Saturday, September 27, 2014

A Week to Remember

As the week winds down (as far as this individual is concerned, weeks end as Saturday segues into Sunday), let us reflect on a week of reports of recent violent incidents in the United States in ways usual and unusual (neither the usual ways nor unusual way were likely to be widely reported by the culture’s professional and veracious mainstream media, but this individual generally ignore the professionals and has been ensconced in work and James Ellroy’s new novel, so he would not know for sure).
As usual, Radley Balko is the best source for the usual ways (and, as a Washington Post contributor, can be considered a consummate and credentialed professional).
Mark Steyn and Larry Elder are non pareil commentators regarding the unusual way.
Balko, the author of Rise of the Warrior Cop (New York: Public Affairs, 2013), relayed (via the Post, no less) in a Thursday article that, on August 5, police in an Ohio Walmart shot and killed John Crawford III, a 22-year-old man who was holding an unloaded air rifle he had taken off one of the store’s shelves.  A witness had told a 911 dispatcher (and, later, the media) that Crawford was pointing the gun at children.  He subsequently retracted that assertion, apparently after viewing surveillance video of the incident (which is available to view at the link).  As Balko notes, “… the video makes clear that Crawford never pointed the gun at police, and strongly suggests they never gave him an opportunity to drop it.”  A grand jury declined to indict any of the officers involved in the shooting.  Balko, who, in his book and elsewhere, has chronicled the encroaching militarization of the inchoate police state more effectively and extensively than anyone else (certainly more effectively and extensively than any other professional), articulately and persuasively argues that exaggerated public and private hysteria as a result of rare mass shootings has contributed to an atmosphere in which the public and police overreact to harmless (if often eccentric) individuals, often resulting in lethal force against innocents.  (Some sources report that an unarmed, compliant, peaceful citizen is now eight times more likely to be shot by police than by criminals in the United States.)
Yesterday, Balko recounted the September 4 shooting of unarmed Levar Jones by South Carolina state trooper Sean Groubert during a routine traffic stop for seatbelt violations.  Jones behaved impeccably; Groubert shot him when Jones ducked into his vehicle to retrieve the license Groubert requested.  (Those who live in the United States could reread the two proceeding sentences, especially the last five of the former, and reconsider the status of their putatively free country.)  Groubert was fired, and he has been charged with felony assault.  Balko articulately and persuasively argues that a “police culture” endemic with unfounded paranoia about officer safety (despite steadily decreasing officer fatalities and serious injuries) likely contributed to Groubert’s actions and similar incidents (and will contribute to more if the views and training underlying them do not fundamentally change).
For decades (and especially the last decade), U.S. police have been becoming increasingly militarized and aggressive.  (Notably, an attendee at James Ellroy’s book signing in Pasadena on Thursday inquired about the author’s views on the subject, which was, to say the least, off topic.  The topic would not likely be broached during such an event at such a venue if the problem were not systemic and serious.  Ellroy, who could be fairly described as a police apologist, declined to comment, insisting that he does not comment on current events.)  Supporters of such militarization and aggression insist it is necessary, not only for the safety of officers but for the safety and security of the general public as well.  This militarization and aggression has accompanied a metastasized national “security” apparatus (courtesy of the increasingly inaccurately named Justice Department’s FBI, the relatively recent Homeland Security Department, and the NSA) that snoops on and records private telephone calls and text messages.  