Thinking About “Game of Thrones”

My eyes are bleeding. That’s because I have been persuaded to binge-watch “Game of Thrones.” I have read that the source material for George R. R. Martin’s series of epic fantasy novels, A Song of Ice and Fire, reimagines the wars and intrigues of the imperial dynasties of medieval Europe, the Middle East and Asia, with the addition of some fantasy elements, such as zombies and dragons, and a surfeit of gratuitous violence and some quite watchable nudity. I did like two of the characters – Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) – but chiefly because they used brains rather than brawn to survive in their world.

GoT

I’m thinking that what attracts many to watch “Game of Thrones” is what repels me: it is a celebration of monarchy, feudalism and war. Even as a fantasy meant solely for entertainment, “Game of Thrones” portrays monarchy as the highest form of government, feudalism as the supreme economic system, and war as an occupation both glorious and efficacious. I cannot account for the popularity of a TV series with these themes, especially in the USA, where we fought a bloody war to counter the very idea of monarchy!

Just once… I’d like to be treated to a TV series about a democratic republic with no games and no thrones; a drama in which nobody is better than anybody because of what family they were born into or how many enemies they slaughtered; a drama celebrating instead great achievements of the mind, particularly achievements in science and technology, economics and politics.

I’d like to be treated to a TV series in which the drama does not hang on the brutalizing of rival clans but on facing down nature, including human nature, and on prevailing over environmental and social adversity; a drama in which the heroes and heroines are the ones who forge freedom and liberty for all, rather than weapons of war; a drama in which social unrest is quelled by economic justice rather than by fire and sword.

I’d like to be treated to a TV series in which the storyline, rather than being tailored to the incurious, mind-numbed by violent, sexist video games, who rarely crack a book, is instead fitted to the insatiably curious, yearning for learning about how to better the human condition; a storyline attractive to humanist minds, to those who aspire to make the world a healthier, more sustainable one, in which the whole species may survive.

I’d passionately watch something like that. You could even throw in some gratuitous nudity. But I’m guessing that a TV series matching that description will never be popular: it would not speak to the prevailing, primitive passions of those who believe justice emanates from arrow and blade, that social progress is as real as walking dead people and flying fire-breathers, and that genealogy trumps genius.

Still… that’s my ultimate “fantasy” TV show.

Posted in Uncategorized

Leaving Facebook

Facebook_logoOn June 10, 2018, Facebook gave me a time-out. Ostensibly, this was for posting a link to an article about a nude fundraiser in Ireland – to raise funds for “cash-strapped parents of cancer-stricken children visiting [Dublin] for extended hospital stays.” There was nudity, granted. But nude protest, at least, has a venerable history – not that you can teach history to an algorithm that can’t even distinguish a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph from child pornography (Phan Thị Kim Phúc running from a South Vietnamese napalm attack in 1972). But in my posting, the pictures showed ant-sized people, and it was only a link. I guessed that that would get the point across without making anybody uncomfortable with full frontal or full backal nudity.

I was wrong. I was kicked off of Facebook for violating their community standards, or some such nonsense. And, after giving my hiatus some thought (that’s what a time-out is for, right?), I extended my time-out to … forever. And, thinking about and reading about Facebook, I started thinking about Alex Jones.

Yes, Alex Jones, who was de-platformed by Facebook (and Apple and YouTube and Spotify), presumably for violating their community standards, but likely for defaming and endangering the parents of the children killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The reason doesn’t really matter. That fact that corporations as large and powerful as Facebook could censor – yes, censor – the free speech of a private citizen, should alarm everybody.

But only the government can commit censorship, you say? Facebook is a private corporation and can do what it likes, you say? I used to say this, too. You see, Facebook is not some supermarket community bulletin board: it has more than 2.2 billion monthly active users (as of January 2018); it has a net worth of $190 billion (as of 2016). That’s a lot of power and money. If Facebook decides to do it, you could pretty much disappear – or at least your speech could disappear.

Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 6.31.27 AMAlthough Facebook is a publicly traded, private company, its power is akin to that of a government. It behaves like a public utility, but makes private profits. And that makes me believe that Facebook does not have the right to decide, privately, who gets to speak and who does not, without the transparency you only get from government (ideally). Facebook is, in fact, a monopoly. And as Jimmy Dore pointed out (August 16, 2018, including YouTube and Google), “What we should do is break them up. But we’re not going to do that. So, then what we should do is treat them like a public utility, just like the Internet. You can’t just take someone’s public utility away from them. If you’re AT&T, you can’t just turn off the phone on someone because you don’t like what they’re saying.”

Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 6.50.15 AM

Facebook has evolved way beyond a social network to become the closest thing we have to a democratic, public forum. But in the hands of a private company, democracy dies: democracy is bad for business. As Jimmy Dore also points out, “We warned you and we predicted that once censorship starts and everybody’s cool with it, it’s not stopping.” Shutting up Alex Jones was an easy call. But that was the camel’s nose of censorship poking into the tent of democracy. Corporations today are more powerful than governments, if not actually in bed with them and getting the private sector to do what the public sector cannot. And private corporations like Facebook, YouTube and Google should be held to the same standards of public accountability and transparency when it comes to free speech.

Deciding who gets to speak and who doesn’t really is a simple call, but even liberals and progressives get it wrong: you don’t have to like Alex Jones to recognize that there is a vulnerable principle under attack here. Censoring free speech never ends well, as Matt Taibbi pointed out recently. Because if you don’t defend the speech you hate, sooner or later somebody will censor the speech you love.

I no longer love Facebook. I’m done.

Posted in Politics, Rant, Uncategorized

Impeachment: The Impossible Dream

Reality check time: If you want to impeach Trump, you have to take these steps:

  1. Prove that the president has committed “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” A simple majority of the House can approve an article of impeachment. Democrats do not have a majority in the House and, even if they did, (considering all the times they have enabled Trump—e.g., with the weakening of Dodd-Frank banking restraints and the 2017 tax gift to the wealthy)—it’s is not a sure bet they will approve articles of impeachment.
  1. Get two-thirds of the Senate to vote to convict. In a presidential impeachment trial, the (Republican) chief justice of the Supreme Court presides (over a Republican majority). Again, Democrats do not have a majority in the Senate (remember the Dems lost Congress during Obama’s term of office) and, even if they did, it’s is not a sure bet they will vote to convict.

ImpeachThe Russia investigation has yet to turn up a shred of publicly available evidence that Trump “colluded” with the Russian government to win the 2016 election. (IMO, I’d rather see an investigation into the well-documented collusion between the Trump junta and Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.) “Russian collusion” is not going to save the USA from Trump. Indeed, whatever other crimes he may uncover, when relying on the Mueller investigation to prove “Russian collusion” fails, what is left of Democrat credibility will likewise fail.

I know impeachment is an establishment Democrat wet dream, because it gets Dems off the hook—for foisting on their followers the worst candidate in their history, for losing in 2016 to a con-man and clown, for losing 69 out of 99 state legislatures during the Obama presidency, and for alienating some 94,000,000 registered voters who chose “none of the above” over HRC—but considering the spinelessness of the current crop of Democrats, this is just not going to happen!

Posted in Uncategorized

Gun Rights vs. Women’s Rights

Women Rights vs Gun Rights“I Dream One Day Women Will Have the Same Rights As Guns” says the sign held up at the Women’s March on Washington on January 21, 2017. Of course, it’s a ridiculous argument on its face, given that inanimate objects don’t have rights. Granting that the sentiment was inelegantly stated, does it have any merit?

Gun rights fundamentalists would say women in the USA enjoy more liberty now than at any time in human history and that, conversely, the freedom to own guns is constantly under attack and more restricted now than in the past. Both points are quite a bit overstated.

