Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire

I’m sorry, but I don’t think I’m going to be writing anything of real informative substance today, despite the fact that I brought my laptop with me and am using it to write this.  There will be no sugar discussion and no discussion of the neuropathology and pathophysiology of Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s today.  For that (and other things) I apologize.

Unfortunately, I had almost no sleep last night—perhaps two or three stretches of nearly a half an hour at a time, not really any more.  In between, I’ve been having trouble with GI issues, presumably from something I ate.  I felt like I was going to throw up a lot of the time, though I never did.

That’s all very pleasant, I know.

I apologize for being such a downer, but it’s apparently just the way I’m built.  I’m not one of those people who was put in this world to bring joy or to be a shining light or to cheer people up.  Not that I think anyone was “put” in this world for any purpose.  People just happen like everything else, and things just happen to them.

I think my first real, visceral encounter with this fact happened forty-two years ago this Thursday, December 8th, when John Lennon was murdered.  I had just turned eleven a month and a half earlier.

I’ve written before about the fact that I literally cannot remember any time in my life when I was not a Beatles fan, being the third born in a family of three children, all of whom were/are Beatles fans, with my birth coming at the very tail end of the sixties.  All my life I’ve known most of the Beatles songs by heart.  I don’t remember learning them, they’ve just always been there, like nursery rhymes but better.

And then, of course, John Lennon, who had just released his first new album in years, was shot dead outside his home by a “fan” who likened himself, apparently, to Holden Caulfield.  This was, perhaps, the beginning of my realization that the human race is not worth preserving, protecting, or saving, which later came to be expanded to pretty much all life on the planet and possibly in the universe.

John Lennon, who brought great beauty into the world, whose work continues to bring joy to millions upon millions of people—and who rightly said that it was more appropriate that the Beatles were honored with MBEs than soldiers, since the soldiers got their honors for killing people and the Beatles for making music—was dead on the pavement in Manhattan.  Meanwhile, the man who killed him, instead of having been dunked up to his neck in Drano for ten minutes a day until it finally killed him, is still alive, with three hots and a cot daily supplied by the people of New York for the past forty two years.  The killer has lived longer since that murder than John Lennon had lived when he was murdered.  And the killer is still eligible for parole, though for his sake, he should hope he is never granted it.

I had originally put that cockroach’s name in the previous paragraph, but I decided not to include it after all.  I have no desire to contribute to any perverse reward of him being famous for having destroyed a brilliant artist.

Meanwhile, the likes of Donald Trump and Herschel Walker and Vladimir Putin are well-known public figures, the former alive and “well” in his late seventies, and are even admired and respected by a fairly substantial group of people.  And, given the number of people who wear tee-shirts commemorating and revering Che Guevara and other historical politically/ideologically motivated murderers, and the failure of so many on the left to recognize how like the Soviets and the Maoists—and other, preceding Inquisitions—their attitudes of ideological conformity and historical revision are, it seems unlikely that history will vindicate and lionize those who actually worked toward enlightenment, toward peaceful, just societies, the rule of law, freedom of expression, and above all the necessity of free exchange of ideas for advancement and improvement; there is very little reason to hope that the human race will improve.

Such improvements as have been made, as have happened, are the products of a vanishingly small proportion of the members of the human infestation.  The vast majority of humans are no more advanced than the average australopithecine as far as their personal contributions to society go (to be fair, they are mostly no worse, also).

And don’t make the silly, naïve mistake of imagining that other animal species are kinder or gentler or more in balance with their world than humans are.  They are simply less competent, less powerful, and so cannot exceed their natural equilibria.  If their predators are removed, prey animals multiply until they drive themselves into starvation, usually taking other species with them.  When predators gain advantages, analogous catastrophes occur.  It has happened numerous times in natural history.

Life, to a very good first approximation, is characterized by selfishness, fear, pain, and loss.  “Nasty, brutish, and short” doesn’t begin to provide an adequate summary, though “quiet desperation” is indeed the state of many humans.

Honestly, I’ve become so disenchanted with this planet, with the universe itself, and with existence, that if I were so inclined, I might dedicate myself to the destruction of all life, simply to prevent the pain and suffering of future generations.

But I’m not certain enough, and I have no respect for certainty that exceeds the degree of its justification in evidence and argument.  And I don’t have much sympathy for those who willfully infringe on the autonomy of other creatures, intelligent, pseudo-intelligent, or otherwise.  So basically what I try to do now is endure, perhaps hoping for something that will change my mind, until I can make my quietus.