Representatives of the FBI (which is the oldest of the three but is still younger than some living people) have admitted that agents have been spying on citizens through the cameras of notebook computers for years.  The Islam-inspired terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which an earlier, less robust version of the apparatus failed to detect or prevent, were a crisis that statists of all persuasions (on both sides of the false left/conservative dichotomy and in between them) would hardly let, as one of them put it describing a later crisis, go to waste.  (You may recall that one of the aforementioned attacks was partially thwarted by private citizens on one of the planes, and, while the Homeland Security Department's TSA has yet to foil an attack, private citizens on planes have arrested Islamic terrorists that somehow eluded the consummate, sapient, efficacious professionals of the TSA.)
Presumably, an atmosphere of such all-encompassing surveillance and swift, overwhelming police response would ensure that U.S. citizens were safe (from everyone but police, anyway, and certainly from Islamic terrorists on U.S. soil).
On Thursday, an American Muslim beheaded his former co-worker, Colleen Hufford, in Moore, Oklahoma.  He was about to behead another woman, Traci Johnson, when a sheriff’s reserve deputy (which does not imply a particularly militarized response) shot him.  (Johnson is reported to be in stable condition.)  Steyn notes that the individual had the Muslim greeting “Assalamu Alaikum”—“Peace be upon you.”—tattooed on his abdomen.  Steyn also reports that he tried to convert numerous co-workers to Islam.  If that were not enough, Elder (who links to an Examiner article by Julia Davis) comments that the perpetrator “[d]id everything but take out a billboard” on public social media that he would commit such an act.  (Incidentally, the perpetrator had a long criminal record but was hired by the Oklahoma food processing plant anyway.  He was reportedly terminated immediately before the attack for arguing with his co-workers about the propriety of stoning women to death.  In an atmosphere in which a single arrest for a victimless crime can disqualify one for gainful employment in the United States, such a hiring is, to say the least, curious in the first place.)
Although the first two violent deaths noted above are so familiar as to be as routine in the land of the once-free as a traffic stop for a seatbelt violation, the third is surely unprecedented (or, at the very least, unusual).  Authorities have assured a generally credulous, complacent, and apathetic public that the police militarization of the past few decades is necessary for public safety (implying that more innocent citizens are protected by it than those who are tragically sacrificed to it).  Authorities have also assured the same public that a massive and invasive security apparatus is necessary to detect and prevent terrorist attacks (which have nothing to do with Islam).  The very old and the very young must be molested, groped, and terrified at airports, and the very nerdy must be surveilled while they “fap” (to use the crude demotic of a charming, eloquent culture), to prevent mass death from those who can be detected by confidential, intrusive, privacy-vitiating spookiness (and only by confidential, intrusive, privacy-vitiating spookiness).
Consequently, the death of Colleen Hufford and the assault of Traci Johnson must have been flukes (and the religion of their attacker had no more to do with his crime than institutionalized pragmatism, authoritarianism, and evasion had to do with the deaths of John Crawford III and Levar Jones).  Surely, the restrained and prudent government of the free twenty-first century United States of America will minimize, if not eliminate, future Colleen Huffords and Traci Johnsons, even if it must kill a few John Crawford IIIs and Lavar Joneses in the process (while watching, molesting, and impertinently, implacably insulting the rest of us).

