In medieval Spain, when the Crown awarded lordship of some town to a noble, there was usually some negotiation about which rights and privileges went with the grant, with the Crown retaining certain powers, frequently the exercise of justice. After all, lordship of a town conferred not just prestige and manpower and soldiery, or some kind of representational power, but made said lord the recipient of customs and taxes, among other “rentas” occasioned by commerce and residence within the community.

Most often, the Crown retained control of justice in the community, not so much to promote more even-handed judgment and punishment, though that was apparently one of the outcomes the towns and cities themselves wanted. Rather, the Crown wanted to retain the income stream generated from fees and fines, which, when privatized, generally became more onerous to the convicted persons within the community, and thus the community itself, not to mention failing to arrive in the Crown’s coffers.

Although there is much to malign in the Enlightenment, largely because of the effects of human difficulty in seeing or imagining our limitations and our egoistic tendency to rationalize human injustice, it seems to me that one of the intents (and effects?) of the Enlightenment, was to emphasize the Common Weal as materialized in government and codified law, over the arrogant and abusive exercise of tyrannical Private Interest in carrying out necessary activities of government, such that justice, say, wasn’t driven largely to benefit some individual’s personal profit.

Certainly, the present anti- (or dis-) Enlightenment privatization of our American government makes very clear that the Enlightenment impulse to make government more impersonal, so to speak, was a good one, doubtless based on bitter experience.

Let’s see, in the Aughts, there were the judges in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania who ran a juvie-for-profit ring — for 12 years — even buying a fishing boat which they named “Reel Justice” with some of the $2.6+ million in kickbacks. One of them claimed to have only done justice in sentencing 10-year-olds to prison and teenagers to 3 months of hard labor for a spoof of the assistant principal, except for that little tax fraud problem, making some “mistakes relating to not filing accurate tax returns.”

Further, the real point of the mass incarceration of American citizens, largely of color, has been made manifestly clear and documented in Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. Our overly self-righteous “they wouldn’t be in trouble if they hadn’t done something wrong” holds no water, not in these cases, and even if you’re not “of color” (as if white weren’t a color?), consider this:

Indeed, we have criminalized so much of our day-to-day life that, according to one estimate, Americans commit something in the realm of nine hundred million crimes a day, so that state prosecutors have little choice but to pick the person and then find the crime — and not the other way around. . . . This is the definition of prosecutorial discretion, of leveraging the legal code to harass, intimidate, and silence critics of the state.
http://www.salon.com/2015/01/30/if_they_can_imprison_barrett_brown_they_can_do_it_to_anyone/

Surely the innocence of technology, its supposedly messianic promise of liberation, comes into question in the face of detailed infinite self-promoted surveillance… rising demand for the materials to manufacture devices funding and sustaining genocide in Africa… policing in the key of warmaking against our own citizens as if civil life were a computer game or a cartoon… warmongering by exporting terror and destruction somehow justified by its minimal risk to ourselves… materiel as a major export that we then have to face when directed at us (ISIL) and which is being turned to the destruction of the artifacts that are all that remain to us of ancient human history in the near East…

From the same Salon article:

When combined with the billions that have been spent in recent years on the Best Surveillance State Money Can Buy, these are ominous trends. When each one of us owns multiple devices that detail, track, log, and store our actions, finding the crime to hang around someone’s neck can be as simple as finding enough new places to look. Who doesn’t have secrets? Who is perfect all the time? These devices are always with us, and due to the draconic nature of Digital Rights Management (DRM) laws, we often have little choice but to allow them to surveil us as they please, even after it’s become readily clear that the microphone-slash-camera-slash-GPS tracking device-slash-bank account in our pocket has been infiltrated by the state’s spies and spooks.

Academic work being done in social informatics by brilliant scholars like Safiya U. Noble, Miriam Sweeney, Sarah Roberts, Ergin Bulut and others makes very clear that the larger dynamics — and injustices — of society don’t go away in cyberspace, and certainly not in the very material bodies that produce cyberspace — as if cyberspace were some kind of creative blank page, a page which we all imagine to be somehow not material, at least not like paper and ink, or like the very bodies that produce it under incredibly oppressive work conditions or are driven to suicide or into addiction by it.