But I will say this:  if John Lennon’s killer were brought before me and I had a weapon, I would gladly kill him.  I dislike having to share air with him.  I know that he suffers, and that he had no more choice in doing what he did than anyone else does, but I don’t really care.  There are plenty of far more innocent, far more benevolent, people than he who suffer, and who die, while trying to do their part to make the world ever so slightly better, or at least to do no more harm than they absolutely must.  It’s not a matter of thinking that he “deserves” to die, though by most estimates he probably does.  But “deserves” is a vague term, and is used too often to justify atrocities.  So I would not claim any right of justice or vengeance or anything of the sort.  I would be making an aesthetic choice.  “My” world is uglier with him in it, and it would be that much less ugly with him dead.  I don’t want to see him suffer, nor do I want him to suffer.  I simply would like him gone, just as I would like to paint over a stain on a fresco.

On that pleasant note, I’ll call this blog post to a close.  Apologies for being such a downer, as usual.  I wish I could feel “justified” in trying to be optimistic, or at least to feel supported in that by a preponderance of evidence and rational argument.  Alas, I cannot bring myself to that conclusion.  So, I will instead conclude this writing for today.

Well, here we go again.

It’s Saturday—the one that comes two days after Thanksgiving, though I don’t think it has any special designation—and as I said I would, I brought my laptop with me, so I’m using it to write this post today.

I didn’t play any music or write any fiction yesterday.  Obviously.  I mean, I haven’t written any fiction in months, now.  I’m not sure how many.  And although on three occasions I’ve done a tiny bit of plinking on the guitar and once on the piano, it’s really been nothing like what I did in the past.  I just don’t have the desire to do it, even though I used to enjoy it.

As I’ve said, I used to enjoy fiction, mostly fantasy/sci-fi and horror.  I have a difficult time forcing myself to read any fiction anymore; even the Japanese light novels are getting daunting.  Non-fiction that I would normally have enjoyed, like books about physics, or biology, or psychology, or even politics and sociology, are all just blah.  Most of the videos I want to watch, I’ve already watched, over and over again, and though I am able to enjoy things repetitively, and I always have been, I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve just about squeezed what I can out of the ones that I like.  I haven’t even been able to get more than a few dozen pages into Sean Carroll’s new book.

And now, here I am, sitting at the train station on Saturday morning, ready to go into the office.  The person who last triggered my meltdown on Monday*, was off yesterday and will be off today, enjoying his holiday, and will get paid for his bending of the rules.

All the people I love in the world are elsewhere, with the ones they love, presumably enjoying their holiday weekends—I certainly hope they are—or just enjoying themselves in a faraway land, experiencing other cultures and so on.  And I’m here by myself, near the distal dorsum of America’s flaccid, syphilitic penis.

I think I stay here because, honestly, I don’t feel like I deserve anything better, and anyway, this apparent ASD that I probably have—or whatever psychopathology I have that mimics it—makes it very difficult for me to contemplate changes to any given situation, even though it’s far from ideal.

After I got out of prison, I decided to come back to Florida after a brief visit to my parents, instead of staying with them (I was invited to stay), because I hoped to be able to see my kids sometime relatively soon.  That, of course, did not happen, and I don’t give high odds on my ever seeing them again.

I’m certainly no good at being pushy about trying to get my own way in interpersonal relationships.  I didn’t fight my divorce or any related stuff, never fought about how much child support to give—I was happy to give as much as I was asked.  Frankly, there was nothing better for me to do with my money.  I honestly have little to no inherent sense of having any rights of my own, certainly with respect to other people, though I will tend to demand that people keep their hands off of me, literally and figuratively.

So, I missed the last few years of my parents’ lives that I could have spent with them, in the vain notion that I might get to see my children sooner.  And, of course, that was why I pled guilty in the first place, though I consider myself innocent according to the law as I understand it.  I certainly never willingly broke any laws, but was trying to help people who had chronic pain, such as I have.  I’m not claiming my thought processes were clear or ideal, and I was certainly naïve and foolish, but I never meant anything criminal, and certainly made no profit.

But I figured, three years’ plea bargain (with time served counting toward it) was better than a chance at a longer sentence, especially since I’m not a likeable sort with whom a jury might be expected to sympathize; or so I was told by my court-appointed lawyer.

This is the way the state extorts people into taking “shorter” offered sentences rather than going to court to fight legitimately for their side and their rights.

Anyway, I gave all that up for what turned out to be a pie in the sky notion.  I lost my medical license, my community, my use of skills that I’d put years and years of effort into gaining, and I lost the last years of my parents’ lives, and I lost my children anyway.  I wish I were just some selfish prick who was good at looking out for number one and living for his own enjoyment.

Well, no, no I don’t.  I despise such people.  But sometimes I envy them their ability not to care what anyone thinks of them, or what impact they have on others, no matter what they do.  I mostly don’t worry too much what other people think of me, but I do want people I love not to hate me.  I’m not sure I’ve been very successful at that.  I’d also like to be able to be with my kids and I certainly didn’t want to be divorced, or to disconnect from various other people, but I’m not good at people, it seems, though I was always good at being a caring doctor.

