Sunday, June 26, 2016

Quick Comment on "The Right to Bear Arms"

Arms don't have to be guns. For a long time most cops even in very tough parts of London and elsewhere in the UK and Ireland got by with clubs, and the American weapon of home defense for most of my life was a baseball bat in the bedroom. (When my richer friends were talking about home security systems, I said, truthfully, that I'd upgraded mine by trading in my old wooden bat for a Little-League size aluminum bat.) 

We'll get sensible gun control laws in the USA when there's (1) open-carry in the US Congress; (2) someone yells "Gun!" and (3) a fair number of representatives are taken out by "friendly fire"; the survivors just might pass some decent legislation. 

The racial, ethnic, and class issues behind our laws on "bearing arms" become a whole lot clearer when you consider the laws on guns vs. knives. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

Well-Meaning School Officials (and Others into Control)

"He got a clipboard and a whistle and went crazy."
— Joke about guys newly in authority, ca. 1960

            In usefully discussing proposals to "hard block" various social media in county schools, my local newspaper, The Ventura County Star, referred to "well-meaning officials" who want to censor — often with good cause — what students, as students, can access.
            As one who attended an American grammar school and high school, and who taught for forty years in public universities, let me throw in a bit of background.
            The one time I taught at a maximum-security prison, I had a weird feeling like déjà vu. The Southern Ohio Correction Facility at Lucasville reminded me of something; and then it clicked: Lucasville Maximum reminded me of high school. Especially when people talk about "lockdowns," consider the possibility that modern American prisons can appear like high schools, and modern American high schools can be rather like prisons.
            More immediately, add that "well-meaning" officials can also be control freaks and that a fair number of high school administrators come from coachly backgrounds that encourage authoritarian control.

            There is much to be said for controlling kids for their own good; but whenever school officials say that that is what they're up to, kids and their parents should get very, very suspicious.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Trump and Truth

il n'y a pas de hors-texte […] — Jacques Derrida
Translation: "There is no outside-text."
It is usually mistranslated as "There is nothing outside the text"
by his opponents to make it appear that Derrida is claiming
nothing exists beyond language […].
 "Of Grammatology", tr. by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.
Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore, 1976.
(Original French published by Éditions de Minuit,
Paris, in 1967, as "De la grammatologie"), 158-59 [...].)


            In attacking Donald "Trump's relentless assault on truth," Eugene Robinson in a column in mid-June 2016 assumes truth's existence. I agree with Robinson that truth exists and that Trump undermines the concept — and thereby undermines a crucial bond for human society.
            Trump was born in 1946 and is in part a product of his time, in this case in ways that can be clarified by talking with academics — especially academics in the humanities — who were on university campuses in the latter part of the 20th century, and by reading such books as Eric Hoffer's thoughts on fanaticism in The True Believer from 1951 and, preeminently, George Orwell's 1948/49 masterpiece, Nineteen Eighty-Four.
            In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the spokesman for a totalitarian Party tortures the protagonist and tells him "Reality is inside the skull […]. You must get rid of those nineteenth-century ideas about the laws of nature. We make the laws of nature" and the triumph of the will of the Leader and power of the Party determines truth.
            This idea was cleaned up from the mid-1960s on to become "strong social construction": the idea that not just people's views of reality are determined by their cultures but reality itself is constructed "inside the skull[s]" of people interacting.
            And that academic idea trickled down or "osmosed" up or over to politicians, to where Neal Gabler in the Los Angeles Times could talk about a Karl "Rovism [that] posits that there is no objective, verifiable reality at all," and you can get Rove claiming "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality [...]."

            As Karl Rove would say, Robinson is part of "the reality-based community"; Donald Trump is not, and that makes him far more dangerous than more traditional liars.