One down side — often exploited — of that (apparent) disembodiment was captured very early on by Peter Steiner in his famous cartoon, “On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

Internet_dog

And the injustices in Ferguson, MO, that resulted in the death of Mike Brown last summer are not in the least separate from the dynamics I’m outlining here. [Note 30 March 2015: It occurs to me to wonder when exactly this hideous conversion of public services into municipal profiteering would have come to public attention to this degree without the confrontation-execution of Mike Brown (see below on police and the “guilty”). … And what might be the basis of promotions and raises for the city manager (thinking of course of the student-recruiting scandal at the UIUC Law School a few years ago)?]

This is one of the things that the Justice Department’s report seems to make clear, though it doesn’t necessarily go into the inseparable issues of surveillance, technology, intrasocietal warmongering, as integrally connected to the same old same old of racism that Noble, for one, has definitively shown to be inherent in Google, a face of information and communication technology that we take to be benign.

But while modernity-as-modernism with its emphasis on purity etc, so brilliantly analyzed for science by Bruno Latour, has always eluded us, the kinds of “getting medieval on yo’ ass” we can see in this personalizing and privatizing of justice — now when our worldview has no higher (spiritual or religious) standard to which such individuals are expected to hew (if they ever did) — seems to be a kind of neo-“feudalism” without any of the medieval downward-flowing responsibilities of our wannabe aristocrats lording it over the citizenry, particularly the citizenry not integrated into higher income brackets and whiter ethnicities.

The next year, when Chief Jackson reported to Mr. Shaw that court revenue for February 2011 was more than $179,000, the highest monthly total in four years, Mr. Shaw responded in an email, “Wonderful!” the Justice Department report said.
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/11/us/ferguson-city-manager-resigns.html

Welcome to the neo-liberal state, in which “small government” means “fat pockets” being filled with resources that should be dedicated to our common life (“Reel Justice”?), which is what privatizing actually means for the ways that we as a community have created the instruments of (more) even-handedly serving the interests of the community as a whole, the common weal of the commonwealth. Not that we’ve ever managed that perfectly, but this pseudo-capitalist, conservative, neo-liberal self-righteously sociopathic approach is certainly failing. Not just in the miscarriage of justice like we see in Ferguson and too many other places, but in every public endeavor that we as a community have built over the last, oh, 150 years or so: education, research, knowledge organization and dissemination, physical infrastructure, public health, emergency services, social mobility, the care of all of us for all of us — that’s what community is.

Note: I have used contested terms like “medieval” and “feudal” in relatively loose ways, hence putting them in scare quotes.

Note 24 March 2015, 8:00 pm: This evening, the University of Memphis held its first “Critical Conversations” panel with the topic of “Brown (Ferguson, MO), Garner and Martin: Police and Social Justice: A Critical Conversations Event.” The Chief of the Memphis Police Department said the reaction to Ferguson was “based on a lie” and warned that police are trained to respond with deadly force when they’re “in fear of their lives” — as though the rest of us aren’t “in fear of our lives” — and essentially closing ranks against the people the police are meant to protect.

Much that was good was said by all of the panelists, particularly those who brought up the larger social issues. Yet only one person on that panel or in the room raised the issue of extracting profit from the sweat and blood and lives of the African-American poor of Ferguson as one of the driving forces of the whole fiasco in that town. Those connections are what Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow make clear, to which Prof. Daphene McFerren did in fact allude, though without developing the entailments.

See:
http://www.democracynow.org/blog/2015/3/5/video_justice_dept_seeks_overhaul_of
http://www.democracynow.org/2015/3/4/michelle_alexander_roots_of_todays_crisis
http://www.democracynow.org/2015/3/4/michelle_alexander_ferguson_shows_why_criminal

The final exhortation to just say “yes, sir” to a cop stopping you for no particularly good reason and then trusting to the courts seems ironic at best in the light of the findings of the DOJ report, that the courts of Ferguson were viewed as a money-making project, a source of revenue for the town, which had apparently built up a pretty surplus by excessively charging its citizens with “discretionary” offenses, as Prof. Steve Mulroy pointed out (nor did he expatiate on the endless debt to the city accrued due to the predatory fines charged by the municipality). Some of the ludicrous conversations I’ve had with cops has made it very clear that they’re trained to pull you over on trivialities in the hopes of figuring out some higher-ticket charge. One young trooper pulled me over in the wee hours of a long drive, demanding to know if I had been drinking. When I stated that I had only had a cup of coffee, he launched into a song and dance about how caffeine is just as bad as alcohol. Well, for one thing, it’s not illegal, and, for another, I had a cup of decaf. WTF? If law enforcement departments are so understaffed, why are they using any insignificant irregularity to stop as many people as possible?