Oh, well.  It doesn’t matter.  It’s all pointless and irrelevant, and I don’t expect I’ll ever see my kids again, any more than I’ll see my mother and father again, though for different reasons.  I guess not seeing my kids is my punishment, or whatever the proper term is, for being utterly incompetent at human relationships.

It sucks, but I can’t get the rules changed as a special dispensation for me.  And I certainly don’t want to inconvenience my kids in any way; I want them to have the dreams they want to achieve, to do what they want with their lives and to enjoy the world as best they can.  Same with my old friends, and my ex-wife, and her family, and everyone else I’ve known.  I’m not interested in being the center of anyone’s attention, unless it’s something they feel good about.  For instance, if they like my writing or my music, I don’t mind if they pay attention to that.  But I’m certainly not worth derailing anyone’s plans out of any sense of obligation or anything along those lines.

I have no idea what I’m trying to say, today.  I’m getting bored with this blog, both today and in general.  I’m calling it good for now.  We’ll see how Monday goes.


*I want to make it clear that he was not the primary cause, he was merely the last straw…but he does often put himself in that position.

Nothing of worth can ever truly be “unconditional”

It’s Friday now, and for many it is the last day of the work week.  If you are one of those people, congratulations.  If you expect to work tomorrow, as I do, then, well, congratulations on having gainful employment.  It’s not a contradiction to consider both cases worthy of celebration.

I’m writing on my phone today because I didn’t want to take my laptop to the house with me‒I took my Radiohead guitar chords book home with the notion that I might actually get the acoustic guitar out and do some strumming, and the book and laptop together seemed likely to make my backpack unpleasantly heavy to carry.  Alas, the strumming part didn’t happen, but I couldn’t retroactively choose to take the laptop with me.

Because of that, I’m not going to write about Alzheimer’s and/or Parkinson’s disease today; I feel that I can deal with them better when I can type more naturally, and so I’ll address those things perhaps tomorrow.  Today, I’ll try to address a random, walk-in set of topics that crowded my head this morning for unclear causes.  The things that popped into my mind as I headed to the train station included the notions of healthcare as a human right, unconditional love, and free education (free anything, really), all loosely linked to something a coworker of mine said yesterday.

I’ll start with the middle one, because it presents itself (rather intrusively) in my mind in the form of the old song, Unconditional Love, performed way back when by Donna Summer and Musical Youth.  The chorus goes, “Give me your unconditional love; the kind of love I deserve; the kind I want to return.”

I may have written about this notion before, but do you spot the logical flaws there?  First of all, the notion that one can (apparently) demand another’s love, conditional or otherwise, is rather obscene and also unworkable.  But that’s a separate issue from the notion of “unconditional love”.  One big problem with this is revealed in the second line of the chorus:  that such love is the kind the singer deserves.  But if it’s unconditional, then‒to quote the movie Unforgiven‒”deserve’s got nothing to do with it”.  If love is unconditional, then everyone and anyone (and presumably anything) deserves it.  That’s what unconditional means!

Perhaps they might have meant something along the lines of “non transactional” love, but if so, they reveal hypocrisy in the next line, “the kind I want to return”, because they’re saying, openly, that their own love is not merely conditional but also transactional…I’ll love you if and only if you love me unconditionally.  Maybe that was supposed to be the message of the song, to ridicule such words and thoughts and attitudes toward love by revealing their absurdity, but it certainly didn’t come across that way.

On we go to the notion of healthcare as a human right.  This is something one sees at times brought up and bandied about by activists of various stripes, and I can readily understand and sympathize with the urge, but it is illogical.  One cannot have a right to anyone else’s skill or work or abilities or resources, and the provision of healthcare requires these in spades.

True rights are and can really only be rights to be free from things‒free from coercion, free from threats and violence, free from theft, free from censorship and from unjust imprisonment, that sort of thing.  To claim a right to the work of other people, especially if one claims that right precisely because that work is so important, is the opposite of any kind of right or freedom; it is coercion in and of itself.

Now, it may be that a society could decide that it is best for everyone, as a whole and as individuals, to provide (and therefore to pay for) healthcare for all its citizens without any at-the-time-of-service charge, since illnesses and injuries are often unpredictable, and they do not choose convenient times to strike.  A society may decide that taking away some of that danger, that threat, that uncertainty, will be better for everyone and anyone.  It’s not an unreasonable idea.  But that doesn’t describe any kind of right, even if one is a citizen of a society that has chosen that path.  Give it the credit it deserves and call it a privilege, and one that should be cherished, not a right.

