Jim Aikin's Oblong Blob

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Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

One Nation Under What?

Posted by midiguru on September 9, 2014

Sometimes I get a little steamed up. This morning on Facebook, one of my friends posted an item about the addition of the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. This led immediately to a diatribe from one of his Christian friends (whose name I will omit, because I’m a considerate person):

“I visited this site and I read all the comments regarding the pledge. You know full well that this nation was founded on religious principles…..specifically the principles of Jesus Christ. To deny that is foolish. All one has to do is read the writings of the founders to know their heart. I was deeply offended by the incredibly noxious comments and vicious screed directed at those of us that are followers of Christ. And all this from a crowd that preaches tolerance. I simply can’t believe that you could align yourself with something this low.”

Another friend of my friend responded to this ridiculous statement as follows:

“With all due respect, you do know that Thomas Jefferson had his own version of the Gospels. He took out all the voodoo and the Hocus Pocus and left the direct words of Christ. This country was not found on religious principles and most decidedly NOT on the principles of Jesus Christ. That is why the Constitution has a provision that mandates that NO RELIGIOUS TEST be required for ANY Constitutionally mandated position in our government.”

I then added my two cents’ worth:

“As a matter of historical fact, you’re wrong. The founding fathers were very careful to keep religion OUT of political life. The fact that you fail to understand this shows very clearly exactly WHY they chose that path. It should also suggest to you why people get a little testy on the subject. To be specific, the Christians in this country fucking don’t get it.”

The Christian guy then fired back with this:

“First of all, my comments were directed to [the original poster], not any of you. Your revisionist view of history is typical atheistic garbage. Jim, I don’t fail to understand anything. I have devoted most of my sixty years to intensely studying the Bible and history and all I can say is that you and your ilk have succeeded in turning this once great nation into a third world rat hole. By the way, don’t use that kind of offensive language when you address me.”

Of course, there are numerous deep-seated problems with this, most remarkably the bizarre notion that the United States would be a wonderful nation today if it weren’t for the atheists. Also, I find myself wondering whether this fellow has ever done a point-by-point comparison between, say, a nice clean suburb in Southern California and an actual “third world rat hole,” such as, oh, maybe Somalia or the slums of Bangladesh. Probably not. The supposed horrifying collapse of the United States is not entirely in his mind — things have gotten pretty bad around here, though they weren’t exactly great in the 1950s, were they? There’s also a whiff of racism about his phrase, isn’t there? Just a little whiff.

In any case, I lost it, okay? Here’s how I responded:

“So you’re an intolerant asshole and an ignorant schmuck. I might have expected better of a so-called ‘Christian,’ but I don’t, usually. And fuck yourself in the ass if you don’t like my language, you piece of dogshit.”

I’m afraid I’m just not very tolerant of religious people anymore. Religious patriots are worse. Ignorant religious patriots … well, that’s a redundant phrase. All religious patriots are ignorant, by definition.

I do think it’s charming that this guy is posting on Facebook and thinking he has the right or can expect to control other people’s use of words like “fuck.” That level of cluelessness is a highlight of the conversation.

But the underlying problem is not that the guy is ignorant. We’re all ignorant about various things. The underlying problem, and the reason I get so tweaked about his brand of idiocy, is this: His religion forces him to be ignorant. His religion is one-size-fits-all. There is no room in his world view for divergent opinions. As far as he can see, Christianity is the One Holy Truth, and because he loves his country (a separate failing, and a topic for another time) he cannot conceive that his country was founded on other than Christian principles.

The logic (if you want to call it that) seems to be this: All good things come from God. Therefore, anything that is not good is due to people’s failure to worship God.

Never mind that the God of the Old Testament was, according to the documentary evidence, a sadistic motherfucker. Pay no attention to the deity behind the curtain.

