Archive for the 'Politics & Opinion' Category

08
Jun
14

Dad Had To Open Carry At Times

My Father was a career Postal Inspector. This job, still employing less than 1500 officers, is little-known to the general public. It was, during Dad’s career, very different from other law enforcement roles.

Postal Inspectors had diverse responsibilities. They audited Post Offices, did high-level personnel work (hiring Postmasters, firing employees who were child molesters, etc.), forensic tracing of mail, investigation of Post Office crimes – both internal (stealing) and external (burglary). A ‘routine’ day could become very different in minutes.

Every Postal Inspector had a jurisdiction which was darn near unlimited. A Postal Inspector conducted part of Lee Harvey Oswald’s last interview, minutes before he was shot by Jack Ruby. They were not required to inform local authorities of their presence or their assignment. They often did so, when needing assistance. Local authorities gave priority to assisting these officers.

Most of a Postal Inspector’s work was conducted alone, without a partner or even local backup being in the general vicinity. The following is one example.

Dad had determined that the perpetrator of a Post Office burglary was a career criminal, ‘Joshua O’Neil’ {real name redacted}. His pursuit of O’Neil led to information that O’Neil was employed picking cotton in an Arkansas field. Dad arrived at that field and prepared to make an arrest.

The preparation was a little unconventional. O’Neil was about 6&1/2 feet tall, and weighed about 300 pounds. He was working in full visibility with no other workers nearby (they have separate rows to pick). Dad was dressed in the standard Postal Inspector uniform: a business suit. It was hot as hell in that field. He was as conspicuous as a maggot on a toothbrush.

Dad took off his coat due to the heat. He realized that he had created another problem. His service revolver (this was prior to side-arms being 10-shot clip-feeders) became visible at his beltline. If O’Neil noticed him too soon, he would be warned that Dad was The Law.

Dad draped the coat over his left arm and held it against his body, neatly covering the side-arm. He approached O’Neil from behind, aided by the facts that cotton pickers work one side of a row continuously, and they concentrate some because the bolls don’t cooperate like bananas do when we peel them from a cluster.

Dad succeeded in getting close without being noticed, not even by anyone who might have chosen to speak out. He got the drop on O’Neil, ordered him to put his hands behind his head, and escorted him – from a few feet behind – back to the car.

At the car, he placed O’Neil into a posture to apply handcuffs and to search him. You have seen this in police videos. What Dad found was not something that I have ever seen in videos. O’Neil’s front right pocket contained a unique knife. It was big, or big enough. It had the blade propped open, slightly, by a matchstick.

This weapon was a clever improvisation for a ‘switchblade’ knife, which was illegal. It would provide the same function. O’Neil had weakened the blade’s hinge spring with flame. The matchstick left the point of the blade slightly exposed. When O’Neil would draw the knife from his pocket, the point of the blade would catch on the pocket, and it would be fully extended when it came out of his pocket.

O’Neil had met a formidable adversary, and he went to jail.

No person – neither Post Office employee, nor criminal – ever thought that Dad was anything but independent. He was also brave, resourceful, and highly intelligent. He demanded only one absolute from me: that I be personally responsible.

Dad taught me firearms use and handling. He only acknowledged one person as responsible for whatever happened with a firearm. Only the person in possession of it was responsible. Whenever a person holds a firearm, or places it where he remains responsible for it, there is no power on Earth which can protect him or anyone else from any consequences.

Such consequences would have a somewhat reduced priority for society if they were only consequences for the person carrying a firearm. The actual priority is much higher. We do not need to “protect them from themselves”, we need to protect the many people that they interact with from someone who is acting foolishly.

A policeman, walking into a business while in uniform and armed, is not acting foolishly. He is trained in firearms use and situational awareness.

A man with a semi-automatic AK-47 slung across his back, walking into a business while in casual clothes, and pre-occupied with a shopping cart, is acting foolishly. This is an a priori example of someone who is not trained in firearms use and situational awareness.

The several ways in which such an ‘open carry’ situation can, and repeatedly has, gone very wrong are proof that we need legal restrictions on sloppy, uncontrolled handling of high-powered weapons in the presence of other people.

Dad was without fear when he apprehended, unassisted, an armed career criminal. If he were to see any of the horrendous examples of open-carry behavior which we now witness, he would leave the area immediately.