This ties in nicely with the notion of other “free” programs or privileges, the main one that comes to my mind being that of “free college education”.  As with most positive, physical things, the notion of “free” simply doesn’t apply.  Air is free (for now), because it’s pretty much everywhere, and it doesn’t require any work apart from the effort of breathing.  But education requires many resources, including the information gleaned by the innumerable predecessors who worked to develop the knowledge that is being shared, and the time and effort of the scholars and teachers who are sharing it.

Some of this is getting cheaper and easier thanks to advancing computer and communications technology, but those things also required the efforts and resources of numerous people before they became available to so many others, most of whom do not have the knowledge or skill to recreate such resources on their own.

Again, this is not to say that it is not worth considering whether a society might be well-served by making education available without local charge to all citizens who wish to participate.  It may be well worth the expense and effort involved for the society, in the long or even the short term.  I’m a big fan of public primary and secondary schools, and I wish they were better funded and in a more egalitarian way, because there are untold numbers of people with great potential who have not been able to realize it because they had effectively no local resources available to do so.

This is truly a shame and a tragedy.  Who knows what scientists or artists or innovative business people (and so on) we have lost without knowing that we lost them?  But calling for there to be “free” education is silly.  Someone, somewhere, has to “pay” for every good thing that requires effort in transforming the world into a desired form, decreasing local entropy by expending energy and producing compensatory entropy increase through the efforts made.

This all ties in‒in spirit‒with the complaint by a coworker yesterday, who moans frequently about lack of money and a fear of being unable to pay rent, etc., but when the boss asked her to come in this Saturday to work, so she could make more money, said she just can’t work six days a week.  Of course, she doesn’t work six days a week, she hasn’t worked six days a week that I can remember.  I work six days every other week; if I don’t, things don’t happen for the many people who come in on Saturdays voluntarily, to try to make a little extra money for their own expenses.

The problem was not with her choosing not to come in on any Saturday‒that’s her decision, and she is the one who loses the opportunity to make more money‒but with her complaint to me that it’s just “not fair” to have to work six days, which is truly nonsensical given to whom she was speaking, and given the number of people who voluntarily come in and work more Saturdays than not.

My response was pretty unsympathetic.  I told her that “fairness” is a fiction, at least as she’s apparently imagining it.  There’s no injustice in her being encouraged to work an extra day once in a while to make extra money, if she’s truly worried about her expenses.  If anything, it would be unfair for her to expect to make more money without doing extra work.

In a sense, nature is always fair; the laws of physics apply everywhere and for all time, as far as we can tell.  They make no exceptions and provide no “get out of jail free” cards or cheat codes to anyone regarding their application.

Other than this, any notion of fairness is purely a human invention.  It may, in some senses and cases, be very good to seek and to create, for a society and for the individuals within it.  Indeed, I would say that it is worthwhile.  But it too is not free; it requires effort, and it requires ownership of one’s responsibility for one’s share of the effort.  It is not unconditional.  To expect unconditional anything from anyone or anything is not fair, but is in many ways quite the opposite.

Education is very good and beneficial, and probably the more of it we have, the better, all other things being equal.  Reasonable pay for good work is certainly a good thing.  Healthcare is an almost miraculous good that we take for granted at our peril, but which would almost certainly benefit all of society more if it were more efficiently and evenly available.  And love is, quite possibly, the most wonderful and beautiful thing the universe has ever brought into existence.  We should show these things the respect they deserve by not taking them for granted in any way.

deserve

I hear the train a-comin’, it’s rolling ’round the bend

It’s Saturday again, and I’m going to work today, so I’m writing a blog post.  Any of you who follow me on the weekend may be glad (or not) that this is the case.

I’m waiting at the train station for the first Saturday train, and they just announced that the northbound train, the one I take, is delayed “15…20 minutes due to a mechanical failure”, so I’m going to be sitting here longer than I thought I would be.  I wish I had a reliable alternative means to get to the office, but the buses are also slower on Saturdays, and the trip always takes longer via bus, since the train doesn’t have to stop for traffic lights, and has fewer stops to pick up passengers.

It’s curious that the announcements for delays say, for instance, “15…20 minutes” rather than “15 to 20 minutes” which seems to me to be the more normal way to express such a range.  If one took it as giving an estimate in the way people often read off strings of numbers, one might infer that they were saying the train would be delayed by 1,520 minutes, but that’s 25 hours and 20 minutes.  Surely anyone waiting would just take the next train, in an hour, rather than wait until tomorrow morning at 6:09 am.

Of course, based on past experience, the train may end up being cancelled and I’ll be taking the next train anyway.  It’s not an auspicious start for a Saturday, but one doesn’t do what one does because it’s convenient (necessarily).  A lion on the savannah that gives up hunting because the prey seems too difficult to get and it’s an unpleasant day will have a much lower chance of surviving to reproduce than one that just buckles down and keeps trying.

