22 November 2014

The Broken Earphones Crisis


W
ords are failing me. It’s the end of another wasted day, in which the main feature has been the broken earphones crisis, which has forced me and one of my roommates to share earphones much in the manner the Graeae used to share their common eye. It’s raining here in Portland, and water runs over the sidewalks and into the gutters like small but substantial streams. That doesn’t affect me much here in my basement suite, but I know it’s going on, and the damp seeps in at least in spirit, if not in the physical realm.
And words continue to fail me. They’ve been failing me now for at least two years; as though my access to the realm of symbols had been somehow cut off—nonpayment of dues or something. Having my library tucked away in some metal chamber in a different state doesn’t help either. I reach for familiar volumes that aren’t here, and honestly the internet doesn’t help much in this. I had those volumes for a reason, and at least one of them is that the information in them isn’t readily available in other forms.
I keep hoping the words will come back. They haven’t so far, and forcing them to dance for me isn’t really working either. Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; and so it goes. Maybe tomorrow. Sorry about that.

21 November 2014

Quotation of the Day


… the Reagan Administration’s economics team regarded it as a good thing all those families were losing their livelihoods and their homes because it was weeding out the “inefficient.” Ronald Reagan, the great Nostalgic, champion of traditional, small town, family values, supposedly leading America back to the glorious days of his own idyllic boyhood in an America defined by small towns and family farms, friendly Main Streets and crowded church pews, was, with his patented genial chuckle, presiding over an epidemic of foreclosures, the economic devastation of many small towns and the shuttering of countless businesses on every Main Street across Iowa, and the overwhelming of churches’ ability to help the inefficient among their congregants. … those “wonderful” food pantries and clothing drives were helping people who only a year before were hardworking, self-reliant members of the middle class put food on their tables and bundle up their kids in jackets and coats, hats and mittens before sending them out to wait for the bus in the cold and dark of a Midwestern winter made colder and darker by the need to turn off the lights and turn down the heat in order to save on the heating and electric bill.
Lance Mannion (“Joni Ernst’s Iowa Dystopia”)

20 November 2014

Thought for the Day


T
oday is Transgender Day Of Remembrance. Since last TDoR, over 200 women like me were killed for being who we are … If you can take your gender identity for granted, it is a privilege. If you don’t have to explain your anatomy or history to partners or even random people, all the while not knowing if they will react violently to your explanation, that is a privilege. … I have to hope that next year that fewer of my sisters will be murdered, fewer of us will be stalked, fewer of us will be harassed, and that the world will be a little less hostile to us.—Kat Haché (Thoughts on TDoR 2014)

19 November 2014

Psycho-Killer, or Frightened Old Guy? What's the Difference?

S
ome years back I was sitting quietly at home when a strange car pulled into my driveway. And when I say pulled into my driveway I don’t mean that it came up the driveway in a normal way—no, I mean it came through the hedge separating my driveway from the parking lot next door, taking out a small tree, crossed over my driveway, and finally came to rest at an angle across my front yard. It was about three in the morning.
Now I could have taken a gun, gone outside, and shot the driver. To judge from today’s reports that would be, apparently, a fairly reasonable thing for a frightened elderly person to do. At least, that’s what one Philip Sailors did, with considerably less reason than I had to be frightened, when a strange car pulled into his driveway in a normal fashion. And while the justice system didn’t exactly give him a medal for it, it did allow him to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter—a mere $500.00 fine and a suspended sentence. Apparently it was important to keep this crazed loon out of jail for some reason.
According to news accounts it was about ten in the evening when the car pulled up into Sailors’ driveway. Inside were four young people, three of them high school students. Sailors looked out the window and saw the car.
Did he do what a sane person would do—go down and ask what the kids wanted, or whether they were lost or something? No. He did not. Did he do what a frightened elderly person would do, and call 911? Again, no. Not at all. No, he did what a psycho-killer in a bad movie might do—grabbed his gun, went outside, and started shooting as the car took off down the driveway in a futile attempt to escape. Then, to add to the deranged quality of it all, after killing the driver Sailors held the three high-school kids at gunpoint. According to one of them Sailors made no attempt to help the dying man.
The police arrived in response to two 911 calls, one from one of the kids in the car and another from a neighbor who had heard gunshots. Sailors claimed that he believed the high-school kids were home invaders and that the fleeing car was about to run him down. As a former missionary to Panama he ought to have been able to tell high-school kids out ice-skating from dangerous criminals. As a Vietnam veteran he should have been able to distinguish a car fleeing from a car approaching—you’d think. But no.
When the police arrived it came out that the driver had come to pick up another student at a nearby address. The car’s GPS system misdirected him to Sailors’ driveway. And Sailors was arrested for murder.
Sailors was reported to be grief-stricken—but he offered no apology when he accepted the plea deal that let him off with manslaughter. A news report says “Sailors did not want to comment after the hearing. He was surrounded by friends and family who came to the hearing as a show of support.” It also reported that he paid the victim’s family an undisclosed sum of money in settlement of a lawsuit. Nice.
Oh, yeah—for the record I did what a frightened elderly person would do—called 911 and waited. It turned out that the guy driving the car was not so much a crazed madman as a fellow who suffered a stroke, thus missing a turn and ending up in my yard. Probably just as well I didn’t shoot him, then.