07
Oct
12

The Heresy of ‘Pro-Life’ Christians

Our scripture readings in ELCA Sunday service often provoke my thoughts. My thoughts are never aligned with the Pastor’s sermon, for sermons are typically generalized and oriented toward a certain orthodoxy. The last Pastor who made sermons a challenge to our lives was the late, great Bill Christman (a Presbyterian).

Today’s First Reading, Genesis 2:18-24, included:

Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.’ Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Today’s Gospel, Mark 10:2-16, included:

Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They said, ‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.” “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’

Those who identify as Pro-Life assert that a fertilized ovum – the zygote – is a person, fully equivalent*. Their justifications for tying this assertion to a “right” to life are invariably shallow, effectively being ‘It just is, that’s all’. I have never seen or heard of a Pro-Lifer using Genesis 2 and Mark 10 as an authority for this assertion. It seems obviously applicable: in what way does a couple literally “become one flesh”, except via conception? If God demands that the couple not be separated, surely He intends that the very “one flesh” also not be separated.

*Except when it isn’t – some Pro-Life advocates defer personhood until implantation of the zygote.
And even those notable Conservative Protestants, the Southern Baptists, have previously sanctioned some abortions.

This Mark 10 justification of the Pro-life agenda would better adhere to scripture than the typical citations. Will Pro-Lifers embrace this justification? It is unlikely that any will ever notice my comments in a tiny blog. If they independently make this association, they will risk an accusation of hypocrisy, or worse, for the scriptures do not instruct us of an isolated facet of our relationship with the Almighty.

Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, Son of God, brought a New Covenant between God and man. Jesus was overt in his violations of many Jewish laws. He affirmed a fairly small portion of the Old Covenant, for while He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil.” – Matthew 5:17, that left a large body of legalities to be voided. His statements in Mark 10 were remarkable for specifically citing Law that was to remain unaltered, without allowance for obliquely fulfilling the spirit of the Law. Jesus established finally, as explicitly as we ever see in scripture, a linkage between conception and marriage.

There are Christian denominations which ban divorce, such as the Catholic Church, the LDS-Mormon Church, Eastern Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, and Conservative Protestant such as Southern Baptists. Every one includes exceptions.

Exceptions are something which Jesus did not often offer. He certainly did not instruct us that conversion to Islam, or adultery, or other exceptions apply to divorce. Yet such exceptions are normative in even the most conservative denominations.

Is this why Pro-Lifers do not cite Jesus’ authority from Mark 10? Do they attempt to conceal their hypocrisy which is already well-known?

If they are sincere in claiming that their attitudes about reproduction are guided by Sacred Text, let them permit themselves to be guided by the only words of Jesus regarding the “one flesh”. Let them embrace the same hatred and violence at the most-closely related offense to the Law of God – divorce – that they exhibit toward those who make, and even to those who merely advocate, reproductive choices.

05
May
12

Framing the Romney Question

Enough has been said about Presidential candidate Mitt Romney‘s religion. Yes, as a Latter Day Saint (Mormon), Romney adheres to beliefs that are ludicrous. Almost anything conceived by an attention-seeking adolescent (Joseph Smith), whose personal standards led him to scam and manipulate friends and family, is ludicrous.

Criticism of a Presidential candidate for such beliefs has limited validity. In an absolute sense, criticism is valid. What does such valid criticism leave us? Every other major Presidential candidate in my memory has claimed religious beliefs which, despite mostly being different from Mormon beliefs, are exactly equivalent in their ludicrous elements. I will not belabor that point. Most readers can supply plentiful examples of offenses upon rationality by any particular religion. This is a subject which incorporates the supernatural, so deviations from rationality are inherent.

The pertinent consideration is what a candidate’s personal beliefs and attitudes reveal about how he (or she, on occasion) will perform the duties of a President of the United States of America.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Evangelical Christians, who often identify Mormons as apostate, have expressed their reluctance, due to his religion, to support his candidacy. My contention is that they are confabulating personal beliefs and public performance similarly to the (dominantly) Mormon state of Utah. In 2008, Utah primary voters gave Romney 89% of all votes. John McCain, who garnered much resistance from Evangelical Christians, received 5%. Ron Paul and other Protestants received crumbs. I doubt that the voting represented that the losing candidates had overwhelmingly unfavorable policy positions.

Mitt Romney has provided the proper context to discuss the relationship of his personal and public commitments. He has required a signed pledge as a precondition for meeting him privately.

At a Republican National Committee meeting in Arizona, RNC members and state GOP chairmen -superdelegates- were asked to sign a pledge to support Romney at the national convention in Tampa as a precondition for meeting privately and being photographed with Romney. Several members of the Iowa delegation were refused admittance when they did not sign the pledge.