But if we give full credit to the woman holding the sign, we have to admit that while inanimate objects don’t have rights (or responsibilities), their owners do—and that that is the inequity she was protesting. For example, Florida’s “Firearms Owners Privacy Act” prohibits physicians from inquiring about patients’ gun use and/or ownership—a “physician gag law” pitting the community’s concern about public health against some unwritten and previously unknown individual gun owner right to privacy.

Yet, if a woman seeks an abortion in Florida (as in many states), somehow the community’s rights are more important than an individual’s rights. The Affordable Care Act (ACA or “Obamacare”) can only cover abortion if the woman’s life is endangered (or rape or incest); the parent of a minor must be notified before an abortion is provided; a woman must undergo an ultrasound before obtaining an abortion; the provider must offer her the option to view the image; there is a 24-week cutoff, after which an abortion can be performed only if the woman’s life or health is endangered.

We don’t see any similar restrictions on gun ownership. Indeed, many members of Congress are willing to assure the rights of gun owners, but not necessarily those of women: the ACA includes a section entitled “Protection of Second Amendment Gun Rights” that guarantees rights to gun owners, while denying privacy rights to women. Furthermore, in spite of the statistical evidence of the dangers of gun ownership, the ACA also prevents insurers from counting gun use as a risk factor in setting health premiums.

Another example: while the USA is one of only three countries that offer constitutional protection to gun owners (that hallowed but much-misinterpreted Second Amendment), 131 other nations explicitly guarantee gender equality in their constitutions. But not us. As for equality under the law, the late (unlamented) Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia authored the opinion in Walmart v. Dukes, which decided that women did not have standing to sue for equal pay because they didn’t have enough in common.

What does this mean in practical application?

Take the case of Jessica Gonzales, a Colorado mother whose three children, ages 7, 9 and 10, were abducted and shot to death by her husband. The husband had a protective order against him, but the police refused to enforce it—saying it was a privacy issue. Gonzales sued the police department. When the case reached the Supreme Court, in 2005 it was decided that this mother of three dead children had no constitutional right to protection from law enforcement. Indeed, in the first case brought by a survivor of domestic violence against the USA before an international human rights tribunal, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) found that the United States violated the human rights of Jessica Lenahan (née Gonzales) and her children.

Still think women have more rights than gun owners? The risk of a woman being murdered in a domestic violence situation increases 500 percent when there’s a gun in the house, according to a study by the American Journal of Public Health.

Last point: in August 2014, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson made explicit the contrast of women’s rights vs. gun owner’s rights: in a decision preventing Alabama from enacting a harsh anti-abortion law, Thompson pointed out that a policy limiting firearm sales to just two cities probably wouldn’t be very popular among gun enthusiasts, but that is what would happen to constitutionally protected abortion rights for women under the proposed abortion restrictions.

“The right to abortion cannot be exercised without a medical professional,” wrote Thompson, “and the right to keep and bear arms means little if there is no one from whom to acquire the handgun or ammunition. In the context of both rights, the Supreme Court recognizes that some regulation of the protected activity is appropriate, but that other regulation may tread too heavily on the right.”

Amendment 2Indeed, between 2011 and 2013, states passed more anti-abortion laws than during the previous decade. These laws restricted abortion access for an estimated 9,000,000 women of reproductive age living in the South. But it got even easier to own and carry a gun during that time. Since the mass shooting at Columbine High School in 1999, Congress has passed just one major law that strengthens regulations on firearms. There are more waiting periods to get an abortion than there are to buy a gun.

Still think the protester in the picture is wrong? Then maybe prospective gun purchasers should be subjected to comprehensive background checks, mandatory counseling sessions, mandatory waiting periods, forced psychological counseling, and regulations on where, when and how to buy firearms—in the only two shops legally allowed to operate in the state.

PS: To those of you who decry my contrast of gun rights with abortion rights (which are just as legal under current U.S. law), what is the small-government “conservative” obsession with regulating the bodies, lives and choices of women? Especially if you are a man, it is literally none of your fucking business!

Posted in Politics, Rant, Uncategorized

Stupid Conservative Memes …

I presume from the source (Fox News) that this is meant to demonstrate that guns are no worse than knives; that if you take away guns, the criminals will still kill, only with knives.