Last night I was part of a very interesting discussion about tolerance. It seems to me that tolerance is a two-way street. Religious people tend to expect (if not demand) tolerance for their views — but many of them fail to return the favor. Their dogmatic belief is that they’re right — and if they’re right, atheists must be wrong. The stakes being (in their pathetic little minds) very high, they have little hesitation in striding out forthrightly to smite and bring low the evils of atheism. Of course they’re quite willing to love you as an individual … but only after you become a convert to their brand of hoo-hah, whatever it happens to be.

Last night somebody said, “Tolerance is a wonderful thing, but it doesn’t mean you have to put up with assholes.” If a religious person demands that you be respectful of their religion, while they’re refusing to be respectful of your secular values as an atheist, and then they accuse you of being intolerant because you ask them to hop off of their high horse and come down to earth — no. Fuck that.

Posted in politics, religion | 4 Comments »

Culture, Creativity, and Copyright

Posted by midiguru on July 29, 2014

The law of copyright is a modern innovation. Copyright protection was developed for an important reason — to enable creative people to earn a living by doing creative work. Before the law assumed its present form, authors and composers routinely saw their popular works pirated. Unless an artist was fortunate enough to have a wealthy patron, the artist’s income was precarious.

As valuable as this legal framework has been to thousands of artists, there’s a downside. Works that captivate the public (and also, for that matter, works that remain little-known) remain exclusively owned and controlled for a number of years by the owner of the copyright. During the term of the copyright, nobody else can make use of the materials in a creative work.

Here’s a neat example of why this is a bad thing. In 1562, a long-forgotten author named Arthur Brooke published an English translation, in verse, of an Italian love story. He called it “The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet.” Only 30 years later, Shakespeare recast the story in a play, Romeo and Juliet. If modern copyright law had been in existence in England in the 16th century, we would not be able to enjoy that play today, because Shakespeare wouldn’t have written it. Just as likely, Brooke couldn’t have published his translation either, so Shakespeare would never have been inspired by it.

Technically, Shakespeare could have written the play — and then put it away in a drawer for 50 or 75 years, until Brooke’s copyright expired. But why would he have written it if he couldn’t publish it or have it performed?

Culture is not a private act. It’s a shared public experience, a shared human experience. Culture should not be kept locked away in tight little boxes that nobody is allowed to open unless they’ve checked out an authorized key from the Official Keeper of the Authorized Keys.

The law of copyright turns culture into a commodity. It turns the recipients and beneficiaries of culture (that is, all of us) into passive consumers. We’re allowed to enjoy the hallowed works of culture, but we’re not allowed to participate in them in any significant creative way.

Unless, of course, the copyright holder gives permission, either tacitly or overtly. The world of fanfic (fan fiction) is apparently quite healthy. People write their own Harry Potter stories, their own Star Wars and Star Trek stories. Some authors (such as J. K. Rowling) allow it. Others (such as George R. R. Martin) don’t. It’s up to the author — or, if the author has died or sold the rights, to the current owner of the copyright.

I’m sure most fanfic is dreadful, but that’s neither here nor there. The people who write fanfic are actively participating in their own culture, and that’s a wonderful thing.

Eventually, after the passage of years (and the law differs from one nation to another with respect to how many years have to pass) a copyrighted work passes into the public domain. When that happens, anybody can exercise their own creativity by freely adapting the material. Anybody can write Sherlock Holmes stories or Wizard of Oz stories, because those books are in the public domain.

To be more specific, the L. Frank Baum Oz books are in the public domain. Ruth Plumly Thompson’s Oz books aren’t, so you can use the Tin Woodman and the Cowardly Lion, but you can’t use any characters that Thompson created.

As that caveat suggests, you have to be careful. Want to write a sequel to The Maltese Falcon? It was published in 1930. The legal situation in the United States is murky, but many novels published since 1923 are still protected by copyright. You might have the makings of a terrific mystery starring Sam Spade rattling around in your head, but unless the copyright owner (whoever that happens to be) is feeling charitably disposed, you could be in for a world of hurt.