Depending on how Romney answers the following question, we may subsequently find additional context to inquire about how details of Romney’s personal life will affect his performance in office. This may be easier than gaining additional details about his financial life, which would be far more relevant to his duties as President.

This is how the question should be framed in a Presidential general election debate:

Questioner: Governor Romney, we have many commitments as adults and as professionals. One of our tasks is to balance those commitments and resolve any conflicts. You have demonstrated that commitments have a significant priority for you. You have made certain commitments and you have required others to make commitments, even as a precondition to meet with you privately. Your oath as President is serious, yet it does not include a committment to foreswear other oaths. Uniquely for a general-election candidate, you have sworn such oaths, oaths which are inviolate, even upon penalty of death.

How will you reconcile your prior commitments with the Presidential Oath of Office?

Candidate Romney:
{A} I have nothing to resolve. My committment to God and to America are completely compatible.
{B} Like all Americans who want America to become the great country that it once was,
my first committment is to God, then to my family and country.
{C} My oath as President comes before all other oaths. Serving as President and restoring
America’s prosperity and values is the greatest form of devotion to God.
{D} My religious oaths were patterned after those which millions of loyal Americans take.
These Americans have helped to make America a light to the world.
{E} Reconcile what? I don’t know what oaths you imagine that I have made.

21
Nov
11

Conservative Rules of Acquisition

It has always been common for scientific fields to complement each other. A recent archeological discovery has revealed intact documents from the 20th and 21st centuries which were produced by the now-extinct humanoid specie Homo conservitii. They are currently being analysed, especially by comparison to similar documents from the 24th-century Homo ferengii, for clues to the evolutionary development of H. conservatii. This pre-publication description of the research is provided while research is finalized and a draft publication is composed and peer-reviewed.

The documents describe these species’ social organization in terms of a concept which both referred to as acquisition. This was a significant element of humanoid societies until the 34th century, when biological and social evolution converged to eliminate superstition, greed, and arrogance. An unknown 18th-century Homo sapiens sapiens promulgated such differing concepts of acquisition [present possession, occupation, prescription, accession, succession] from these later species’ concepts that it is clear that H. conservatii followed a highly divergent evolutionary path from H. sapiens.

Both documents included a statement of sequence, which researchers refer to as ‘staging’. A comparison of these stages for both species offers a valuable orientation:

           The Five Stages of Acquisition
H. Ferengii                            H. Conservatii
Infatuation                            Authoritarianism - 'I need this security'
Justification                          Obedience - 'I will do what Authority says'
Appropriation                          Manipulation - 'Action requires cynicism'
Obsession                              Possession - 'I've got mine'
Resale                                 Justification - 'This will shut the suckers up'

These stages are superficially different. It is beyond the scope of this pre-publication description to establish the sociological and psychological links which connect the two lists. It is more readily apparent from their expanded form, ‘Rules of Acquisition‘. Those rules which researchers consider congruent are listed as follows.

 The Rules of Acquisition
       H. Ferengii
       H. Conservatii
1. Once you have their money ... never give it back.
   You have always had their money. Get more.
3. Never pay more for an acquisition than you have to.
   Never pay for an acquisition that you can get with government help.
8. Small print leads to large risk.
   Do whatever you want. The suckers don't read the small print.
10. Greed is eternal.
    Greed is virtuous.
13. Anything worth doing is worth doing for money.
    Nothing is worth doing except for money and power.
16. A deal is a deal ... until a better one comes along.
    A deal is a deal - until you buy a legislator to re-write it.
23. Nothing is more important than your health--except for your money.
    Nothing is more important than your money - certainly not other people's health.
34. Peace is good for business.
    War is good for business.
35. War is good for business.
    War is best for business.
52. Never ask when you can take.
    Never persuade when you can legislate.
60. Keep your lies consistent.
    Keep your lies working. The suckers don't know consistency.
76. Every once in a while, declare peace. It confuses the hell out of your enemies.
    Every once in a while, declare Mission Accomplished
    - before a competent H. liberalii actually does it.
85. Never let the competition know what you're thinking.
    Never give the suckers evidence that you're not thinking.
94. Females and finances don't mix.
    Females, a guy in the adjacent stall, porn chats - bring 'em on!
106. There is no honour in poverty.
     Never give a rat's ass about poverty.
141. Only fools pay retail.
     Only fools pay the same taxes as the suckers.
177. Know your enemies ... but do business with them always.
     Know your country's enemies. You always do really good business with them.
239. Never be afraid to mislabel a product. Never be afraid to profit from a faulty or ineffective product.
266. When in doubt, lie.
     When you get caught, lie.