Returning to the governing philosophy of the era before the Hoovers (Herbert and J. Edgar) and learning from superior leaders in freer eras certainly couldn’t be an option.

Monday, August 25, 2014

It's Late

After the recent controversial police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and subsequent protests and rioting, some citizens are slowly focusing inchoate awareness on what they see as a recent problem.  Leave it to what passes for media today to shine its dark light on what is turning out to be one of the least unreasonable (and, quite possibly, most defensive) police shootings--in a culture where indubitably egregious and outrageous police killings are practically quotidian.

Belated awareness is better than none, however.  It's always encouraging when Wells's Eloi and Mencken's booboisie rub the sleep out of their eyes.

But even then, the boys and girls next door cannot help but view the problem through the age-old Marxist lenses of race and class.

D. Brian Burghart, editor of the Reno News & Review, has been one of several people to attempt to construct a database of police shootings in the United States.  He has written a generally good (by today's standards, anyway) article about some of his findings--but he just cannot avoid bringing up the subject of race.  Regard this curious excerpt:

"Journalists also don't generally report the race of the person killed. Why? It's unethical to report it unless it's germane to the story. But race is always germane when police kill somebody."

Burghart just asserts that race is "always germane"--its not.  And one would have to have the same relationship to and regard for reality and the truth as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to believe that journalists did not "report" Michael Brown's race (and that they did not decide to share this example of government lethality with their credulous customers, many of whom evince their incredulous ignorance in the comments to Burghart's article, because of it).

Burghart continues, and, after noting that "African-Americans" and the mentally ill "make up a huge percentage of people killed by police," he writes (apparently missing the significance):
It's also refreshing for a media professional to acknowledge one of the countless instances of gender inequality in this misandrist culture that doesn't faze the feminists.  And it should not be surprising that black and mentally ill people are disproportionately killed by police--because "it's poor people who are killed by police."  (If it's "racist" to note that poor, violent, urban areas saturated with police activity tend to be disproportionately inhabited by racial minorities, then I'll add it to my collection of epithets.)  Anyone with the view that poor minorities are disproportionately targeted by cops because they are poor and/or minorities should turn off CNN and Fox News, read Radley Balko's Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces (New York: Public Affairs, 2013--paperback edition published today) and Dan Baum's Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure (New York: Back Bay Books, 1996).  [If they are Rush fans, they can turn to pages 241 and 242 of Neil Peart's Roadshow: Landscape with Drums: A Concert Tour by Motorcycle (Burlington, MA: Rounder, 2006) to learn what happened to guitarist Alex Lifeson and his family in Florida on New Year's Eve, 2003--thankfully, they lived to tell about it.]  Balko and Baum both trace the rise of police militarization to Richard Nixon's 1968 presidential campaign, but Nixon himself was just the bastard great-grandson of John Dewey.

I hesitate to highlight race and class (though, in a Marxist culture, it is unavoidable), but here are just three cases off the top of my weary head of non-poor white people killed by police in egregious cases that should have generated at least as much publicity and outrage as Michael Brown's:

"And if you want to get down to nut-cuttin' time, across the board, it's poor people who are killed by police. (And by the way, around 96 percent of people killed by police are men.)"

Sal Culosi

Erik Scott

Donald Scott (no apparent relation to Erik Scott--Donald Scott's homicide is covered extensive by Baum)

Jose Guerena was not white, but he was (like Erik Scott) a non-poor, innocent military veteran

And the concerned media professionals worried about white cops shooting black people must have been busy covering "reality television" or been distracted and choking on the fumes of Leonard DiCaprio's and Al Gore's carbon-spewing private jets when these innocent people were shot:

Kathryn Johnston

Isaac Singletary

And the most heartbreaking, outrageous police shooting story this wary and weary reporter has yet to read:

Aiyana Jones

(These are all off the top of my head.  In a halfway rational culture, they'd be household names as much as Michael Brown and the teenager in Florida.  But in a halfway rational culture, they'd all be alive.)

Comedian Chris Rock's "How Not to Get Your Ass Kicked By the Cops" video is making the rounds among many otherwise informed and reasonable people, but as the anything-but-exhaustive examples above more than confirm, anyone--from eight-year-old Aiyana Jones to ninety-one-year-old Kathryn Johnston, from "poor" Isaac Singletary to middle class veterans Jose Guerena and Erik Scott to upper-middle-class optometrist Sal Culosi to millionaire (in the early Nineties, when that meant something) Donald Scott to Alex Lifeson of the entertainment industry elite--can "get their ass kicked" (or worse) by cops for doing nothing wrong, now.

Those who rely on the mainstream media for their information will likely forget about all of this until the next high-profile case, but others may want to read Mark Steyn's work contrasting the bullet counts of U.S. authorities with those of other countries.  (At least one "conservative" is applying good old-fashioned "conservatism" skepticism of government excess to law enforcement, these days.)   Those others may want to pay close attention to the neglected aspects and facts that are evident to any who will focus their attention on them--and think about the cultural and philosophical trends that led to them.  They were already entrenched in this culture (in all of the areas that matter in the long run, anyway) when the twentieth century dawned, and it may be too late to change them (though I certainly hope to be proven wrong).