Lions are idiots.

Ha ha, just kidding.  Of course, lions aren’t that bright relative to the average human, but they’re pretty bright as far as the overall animal kingdom goes.  So are their competitors.  Their prey is not necessarily as bright as they are, but they don’t have to be.  It doesn’t take much brainpower to sneak up a blade of grass, but herbivores still need to be smart enough to avoid carnivores as often as feasible.

I’m a tiny bit nervous about today—about how I’ll be, that is—because I have not taken my antidepressant.  I haven’t mention it, but I’ve been back on them for some weeks now (I don’t recall exactly how long) as an attempt to see if they can help me with my worsening depression.

That hasn’t happened, as I’m sure you can tell if you’ve been reading my posts.  My depression has, if anything, worsened, though that may just be a natural progression that has nothing to do with medication.  Also, I cannot know how I would be if I had not taken them, though perhaps, if the many-worlds description of quantum mechanics is correct, somewhere out there in the omniverse are versions of me that have acted as the experimental control to my attempt.

Hey, they just said the train will be boarding in 10 minutes!  That will, honestly, make it only 15 minutes late, not 1,520 minutes, which is quite preferable.  See, sometimes things go better than expected, even for pessimists.

Anyway, the reason I’m stopping my antidepressants, at least for now is that—in addition to seeming to fail to improve my psychological state—they are giving me side effects that give me even more difficulty interacting with people around me, and leave me feeling more tense, more irritable, and also more dry-mouthed.  That latter bit isn’t such a big deal, but the others are a problem when, possibly because of my supposed ASD, I already have trouble interacting and connecting with people.  And that only makes me feel worse about myself.  I don’t feel worse about the other people; it’s not their job to connect with or look out for me, after all.

Oh!  I got at least some of the editing done on those sound recordings from yesterday.  The one from the middle of the night was really full of background noise, and also, apparently, the microphone on the phone is especially susceptible to breath and movement noise, so that’s required a lot of fine-toothed editing.

The phone app records in stereo, which is interesting.  I’m assuming that means there are at least 2 microphone inputs on the phone, though they can’t be very far apart.  Anyway, I also recorded a brief addendum, which I’m just going to tack onto the end of the first and turn into a “video” which I’ll front with a picture that I’ve manipulated and altered and made, I think, pretty cool.

I hope that having stopped my antidepressants doesn’t lead me to crash and burn today, but I’ve been losing altitude steadily anyway, and sooner or later there’s going to be a hill or a building that I can’t clear, and that’ll be it.  There are rarely survivors of airplane crashes—though I’m not sure what the statistics are for metaphorical airplane crashes.

I think the reason medicines have sometimes worked for me in the past was because I was also getting therapy, and for someone like me, who has trouble connecting, but who can talk about what interests me once I get started, it was very useful to have someone whose job includes listening.  I tried the Better Help website to do therapy late last year, but I think I’ve mentioned that that fell apart because my therapist had to go on maternity leave within a month or so of my beginning, and the online therapy wasn’t a great fit.  I also just didn’t have the strength to start again with a new therapist so soon.

I had to do text-based therapy, since I didn’t feel up to Skype-style talking over the computer, and I didn’t want to talk out loud about my issues in the house where I live, anyway.  Unfortunately, in-person therapy is expensive, and I have no insurance, nor good transportation or spare time.

A lot of why therapy has helped in the past was, I think, because I was just in a better situation then, overall.  I was depressed, as well as being apparently “neurodivergent” without my knowledge, but I was—the first time—happily married, finishing med school and then doing residency.  After that, unfortunately, my back injury and chronic pain and then failed back surgery syndrome and all that jazz made it less effective, as did the failure of my marriage and, later, my professional catastrophic failure.

Prison wasn’t much help, either.  Not because it was bullshit* that I was sent there—I’ve never expected anything but injustice from the world in general, and by that time, with chronic pain and my marriage having failed I didn’t see it as being much worse than where I already was—but because it separated me from my children, whom I haven’t seen in person in over ten years now.  It also made it very hard for me to return to my previous profession.

Anyway, if I get “worse” from stopping antidepressant treatment, well that’s just too bad.  Hell, I may just steer myself toward a hill or mountain if I can see one.  I’ll avoid buildings, because it wouldn’t be nice to injure other, innocent people, just because I hate the world and my life and myself.  That would be petty and pathetic, and I have no patience for people who do such things.

Well, that’s enough for today.  Be on the lookout for my “video” this weekend.  I may do a reading of Poe’s The Haunted Palace for Halloween and put that on YouTube, so be on the lookout for that, too.