18 November 2014

Christianity and Common Law (guest post by Stevens and Brady)


W
e have political Sabbaths, such as the 4th of July, and 22d of February. We reverence them as days of great political events. But we do not enforce their observance by legislation. But the act in question compels all to observe Sunday as a sacred day. To oblige men to refrain from labour out of regard to its holiness, is to “control” their religious observance, as much as if they were ordered to kneel before the altar, or the images of the Saints. And to all those who conscientiously believe that it is not a holy day—that it is not the true Sabbath of the Lord, it is an “interference” with, and a constraint of their rights of conscience. It is no answer to say that the day of rest should be uniform among all. If it were a mere civil regulation, there might be some reason in it; but then it would be made a day of recreation—of relaxation; and most probably those days would not come so frequently. The French, when they discarded its religious character, when they worshipped the Goddess of Reason, and provided only for the rest of the people, fixed the tenth day. But I suppose it requires no other argument than reading the several acts upon this subject, to prove that our legislation looks to enforcing the religious observance of the day. If the legislature can direct that religious observance, then there is no limit to their power over religious subjects. If they can direct the people to stay at home quietly, they can direct them to go to church, and if they can direct them to attend church, they can indicate the church to be attended. In short, if they have any power over religious subjects, they have all power. Such power would be a perfect union of church and state, so much abhorred by the people of this republic. It would inevitably lead to religious persecutions, and finally to civil and religious tyranny.
The doctrine that the “Christian religion is a part of the common, law,” is, I suppose, the foundation and justification of this act. That doctrine was promulgated in the worst times, and by the worst men of a government that avowedly united church aad state; in times when men were sent to the block or the stake on any frivolous charge of heresy. To deny transubstantiation or the supremacy of the Pope, was a capital offence under one reign; and to admit them was a capital offence under another. Men were punished as blasphemers for denying the divinity of our Saviour, because the “Christian religion was a part of the common law.” Men were executed in great numbers by the civil power for denying the real presence, because that was a part of the Christian religion—and the Christian religion was a part of the municipal law. When the Protestants gained the ascendancy, to believe in the real presence was contrary to the Christian religion, and therefore a violation of the law, and punished by the secular arm. For it is truly observed: “That no set of men were ever found willing to suffer martyrdom themselves for conscience’ sake, who would not inflict it upon others the moment they obtained power.”
As late as the nineteenth century, this pernicious doctrine led Lord Eldon to decide that Unitarians may be punished as blasphemers at common law, and not treated as Christians, notwithstanding the repeal of the statute of 9 and 10 Will. 3: 3 Merivale, 353, Atty. Genl. v. Pearson.
How dangerous, therefore, is the apparently pious doctrine that the “Christian religion is a part of the common law!” If it be true, all who disbelieve that religion are habitual breakers of the law. The Jew, the Hindoo, the Pagan, are perpetual malefactors. They, of course, are beyond the protection of the law, or continually subject to punishment for conscience’ sake. These consequences of the doctrine were very satisfactory to the English government, in its origin. They enabled the tyrants of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries to find a convenient excuse for sending to the block any one who became obnoxious to them. If such tyrant were a Roman Catholic, the heresy of the reformation was sufficient. If he were a Protestant, adhering to the church of Rome was equally so. This lauded principle found ready advocates in such bloody tools of tyrants as Jeffries, Audley, and Rich.
What else was it but the doctrine “that the Christian religion. was a part of the law,” and to be enforced by the civil arm, that gave the Holy Inquisition such horrid force, and placed the civil and religious liberty, and the lives of nations of men, at the mercy of the bloodiest power that ever inflicted misery upon the human race, in the name of Demons or of Gods!
This eonvenient doctrine enabled Henry the Eighth to dispose of all whom he chose to call his enemies, whether they were learned and conscientious gentlemen, like Sir Thomas More, or were wives of whose beauty he was weary. His successor, after robbing all the Jews of the kingdom of all their wealth, either sent them to death or banished them from the empire. And he was right, if this principle be right, for they were always violating the law, and of course deserved punishment.
If this doctrine is to be the rule of action, where do you find its interpretation? Where are to be found adjudged decisions of what this law teaches, so that the people may escape the perils of its violation? Are they to be seen in the doings of the Council of Nice or the Diet of Augsburg? Are they in the bulls of Hildebrand or the writings of Luther? in the rigid doctrines of Calvin, or the more liberal opinions of Wesley? Does this part of the “common law” (adopted in Pennsylvania) command us to bow down before the image of the Virgin and the Saints; or, discarding all visible symbols, to worship the Unseen God? This doctrine must drive us for refuge to the infallible church of Rome, where the decrees of the Pope are the unerring rule of this part of the “common law.”
—Thaddeus Stevens and J. E. Brady, 1848