This new discovery does not establish that Homo ferengii evolved directly from Homo conservitii or Homo sapiens. Previous research has revealed significant differences, especially in their involvement with war. The two species had orthogonal, not opposite, adaptations to social conflict. H. ferengii recognized that acquisition, but not war itself, was a goal. H. conservitii clearly had goals of acquisition and war which were interchangeable and, effectively, equivalent.

For example, H. ferengii society sought to make everyone wealthy. H. conservitii society tied wealth to war: wealth was regarded as something which inherently required the poverty, even the illness and death, of others.

Additional research into the similar misogyny of H. ferengii and H. conservatii societies may provide the concluding determination of their evolutionary relationship.

19
Nov
11

Occupy the Bible

I am often motivated by scripture readings in Sunday service to write about them from a different perspective than is customary. Recently, the Gospel Reading in our little ELCA Lutheran Church was the parable in Matthew 25:14-30. Christian commentaries and sermons on this parable typically describe it in terms of judgement (especially of the unsaved, who are “servants” (sometimes translated ‘slaves’) – entrusted with the monetary denomination “talent” representing God’s blessings to which we are to be faithful) :

14 For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country,
who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.
15 And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man
according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.
16 Then he that had received the five talents went and traded
with the same, and made them other five talents.
17 And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.
18 But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.
19 After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.
20 And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord,
thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.
21 His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over
a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
22 He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst
unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.
23 His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over
a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
24 Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an
hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:
25 And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.
26 His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest
that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:
27 Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers,
and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.
28 Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.
29 For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance:
but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
30 And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness:
there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

My prior use of the term ‘perspective’ applies also to commenters other than me. Scriptures have been massaged, twisted, and misrepresented continually and forever. This parable (and its fraternal twin in Luke 19) is perfectly suitable to such misapplication. A natural example is found in American politics. Conservatives have, in this parable, the exemplification of some of their most persistant themes: the wealthy have earned more than folks like me because they have worked harder ; it takes money to make money ; it is the wealthy who make it possible for us to earn the right to continue working ; those who do not make the wealthy yet more wealthy are lazy and condemnable.

These are plausibly, if superficially, supported by the parable. Perhaps it is the reluctance of politicians to be specific about religion that has kept this connection from being exploited. Even so, there are many who bend Christianity to their secular purposes. Either I am oblivious, or they haven’t yet focused upon this parable.

It is (I think) not too late to preempt such arguments.

The parable begins “For the kingdom of heaven is as …”, which explicitly announces that it is a spiritual lesson, not a management or financial seminar. Even so, it is odd that the kingdom of heaven might be compared to anything involving such a nasty person as the master (“Lord”). Be careful to note that the master did not gift the money to the servants – it, and all profits derived from it, belonged to the master.

The servant element might explain why this parable has not been appropriated by conservatives. Folks who aren’t wealthy will probably relate to the servants. That makes a rather strong statement about the distribution of money and influence in America. Conservatives appeal for support of the wealthy, which is not an original attitude – even for slaves.

The master did not participate in the investment activity. He was a ‘passive’ investor who did not even provide guidance before he “straightway took his journey” and returned “after a long time”. This is our current situation. It is only the wealthy who have spare cash and the capacity to risk it on investments which require no work. Rather than being people who work 50? 100? times harder than their employees, they must acknowledge that “I reap where I sowed not”. That is, they purchase seed which they do not even plant, then take the profits of the work of others.

My co-workers & I work plenty hard. Someone would have to work 24/7 to work merely 4 times harder than we do. The wealthy aren’t especially smarter than anyone else, either. The stock market has been shown to have fractal price behavior over time. It is a chaotic system, perfectly unpredictable. Those who ‘make a killing in the market’ are seldom geniuses. They also are not idiots. They are lucky. I am not referring to the fictitious ‘you make your own luck’. This is true chance, unaffected by merit or unworth.

The servants had no money of their own to risk. They risked something less tangible. The wicked servant might have paid for his poor choice by being sold to a less forgiving master. What might have happened if, as in real life, one of the servants had LOST money? People who are not wealthy understand the harsh reality of such risks – loss of job, health insurance, or savings.

