Symbols

I’ve been thinking about this whole flag/anthem thing. And the Colin Kaepernick thing. And I’ve talked to a few people both young-ish and old-ish about it. And I have some thoughts about where the communication breakdown is happening. Only read on if you’re willing to hear me out. To the bitter end.

Symbols mean different things to different people. Let’s take, for example, somethinguncontroversial, like the Confederate Flag. I am willing to accept that there are people in this world who legitimately see it as a symbol of southern pride. But there are also people, called white supremacists, who see it as a symbol of white superiority, and a symbol of their perceived lost status as masters of this land. And also other people who see it as a symbol of hundreds of years of enslavement, second class citizenship, and racism. And all of them are right, to some extent.

So here’s the heart of the matter. Symbols. They don’t actually represent anything. The only meaning a symbol can ever have is that which we, as humans, imbue them with. The letters on this post don’t mean anything. A ‘g’ doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a ‘g’. But string it together with some other symbols, you can create another symbol, ‘goat,’ that also doesn’t mean anything except that we have all agreed that it represents the idea of a four-legged farm animal that likes to headbutt things. But ‘goat,’ the word, the symbol, means nothing outside of our human experience.

I spent some time talking to people of my parents’ generation and people of my generation about this whole Kaepernick thing. I had made some snarky comments on F-Book about not standing for the pledge, and got an incredible amount of positive feedback from my age-peers. And a lot of very negative, angry feedback from people a generation up from us. I talked it out with my dad. And I think I’ve got a handle on it.

Here’s the deal, people of my age-group: to many in my parents’ generation, the pledge/anthem represent the pure motives of their ancestors. The people who fought and died for values and beliefs that they believe are the glue that holds America together. To them it’s a symbol of unity against all odds, triumph over evil and tyranny and oppression and all that. I would add that there are certainly people my age who also believe this, as well. To them, that is what the flag represents. And get this: they are not wrong. To them, that’s what it symbolizes. To them, they can still have respect for the flag and put their hands over their hearts even if they don’t approve of all of the things their nation does. Even if they are actively working to correct those things.

My generation does not understand this. Or don’t relate to it, anyway. And I will argue that they actually can’t relate to it. And it isn’t just people of my generation. There are definitely people my parents’ age that feel the same way. To us, the pledge means something different. It has taken on a completely different symbolic significance. And it is actually incompatible with the other view. On some level.

It goes like this. I grew up in a world that has never been at peace. I have never known peacetime. And every conflict in the world from the moment I was born in 1980, until now, my country has had a hand in, on some level at least. We have toppled democratically elected governments in South America because dictatorships are easier to manipulate. We have invaded nations to ensure the integrity of the oil industry. We have callously thrown away the lives of thousands of US soldiers in the pursuit of economic hegemony. We have murdered through drone strikes and bombings hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women, and children abroad. We have indirectly supported the murder of hundreds of thousands of other innocent people. We have created an atmosphere in the Middle East which has bred extremism and terrorism. We have not managed to close Guantanamo Bay! We have allowed our own callous dependence on oil and fossil fuels to continue to accelerate the most massive global climate shift in human history and are continuing to do nothing about it. And to people like Colin Kapernick, it represents police brutality and ongoing mistrust of African American people.

So to us, the flag and the pledge and the anthem also symbolize that. We support the troops. We support the worker. We support our families. We respect the hard work and determination of our ancestors. But we cannot divorce that from the things that people in power have also done. We cannot ignore that. So the symbol means something different to us. Something a little darker, less good. It does not mean that we are less patriotic. Most of us still love our country and want to do everything in our power to make it a good and just place to live for us and for our children.

To all of us, saying the pledge and singing the song feels like tacit approval of all of these things on top of all of the good things. And get this: we are ALSO not wrong.

We feel uncomfortable swearing fealty by saying the pledge because we feel that we shouldn’t have to. Our loyalty to our people should be seen through our actions and not through rote recitation of an ancient oath to an inanimate object. We feel uncomfortable singing a song written by a terrible racist (I am actually in the camp where a new national anthem is in order, say, America the Beautiful? Maybe? Or Bohemian Rhapsody?) And that is what the previous generation cannot see about us. And that is why they reacted so viscerally negatively to our comments and attitudes toward Kaepernick’s protest, and our own confessions to doing similar things.