This is not how culture and creativity are supposed to work. I don’t have a solution to offer, but there is damn well a problem here.

Posted in music, politics, random musings, society & culture, writing | 4 Comments »

Indemnification Blues

Posted by midiguru on June 12, 2014

I fuckin’ hate lawyers. Twice this week, I have looked at legal documents that include blanket indemnification clauses. One was a contract presented to freelance writers by one of the magazines for which I’m a semi-regular contributor. The other was a form I might want to fill out and sign, requesting exhibitor space at the local public library.

The contract for freelance writers I don’t propose to comment on at this time. Negotiations are ongoing. Instead, let’s look at the library’s “Display/Exhibit Space Request.”

This document includes the following charming clause: “I agree to indemnify, defend and hold harmless, the City of Livermore, its officers, employees, appointive boards and the Livermore Public Library from and against any and all loss, liability, claims, lawsuits, damage or injury of any kind, including, without limitation, claims for monetary loss, intellectual property infringement, property damage, equitable relief, personal injury, or wrongful death, arising out of or in any way connected to the display or exhibit.”

Lawyers are not, by and large, concerned with what is fair, equitable, or just. They are concerned solely and entirely with protecting their clients from legal exposure or liability. That’s what this clause is about. We can be fairly certain it was drafted by someone in the city attorney’s office. I think we can safely conclude that whoever drafted it does not give a flying crap about the local citizens who might want to use the library’s wonderful exhibit space. The attorneys who drafted and signed off on this sentence care only about protecting the city from any sort of financial risk. That’s their job.

The key phrases are “any and all,” “without limitation,” and “in any way connected.” Only a suicidal moron would sign a document containing this kind of language. If you’ve ever exhibited at the library under this policy, then either you haven’t thought it through, or you secretly like the idea that you might end up homeless, or possibly both.

Oh, but what could possibly go wrong? Let’s see if we can think of an example.

Some of the paintings I’m interested in exhibiting (my father’s work) are large. They would be hanging from the wall. So let’s suppose a painting comes loose from its hook, topples outward, and a corner hits a three-year-old child in the eye, causing irreparable damage to the child’s eye. Let’s further suppose that the reason the painting comes loose is due to either a structural defect in the library’s art hanging system, or to the fact that a previous visitor had pulled on the painting to try to get it loose, in an act of vandalism.

I would be liable. I would have to write a huge check to cover both the child’s medical bills and possibly an award for emotional damages, even though I did nothing to contribute to the accident. What’s more, the legal document doesn’t include any language that would require a finding in court that I was at fault. No — the city attorney could offer the child and its family an out-of-court settlement, and I would still have to write the check. That’s what the word “claims” means. If there’s a claim, I have to pay.

Do I feel like fighting city hall? Not this week, thanks. The library’s visitors are the losers in this situation: They will never get to see an exhibit of my father’s work. Vita brevis, ars in dumpstero, as the Romans might have put it.

Posted in politics, society & culture | 2 Comments »

Oh, Henry…

Posted by midiguru on June 9, 2014

I haven’t had any personal contact with Henry (no last name will be revealed here) since 1972, but he showed up on Facebook last year, so he has been seeing my posts there.

Henry was apparently dealt a body blow by a link I posted this morning to a column in Salon. The column deconstructs a column written by conservative pundit George Will, which appeared in the Washington Post. It turns out Henry knows old George — perhaps not entirely surprising, as one of Henry’s chums at Cornell was Francis Fukuyama.

Rather than defend George Will’s opinion piece, which is frankly an indefensible piece of tripe, Henry decided to jump out of the lifeboat and walk across the water by himself. We’ll miss your smiling face, Henry, but I have to say, your reaction is typical of conservatives. Conservatives seem, from my experience on Facebook and elsewhere, to have real difficulty with rational argument. If you point out the flaws in their reasoning, they tend to change the subject, resort to ad hominem attacks, or wrap themselves in a mantle of righteousness and stomp off in a huff.