For those who want to have reality-based opinions on this subject {WARNING – some math ahead}, here are a few references: ‘Pareto Distributions in Economic Growth Models‘ describes how “the concentration of the wealth can be interpreted as the result of the extraordinary concentration of risk bearings.” ; ‘Market Efficiency, the Pareto Wealth Distribution, and the Lévy Distribution of Stock Returns‘ finds specifically “chance, rather than differential investment ability, is the main source of inequality at the high-wealth range.” ; ‘Why it is hard to share the wealth‘ provides a brief commentary on structural forces in wealth inequality – without the gnarly math of the first two references.

06
Jul
11

Dirty Laundry

You don’t really need to find out what’s going on
You don’t really want to know just how far it’s gone
Just leave well enough alone, keep your dirty laundry
‘Dirty Laundry’ – Don Henley

Many readers have followed the dramatic events of Joplin, Missouri on May 22, 2011. You have read many accounts of incredible perseverance, bravery, and resourcefulness. Even those Joplinites who were undamaged, or like me, barely on the fringes of the storm, have been affected deeply and indelibly. The community showed an immediate cohesiveness that was matched by the generosity and efforts of thousands of volunteers from across America. This tragedy has been Joplin’s finest moment.

A moment seems now to be too accurate a term.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

Rep. Eric Cantor‘s assertion that disaster relief funds should be withheld without offsetting funding cuts was not universally condemned in Joplin. Senator Roy Blunt, the essence of Conservative propriety, had already promised swift funding for relief. That did not deter a number of political xerox machines from parroting Cantor. Joplinites were reduced to explaining to their thoughtless neighbors that Joplin had incurred a deficit – a deficit which could not be deferred until our grandchildren were safe from that other deficit.

The next phase in vanishing civility came with gloating. Some of the same thoughtless people, and a few more, bragged about how ‘Joplin had most streets passable almost immediately’ with chainsaws appearing instantly from locations that had not been crushed. And then they ‘went there‘ : saying that people in Joplin didn’t wait for someone to come help them – they got to work and helped themselves, unlike those lazy people in New Orleans after Katrina. Facts proved to be, as usual, irrelevant to such folks. It was frustrating and unproductive to point out that 90% of the New Orleans population was already gone, that the people who were left were in 15 feet of water, that the fungus growth after months of drainage & drying mandated cleanup & rebuilding while wearing suits & respirators.

Our family knows a two or thing about folks, including relatives, in Louisiana. Lazy they are not, not any more so than the lazy element which all our cities have. They proved it after the Joplin tornado. Within days, a group from New Orleans had arrived with food – Great Food ! – not emergency food. Many more Lousiana folks have helped Joplin in these difficult weeks. In a few days, Peace Lutheran Church of Slidell will work for a day cleaning the site of Peace Lutheran Church of Joplin. Our church, with a lovely pipe organ which my Little Red-haired Girl played every Sunday, two blocks from Joplin ‘HOPE’ High School, was utterly destroyed. These ‘lazy’ Louisiana folks will help us to regain something of what was lost.

Tonight presented a different phase in incivility. Rush Limbaugh brought his ‘Two If By Tea‘ truck to Joplin’s 4th of July celebration in Landreth Park. His donation of iced tea would have been nice. There was a catch. Limbaugh spoke as an official part of the City’s program. This was not the same as other charitable commercial promotions in Joplin. Tide brought the ‘Loads of Hope‘ truck, and cleaned lotsa stuff for many very dirty, very needy people.

Tide had not preceded its arrival with a history of divisive speech and an overtly-politicized statement. Limbaugh did both. He stated, on his radio program,

I’m gonna tell you something else is gonna happen at Landreth Park in Joplin on Monday night: We’re gonna grow the Republican Party.

Some City official or officials approved this. They did not explicitly publicize that Limbaugh would have a status substantially different than other vendors during the event. A City official whom I spoke with stated that Limbaugh had promised to ‘keep it light’ – as if that excused his rank and self-serving politicization of his appearance.

There were no immediate inquiries, during the next evening’s City Council meeting, into how the decision was made to grant Joplin’s imprimatur to Limbaugh.

That is Joplin’s dirty laundry. It’s time for Loads of Hope to come back.




♥ Help for Haiti ♥

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Basic Understanding

A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.
- Edward R. Murrow

Intellectual Property Notice

All original material Copyright James R. Stone 2010, except where specifically noted. Some images licensed under Creative Commons, or GNU Free Documentation License, or unlicensed and public domain.

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