Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Freedom from Speech is What You Want

You may have heard recently about the Supreme Court case (McComish vs. Bennett) that found that when I disagree with you, I am violating your right to free speech because you then have to speak more, you see, to express yourself. You see, more speech is actually less speech. This goes along with Antonin Scalia's homage to 1984's Ignorance is Strength mantra in the stay of the Florida recount in Bush v. Gore. ("Count first, and rule upon legality afterwards, is not a recipe for producing election results that have the public acceptance democratic stability requires.")

Now, you might say, arithmoquine, that's totally unfair to the Roberts court because, after all, they surely found some flimsy pretext by means of which to protect the interests of the wealthy and the powerful, and that's a lot of work, so let them have a little peace and quiet so they can listen to that small, quiet voice of their consciences and then drown it with a fifth of tequila. What is the law, anyway, but flimsy pretexts for outcomes predetermined by the ruling class?

The reason, you see, my speech is not violating your right to free speech when they are inconsistent is that my speech is not government-subsidized speech. And it is completely obvious--what are you, a pinhead?--that only the government can violate anyone's rights. I, to take just one example, held a pizza delivery guy captive in my basement for six months, slowly feeding him his own body parts until nothing was left but his mouth, and that was completely legal, and not a violation of some namby-pamby prohibition against torture that all those whiny, East-coast, elite, birkenstock-sipping, latte-wearing liberals believe in. My freedom ends, as they say, when I've punched you in the face and the police have arrested me, but not before.

It's a testament to our free society that only the government can violate a right or take away our freedoms! If I break into your home without warning, shoot your dog and your spouse, and then take your pot, that's freedom. But if the government does that, it's (waitaminute, isn't this in the conservative handbook somewhere?) murder and theft (or perfectly ok if today is Wednesday).

I think you acquire my drift.

So, you see, we need to protect the rights of the wealthy to say whatever they want without fear of contradiction, except by other wealthy people, and most definitely not let the government subsidize any speech that might contradict it. It is only when the government gets involved with our freedoms and rights that we might lose them, so we have to limit the government's power to do anything of the sort (provided that's not strip-searching 14 year old girls, which I understand is totally hot and constitutional).

The best thing about this is that, as a hate-filled bigot and certifiable moron, I frequently like to spout off about things that I know nothing about and which are factually false. And that's my God-given right. And since the government has various offices devoted to publishing accurate information, about the budget or the dangers of fluoridation in the water or what have you, they are violating my freedom of speech to say that fluoridation is a communist plot or that Area 51 contains several alien spacecraft, just because those things happen not to be true. This means these government offices must be shuttered. Down with big government information-dissemination (which totally sounds dirty)! Down with the tyranny of accurate information!

I know what you're thinking: the government has a "compelling interest" in providing accurate information about fluoridation and Area 51 and preventing widespread panic in the streets by countering inaccurate information that may stoke people's fears. Maybe so, but maybe not. If free and fair elections that are open to everyone are not a compelling government interest, then it's not obvious what could be.

Anyway, a lot of my exercise of free speech is about things that don't really do any harm: when John Quincy Adams was born, the use of "Under God" in the original pledge of allegiance, the date of the abolition of slavery or whether we clone animals to have human brains. The government currently publishes information on these harmless topics as well. The government cannot take away our right to free speech and tell us what to think! If I want to say that a monkey with John Quincy Adams's cloned brain abolished slavery and wrote the pledge of allegiance, then I have a right not to have the government contradict me. That's what free speech is all about.

Besides, the government cannot have an interest in public safety. I'm looking at the Conservo-Constitution, and I can't find anything in it that gives the government an interest in maintaining the general welfare. (I'm pretty sure we edited that part out when we said that Obamacare was unconstitutional. By now it only contains national defense--bombing people--and not taxing the rich.)

And what's government, anyway? Isn't it only a fiction, supported by a complex set of social contracts and agreements, both explicit and tacit, in order to achieve something that we individually are unable to achieve on our own? How can it have interests of any kind? It's not like it's a corporation or something.

My point is that, even if the government does have an interest in promoting the general welfare or providing for a safe and secure environment for the American people, that general duty has exceptions for the fundamental rights of individuals. We couldn't put people to death we knew to be innocent, could we? Of course not, not even if this promoted the general welfare. (Exceptions made for promoting the welfare of certain Southern politicians.) If it really is a violation of my free speech for a government-sponsored entity to disagree with me, then the presumption ought to be in my favor, and it would have to take a strong counterbalancing interest to violate the rights of all Americans to say things that are known to be untrue just because their saying them is false and harmful.