In the meantime, be careful out there.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Squandered Opportunity

This evening, I dined at a certain establishment on the Santa Monica Pier.
     Since this evening is in the twenty-first century, and the Santa Monica Pier is in the City of Santa Monica, the County of Los Angeles, and the State of California, its food is relatively expensive.  Although few people likely understand exactly why that is the case, I would have expected virtually everyone who would walk into that eating establishment to, at the very least, be prepared for "high" prices (and they certainly are higher than they could and should be).
     One young (but certainly grown) customer apparently was not.  He wanted to know why the prices were "so high" (and recited a verbal, itemized list of his expensive purchases).  He asked me--and no one else, as far as I could tell.  And I squandered another possible opportunity to impart some of my integrated understanding of this culture and its economy to those with less understanding.
     I am not sure why my fleeting interlocutor singled me out for his queries.  Perhaps he asked me for an introductory economic lesson because I was alone and he figured he'd be interrupting those with companions (which could very well have included everyone in the vicinity except me).  Perhaps I really do "look intelligent" (as a stand-up comedian once told me and the rest of the audience when a date and I attended a comedy club elsewhere in the county on a similar evening a few years ago).  I probably looked less intelligent tonight.  My desultory, windswept, and unkempt hair was in need of styling--or, at least, brushing--and I later noticed a ketchup stain on my Rush T-shirt (the Test for Echo Tour shirt with the photographs of the individual band members around age thirteen, for those interested).  For whatever reason, this young man asked me (and no one else) why the prices at this establishment were "so high."
     For a few reasons--including the whinging, puerile tone of voice of the questioner; my lack of preparation; and my suspicion that the individual was not really interested in an answer (and would not retain it)--I replied that I wasn't sure what to say.  I didn't particularly like the prices either, but people were willing to pay them.  I did not open my tote bag and extract my copy of The Capitalist Manifesto (I had just read Chapter 4).
     Unfortunately, that explanation is obviously not sufficient for someone who would ask such a question (and it was probably not sufficient for those bystanders, listening or not, who are ignorant of economics--probably all of them, none of whom was likely to be listening).  I do not think the gentlemen was interested in anything like an adequate answer, however succinct, and I do not think anyone listening would have benefitted from one either.  It is certainly not my responsibility to ameliorate this culture's educational defects; I am not a teacher.  But I do think there is a possibility that I squandered an opportunity to help this culture's victims, and I would like to salvage it here (in written, not verbal, communication, which is my metier).  I doubt that man or anyone else who witnessed my squandered opportunity will ever read this, but there is a possibility someone else will who may learn something from it.
     The reason prices are where they are has to do with laws of economics (specifically, the workings of the price system) in the context of a heavily taxed and regulated (some would say fascist) market economy.  The price system brings supply and demand into equilibrium.  A business is (and should be) interested in maximizing its own profits (just as every individual employee is interested in maximizing his own earnings, not helping out his employer by accepting a lower wage or salary than he could otherwise earn so that his employer has lower operational costs).  The demand for the food that particular establishment sells in its location and its immediate vicinity is such that it can charge prices at that level without lowering its profits.  One of the most basic aspects of economics is that a good's price falls when demand falls; concomitantly, its price rises when demand rises.  The business has determined that it can maximize its profits at those prices when considering the supply of similar food in the area, its customer's demand for it, and its production costs (which are certainly included in the prices).  And in 2014 in Santa Monica, California (where the government, which is a significant cause of the homeless problem, gives homeless people rooms and DVD players, despite the fact that Santa Monica is one of the safest and most comfortable places on Earth to be homeless), production costs include taxes and fees that are staggeringly high (though they are "high," to some extent, everywhere in the country, due to a century-plus assault on economic freedom--to name just one example, the federal government's inflation has increased the supply of money relative to gold and has lowered the value of everyone's dollars, which also leads to higher prices).  The establishment's customers (including me) valued the food it sold at those prices tonight more than they valued the money they (and I) were spending on it.  Those who cannot afford to pay the prices, or think the food is not worth the prices the business charges, will not pay for it.  (Some economists call this "subjective value"--I think personal value is a better term.)  If "high prices" are a problem, the problem is with the government policies that taxed and regulated the economy, increasing the cost of doing business and hiring people, destroying job and entrepreneurial opportunities, decreasing real wages, devaluing the dollar (lowering its "subjective value"), and raising the percentage of a product's prices that are taxes and fees (consequently, along with inflation, raising its total price).
     That is a condensed and limited explanation, and I doubt it would have enriched the understanding of those present since virtually no one is inured from the effects of an obscurantist culture and its educational system, which is run by those who are not interested in broad abstractions and the conceptual faculty as such and have worked (often sedulously) to stunt the reasoning abilities, attention span, and understanding of most of its charges (to varying degrees).  The overwhelming majority of those who run the school system are also interested in concealing the effects of government policies that drive down real wages and raise prices (not to mention employment and entrepreneurial opportunities).
     Since this brief attempt at imparting some understanding of economics, with this method, in this format, is more likely to succeed than anything I could have said on the pier this evening, perhaps it is propitious that an ignorant young man asked me about economics a few hours ago and I was unsatisfied with my response.