It’s the same symbol. It means many things to many people. And none of them are wrong. But we do have to find some way to get along.

Weekend At Bernie’s

Source: Google Image Search

Source; Google Image Search

Bernie Sanders is running for president. This is one of those really special things that fills certain kinds of liberals with all sorts of cognitive dissonance. The thing is, we want Bernie to run for president. We want Bernie to win the nomination. We want that m-fer to be the m-fing president!

But we know it won’t happen. Or at least, we have this little pit in our centers that tells us that it will never happen. But then we remember that the reason it will never happen is because we tell ourselves that it will never happen. The reason one person can become president is because enough people just sort of assume it’s going to happen and everyone who doesn’t like that person just decides not to vote. It’s democracy by attrition and disillusionment.

Everyone wants a representative democracy in which the representatives and the represented can communicate and agree on things and get shit done. And the thing is, this is totally possible. The people could totally elect Bernie Sanders president! It’s perfectly legal to elect someone who isn’t an evil, corrupt, vicious, warmongering, sycophantic, liar pants. But we don’t! Why is that? There are tons of reasons for this, of course. Corporate-controlled media. Corporate-controlled political parties. The Koch Brothers. Lots of reasons. But the one I’m more interested in here is this self-defeating feedback loop that occurs whenever something that is good and pure and worthy of fighting for doesn’t get fought for simply because of a sort of ideology-wide depression. The far left are so utterly disenfranchised that we even convinced ourselves that voting for a center-right president like Barack Obama was the right thing to do. Can you believe that?

It’s like we need permission from a sort of critical mass of our peers (in this case, the people of this country) in order to feel hopeful about anything and actually put some force behind someone liek Bernie. Even right now, there’s a part of me that wants to say that I know perfectly well that Hilary Clinton will get the Democractic nomination. But the thing is, I don’t know that. If we can give ourselves permission to really be hopeful (it’s only 2015; the election is more than a year away), it is actually possible for us to build the steam necessary push this thing forward.

Bernie is the real deal, folks. In almost every respect, he is, in fact, the guy we want. I mean, right off, let’s face it, any candidate that the GOP fields is going to be one of two things: a complete corporate shill or an amoral warmongering satanist (I mean this literally, but it would take me a while to explain and it’s outside the scope of this post). And the Dems…they have Hilary. And I suppose Elizabeth Warren who wouldn’t be a bad running mate for Bernie honestly. Hell I’d vote for a Warren-Sanders ticket too, probably. But other than that, there’s really no one to rally behind.

And so what are we to do? How do we somehow make it actually possible to elect Bernie Sanders president? What’s the strategy? What’s the game plan? I think the first step is pretty much just to convince ourselves that he has a chance to win. Simple as that. We already know that he, in every way that counts, is the guy we want. He’s the man for the job. There’s no one else. He’s the guy. (Except maybe Elizabeth Warren) Thus: if he’s the only candidate in the field that is worth electing, we actually have a moral obligation to push for it. We should make this the first real grassroots, internet campaign. We need to push back against corporate media. We need to grab this election by the balls and shake it until it says uncle. We need to caucus, vote, and campaign. Debate your relatives. Your friends. Your dog. Don’t commit voter fraud or anything like that. That just encourages Republicants to push for more discrimination nonsense voter ID laws and other discriminatory practices. But do everything that’s legal to make this shit happen! Do not let yourself be disillusioned until after the primary/caucus season. Let’s think that he has a chance until we’re proven otherwise. Let’s support Bernie Sanders.

Also, if you happen to read this an you’re a either a libertarian or a republican, then there is practically nothing I can say that will convince you that you’re wrong (which you are). This post is not for you. It’s for my boy Bernie. He’s the man. He’s going to be president.

Affluenza Is A Misdiagnosis

smaug_affluenza

I do not mean to compare the actions of a teenager to those of a centuries old dragon who essentially committed genocide. Or do I? In a way, maybe I do.

