has been “declared mentally unfit by a court,” but a state is not required to provide the actual information. As a result, only 12 states even bother to, which means one of the biggest reasons people who shouldn’t have guns actually have them is because there is no law requiring state governments to make sure they don’t, so they don’t. No one does anything they are not required to do, or not made to do.
No one does anything because it helps out the other guy. I, as a citizen, demand we solve the gun problem. I, as a citizen, am probably screwed if I think anything’s going to be done about that one issue, though.
The way things work here is that problems are ignored. Then something horrible happens. Then we overreact. In our overreaction, we get things wrong, mostly because we ignore the data that we had prior to the horrible thing happening that could have told us the horrible thing was going to happen, but, as I mentioned, we ignored it. Those wrong decisions lead to further disasters, which require further bandages and quick fixes. Someone in the government grandstands and gives us a pep talk that makes us believe that we are above all the negative implications of what is going on. Others in the government who might be in a position to fight that end up laying down and playing dead for fear of a negative reaction from voters, many of whom don’t actually vote, but just scream loud.
With the dynamic in place and the trajectory set in motion, we continue hurling through time without a plan, just reacting and being defensive. The reacting people want things done now, but things keep piling on at such a pace that no one can focus, organize, plan. New disasters keep hitting at an impossible rate and nothing is solvable — in fact, very little remains understandable.
The defensive people very often believe that what they want, within the little microcosm of their home or town or church, trumps the freedom and safety of anyone else. Many of the defensive people also believe that the United States has certain rights that other countries don’t, or that their religion allows them to set rules for other people regardless what the other people want or believe or know.
And, meanwhile, somewhere in that pile-up, some of us out here just want someone to take responsibility with the existing measures to keep us safe from guns, and add on reasonable measures if so required.
What are we? Crazy? Stupid? It must be one of those if we honestly believe that anyone will step up to the plate. When was the last time anyone in power in our country stepped up to the plate? Not in my lifetime.
We’re in the middle of an endless cycle of more reactions and defensiveness, bandages and quick fixes, grandstanding, and all the other business-as-usual tactics we employ to keep us from solving anything or even being able to actually focus in on what needs to be solved and how it can be solved.
So I’ll stop bothering. Until I bother again. Inevitable. Then get fed up. An endless cycle of citizenship, outrage and despondent exhaustion — just a normal part of being a modern American.