Friday, June 20, 2014

I'm Here to Help When I Can

The Capitalism Facebook page shared a "meme" today with a quote attributed to Joseph Sobran.

     A page administrator affixed the legend: "How is this even possible?"

     My reply:

"I'm glad you asked. The deepest roots of the problem (aside from an apparent trait in the majority of the human race to cling to its primordial superstitious, illogical, pre-conceptual roots) lie in the critical philosophy of Immanuel Kant, philosophic progenitor of the Endarkenment, who killed the Enlightenment in the second half of the eighteenth century with his Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics and his critiques (particularly his Critique of Pure Reason, published in 1781). This 'Copernican Revolution' reversed the implicit Aristotelianism of the Enlightenment with a primacy of consciousness metaphysics and an epistemological irrationalism that produced an ineluctable, inexorable concatenation of intellectual destruction through the transcendental, Kantianized neoPlatonism of Hegel and his American epigones, the Emersonian transcendalists. This culminated, in America, in the late nineteenth century with the anti-principle philosophy of pragmatism (pioneered by Charles Sanders Pierce, William James, John Dewey, and other nerds) and its progressive education, which explicitly avers that reality is a Heraclitean flux without identity molded by the Kantian collective unconscious, that man is primarily an actor (not a thinker), that an idea is a 'plan of action' resorted to only as a matter of practical necessity to remove obstacles from one's path when reality is occasionally stubborn and recalcitrant and does not bend to man's or men's desires--and that the purpose of education is not to learn facts and truths about reality antecedent to human consciousness or to develop a child's conceptual faculty (which is harmful and 'selfish,' according to them), but to engage children's feelings and indulge in mindless 'creativity' while fostering a "social spirit" of mindless conformity to society and service to that amorphous, nebulous, nonexistent construct, 'humanity.' (In other words, politics is nothing. Fundamental philosophy is everything. It was not only possible but inevitable.) Any questions? I'm here to help when I can."

Postscript: I don't have time to fix the font now because I am getting ready for a midnight screening of Pump Up the Volume with writer-director Allan Moyle in person and a stop on the way to purchase some Frank Stallone records (which may be the subject of a future post on the other site).  I may fix it later, but it looks readable so I may not.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Neglected Aspect

"Hell is the impossibility of reason."   attributed to Jean-Paul Sartre (himself a hellish intellectual)
"Ted Kennedy's car killed more people than my guns."  (legend on a bumper sticker spotted in Langhorne, Pennsylvania circa 2001)

It started with a knife.