Thanks for reading, today and otherwise.  Until we “meet” again (if we do, which is far from certain) I wish you the best.


*Yes, I know, surely everyone who is arrested and then takes a plea bargain because the state has threatened to try to put them away for a minimum of 15 years (and as much as a few hundred) for (naively and foolishly) trying to help others who have chronic pain, but not grasping the societal dynamics of the situation fully (probably at least partly because of ASD) would say that their situation was bullshit.  But I honestly think I’m being objective about this.  It was a politically motivated process, in which I was something analogous to a dolphin caught in a tuna net, but there was no incentive for them to throw me back.  My uncle, who was a criminal attorney for many years, had even said that it was obvious that they knew I wasn’t a bad guy—they barely paid any attention to my case other than to finally offer the plea deal to avoid having to prove anything, knowing that someone who doesn’t have millions of dollars at the ready and so cannot easily defend against a state machine that does, and the risk of getting a possibly very long sentence if found guilty (jurors are unsympathetic toward doctors, apparently, and I was judged not to be a likeable person to put on the witness stand) is going to take it and save the state the trouble of actually trying to prove any crime.  Of course, I figured, three years is better than the risk of fifteen or more, and I’d be able to see my kids again after that at least before they were all grown up**.  But the state wasn’t about simply to drop the case; that would have looked bad and been politically inexpedient.  What wonderful reasons they have for ruining so many people’s lives.

**Insert gales of sardonic, scornful laughter at my own repeated naiveté.  I am so foolish when I’m optimistic.

Liberty, Independence, Rights, and Patriotism

I’m not planning on writing a great deal today, because I’m going to let other writers, of whom many of you might have heard, take up most of the space of this entry.  But I do want to preface that writing with a few thoughts of my own, some of which I may have articulated previously.

Next Tuesday is the 4th of July, on which, in America, we celebrate Independence Day, with much eating, drinking, and firework firing.  It’s a wonderful holiday, an opportunity to enjoy family togetherness in the summertime, and to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of the United States, a pivotal historical event.  However, it should also be, I think, a time for Americans to reflect upon the origins of our country, upon the ideas on which is was founded, and what we need to do to live up to the hopes of its founders, whose reach—as does our own—often exceeded their grasp. Continue reading

The Idolatry of the American Flag

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The picture seen here is an edited Facebook posting by someone I know, and as you can see, it supposedly shows the face of a man who was brutally beaten – by a Marine, apparently – in response to having stepped on the American flag.  This would be bad enough in and of itself if it were an isolated incident or sentiment.  It isn’t.  It’s one of many expressions of desire by Americans (including, apparently the current President) that those who “disrespect” the flag should face consequences ranging from prosecution to out and out violence.

This is an obscenity, and an affront to the ideals upon which this nation was founded. Continue reading

In States Where They Lose Voting Rights, ex-Felons Should Not Pay Taxes

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I first learned about many of the principles behind the United States government while watching cartoons on Saturday mornings, on Schoolhouse Rock.  These cartoon shorts are available to own, and if you have kids, I strongly encourage you to make that investment.  In any case, on a particular History Rock episode about the Declaration of Independence, I first heard of the concept of taxation without representation, as one of the major complaints that led the American colonists to rebel against the government of Great Britain.  If I recall the exact quote from that cartoon, it said, “That’s called taxation without representation…and it’s not fair.”  Having learned at least a little bit more about the concept in the intervening years, I’ve decided that I agree, and I think most people in America would concur.  How can a person reasonably and ethically be forced to pay for the activities of a government in which they have no ability to participate?

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We Need to Socialize–Fully–the Criminal Justice System!

I’m not a huge fan of socialism in most things.  Not that there aren’t social programs that are good, in principle, to protect all citizens from the unpredictable vicissitudes of fate.  In general, regrettably, governments tend to do many things poorly and inefficiently (although, as someone who grew up in the Detroit area, I know that big corporations can often be just as lacking in that area as governments, and just as immune to internal correction).  However, there is one area of life in which I think it is a complete travesty that there is anything but complete socialization, and that area is the criminal justice system.

I can tolerate the use of privately employed attorneys in civil cases–though just barely, and arguments can be made that money unfairly sways matters even in such venues (Your comments on that notion would be welcome).  However, it is utterly unconscionable that private attorneys are ever allowed in the criminal justice system.

Our court system itself is of course utterly antiquated.  It has more in common with medieval jousting matches to determine guilt or innocence than it has with any honest attempt to find the truth of any particular matter.  In a typical court proceeding, the person who has the best attorney, or team, is the one most likely to win.  And that usually means that the person with the most money wins.  It’s not true universally, of course, but it is a strongly dispositive factor.  Consider the O.J. Simpson trial:  Would O.J. likely have been acquitted had he been represented by a public defender?  I think we can all agree that the answer is “No.”  Well, why should he have had any better chance of winning than any other man charged with murdering his wife and her friend?  Why should a person’s individual wealth have any bearing on the quality of defense they receive in a criminal case?