Oh, and just to be clear, not only is a grand jury secret, it is also not adversarial, which was mentioned but not explained. That means that only the prosecutor chooses jurors, and presents witnesses and evidence, which means in its turn that only one side of the story gets told to an audience selected by the teller of that tale. What a grand jury does is determine if there is enough evidence to warrant charging someone with a crime. While no one doubts the probity and integrity of the former prosecutors on the University of Memphis panel (Profs. Daphene McFerren and Mary Tucker), one also suspects that their level of same may not be shared by every prosecutor.

The police don’t catch “the guilty” as one of the panelists said (I believe the representative of the police department) — they catch suspects who’ve been charged with a crime; nobody’s declared guilty without a trial by a jury of their peers, without both sides of the story being told. The presumption in the United States used to be that you’re innocent until proven guilty, and that everyone is entitled to due process — as Pastor Earle Fischer pointed out. It sure doesn’t always seem that way now.

Note 26 March 2015: Bingo: http://www.upworthy.com/john-oliver-goes-off-on-a-terrible-practice-that-was-supposed-to-be-outlawed-in-the-1830s

9 April 2015: The “Things You Say When You Think You’re Untouchable” Department:

http://www.alternet.org/cop-admits-quotas-falsifying-charges-extorting-poor

The “Huh, I Wonder Why They Do That” Department:

http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/unlike-walter-scotts-horrific-killing-deaths-police-are-rarely-recorded-theyre-not

Finally…

April 6, 2012

Bless you, Gay Marriage USA!

This also suggests, however, that perhaps the model of straight marriage shouldn’t be the basis for evaluating relationships, long-term or otherwise. Or so it seems to me.

Bin Laden, they say, is dead; we have slain our enemy, we have exacted an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Our sins came home to roost, and the shame of that had to be expunged.

As I, mesmerized with grief and horror, watched the footage of the Twin Towers tumbling down on 9/11/01, so much life turned into so much debris, one of my thoughts was “whoever did this did not watch enough B-budget westerns and WWII movies,” and thus had no idea what they had unleashed in their attempt at revenge for their own reasons and on their own terms.

And now, after 10 years of immersion in the expensive insanity of vengeful, self-righteous destruction unleashed by exactly the dynamic laid out for all the world to see in our most banal films, we think we have won by killing the “master-mind” of it all. Oh, and by the way, Qaddafi’s son is dead, but not Qaddafi.

Oh my country: how many more enemies, how many more masterminds have we created? How much of our own integrity have we destroyed?

We’ve seen it over and over again, throughout the millenia of history, and doubtless throughout the unwritten life of human beings before “history” (by definition written). Is this why “they” are doing their best to get rid of the humanities? So nobody knows this until long after, until way too late?

Violence, hatred, and vengeance are self-perpetuating and addictive: look at the Irish and English, at the Basques and “franquistas,” at the Palestinians and Israelis. At some point the purpose simply becomes the perpetuation of the adrenalin rush, of the high of violence, of the delusion of omnipotence-for-an-instant. Look at all the computer and video games of war, blasting some enemy to gory pixels, look at how we’ve converted the destruction of human beings into just that: entertainment.

A few days after we entered the conflict in Libya, some headline or other blared out its shock that women and children, civilians, innocents were being killed. WHAT THE F***K DID YOU THINK WOULD HAPPEN? Of course innocents are killed, lives are destroyed — lives, meaning every living thing within range of the weapons’ strike, meaning crops, meaning livelihoods, meaning homes — THAT’S WHAT WAR DOES.

To everybody. Just like 9/11.