On Friday, May 23, a deranged (or, at least, deeply disturbed) twenty-two-year-old man chose to murder several people and injured several others in Isla Vista, California (and/or chose not to commit suicide before carrying out predatory actions he could no longer completely control).  In any event, he had lost even a modicum of reason (which most people in an increasingly anti-reason culture still retain) and had sunk below his nature.  (Only humans can do that; no other species is volitional.)  He stabbed his two roommates and another man in his home.  (These first three murders fit the pattern of the typical homicide in this country—a stabbing death in the victim’s and/or perpetrator’s own home by someone known to them.)  Before being shot to death by an officer or officers of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, he had shot several people and struck at least two with the automobile he was driving.

All innocent people who lost their lives (particularly in avoidable circumstances) that day (and any other), as well as those close to them—anywhere on Earth—deserve the deepest sympathies of any decent person.  If May 23 was anything like a typical day in the United States, at least eighty people died in automobile accidents around the country (not counting the Santa Barbara County madman’s victims).  (Contrary to neo-prohibition propaganda, if any of the accidents were caused by alcohol consumption, that would have been a very untypical, anomalous day, but that is a topic for another occasion.)

While all who died needless deaths that day (and any other) are equally deserving of sympathy (along with their intimates), it is appropriate to focus special attention on an extraordinary event like a mass killing (whether it was a “mass shooting,” partially a “mass shooting” in the case of this event, or otherwise).  Despite a gradual increase in such incidents that is less alarming than commonly interpreted, they are still remarkably extraordinary (and even rare).  While it is appropriate to focus and reflect on such events (no matter the means with which they were carried out), it is equally appropriate to reflect on the general public’s reaction to this event and similar ones (to the extent that horrific series of public crimes perpetrated by singular sociopaths are similar to each other).  It is also appropriate to call to attention other, much more common, incidents of avoidable deaths—and the types of people who perpetrate them, whether purposively and premeditatedly or otherwise—of innocents which a worthless, recreant news media and the credulous public that follows it choose to ignore.  Those concerned with the avoidable deaths of innocents no longer have any justification (if they ever did) to evade those phenomena if they are interested in violence awareness and prevention.

The national news media (and a significant cross-section of “regular people”) are, as usual, fixating on the shootings even though they constituted less than half of the perpetrator’s criminal actions.  A father of one of the shooting victim’s (who, as noted above, is surely a sympathetic figure, even after unwittingly embarrassing himself in public) blamed the National Rifle Association and “craven politicians” for his son’s death.  He (and countless others) is exhorting politicians to pass yet more gun-related legislation despite the fact that the shootings occurred in California, a state which already has some of the most restrictive gun laws in this formerly free country—and the shooter complied with all of them.  (To iterate: murder is a separate crime often completely unrelated to firearms, and firearm possession is a categorically different activity than homicide.)  Many gun owners and gun rights advocates have pointed out that a deranged gunman may yet have retained enough of his faculties that he would not have bothered to execute (if you’ll pardon the unintentional pun) such a series of crimes in a state that recognized gun rights more consistently—and, even if he had, he would likely have been stopped earlier by an armed citizen who is not a law enforcement officer and would have effected a smaller body count.  John Lott, the author of More Guns, Less Crime, has been adducing evidence for the detrimental effect on crime of citizen firearm ownership for years, to a largely uninterested and/or hostile “mainstream” culture.  Whatever Lott’s views on other issues, he is trenchant, consistent, and convincing on this one (unlike the National Rifle Association, an organization hated for most of the wrong reasons).  (Perhaps overrated, statist Texas is the John Lott of states—and, despite Texas’s problems, I am unaware of recent “mass killings” in the Lone Statist State.)