Let’s put on our imagination caps for a moment. Imagine you’re a great dragon growing up in middle earth, doing all those dragony things that dragons do when they’re young. Burning down villages, stealing gold and jewels, eating dwarves and humans, causing a ruckus and whatnot. Now imagine that, as a dragon, there is, in all likelihood, no one in any way capable of standing up to you. There are, in effect, no negative consequences for your actions. We assume that dragons have no intrinsic sense of justice here. Indeed, there is only positive reinforcements for all your dickery. Lots of loot, people grovelling, making offerings so you won’t burn the town down and such. And then, what? Centuries go by. Eventually, you hoard all your gold in a mountain and go to sleep for a while until a murderous little halfling comes by and bests you. Oh, the indignity.

Centuries unopposed. Done in by a fat, hairy-footed burglar. At least, that’s how it might appear to Smaug.

Let’s spin this out a bit more, since that’s what we do here. I propose to you dear, readers, that, in the case of Ethan Couch the the right thing happened.

You heard me. Justice was, in fact, served. Well, I might have made some minor tweaks to his punishment, but, all in all, I do not think that punishment was too light.

I know what you’re thinking. In fact, it seems like most of the internet is eager for blood on this one. They want to see the boy strung up by his toes, flayed alive, perhaps even executed. At the very least, they want to send a 16-year-old boy to prison. This, I think, would be a fantastic miscarriage of justice. And I’ll tell you why.

He’s sixteen years old. That’s it. He’s a kid.

I don’t give two shits if he’s rich or poor. He’s a kid. I am well aware of the fact that this same judge sent a 17 year old to grown-up prison for manslaughter. It just so happens that this kid was black and poor and not rich. And that was, in fact, a miscarriage of justice. That was wrong. That kid was also just a kid. That kid should also have been sentenced to probation and sent to a cushy treatment facility on the taxpayer’s dime (since it seems unlikely that he would have been able to afford their program on his own).

You see, Couch doesn’t suffer from “affluenza”. That’s a goddamned made-up word. That’s a bunch of gold-plated bullshit. It’s very clever bullshit, but it’s just utter nonsense. He suffers from being 16 years old. I’m a substitute teacher and you know what I’ve found out about 16-year-olds? They are idiots. Most of the time, they are benign idiots just discovering what it’s like to try on different personas, just starting to have opinions about stuff, but for the most part have not actually accrued anything resembling real world knowledge. I posit that no 16-year-old truly understands the consequences of his/her actions.

I sometimes find myself wondering, while talking to some idiot 16-year-old, “How can you be such an idiot?” but I have to remind myself that every generation is a bunch of new idiots. And every generation has to learn all the lessons I learned the hard way. No generation of kids is ever going to learn just by you telling them what’s what. They don’t care what you think and won’t until well after they learn the hard way. They are going to screw up and do completely stupid, moronic, possibly downright offensive stuff. Some of them will learn. And some of them won’t. But all of them are still figuring this stuff out.

Now, to be honest, I would not have sent the kid to some posh resort with horseback riding and yoga. I would have sent him to a hippie commune with farming and yoga. That kid would spend every summer vacation until college growing his own food without a car or a credit card. He would be put in a position to learn what it is to work. And he would be a better person for it. Maybe. I also would have done the same thing with the poor black kid who ended up in prison.

But there’s a problem with this. The American justice system is not built on these principles. In fact, this sort of punishment would not serve the actual function of the American criminal justice system. What is that function you ask? It’s to maintain a hierarchical society. Couch didn’t go to prison because he’s rich. He did the same idiotic thing that the poor kid did, but because he’s rich, he didn’t go to prison. I don’t even think the judge was bribed (though I did, I admit, initially knee-jerk in that direction). I don’t think the judge needed to be bribed. Maybe he even saw a bit of himself in the boy. He saw someone of his own class (because you don’t get to be a judge without being affluent yourself).

The fact that practically the entire internet thinks this kid should be in prison like the poor black kid speaks volumes about our blood-lust society. Everyone is saying, “He should be treated as badly as me.” No one is saying, “I should be treated as well as he.” Everyone wants to drag others down. No one wants to elevate anyone.

I have a radical theory that the truly morally correct way to reduce recidivism in youth crime is to take that gang member or rich drunkard and separate them from their peer group, isolate them in a safe, comfortable place like a farm, or research station, or poor village in Africa. They will grow vegetables, help do science, or pass out food and medical aid. That is how you fix the problem. It even pads the resume rather than blemishing it.