War doesn’t happen in algorithms and densely printed pages of strategy, blips on screens, computer simulations. It happens to real people of flesh and blood, to their parents and their children, to their lovers, to their chickens and dogs, to the tomatoes in their gardens, to the very earth itself. But, as John Steinbeck writes of his outing in San Diego on the way to the Gulf of California, in Log from the Sea of Cortez, young pre-WWII Navy gunners were taught never to do that, think of particular lives, families, homes being obliterated.

And when you’ve destroyed somebody’s life, they’re not exactly disposed to be sweet to you. Paybacks truly are hell.

There is an astounding early 20th century text by (of all people) Mark Twain, that we should all read. I can’t imagine why no one (who’s interested in peace, that is) in the last 10 years hasn’t brought out a compelling new edition to make us all think about what our nation is doing (nation: hah. The Military Industrial Complex that owns our government only thinks in terms of its own immediate profit: “Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees…”). I see that there was a 2007 film adaptation, but the Wikipedia link is broken.

You can find “The War Prayer” on various websites. I strongly recommend it. Here’s the Wikipedia article on it:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_War_Prayer

An etext:
http://www.textfiles.com/etext/AUTHORS/TWAIN/warpryer.txt

An audio version:
http://www.archive.org/details/MarkTwainsTheWarPrayer

And it’s on a site dedicated to Babylon 5, which had an episode with the same name:
http://www.ntua.gr/lurk/making/warprayer.html

And, you know, what Christ is reported to have said in the Christian Gospel of Mathew is not unique in the wisdom literature of the planet, and it’s simply a matter of practicality: violence begets violence, hate begets hate, and if we can’t identify with those we’ve harmed, or who’ve harmed us, to the point of harming them no further, we can’t stop the unending chain of violence (also Twain’s point).

Mathew 5 (KJV)
38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: 39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. 41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. 42 Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. 43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; 45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? 47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?

Being a bit of a Jeremiah myself, I spent some time a while back reading the Hebrew prophets — try it: you might be surprised. What makes their God maddest is greed, exploitation, profiteering, taking advantage, violating others, ruthlessness — in short: God don’t like no bullies.

I’d bet Calvin’s hermeneutic gyrations incorporating the prophets and Job into a religion of “if you’re rich, it’s because you’re in good with God” would make your head spin.

I used to have this fantasy of Madeleine Albright sending both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to their rooms without supper until they could be nice to each other. Alas, no go.

We’re at an anti-Nike point in the fate of the world, truly:
JUST STOP IT.

For God’s sake, for our own sake, to be “perfect” — to fulfill our humanity, common and yet always particular — stop the destruction, the exploitation, the injustice, the rampant self-righteousness, the visiting of horror, whether minuscule and personal or of epic proportions. Just stop — YOU, personally, in all your affairs — stop taking advantage of others, thinking only of your own profit and gratification; stop lying, stealing, cheating, even if everybody else is doing it. The handbook is in every wisdom literature there is, summed up nicely in the Sermon on the Mount, and in the “golden rule”:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Do not unto others as you would not have them do unto you.

P.S. In an interesting essay in Religion Dispatches, Mark Juergensmeyer writes:

So although the hardened activists associated with al Qaeda will linger on, the fate of the global jihadi ideology—or rather the world view of cosmic war that the jihadi rhetoric promoted—is a different matter. This view of the world as a tangle of sacred warfare has been an exciting and alluring image among a large number of mostly young and largely male Muslims around the world for over a decade. It is an image that was brought to dramatic attention by the September 11, 2001 attacks, and stimulated by the perception that US military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq were wars against Islam.

This jihadi vision of sacred warfare was propagated by the internet, through postings on chat rooms and the dissemination of YouTube types of videos showing graphic acts of US military destruction in Islamic countries and calling on the faithful to respond. The jihadi idea of cosmic war provided a strategic legimitization of violence by the implicit promise—as a leader of Hamas once told me—that if one is fighting God’s war, one could never lose. God always wins.

For the moment, however, bin Laden is dead, and Tahrir Square has challenged both the strategic value and the moral legitimacy of the jihadi stance. The legion of young Muslim activists around the world have received a new standard for challenging the old order, and a new form of protest, one that discredits terrorism as the easy and ineffective path and chooses the tough and profitable road of nonviolence.