The argument can, and probably will, be made that make all defendants rely on the public defender’s office would simply mean that even those with money will face the same ridiculous miscarriages of justice, the same hobbled defense, as a non-wealthy person does when charged with a criminal offense.  To this, I say, “Good!”  Maybe if a few of the movers and shakers of society realize just how horrible the situation is for a non-wealthy person who is charged with any crime in America, they will see to it that changes are made.  Maybe they will see to it that defendants in criminal cases get at least as many resources applied to them as the prosecutor’s office has to bring to bear (and do recall that the prosecution has not only the power of their office, but also that the resources of all pertinent police forces are more or less at their disposal…something that certainly cannot be said for any defendant).

The hallmark of our criminal justice system is supposed to be that a person is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  Given that presumption, we must be scrupulous to err on the side of the defendant.  The state has tremendous, monolithic power, and can destroy the lives of citizens almost with impunity by means of simply bringing a criminal prosecution, whatever the outcome.  Given this fact, and the supposed basis of our criminal justice system, all biases should be in favor of the accused.  Clearly this is not the case; if it were, the United States would not have five times its share of the world’s prisoners based on population…the largest number of prisoners in absolute numbers and per capita.  This is to say nothing of the outrageous inequality in the application of criminal justice to minorities.  This would be at least partly rectified by having the wealthy receive the same defense as the poor, since minorities, in general, are less likely to be wealthy than their counterparts.

Of course, the privatization of prisons absolutely has to stop as part of this process.  It appears simply impossible for inappropriate bias not to be introduced into a system when a for-profit interest becomes involved in it (See the ACLU’s report from 2012 here).  In general, I see government itself as a necessary evil, but it is necessary, precisely because human nature has not yet reached a state of development where we can be trusted to do many things honestly and justly if our personal interests are engaged.  But when we give our governments certain powers, and those powers are then put at the disposal of private interests, who have their own monetary gain at heart rather than the achievement of actual justice, it is perfectly predictable for disaster to occur.

How comfortable would we all be if police departments were privately run?  What if the degree of one’s protection by law enforcement were overtly and explicitly dependent upon one’s financial power (as opposed to being only implicitly so, as it is now)?  How safe would you feel?  What if you had to pay a fee for services, or pay to become a member of some club in order to have the police investigate, say, your stolen car…or the murder of one of your family members?  I think we can all agree that this is not a system under which we would hope to live, where the power of law enforcement works only for the highest bidder.

So, why should the quality of a person’s defense against charges of crime be dependent upon the financial resources one can bring to bear?  Even if it were true that every person’s financial status were dependent upon the quality of their character and their personal ability, even if all fortunes were honestly and openly made in truly fair trade–a notion that veers away from mere fiction into the realm of wildest fantasy–there would still be no justification for giving the financially successful better defense against charges of criminal activity than a person who was not successful.  There is no data to demonstrate that financial success is inversely correlated with degree of criminality, and in reality, the correlation is often a positive one.

Of course, depriving individuals of the ability to hire their own criminal defense attorneys would further drain the budgets and other resources of our court systems; this would be a good thing.  It would help force us, as a society, to do a better job of prioritizing our application of police and prosecutorial (and thus also defense) resources–to decide how important it was, for example, to arrest people for possession of marijuana or even of more powerful drugs, when they have not taken any action that brings harm to any other person.  Needless to say, in applying such a policy, we must avoid the pitfall of simply increasing the use of plea bargaining to deal with such resource burdens, since that system is, by nature, biased and unjust, a criminal process in its own right (see my blog on the subject here).

The changes I call for are drastic, I know.  I don’t apologize for that, and I will likely continue to call for even more such changes as time goes by.  Our system is drastically malfunctioning, drastically inefficient, and drastically unjust.  It must be changed, overhauled, or completely replaced with something better, if we wish to have the right to continue to call America a free society.


The above post is actually a re-posting of an entry I originally posted in my other blog:  Justice the American Way, which can be found here.  I am reposting it here just be sure that those who want to read it and follow me here are aware of it.  I will only be doing this for a bit, however.  I want to try to keep my political philosphy/criminal justice postings separate from those about writing, publishing, and other generally more positive things.  That’s why I made the new blog.  If you are interested in such topics, by all means, do follow that blog.

I have an earlier post there–“In States Where They Lose the Right to Vote, ex-Felons Should Not Pay Taxes“–which I have not reposted here, but I invite you to read it, nevertheless.