If a person is an adult and robs a convenience store, should you put him in jail? No. You should give him an interest free loan to go to school, learn a trade, start a business, or whatever, until that person can pay back the person that he wronged. That’s how you handle crime.

But, you say, won’t that encourage crime? I don’t think it would. Poor people, by and large, commit the most crimes (excepting the mass atrocities committed by world governments or corporations). If you elevate those people, rather than send them to prison, they will stop committing crimes. Most crimes are committed out of desperation, not out of evilness. Even murders are often acts of desperate people.

The problem is that we, as a country and civilization, are more interested in punishing and degrading than we are in understanding and elevating. And it isn’t working. The statistics support this.

Couch got what was coming to him. I just want to see everyone get the same kind of punishment.

“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”
? Nelson Mandela

Lt. John Pike, the Sixth Avatar of Vishnu

Several weeks have passed since the shit went down at UC Davis.  The highlight moment, of course, was that whole thing with orange cloud of agony. Sort of the modern day Prismatic Spray.

I think the media has missed a crucial detail about this whole narrative. And I will address it presently.

First, I think it’s important to note that one of the officers, one Lt. John Pike, with his little red can has earned a certain amount of…let’s call it celebrity.  The internet at large has had a chance to digest this imagery and a consensus has emerged. The internet has judged him at once hilarious and monstrous at the same time. The internet, the place where all media is carried to its logical extreme, has taken this image and this footage and created a sort of inspiring memetic art series. Each image is more absurd than the last. Each one adds to the narrative without fully realizing the full ramifications.

This isn’t just a political thing.

First, the official narrative. If we look at this purely from the standpoint of law enforcement, the official statement is clearly false. I am not being politically biased, I am being intelligent.

The question that has been asked time and again with respect to Occupy Wall St. and the 99% movement is essentially this: has the response from authorities been appropriate to the situation?  The authorities all say “yes” but, of course, they would.  The 99%-ers say no, and I tend to agree with them. To an extent.

Look at Pike. Take a good look at this picture because this is the most important one.  Watch the video.  The justification for the pepper spray is the safety of the officers.  They supposedly felt threatened and this was the justifiable response in that situation.  To hear officials talk, the protesters should be thankful that Pike didn’t start blasting them with rubber bullets for how unruly they were.

But does his posture look like that of a threatened man?  Body language is really difficult to quantify scientifically. That is, it’s hard to quote. So after the fact, all we have is the video and the narratives handed down to us from the authorities and from anyone else that was there.

The problem is, the narrative from the authorities does not match the footage or the images. However, I am about to argue that 99%’s narrative is, while closer to the truth, still not accurate. I am going to propose a third version of the story.

Humans are, by and large, experts at reading body language, barring some sort of neurological disorder.  Most people are empathetic enough to understand when a person looks uncomfortable, angry, happy, sad, etc.

In short, we can all recognize a man casually spraying a noxious orange cloud over a bunch of spoiled college students. The media and the authorities spoon-feeding us the story that this man was somehow afraid for his life is the purest bullshit. What I mean is, anyone with half a brain can see that this guy is not feeling threatened. But, I will point out, neither does he feel glee. He takes neither pleasure nor wrath. He is showers these kids with the casual ease of a gardener spraying pesticide. A sort of beatific…peace.

This is what I want to focus on here, because a friend of mine believes, and I think I agree with him, that Lt. John Pike is very likely a heretofore unknown sixth avatar of Vishnu. Or at the very least, a Buddha, or a Bodhisattva, or a Saint or an angel (if you’re of the western persuasion).

Compare with an image of Vishnu.  Observe the way he stands in close detail.  Not only does the students’ pain mean nothing to him.  The students themselves mean nothing to him.  He cares not one whit whether you experience pain nor joy.  This is a sign of a true enlightened one.  The kids on the ground are the true sinners.  Buddha said that suffering arises from craving.  From  materialism.  Indeed, in our tableau, it is not Lt. Pike that is the sinner, but the college students.  They are the ones who are living in suffering.  The mace which is causing their suffering is symbolic of their obsession with the material world and their refusal to pursue the true enlightenment, to cast off that which causes suffering. To cast off their obsession with material wealth and gains.