16.v.11 update:
This from Glenn Greenwald:
http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2011/05/15/afghanistan

It’s the perfect self-perpetuating cycle: (1) They hate us and want to attack us because we’re over there; therefore, (2) we have to stay and proliferate ourselves because they hate us and want to attack us; (3) our staying and proliferating ourselves makes them hate us and want to attack us more; therefore, (4) we can never leave, because of how much they hate us and want to attack us. The beauty of this War on Terror — and, as the last two weeks have demonstrated, War is the bipartisan consensus for what we are and should be doing to address Terrorism — is that it forever sustains its own ostensible cause.

26.xi.11
Once again, Glenn Greenwald in “The fruits of liberation” on Salon says what we all should be saying and seeing:

At some point, doesn’t a country’s ongoing willingness year after year to extinguish the lives of innocent human beings in multiple countries, for no good reason, seriously mar the character of the country and the political leaders responsible for it, to say nothing of the way it inexorably degrades the political culture of the nation and the minds of the citizens who acquiesce to it? That should be nothing more than a rhetorical question. The gap between how many Americans perceive of their nation’s role in the world and the reality is indescribably wide.

We would be wise to heed …

In Louis A. Ruprecht’s Religion Dispatches essay “Can a Greek Monastery Be Ground Zero of Global Financial Meltdown?” he recounts the recent financial history of that country:

Virtually no Greeks had credit cards in the 1980s; precious few had access to the kind of credit that made businesses big and profitable.

Wait. Wait.

Credit means I owe somebody, because I’m using their money, i.e. it’s my debt to them. So I don’t really have that money — it’s illusory, i.e. I’m living beyond my means, whether I’m a business or just a plain old citizen… oops! I mean consumer.

And if I’m using their money, then it’s not my money.

Which means it has to be taken away from my profits.

And what they charge me for using their money is really their profit.

So, now, whose profit is that credit about?

I’m busily taking the works of María Zambrano, Spanish philosopher and writer, and putting them together on the shelf, which is what classifications do. It’s a lovely thing: to go to the shelf (in the first place) and find there all the works by and about someone. When I took up this task, she was scattered about in 3 philosophy numbers, 4 Spanish-language literature numbers, and a couple of rhetoric / comparative literature numbers. Now, that ain’t right!

My boss, the principal cataloger, fussed because I had found and started cleaning up the mess. It’s too much work. It takes too much time, and there are lots of other books to catalog in order to get to the shelf. It probably suggests that I doubt the perfection of all cataloging work that has gone heretofore. (Which is only right, since…)

The administrators seem to hate cataloging, or at least to try to delude everyone into thinking it’s not important (how I hate that false idol “keyword search” — ye cannot serve Cataloging and Keyword Search) — it costs too much. First, it works best if those doing it know things like languages or even (god forbid!) subject areas, and so they have to be paid more (perhaps almost as much as administrators — wash yo’ mouth out!).

Which hasn’t deterred me, really. In Linde-land, precision is important: she belongs in 196.1 (Spanish philosophy) not 196 (Spanish and Portuguese, i.e. Iberian philosphy), and she has a lot of books there by and about her. She belongs in 865 in Spanish literature since 1801, not in Mexican literature (869.1). Her books on Spanish literature should all have the same number, not 3 different numbers. And her autobiography doesn’t need to be floating off in space in a comparative literature number or 2 of them (808/809). It’s a kind of justice, really, and truth — to give to each his or her due.

This made me think: It’s inconvenient to “the bottom line” of money for things to be meaningful — when things are meaningful (the difference between 196 and 196.1, say, or between Spanish literature and Mexican) then you should either (1) make NO mistakes or (2) forget ever correcting them. It costs too much.

But what does it cost, really cost, to make things random, sequential, meaningless? What is the cost of that level of trivialization? And what is the cost of never being allowed to either admit to a mistake or to fix it?