Knives

The logic is flawed: you cannot kill 17 people in seven minutes with a knife; only a gun can do that. If the homicide rate was higher in London than in New York City, isn’t that a testament to the efficacy of strict gun laws in the largest US city, rather than some comment on the relative deadliness of knives? Furthermore, knives have a purpose beyond killing PEOPLE; high-capacity, rapid-fire guns do not. And nobody is advocating taking away all guns (that is paranoia); we are advocating sensible gun control.

Yes, London has strict gun control laws. But, according to news reports, the rise in knife attacks in London has more to do with the drug war in the UK than with any inefficacy of gun control.

You’re welcome.

Posted in Politics, Rant

Too Blind to See What Isn’t There

This conversation dates back to January 2014, I think, and it happened on a PM exchange with a recently accepted Facebook friend. Mind you, we had just met. I hope I handled his query respectfully. Or maybe he got more information than he bargained for. Could ARD have been trolling me—or trying to convert me? You decide.

ARD: How are u?

RBM: Good.

ARD: We thank God

RBM: I’m not really into God. I’m an atheist.

ARD: Why?

RBM: Why do I not believe in God? Well, aside from lack of positive evidence that any gods exist, I find it disquieting that believers consistently accept supernatural explanations of the world over natural ones. Everything eventually turns out to have a natural explanation, so every year the concept of gods gets smaller and smaller. All the world’s religions are inconsistent, so there is great danger of choosing the wrong one.

All the arguments for the existence of gods are ridiculously weak and unconvincing, basically wishful thinking. Every supposed supernatural phenomenon fails to stand up to rigorous testing. Indeed, there has never been a time when a natural explanation has been replaced by a supernatural one—but this frequently happens the other way around. Religions ruin families and human relations. In fact, I can’t think of any need for gods in my everyday life. I gave up having invisible friends when I left my childhood behind. Enough?

Surrendering To GodARD: Who created you? No. How do u get into this world?

RBM: My parents had sex.

ARD: And how did u parent get to this world? Even to have sex and give birth to u.

RBM: I think their parents had sex. It’s a kind of tradition in our family.

ARD: Were do u get air u breath, is it also by having sex?

RBM: Now you’re just being silly. Everybody knows air comes from farts.

ARD: Ooh really? i thank u are been silly

RBM: Oh, OK, since you’ve never cracked a science textbook: 3.4 Billion years ago, shortly after life first formed, a form of single-celled life evolved that began to photosynthetically generate oxygen, these cyanobacteria formed colonies called stromatolites, some of which still exist today. Since that time, plants and trees and algae evolved from these cyanobacteria and now they do the job of maintaining the oxygen level in our atmosphere.

ARD: And what is dat think u call farts, u dnt knw what u are talking, so if God doe’s nt axit how was dix world created tell me?

RBM: “How was this world created?” is the wrong question because it assumes your answer. In case you’ve never cracked a book on logic, that’s called “begging the question.” As to the question behind your question, that can also be found in a science book: “How did the universe come to be?” is what you should be asking. If you really want to know what scientists have discovered, rather than what religious believers only guess about, I can give you the answer. And if you don’t like my answers, you can always unfriend me.

ARD: Oh u said after life was formed? How was it formed and who formed it?

RBM: You’re begging the question again, but here goes: How was the world formed?

Scientists have ascertained that several billion years ago our Solar System was nothing but a cloud of cold dust particles swirling through empty space. This cloud of gas and dust was disturbed, perhaps by the explosion of a nearby star (a supernova), and the cloud of gas and dust started to collapse as gravity pulled everything together, forming a solar nebula — a huge spinning disk. As it spun, the disk separated into rings and the furious motion made the particles white-hot.

The center of the disk accreted to become the Sun, and the particles in the outer rings turned into large fiery balls of gas and molten-liquid that cooled and condensed to take on solid form. About 4.5 billion years ago, they began to turn into the planets that we know today as Earth, Mars, Venus, Mercury, and the outer planets.