On unrelated matters, Mark Red: Chapter 15 should be released next weekend, or possibly before.  Then, within a few weeks, I’m going to be releasing “Welcome to Paradox City:  Three Dark Tales.”  I’m excited about it.  I hope you’ll be excited, too.

TTFN!

An Anarchistic Thought Experiment

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In celebration of my joyous return to Florida, and my oh-so-entertaining dealings (already) with the bureaucracy of Broward County, I thought I would post something that I originally wrote some time ago…while I was “away,” in fact. It involved an invitation and discussion of a gedankenexperiment (did I get the German right?) that I considered for myself. I would like to invite all of you readers to consider it with respect either to Florida or to your own states, and tell me what you think might happen.

Ready? Here we go.

Albert Einstein famously used “thought experiments” to explore the implications of his theories of Special and General Relativity. This was necessary because actual experiments about many of the aspects of Relativity were simply not possible…and some of them may never be. After all, we can never truly get information back from inside an event horizon, at least as far as we know, so we have to consider what might happen to someone who plunged past one only in principle. In that spirit, let’s do our own thought experiment now, about what would happen if the government of Florida–at all levels, from the Governor down to the custodian who mops up the local DMV–were to disappear abruptly.

For humanitarian purposes, let’s stipulate that no harm has come to anyone in the government, but rather that–for inscrutable reasons of their own–a powerful alien race has suddenly teleported every member of every government body in the state to some other part of the country, along with their families, modifying their memories and giving them new, and better, sources of livelihood. Also, let’s imagine that an impenetrable barrier, a la Stephen King’s Under the Dome, prevents the federal government from stepping in to take any action. How would the people of Florida react once they discovered that all those in “authority” were suddenly gone?

It’s all but inevitable that, at least temporarily, a time of chaos would ensue. Some people would panic and be overwhelmed by paranoia. Others might celebrate the sudden lack of supervisory restriction by indulging in various types of crime. But the people of Florida are, to say the least, well-armed. In the ultimate spirit of “stand your ground” legislation, many citizens would defend themselves against celebrating criminals…at least the ones they deemed truly dangerous, such as thieves, rapists, murderers, trespassers, and the like. It would be silly to imagine that all such anti social miscreants would be eliminated during such a natural “purge,” but at least some of them would doubtless find that the law had protected them at least as much as it had restricted them.

Meanwhile, the average Floridian might discover that, when true, urgent needs have to be addressed, such manufactured “crises” as drug use, gambling, and even prostitution do not directly impact upon their own health, safety, and happiness. What vigilante has ever felt the urge to hunt down and kill someone who is smoking a joint in his own home, or playing a non-state-sanctioned game of poker? A new sense of perspective about such so-called offenses might very well come into being. Wouldn’t that be nice?

It’s inevitable, of course, that some fundamental new social agreements would have to be made, instituting a new form of proto-government. Some type of currency would also have to be chosen, though at first old-fashioned barter might rule the day. One thing is certain: Having a great deal of money in the bank, or tied up in overseas investments, would not yield one anything like the advantages they do in our current society. Also, without government entitlement programs, the health and care of those unable to care for themselves would likely be provided only by the goodwill of their families, their friends, and their neighbors. Thankfully, history has show that, in crises and natural disasters, many Americans (and other humans) do tend to look out for those who are weaker than they. Not everyone does it, but a surprisingly large fraction of people do. However, the criteria for being considered truly “disabled” by one’s fellow citizens, would likely become much stricter, without “other people’s money” paying the bills. It would be interesting to find out of things would be more or less compassionate than they are as things stand now.

Whatever new form of government the people might institute–and there would very likely be many conflicts and upheavals in that process–at the very least, some serious reassessment of priorities would likely ensue. In order to survive and thrive, the citizens would need to make cooperation and productivity the watchwords of their lives. If they didn’t, natural selection would likely do its ruthless but even-handed job and wipe them out.

It would take a great deal of time to explore thoroughly all the possible effects and ramifications of a sudden loss of government in the state of Florida. We can be sure that there would be at least some violence, and a great deal of disorder, fear, and heartbreak. Ultimately, though, there would have to be a return to a new equilibrium, if that term makes any sense, and it could be hoped–if one were optimistic–that the new government might be less intrusive, less authoritarian, and more streamlined than that currently in existence. It’s a historical truism that governments tend to increase in power, complexity, and self-justification over time; thus, however disorderly our alien intervention might temporarily make things, it’s possible that the complete loss of the current government of Florida might, in the long run, be very good for all honest Floridians not already in the government’s employ.

What are your thoughts? What are some of the things that you think would happen if aliens eliminated the government of Florida, or of your own state, if you’re not a Floridian? Would things ultimately become better, or would they be worse? Let me know.