17 November 2014

Quotation of the Day


Hitting on women at conferences who have made it clear that they don’t want to be hit on does not say, “Sex is awesome!” Making video games where all or most of the female characters are helpless victims or scantily-clad sexual prizes does not say, “Sex is awesome!” Getting women drunk or high so you can have sex with them does not say, “Sex is awesome!” Treating the idea of enthusiastic affirmative sexual consent as ridiculous does not say, “Sex is awesome!” The exact opposite is true. All of this says, “Sex is a minefield. Sex is a battleground.”

16 November 2014

International Day for Tolerance


Step up and shake the hand
Of someone you can’t stand;
You can tolerate him if you try.—Tom Lehrer (National Brotherhood Week)
T
olerance is rather an odd thing to promote as a virtue. To tolerate someone seems like the least—the very least—we can do. Tolerating something is putting up with it—an adult tolerating the screams of a child, a pet-owner tolerating his iguana crapping in the shower.
Noah Webster nailed the concept in his 1828 dictionary: “…the allowance of that which is not wholly approved”. Indeed. He goes on to define toleration is its then-current incarnation:
… the allowance of religious opinions and modes of worship in a state, when contrary to or different from those of the established church or belief. Toleration implies a right in the sovereign to control men in their opinions and worship, or it implies the actual exercise of power in such control. Where no power exists or none is assumed to establish a creed and a mode of worship, there can be no toleration, in the strict sense of the word, for one religious denomination has as good a right as another to the free enjoyment of its creed and worship.
So what place does toleration have in a world where “me and you is as good as anybody else, and maybe a damn sight better” (as H. L.Mencken put it, channeling Thomas Jefferson)? What business do I have to tolerate you, or you to tolerate me, unless one of us is in a position to dictate to the other? Mind you, living in a nation in which mad tea partiers fly into hysterical rage at the mere sight of a dark-skinned person voting, I am aware that for some people at least tolerance would be a good first step. Better would be the realization that you have no right to privileges you would deny to others.
The UN vision of tolerance (PDF) is a bit wider, however:
Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world's cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. It is fostered by knowledge, openness, communication, and freedom of thought, conscience and belief. Tolerance is harmony in difference. It is not only a moral duty, it is also a political and legal requirement. Tolerance, the virtue that makes peace possible, contributes to the replacement of the culture of war by a culture of peace.
Further:
Tolerance is not concession, condescension or indulgence. Tolerance is, above all, an active attitude prompted by recognition of the universal human rights and fundamental freedoms of others. In no circumstance can it be used to justify infringements of these fundamental values. Tolerance is to be exercised by individuals, groups and States.
All right, all that seems pretty straightforward. Hard to take exception to, really, And yet there are those who somehow have managed that. Take this website from Kjos ministries, for example. It finds something sinister in the replacing intolerance with tolerance. “Can Christian children really ‘appreciate’ what God forbids?” it wants to know. The author seems to be especially worried that if “one's views are not to be imposed on others” it would mean the end of “shar[ing] the gospel”, and that “Christian moral values” might be “equated with violence”. (Why on earth would that be, unless the author feels that violence is somehow a vital part of Christian morality?) It appears there’s always some raving loon out there prepared to take exception to the blandest and most innocuous of statements.
Anyway, today is the International Day for Tolerance. Show your support. Let’s get out there and tolerate somebody.
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