One cost is the loss of open access, it’s the imposition of closed stacks or remote storage: if you’re going to let people go to the shelf and see the array of books on a given subject or by a given author, then you have to use a classification scheme. One of the arguments for closed stacks and remote storage is that classification schemes, which require some expertise to apply well, aren’t necessary: BINGO! Magic budget bullet! Dumb it down — it’s cheaper. (One of my favorite bumper stickers is “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”)

It doesn’t protect “freedom of access” or “intellectual freedom” to put several layers of (generally technological) mediation between people and books — or to take away the structures of meaningful access. Not having a classification scheme requires rich description and subject headings (and you have to pay people for that so there’s no significant savings); then the computers and online catalogs to allow people to get at them, and then personnel to fetch and deliver them. Computers don’t necessarily bring people closer to anything real, just to simulacra of real things. And then there has to be a person to provide you with the real thing that you want. If the computer is down, if the book has been badly or merely insufficiently cataloged, if the guy who fetches the book is ill, if the person who’s supposed to hand it to you has an agenda… so many things can get in the way of “free” and adequate access to materials.

And on a cultural and spiritual level, what is the cost of that refusal to weave around ourselves structures of meaning? Isn’t that what makes life human, truly human? If everything is mass-produced, industrial, and without immediate and (frankly) urgent personal and cultural meaning, then is it worth living? It’s worth it for “consumers” to live that way, so that “profits” keep going to … who are the profits going to?

Are the principals of huge corporations and their communities “consumers” like we are? Presumably not. I don’t think that we shop in the same places (I shop in thrift stores). They don’t seem to believe they will share the same fate the rest of us will when we’ve utterly devastated the planet. Perhaps they’re the ones who’ll go live on Mars or the Moon… or who think they will. Perhaps that was the class or caste of whatever society produced the aliens who show up in the movie Independence Day and want to make Earth their next (free) vending machine.

And one doubts that their libraries are in random order or remote storage, or that the librarian who puts their library in order gets paid very well. Well, if they have a library, to be honest — although General Zaroff, in “The Most Dangerous Game,” is a very very cultured man, another aspect of that story that merits some analysis.

Just reread Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” on efiction

The story begs for analysis on lots of levels (which doubtless it’s gotten), but I was struck by this comment from General Zaroff in recounting how he came to invent a new game animal:

After the debacle in Russia I left the country, for it was imprudent for an officer of the Czar to stay there. Many noble Russians lost everything. I, luckily, had invested heavily in American securities, so I shall never have to open a tearoom in Monte Carlo or drive a taxi in Paris.

The story was written/published in 1924 (according to the wikipedia article, which suffers from some serious inconsistencies, and, after all, it’s wikipedia) — alas, outcome of hunting “with” Rainsford aside, his personal game preserve would have fallen on hard times in 1929, anyway. Post hoc irony?

In his Grist article “Science confirms that blowing up mountains harms mountains,” David Roberts expresses completely justified protestations (“Who woulda thunk it?”) of the obviousness of the damage done by mountain-top removal to get to coal:

“It might seem obvious, but as the media will tell you, “opinions on shape of earth differ,” so it’s helpful that a group of scientists has come along to assess the existing body of research on the subject. . . . To me, the most amazing part of all this—and clearly the scientists are amazed as well—is the fact that there’s never been a comprehensive assessment of MTR impacts before. We’re blowing up mountains and we have no idea what the consequences are! The mind boggles. It’s like the whole country is just discovering Appalachia.”

Wait… ?? “We have no idea…” until scientists tell us? Do you have eyes in your head? The pictures make it abundantly clear, not to mention seeing the real thing. Any other senses of perception? Some idea of what the mountain looked like just a little while ago? Did you notice birds or other critters, trees and plants? Memory? do you have a short- or long-term memory? “Just discovering Appalachia” . . . ?? History or geography? Do you do any of those? Have you ever studied anything at all?

The “media” — vague term, shorthand in this case for “major corporate interests” and those interests are, of course, profit (an interest shared by [major corporate] media is and big business) — will tell “you” anything you’ll listen to, anything they can get you to buy. Scientists are now telling us, so it’s true — but it’s science that government and the media don’t want to be “constrained” by.