How did life on earth come to be?YouAreHere

Trying to recreate an event that happened billions of years ago is a daunting task, but many scientists believe that, like the emergence of life itself, it is still possible.

More than 3.6 billion years ago, a major transition was made on Earth whereby a dilute, swirling cauldron of simple chemical soup made a critical step towards creating the building blocks of life. The simple chemicals became amino acids, the fundamental building blocks of more complicated protein molecules. These proteins then somehow came together to form a single, primitive cell.

Today, there are several competing theories for how life arose on Earth. Most scientists agree that life went through a period when RNA was the head-honcho molecule, guiding life through its nascent stages. (The evolution of RNA itself is still beginning to be understood.) According to this “RNA World” hypothesis, RNA was the crux molecule for primitive life and only took a backseat when DNA and proteins — which perform their jobs much more efficiently than RNA — developed.

ARD: Okay ma friend is ur life, bt u have to think fast. Before is too late.

PascalRBM: Too late for what? Are you trying to convert me by scaring me? If I’m wrong, I made an honest mistake. You know there is more than one religion in the world, I’m sure. What if you are wrong about the religious path you are following—wrong about the religion you chose?

Think a minute about your question and why you are asking it. Are you saying your invisible friend will smite me for offending you? How do you know he/she/it isn’t just testing your faith, using me as agent? On the other hand, can you honestly say you believe your cosmic dictator will inflict eternal torment on a man who expresses his honest opinion? Does your god(s) want me to lie? Am I supposed to pretend to believe?

It seems that you not only want me to change the way I think, without any facts or logical argument to back you up, but you also want me to change who I am, without even trying to understand why I am who I am. How do you know I have not researched the question deeply and simply come up with a different answer?

ARD: Wll i cnt do anything about how u think, bt the day wll come dat u wll need somebody to just tell u dat God is nt dead, and u wll nt get it, nt even a sign of dat.

RBM: I know nobody gets out of this life alive. What matters is how you live, not what happens after you die. A lot of stuff happens after you die; it just doesn’t include you. I’m not waiting for death; I’m living my life. I promise you, there is nothing missing from my life that belief in a sky-fairy can provide.

ARD: Something is missing from ur life. Is just dat u are too bling to see it.

RBM: I see just fine. You should try reading a few more books.

I think he unfriended me!

Posted in Psychology, Religion, Science, Theology

Stupid Conservative Memes…

“Jewish Shoes”

This meme, using a photograph of Jewish shoes piled up in the “luggage room” at the Auschwitz II–Birkenau concentration/extermination camp (museum), employs a particularly despicable argument against gun control, sometimes known by its portmanteau term: Reductio ad Hitlerum. It is an argument claiming that victims of the Holocaust could have resisted oppression under the Third Reich had they been armed (or better armed). Not only is the argument used to bolster the totally counterfactual “security against tyranny” argument for the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (more on that later), but it employs the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc—meaning that, first there were no privately-owned guns, therefore the Nazis won—and, finally, the sleazy “slippery slope” fallacy.

Jewish Shoes

  • The “security against tyranny” argument. We don’t usually fight memes with memes in this blog (memes are, by nature, simple-minded), but this one was too good to resist.

Security-v-Tyranny

The thought of an unorganized mob of Americans with small arms prevailing against a government with a well-armed, well-disciplined military force, is too absurd to observe. Yet, Rasmussen Reports asked a sample of Americans, “Is the purpose of the Second Amendment to ensure that people are able to protect themselves from tyranny?” and, in January 2013, 65% of Americans agreed!

We believe this result rests on a popular misunderstanding of the relationship between government and citizenry: as “Outside the Beltway” writes, “it assumes that ‘the people’ are on one side even now and ‘the government’ is on the other, without understanding that the government derives from people and is not some foreign entity outside of the rest of us.”