George Will went out of his way to belittle the idea that rape is a problem on college campuses. He went so far as to suggest that colleges “make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges.” He refers to the “supposed campus epidemic of rape.” Supposed by whom? By delusional liberals, one must assume.

To be sure, the line about victimhood can be read as a more general comment. He may have meant to suggest that the entire liberal movement cultivates and elevates victims. But given the context of this particular column, it’s clear that he feels that a woman who was raped and comes forward to talk to the authorities about it is being “conferred privileges” by the liberals in the academic community.

What sort of privileges these might be, Will does not tell us. One can only hope that he’s raped, and preferably this week, so that he can experience these privileges for himself. Maybe then he’ll be so kind as to share the details with us in a column in the Washington Post.

Will goes out of his way to provide one anecdote about non-consensual sex in college, a story about a young woman who used exceptionally bad judgment: After her boyfriend fell asleep on her bed, she got into her pajamas and crawled in beside him. When he woke up and initiated sex, she protested. He desisted but then started in again. According to the anecdote, she was too tired to climb out of bed, so she let him do what he wanted.

Because this is the only anecdote about an incident that Will provides, the conclusion is inescapable: He’s inviting his readers to consider all sexual assaults on campus as being this trivial or ambiguous. He has nothing whatever to tell us about the emotional ordeal of actual rape victims, either during the rape or afterward when they report it to college authorities and are demeaned, belittled, or ignored.

One might be forgiven for concluding from his sharing of this anecdote that Will doesn’t think there are any actual rapes on college campuses — but he does admit in passing that, according to one statistic about one university, as many as 2.9 percent of college women may have been raped during their four years as undergraduates. He even admits that that number is “too high,” but when it comes to compassion for the victims or suggestions about how the problem might be addressed, he is entirely silent. A better interpretation, then, is that he knows women are being raped — he just doesn’t care.

In my initial Facebook post, I characterized his opinion this way: “Rich white men should be able to put their dick wherever they like, at any time, without fear of being criticized for it. Shut up, bitches!” Based on a careful reading of his column, I see no reason to revise that.

Will’s observations on this topic are (ostensibly, at least) by way of illustrating what he sees as a larger systemic problem. “Academia’s progressivism,” he informs us, “has rendered it intellectually defenseless now that progressivism’s achievement, the regulatory state, has decided it is academia’s turn to be broken to government’s saddle.” We’re being invited to pity the poor colleges, who are being subjected to onerous and unneeded government regulation due to their own embrace of progressivism.

There’s a reason why colleges and universities are hotbeds of progressive politics: It’s because most college professors, and most of their students, understand that conservatism is intellectually bankrupt and morally repugnant. Will’s own column is a shining illustration of why it’s morally repugnant. Here we have a leading conservative who objects when the government tries to protect young women from being raped. Why? Because the government shouldn’t try to protect women from being raped. That’s what he’s telling us.

I’m perfectly willing to admit that government regulation is sometimes heavy-handed and misguided. There are also plenty of examples of the opposite: places where we need a lot more government regulation than we have now. But by focusing on this particular example of government regulation, George will gives us a stunning example of just how vicious and insensitive the conservative movement has become.

I guess I’ll always wonder what Henry would have said about that.

Posted in politics | 2 Comments »

Bank Shot

Posted by midiguru on March 21, 2014

For the past few years, Livermore has had a wonderful local theater, the Bankhead. Our local community orchestra performs there, as do the local opera company and theater company and a wide variety of touring professional artists. It’s a 500-seat hall, smallish (no balcony) with great acoustics.

Barring a miracle, all that will soon be coming to an end. The Bankhead will be boarded up.

I’m not on the inside; I only hear gossip. Some of what I’ve heard may be wrong, distorted, or incomplete. What I’ve heard is this.