Of course, if I decided to exercise my free speech rights, for example, by spreading fear about the safety of eggs produced by America's corporate egg-titans, Roberts would surely discover that the government had an interest in supporting the egg community, and the Egg Council (a government entity supported by taxes on egg producers, but a government entity all the same) would be free to drop a PSA on us faster than a de-beaked Leghorn strapped to a nest and pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormone can pump out those little white oblongs. Then, I guess, the yolk would be on me.

Friday, June 24, 2011

On the Anniversary of My Mother's Death

Wandering at random around the internet, I came across this post, and it reminded of the original impetus for my blogging: the death of my mother. It reminded me that every second we have with each other is precious and we should spend it loving and caring for each other. How this led to blogging sounds like a mystery, but at the time I wanted to scream to the heavens my frustration and anger. The heavens, I knew, would not listen. So, I talked to myself or the aether of the internet.

[That Man’s] origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins -- all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. (Bertrand Russell, A Free Man’s Worship)

The universe is pitiless—not cruel for it neither knows nor cares for anyone—but without concern for our hopes and dreams. But sometimes we can snatch some joy from this world and find love and goodness. Every year at this time I remind myself of these facts and try to live my life accordingly.

I rarely live up to the ideal. Trivia always intrude on my life and turn me from concerns about those I love, and even those I barely know, but that knowledge is always there. Like “Time’s winged chariot”, or the inexorable grinding of a mill, our lives disappear, day by day, week by week, month by month. Sometimes the time goes so quickly you hardly notice until your aching joints and gray hairs bring it all to consciousness. You wonder how it happened, how you turned from the youth in your mind to the middle-aged person you’ve become. I’ve chosen this time of year to remind myself and renew my desires to live for each day. So I want to commemorate my mother, as I try to do every day in things large and small. And I want to mourn her loss and the loss of everything I or anyone else ever has loved or ever will love. My mother, my father, my spouse, my child, my animals, my friends, and I will all ultimately be gone and we will be nothing but dust. But for now, for me, there is something more. And my mom can only live on in our memories.

The surreal feeling of the day she died has not yet fully receded. Everything since has felt just a little like a dream.

It was around three years ago this month (I forget the day) while my brother was visiting, helping me get my house in order to be sold so we could move out when I started a new job. My dad called and said that he’d come home and found Mom collapsed and he’d called 911, that the paramedics were trying to revive her. We weren’t sure what that meant exactly. We stopped working and waited, everything else now seemed pointless and empty, and wondered and talked, thought about our mom and what she’d meant to us and tried not to think about what we all thought had just happened.

And she died.

Just like that, she was gone. None of us knew; none had a queer presentiment of impending doom (aside from the one I always carry inside). Nothing said this was the day when everything would change, when the light would die for one we loved. After, there was nothing even to do, from so far away, but to sit together and reflect, and eventually to go home and try to help Dad. When I reflect now on her life, a life I really knew little enough about, I hope that she was happy and fulfilled.

I think she accomplished a lot of what she wanted in raising her kids. For the most part, we grew to be reasonably intelligent, autonomous, self-sufficient, compassionate, conscientious adults. She was a schoolteacher, was politically active, and spent some of her retirement volunteering. She didn’t have money or fame or wealth, and, while she often struggled to make ends meet, she would not have traded her life for that of anyone else. She had thought about a life traveling and living adventurously, but her best friend from college had chosen that path, so Mom knew what the alternative was and she was happy with her choice. Oddly, most of what makes our lives—and possibly makes them worth living—resides in contingency, the things that don’t happen according to plan, the things that accumulate on our souls without our notice. One day we wake and think about who or what we have become. And she had become a wife, a mother, the glue that held together a fractious family, a caring member of a community. She had never intended to stay, to take up residence in our place, to marry as she did and raise kids, but that became who she was. Or maybe it was just the world in which she revealed who she always had been. She lived an admirable life, and, in the end, I think she had few regrets.

But that does not mean I don’t feel regret. I regret that I could not be there for her to save her somehow, to be with her at the last, to tell her that I love her, to feel her love for me in return. I understand and sympathize with those who cannot face this fact, whose denial leads them to religion. But for me that would be a lie that would dishonor her memory and her life. No one lived her life for her; she was good, not because some magical being wanted it so, but because she, and others who loved her, worked hard to make her so. And that’s why I try to remember, to feel the loss as keenly as before, and to honor her memory by living the kind of life she would have wanted me to live.