Militias intent on wearing down a tyrannical government do not (except in fantasy) evolve into defenders of a free and democratic state. Says The Economist, “Freedom is the product of orderly democratic governance and the rule of law. Popular militias are overwhelming likely to foster not democracy or the rule of law, but warlordism, tribalism and civil war. … Name your authoritarian takeover: Germany, Japan, Russia, China, Egypt, Libya, Brazil, Greece, Spain, Indonesia, the Philippines, Iran, Chile, Argentina, Czechoslovakia, Syria—popular militias never resist authoritarian takeover and preserve democracy or civil freedoms. That is a thing that happens in silly movies. It is not a thing that happens in the world.”

We argue that the “well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State” part of the Second Amendment, which “security against tyranny” advocates consistently ignore, is an essential qualifier. As The Atlantic writes, “A citizen uprising at any point in the foreseeable future would probably not involve like-minded constitutionalists taking up arms to defend democracy and liberty. It would more likely be a matter of one aggrieved social group attacking another. And for the most criminal and vicious members of society, the rationale of ‘protecting’ their own rights would be a convenient justification for straight-up looting, robbery, and bloodshed. …

“Even individual Americans armed with military-style assault rifles could hardly pose any serious resistance to any future tyrannical central government supported by overwhelmingly powerful military capabilities. … War, particularly civil war, is by its nature violent. Official state armies are not immune from the tendency to inflict unjustified violence on civilians. But in America today, this prospect is far more remote, and far less terrifying, than the notion of armed citizens striking out against a perceived enemy, answering to no authority other than their own individual prejudices and passions.”

Far from defending freedom, in the words of legal scholar Roscoe Pound, writing in 1957, “A legal right of the citizen to wage war on the government is something that cannot be admitted. … In the urban industrial society of today a general right to bear efficient arms so as to be enabled to resist oppression by the government would mean that gangs could exercise an extra-legal rule which would defeat the whole Bill of Rights.” (emphasis added)

  • The Post hoc ergo propter hoc and “slippery slope” arguments. The Latin expression means, “after this, therefore because of this.” These are lesser arguments that go back to the first. The Latin one looks at authoritarian coups in history, determines whether or not there was private ownership of guns prior to the overthrow, then concludes that it was because the populace were not armed that the anti-democratic forces were successful.

This turns history on its head, rewriting it to suit an agenda. To say (in the most egregious example) an armed Jewish populace (a tiny minority of the German population) could have resisted Hitler, who was supported by the non-Jewish citizenry—partly due to government propaganda, which validated a pre-existing virus of popular anti-Semitism—is darkly amusing. Yet gun rights advocates persist in their rewriting of history to proclaim that an armed Chinese citizenry could have prevented the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre!

If history, as opposed to Red Dawn movie fantasy, is any guide, “there is scant empirical evidence that firearms proliferation and the maintenance of democratic institutions are positively related; instead, institutions to protect human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law and also socioeconomic rights have been proven to be far more important factors in preventing military coups or other threats to democracy.” In other words, we need to protect our democratic institutions, not shoot them down.

As for the slippery slope argument, this claims that even one sensible reform of unregulated gun ownership inevitably leads to wholesale gun confiscation. In answer, we simply note that other nations with similar democratic traditions have enacted even stricter regulation of gun ownership than is even contemplated in the USA: are Japan, Australia, Britain, France and a dozen other countries—even (post-Nazi) Germany—really less free that we are? Is the USA so wise that from their example we cannot deign to learn?

You’re welcome.

PS: The kids did not walk out of school “to protest guns”; they walked out of school to protest the easy availability of rapid-fire guns in the hands of people capable of killing 17 students and teachers in seven minutes.

PPS: The “security against tyranny” argument is evergreen. But it was used again in this tweet:

RememberingWhen

The answer (not my own) was to the point: “Japanese concentration camps. The Trail of Tears. Slavery and slave catchers. Private prisons. You literally forgot all of American history. What you meant to say is you don’t remember when white people were put in camps. Check your racism.”

Posted in Politics, Rant, Uncategorized
John Mill