The Bankhead has been operated by an organization called LVPAC (Livermore Valley Performing Arts something-or-other). Not satisfied to run the Bankhead, LVPAC has been hell-bent on building a larger “regional theater” in downtown Livermore. Nobody that I have spoken to ever thought the regional theater was a good idea. Traffic downtown is already bad enough, and if you want to see Lady Gaga on tour it’s not that hard to drive down to San Jose. Nonetheless, the land has been cleared, and LVPAC has spent millions on architectural plans.

At some point after that money had been spent, the State of California pulled the plug on its funding for the redevelopment agency. Suddenly, the state money was gone. LVPAC was left holding the bag. They sued the state. They lost.

LVPAC owes millions of dollars to a bank in New York, and there isn’t enough cash coming in to make payments on the loan. The gossip is Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in music, politics | 1 Comment »

Top Dogs

Posted by midiguru on March 16, 2013

After being away from the computer for a couple of days, I return to a big dose of crazy-making news clips, all at once. (And I haven’t even glanced at the bulletins from CPAC. I’m scared to.) As upsetting as these bits are, seeing them all in a compressed space of time makes it easier to notice the common thread that runs through all of the stories.

Rachel Maddow has new details on the Sandy Hook shootings, and lets us watch the freshman senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, try to lecture Diane Feinstein on the Second Amendment. Since Feinstein became mayor of San Francisco in 1978 following the assassinations of George Moscone and Harvey Milk, it’s pretty clear Cruz picked the wrong antagonist, but apparently nothing is going to stop him. He thinks it’s just peachy for us all to own high-capacity automatic rifles.

Saving the lives of children doesn’t interest him. Unless, I suppose, they haven’t yet been born. Once they’ve been born, just mow them down. Ted will give you a medal.

On the other side of the aisle, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York grills some generals about the entire failure of the military justice system to deal with rape. She tries to get the generals to say that justice hasn’t been served, and they duck and weave and tap dance to avoid admitting it.

Over in North Africa, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is forthrightly opposing a U.N. resolution that attempts (toothlessly) to prevent violence against women. Apparently these guys don’t even give a moment’s thought to how vicious Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in politics, random musings, society & culture | Leave a Comment »

Voluntaryism

Posted by midiguru on February 24, 2013

The term “voluntaryism” has popped up a couple of times lately. This seems to be a new term for libertarianism, but perhaps lacks the leave-well-enough-alone facet of the libertarian ethic. If true, that makes it even worse.

Libertarians, for instance, tend to support decriminalizing the possession of drugs — and I applaud them for it. That’s a sensible position. A strict interpretation of libertarianism would also support the idea that a woman’s decision to have an abortion is between her and her doctor, and the government should butt out. I’m pretty sure a lot of libertarians have to grit their teeth while agreeing to that one, but it certainly falls under the umbrella of individual freedom, and libertarians vigorously support the idea of freedom.

In some other areas, libertarianism is blindingly stupid, but dogmatic adherence to the doctrine of personal freedom does have its sensible moments.

Voluntaryism may lack the sensible moments. We’re not sure yet. The ideas that I’ve heard from voluntaryists, to date, are: (a) No minimum wage should be set by law, because the negotiations between employer and employee are a private matter, and not one that the government has any legitimate interest in controlling. (b) Welfare payments should be abolished. All charitable giving should be voluntary. Government-administered welfare programs are charitable giving “at the point of a gun.” That is, if you decide Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in politics, society & culture | 2 Comments »

Who Gets to Say What’s Right?

Posted by midiguru on February 16, 2013

Today I got into one of those annoying and unproductive discussions on Facebook — a disagreement with a complete stranger. It started with the question of whether a Christian florist (by which I mean, a Christian florist of the bigoted asshole variety) should have the right to refuse to provide flowers for a gay wedding, or whether the florist should be required not to discriminate as a condition of doing business.

As nearly as I can determine, my antagonist in this little debate was (a) in favor of equal treatment for homosexuals, (b) opposed to government sanctions of almost any kind. He raised the specter of California’s Proposition 8, and asked whether I support the right of the people of California to legally deny marriage rights to gay couples. To him, this is an example of the government mandating a moral principle, something he feels shouldn’t be allowed.