However, folks in Appalachia have been living — and protesting and documenting — exactly this for decades if not a century, especially women. I grew up in North/Central Alabama — from the mills of Birmingham to the strip mines on the way to the Warrior River — I’ve seen the poisoning and destruction first hand, even though the damage from more modest strip mines is nothing compared to mountaintop removal. Ah, yes, but that’s “anecdotal.”

But it’s not real, it doesn’t count, unless scientists say it, particularly to each other, whereupon the media and the government can appeal to some kind of relativism to fail to take seriously what the scientists say — after all, it’s not the homes of media moguls and pundits and government officials, it’s not their lives, their children, their forests and mountains that are destroyed, they don’t have to see it and it therefore isn’t real for them, while apparently endless and cost-free advantages and privileges are in fact visible and tangible every moment of their busy and profitable days.

And we’re back to my previous post, and what MLK, Jr. had to say about the moral dangers of our wealth and privilege, and our wanton destruction of lives, human and otherwise, both at home and abroad. Although he spoke specifically against the war in Vietnam, it is the same arrogant pursuit of profits and things before people and the living world, making people and the living world objects that those with power are free to exploit, that motivates the violence against the earth and against those who dwell therein:

“Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover when the issues at hand seem as perplexed as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on.

“This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.

“We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world — a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.”

Nor do you have to be a Christian to speak for truth and right, for the weak and oppressed, to speak truth to “power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.” And, indeed, the truth will out, whether we wish to be constrained by it or not, in the disasters we make of the earth. Our actions speak truths about us; their results are the truths that we will live or die with.

–or– What Gets Lost in Translating Statistical Analysis of Research into the Common Parlance

http://www.fas.harvard.edu/home/news-and-notices/news/press-releases/faces-10302009.shtml

“’Our work showed that gay men found highly masculine male faces to be significantly more attractive than feminine male faces. Also, the types of male faces that gay men found attractive generally did not mirror the types of faces that straight women found attractive on average,’ says Glassenberg. ‘Men, gay or straight, prefer high sexual dimorphism in the faces of the sex that they are attracted to. Gay men and straight men did not agree on the types of male faces they considered attractive.’”

Hmmm. ALL men? No exceptions? Now, with straight women, we get a little nuance: “on average.” But all members of the category “men” have exactly this preference: strong sexual dimorphism, i.e. no gender-bending, natural or intentional. And all you pretty boys and drag queens are just SOL, along with butchy women and jocks. And I’m terribly surprised that gay and straight men don’t agree on which men are attractive — doubtless, gay men who’ve been attracted to straight men, who weren’t interested in them, could tell us a great deal more about this phenomenon.

Right.

And what exactly can I say to this?

“The study is the first to examine the facial feature preferences of gay men and lesbian women. Women’s preferences are more complex than men’s, as indicated by prior research demonstrating that ovulation, contraceptive use, self-perceived attractiveness, and sex drive all affect face preference. In this particular study, straight women preferred more masculine-faced men than lesbian women, while lesbians preferred slightly more masculine female faces than straight women or men.”

Well, first: Aren’t most lesbians women?

Second: DUH?

Third: what an array of (apparently) biological (ovulation, sex drive) and cultural (contraceptives, self-perceived attractiveness) factors that affect women’s preferences. Astounding! Amazing! And so few! Could there be other factors? What kind of preference for men, with more or less masculine faces, do these lesbian (women) have? Is it comparable to THE preference of lesbian men? Is it at all comparable to the “preference” for men a straight woman or a gay man might have? I’d be interested in hearing more about straight women’s preferences for lesbian women, though (unless it was just murky syntax in that sentence). And whose ovulation counts? or, for that matter, whose contraceptive use?

I don’t know about other lesbians (women or not), but I don’t find that my “preferences” for more or less masculine faces of women is all that generalizable. Depends on what I’m preferring someone FOR, to be honest, and when and where and under what circumstances. Well, depends on the face. So I don’t actually see myself in the blanket assertion for my category of persons.