Reference: Eugene Robinson, 
            "The challenges in covering Trump’s relentless assault on the truth," The Washington Post 16 June 2016. <>
            "Trump’s relentless assault on truth," The Ventura County Star, print edition 18 June 2016, page 9B; on-line 17 June 2016. <>

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Welcome Home, Rich (June 2016 Junque Communications)

     I was away for about ten days and had my USPS mail on hold. It has been delivered, and the portion within shouting distance of mail I want rounds up to .5kg/1 pound, counting what feels like a doggie blanket from the SPCA, which I'll hand on to neighbors who actually have dogs. The mail I don't want, the junk mail, weighs in at 2.4kg/5.28 pounds. And I recall deleting something like 238 spam e-mails.

      That is for one old man, living alone, who has about all he needs in the way of possessions and doesn't buy many new things or take extravagant trips or contribute all that much to the Democrats or other objects of charity.

       In his hopeful dystopian story, "To the Chicago Abyss" (1949), Ray Bradbury's crazy-old-man protagonist will help restore civilization by remembering the junk products of "a race-track civilization that ran last over a precipice": i.e., ours. Bradbury challenges us with an intriguing paradoxical conceit we might call homeopathic: his unlikely hero feeds the survivors the words for the "clamored-after [...] absurd [... products] of a never never-ending river of robots and robot-mad owners." The recovery of civilization will require lusting after the lost materialist crap whose production and consumption had doomed civilization.

      As I said, it's a hopeful story, relatively speaking. Looking at the crap being shoved my way without my asking — looking at the waste of all that paper and time and energy — I suspect another couple generations will be time enough for us to run out over that precipice.

This is the way the world ends;
this is the way the world ends:
not with a bang or a whimper,  
but with a pitch and a hustle and an inundation of ads.
                  (And with mild apologies to T. S. Eliot)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Guns, Abortion, the Second Amendment ... Logic

            The argument on gun control is like the one on abortion: going 'round and 'round because the two major sets of arguments proceed from very different premises or even worldviews. In the case of abortion, the major disagreement is on the nature of the universe and the nature of human beings, which is about as major a disagreement as I can think of offhand. If a human being is essentially (literally in essence) a creature with a soul, and if ensoulment occurs at conception, then .... Etc. Which is quite different from my idea of a zygote, a fertilized human egg, which I don't see as a human person, and you-all probably don't either.

            Similarly, if you want gun control, youse folk who read Leftish blogs such as this will talk about decreasing gun deaths. But most places in the USA most of those gun deaths are suicides or gang related and can seem a reasonable price to pay for people who believe the 2nd Amendment protects all our rights by giving substance to the Right of Revolution, and if you believe effective revolution requires a citizenry not just armed but armed heavily enough to hold off the forces of the State until the military sides with the revolution and the revolution is won (more exactly, the opening round is won, but that gets into complicated history and political analysis).

            I go with Hannah Arendt in On Violence (1970) and elsewhere on how violence undercuts revolutionary power, but I'd concede that a fair number of bolt-action rifles in the hands of citizens probably would help underpin a right to revolution but add that handguns are officers' weapons to keep the grunts in line and that the AK-47 and similar weapons would be for some sort of right of coup or guerrilla warfare and not classical revolution as such. As a kid I put money in cans to plant trees in Israel, and maybe buy arms to drive the British (and as it turns out, Palestinians) from Palestine; as a young adult at neighborhood pubs, I gave money to help the widows and orphans in Ireland, with maybe a few quid going to our boys in the Irish Republican Army to buy weapons to drive the Brits out of the occupied counties. And money for humanitarian aid freed funds to buy weapons by the NLF, ANC, FLN, PLO, and other groups alphabetical, revolutionary, and willing to use violence.

            Most people who'll read this far think those who think President Barack Obama a tyrant are simply crazy: dissociated from reality. Those who think Obama a tyrant (or a potential one) obviously think otherwise and go from perception to premise to the conclusion that they need high-power weapons to hold off the forces of the tyrant, who will insulate his regime from revolution by seizing their weapons.

            So: the arguments on the necessity for assault rifles and such for personal self-defense and home defense are often just bullshit if you look at the statistics, but that's irrelevant: the serious arguments here are on armed insurrection, and for the most part that's not what people want to talk about, and may be an area (like parts of the abortion debate) where clarity would be more honest and less frustrating but really, really dangerous.