Long before the stars burn out from the sky, long before the sun expands and ends all life on earth, long before the earth freezes over, and long, long before the universe goes cold and dark and dead, I will be gone and no one will remember or care about you or me or anything else. But for now and for as long as my synapses can still fire together, Mom, I will love and remember you.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Unpublishable Movie Review: Valhalla Rising

I can categorically state that Valhalla Rising is the worst movie about vikings ever made.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Another Day in the Bible Belt

I've been reading about our nation's great need to come together to pray and fast. The first thing I think about calls of this kind is that they are a complete waste of time and that I'm fairly happy if the retrograde morons responsible for them keep themselves occupied with this frivolous crap rather than continuing to push a harmful political agenda on the American people. At least, I always think, they might lose a little weight.

Of course, that's not what these calls are all about. These calls for national prayer and massive organized prayer meetings are entirely political; they are an attempt to turn people frightened and uncertain about economic conditions into a mass movement to support their political agenda without, often, those people even realizing they are being used in that way. Look at how they sell their prayer jamboree (or prayerboreetm).

First, they draw our attention to certain unnamed threats to our country.

It's important to keep those threats deliberately vague so as to increase the membership in the group. If you mention, say, an increase in illegal immigration as a threat, you will get anti-immigrant groups to sign on, but you will discourage participation from other groups. If you mention capitalist exploitation of the poor and working class, you will alienate different groups. Thus, the threats must be as vague as possible to draw in the largest number of participants.

Everyone knows, from their own lives, what they feel is threatening to them and their nation, so you don't really need to fill in the threats with something specific. In addition, a mention of a specific threat might indicate a specific, workable solution, and that undermines the point of calling for prayer which, as the call for prayer emphasizes, is intended for problems we cannot solve on our own.

Second, they bring together these people together for some act of solidarity: a prayer meeting, a day on which they pray together. That provides the appearance of mass support for the as-yet unstated agenda. Maybe the organizers and participants believe that prayer will solve their unnamed problems. However, it's fairly likely that people are praying on their own anyway, if they believe prayer is efficacious. And this call is not for quiet, solitary prayer but for an organized gathering (in Houston) for that prayer. So the point is not prayer per se but a large gathering committed to whatever agenda the organizers can push on our gullible media as the point of the meeting. We have to look a bit for the real agenda. What are they pushing under the guise of a generalized prayer for American well-being? (Do we not care about anyone else now? Can we pray for the good of all humanity, or is that too much work?)

The agenda is, of course, explicitly Christian, but not of a specific sect. Here's an example from the call:
The ancient paths of great men were blazed in prayer – the humility of the truly great men of history was revealed in their recognition of the power and might of Jesus to save all who call on His great name.
I don't know what truly great men they have in mind, but I honestly have trouble thinking of people who did great things because of their recognition of Jesus' power and might. But the call isn't just Christian, it implies a rejection of non-Christians and people not of (their) faith. In the FAQ section, they add:
We believe that America is in a state of crisis. Not just politically, financially or morally, but because we are a nation that has not honored God in our successes or humbly called on Him in our struggles.
Here they say:
Why did God desire fasting, weeping, and mourning – or, to put it differently, contrition and humility – from the people? A "sacred assembly" (Joel 2:15) was a gathering that served a few purposes: first, in gathering, the people were acknowledging that their nation had drifted away from its foundations in morality and faith. Because of this moral decline, the people were not prepared to face the external threats rising up against them: economic, political, and military in nature. God wanted His people to understand that their internal threats (moral decline) were far greater than their external threats (economic crisis and military invasion).

(Oddly, despite noting in the list of the few purposes, a "first" purpose, there is no "second" purpose mentioned. Could they only count to one?)

This passage conflates faith and morality, and faith is treated as exclusively Christian, so the call is to return to some imagined Christian past of our nation to change the government in whatever direction the leaders want. (They mention Catholics and Protestants as responsible for the previous spiritual movements, so their intent is to elide differences within Christianity to produce the largest Christian movement possible. I've always been amazed that they think all these differences--do you need to listen to the Pope to go to heaven?--are irrelevant.)

Finally, the leadership of the event is entirely conservative and Republican, led by Texas Governor Goodhair (I mean, Rick Perry). So, this is just another mostly transparent attempt to take advantage of the fears of the ignorant to support their conservative/Republican political agenda. Probably most of the people who would attend prayergasmtm 2011 would want to send the conservative political message that its backers want to send, but it's a sign of the intellectual poverty and dishonesty of the movement that they refuse to make any such explicit calls when trying to gain public support. Instead they rely on fear-mongering against vague or undefined threats in order to bolster the appearance of public support for their views and then, presumably, they will try to parley that public show into support for them politically.

In other words, just another day in the Bible Belt.