I’m suspecting, somehow, that there were, once upon a time, numbers associated with responses to the questions the researchers asked themselves, and perhaps their subjects. And there was a spread of results, that rather finely nuanced their subjects’ responses.  I suppose, maybe, they could have just rounded up a bunch of people who were all alike. We don’t, after all, get any idea of what kind of research these folks did, what questions they asked, how they got answers. It all seems kinda muddled to me: the attractiveness of men to straight men and lesbians, as if attractiveness of a person to whom you’re not (by definition) “attracted” (i.e. isn’t your object choice) is the somehow the same thing as that of someone who is (or could be) your object choice.

Somehow you’d expect better of Harvard.

My take: yet another report of research that reinforces gender stereotypes and received wisdom, that adds very little nuance to our understanding of the diverse realities of human desire, attraction, behavior. Perhaps it should have been titled “Best Practices for Gay Men and Straight Women in Preferring Men.” Or maybe “Best Practices to Eradicate Gender-Bending.”

Why do I feel like we’re heading back into the 50s, with its knee-jerk insistence on marking gender/sex difference as strongly as possible, even among queers. (A historical phenomenon that, I have to note, also complicates the research reported here — or at least this report of the research.)

But, then again, statistical analysis generally lies about the particular (or at best says nothing), and is generally used to aggregate particulars into categories (sometimes called “trends”), and individuals into cohorts (the equivalent of “herd” for humans). If you want to know about the particular, it’s not much use. And the “trend” — what’s true “on average,” “in the main,” “generally” — is perhaps useful to marketers, enforcers of the norm and conformists, and academic psychologists, but how useful is it to you and me, when in fact we more often than not don’t quite fit the norm. I’m not ready to become a lemming, myself.

It’s the margins that are interesting, in ever so many ways, not the self-congratulatory and self-reinforcing conformity of the center of that bell-shaped curve.

Universal Anti-Sociopath Symbol

Universal Anti-Sociopath Symbol

I was just thinking this morning of how I might design a bumper sticker about how sociopaths wind up in positions of power. It seems to be what our society does with ’em or lets ’em get away with. Why? well … maybe partly because they’ll say or do anything to get there.  And we get taken in by their charisma and the delusional belief that they sell us about, oh, having everything, anything we want whenever we want, infinite wealth, infinite resources, it’s all about SURVIVAL and anything you do is justified as long as it’s a matter of your SURVIVAL … (in a palatial house, with a car that cost 7 figures, ‘cuz you’re just better and smarter and faster than all those other losers, which you can tell because the god of “free market capitalism” is just grinning at you like a fool …)

And then they feel perfectly justified in taking everything they want from us chumps who let them…

AND THEN I found this very useful and thought-provoking page at Neurological Coordinates.

Bingo! I am not alone!  I feel vindicated!!

So, here’s a question for you:  what’s the relationship between “heroics” and sociopathy?  You don’t have to go back in time;  you don’t have to dig far into the past at all — think Ollie North & the NSC & the Iran/Contra scandal; Blackwater; the Bush Whitehouse assassination teams.

In fact, former VP Cheney says it all:

“Principle is OK up to a certain point, but principle doesn’t do any good if you lose.”

-Dick Cheney, 1976; during Iran-Contra scandal

And, for that matter, the “heroics” of industry and capitalism make us look a lot like the aliens in the film Independence Day — take whatever you need to “survive” by raping every planet you can find, because you’re the only species in the galaxy worthy of surviving — doubtless they also understood their scripture to say they were the pinnacle of creation and all the universe was theirs to consume.

Note, too, that in that story, it’s not the leaders/sociopaths who get us earthlings out of that mess, nor even high technology: folks of all colors, marginal types, Morse code (!), and, in the end, the resolve one screwed-up guy who loves his children.

This from a Salon article on the killer of 3 policemen in Pittsburgh on Sat. (yes, Virginia, economic meltdown isn’t just about money…) — right wing conservatives basically project, in the Freudian & psychoanalytic sense, what *they* are onto others:

http://www.salon.com/opinion/kamiya/2009/04/07/richard_poplowski/
<<Right-wing fanatic du jour Glenn Beck teased his recent Fox show with images of Hitler, Stalin and Lenin and said that he was wrong to say that Obama was leading America to socialism — because Obama is actually a fascist. “They’re marching us towards 1984,” Beck intoned. “Big Brother, he’s watching.”>>

Not that our society hasn’t gotten generally fascistic … but, still…