He is like a Boddhisattva who has chosen not to ascend to Nirvana, opting to stay behind as a teacher.  A teacher of important lessons which issue forth from a spray nozzle.  Many have denounced Pike for a monster. But he is not. He brings knowledge and wisdom in an industrial can of pepper-spray. Indeed, his benevolence knows no limit for he has put off Nirvana specifically to convey this important wisdom to the masses. The lesson: pain is illusory. By succumbing to it, by allowing ourselves to suffer by wishing for the absence of pain, by craving, we are only distancing ourselves from the enlightenment that could be ours.

And so I believe that this is the truth that the internet has touched upon with all of the fantastically edited versions of this image. But what they say in images, I say in words. This man, Lt. John Pike, is the enlightened one. He is a prophet of a new age. And we should listen. Because he cares. He doesn’t show it, but he cares.

Ein weiser Mann schmeichelt der Narr.

A Matter Darkly

A hard limit on the mass of dark matter has been set.  So that’s cool, right?

There are a couple things that I like about this story.  First, consider that this hard limit is set at 40 giga-electron volts.  This is a unit of measurement so tasty and geeky that it makes my brain noodles just tingle with excitement.  It’s like the ultimate in nerd speak because fewer than 1% of the world’s population actually know what it means.  They are the 1%.

Next, consider the following passage:

“The observational measurements are important because they cast doubt on recent results from dark matter collaborations that have reported detecting the elusive particle in underground experiments. Those collaborations — DAMA/LIBRA, CoGeNT and CRESST — say they found dark matter with masses ranging from 7 to 12 GeV, less than the limit determined by the Brown physicists.”

There are two ways that you can read this, depending on how you define the word “underground.”  On the one hand, there is my basic assumption that we have a whole subculture of scientists who wear baggy pants and like to skateboard. Not to mention, they are making all sorts of frankly audacious claims about the mass of WIMPS.  It makes DAMA/LIBRA, CoGeNT, and CRESST sound like the names of gangs. 7-12 GeV?  Those damned kids and their crazy ideas.

Indeed, this is how I initially read the article.  And then I realized that they were probably just referring to the fact that these experiments took place underground.  As in, in a cave.  The 40 GeV result is from data collected from outerspace.  That dichotomy makes a lot more sense.  But still, it’s an important lesson about the ambiguity of language.

But perhaps the most important lesson here is in the numbers themselves.  A frequently overlooked issue surrounding Dark Matter is the actual source of its mystery.  It does not interact except with its gravity.  As we all know, gravity is by far the weakest of the forces.  Dark Matter neither reflects nor emits electromagnetic radiation of any kind.  It is only detectable by its gravitational effects.

And yet, it accounts for around 23 percent of the universe.  Ordinary matter, the stuff we deal with on a day to day basis, the stuff we have wars over and have sex with, only makes up 4%.  Dark Energy, a far more mysterious substance which is responsible for the acceleration of the universe’s expansion, accounts for the rest of the universe.  Over 70%.

So, what to make of this?  There are two ways you can look at it.  On the one hand, you can relish the mystery that the majority of the universe is made up of something completely intangible and possibly unknowable.  This is admirable.  It is the source of all sorts of sci-fi tropes and wild flights of fancy.

But two important facts needs to be taken into consideration when it comes to Dark Stuff, which accounts for some 96% of reality: they don’t do anything and they are the rule, rather than the exception.  Put another way, ordinary matter is the exception, the exciting stuff.  Dark Stuff is mundane and ordinary.

Indeed, the vast majority of the interesting things that happen in the universe happen as a result of interactions of ordinary matter.  Dark Stuff doesn’t do squat.

If I were a powerful scientist with a lot of clout, I might even be inclined re-label these things.  Dark Stuff–once it’s determined just what, exactly, it is–would be better renamed Mundane.  Ordinary matter, rather than being labeled as merely “ordinary” is actually the exciting stuff.  It might be far more appropriately termed “Bright Matter” and “Bright Energy.”  It is tiny in proportion, but it packs a hell of a kick.

I am a fan of Bright Matter.  I am made of it.  My body is star dust made flesh.

Ich bin aber Sternenstaub.