But this is not as easy a question as it seems. In each case — enforcing gay rights or forbidding them — the government is essentially stepping in and making moral decisions that are then binding upon individuals, so I can certainly see that there need to be limits on what the government can or should do. After mulling it over, I think a productive way to approach such questions may be to make a distinction between public morality and private morality.

A Christian of the bigoted asshole variety certainly has a right to cross the street in order to avoid coming into proximity with a gay couple that is holding hands, or to refuse to rent a room to them in his home. The right to avoid gay people is a private right. Likewise, a church is Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in politics, random musings, society & culture | Leave a Comment »

Tyrant-Be-Gone

Posted by midiguru on December 23, 2012

It appears we’re going to engage in some sort of impassioned public debate about the possession of firearms. This debate, while unlikely to change anything, is long overdue.

One of the talking points trotted out by the gun huggers is the idea that ownership of a gun is what allows ordinary citizens to stand up and oppose their government. Gun ownership is seen as a way to prevent tyranny.

Just to be clear: I’m as concerned as anybody about the assorted tyrannical abuses perpetrated by our current government. You and I might not agree in every instance about what’s a tyranny and what isn’t — I happen to think Obama didn’t go nearly far enough in the direction of socialized medicine — but I think we can all agree that the federal government is a hella dangerous mess. The point I want to make is simply this: Guns do not offer you any effective protection against tyranny. That idea is nothing but a fantasy. Gun ownership was probably effective 225 years ago, when the United States was a small, sparsely populated nation with a new and uncertain form of government, but a lot has changed since then. Opposing tyranny today is not nearly as easy as owning guns!

Thinking gun ownership provides you with some sort of political autonomy is right-wing bullshit in an especially naked and stupid form. Fortunately, crushing this argument is not difficult. It might even be fun. So let’s give it a shot.

The first thing that needs to be asked, since there’s already quite a lot of gun ownership in the United States, is, “How’s it working so far?” Now, I’m not fond of the way our governments (state and federal) operate, and I’m sure a lot of other people aren’t either — perhaps for different reasons. Conservatives tend to feel the government is trampling on their sacred rights far too energetically, while liberals tend to feel the government ought to be doing a lot more than it’s doing to rein in certain abuses.

The conservatives, of course, are the ones with the guns. So … how’s it working for you, guys? Is the fact that you own guns keeping the government off your backs? Are you enjoying Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in politics, society & culture | 8 Comments »

Fabulous Conspiracies

Posted by midiguru on October 1, 2012

This weekend I got interested in the “9/11 Truth” movement. Watched a couple of video presentations. To be sure, there are all kinds of people in this movement, ranging from flying saucer nuts to Ph.D. engineers. I was looking at what seemed to be the more authoritative end of the spectrum.

My initial reaction was that the videos raised some troubling questions. On mulling it over, however, I’ve concluded that even the best educated and most cautious of the conspiracy theorists are building castles in the air. (And of course, we know only too well what can happen to castles built in the air….)

The contention of the Architects & Engineers for Truth is that the World Trade Center buildings (all three of them) collapsed as a result of controlled demolition. The implication, though they’re careful not to articulate it, is clear: Nobody but the CIA could have pulled off such an operation.

Now, I’m quite willing to argue that George Bush and Dick Cheney are capable of such monstrous evil. I don’t think they would have hesitated for more than 15 minutes, if they thought they could get away with such a scheme. But on close examination, the scheme doesn’t make sense at all.

The theory is that the towers were brought down by an application of thermite to the steel girders, which caused melting. And indeed, chemical residues that look like thermite are found in the wreckage. The difficulty with this idea is that the girders were vertical, and quite thick. When thermite is ignited, it melts steel, but molten steel, being a liquid, flows downward. Keeping the burning thermite in contact with the un-liquified surface within the girder Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in politics, random musings | 9 Comments »

 
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