Some have noted that the killer had a history of mental health problems and had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, the high-functioning form of autism discovered by Hans Asperger in Vienna in the 1940s and rediscovered by British autism researcher Lorna Wing (who coined the name in 1981).  Some are opining that such diffident, reticent loners should be sedulously scrutinized with a wary eye and are a disproportionate threat to the public (especially its female members) despite the facts that most individuals with any form of autism are more likely to be crime victims than perpetrators and most killers are loquacious lotharios like Ted Bundy and Albert DeSalvo.  (The latter, contrary to popular belief and official public proclamation,  was almost certainly not a killer—though he was a predator who exclusively targeted women and certainly more closely fit a profile of the typical mass murderer.)
Despite the fact that at least as many of the multi-weapon killer’s victims were male, many observers (often the same as those mentioned in the previous category) feel that the crime spree crystallized a sublimated culture of “misogyny” (despite the fact that “misogyny” is a household word and the equally common phenomenon of “misandry” is as lonely a word as Billy Joel’s “honesty”).  The virginal killer had written a prolix manifesto and posted videos to YouTube that castigated society for rejecting him and never inviting him and his back to form what the Bard waggishly referred to in Othello as “the beast with two backs.”  The subtext, anyway, is that twenty-two-year-old male virgins, “autistic” or otherwise, are a uniquely or disproportionately dangerous subgroup.  Most twenty-two-year-old virgins, like Hugh Hefner and Paul Krassner, eventually lose their virginity (as Hefner did at age twenty-three and Krassner did in his mid-twenties) and, even if they don't, never attack people.  (Hefner, incidentally, has been subject to a lifetime of feminist objurgation and obloquy that no literal lady killer, including the one who struck last Friday, could ever attract.)

To reiterate: any needless, premature death is a tragedy; its victims (and their loved ones) are deserving of sympathy and attention.  That does not mean that outliers should be seen as anything other than outliers or blown out of proportion—or that they should not be put into perspective and contrasted with incomparably more common categories of needless death.
While notable and deserving of special attention, bizarre, rare anomalies such as those that occurred last Friday should set neither public policy nor dominate public discourse.  (Journalist David Codrea noted that the three deadliest “mass killings” did not involve guns at all.  It is my understanding that most kitchen sinks have enough ingredients to construct deadly bombs—instructions for which are easily obtainable these days.)

In the audio commentary track on a DVD release David Fincher’s unconscionable, overrated cinematic kitsch-fest Zodiac, the inestimable James Ellroy noted that homicide detectives have told him (and others) that murder is one of the easiest crimes to solve—not because most murders are perpetrated in public in plain view of eyewitnesses but because most murders are committed by those known and connected to the victim (a pool that tends to preclude the severely socially inept).

The true crime blogger Eponymous Rox and others have noted that the typical homicide, if there is such a thing, is committed (often, but not always, on the spur of the immediate moment, in the range of the immediate moment, and driven by whim) in the victim’s or perpetrator’s kitchen (or their shared kitchen) with one of the victim’s and/or perpetrator’s own knives.
Additionally, a figure widely shared among those more attuned to likely risk and more systemic problems avers that an innocent, unarmed, and peaceful citizen is eight times more likely to be shot by a law enforcement officer than a predator who does not wear a uniform (or drive an unmarked official car in plain clothes).

Despite these facts, and the deterrent and/or minimizing effect of ubiquitous citizen firearm ownership, the illogical, credulous, programmed majority of an intellectually eviscerated culture are focusing attention not only on the victims of the latest “mass killing” spree (which is proper), but also on the putative “need” for yet more “gun control” (including in a state which has as much as possible short of outlawing all guns) and the ostensible danger (disproportionately affecting women) of lonely male strangers with guns—while the majority of them will continue to habitually ignore law enforcement ordnance, the cutlery and “normal” companionship in their kitchens (and elsewhere), and the increasingly aggressive and reckless driving habits of an alarmingly de-conceptualized, reckless, and emotionalist culture of manufactured irresponsibility, in which reason is becoming impossible increasingly frequently.  All of this was inspired by a series of incidents that began with more typical series of stabbings in the killer's own home (of males he knew), continued with the use of an automobile as a weapon, and occurred in a state with several high-profile (though relatively ignored and now mostly forgotten) incidents of innocents killed by law enforcement (recently and otherwise).

This phenomenon is similar to what logicians call the fallacy of the neglected aspect.  It is far deadlier than male loners and/or guns (even those of law enforcement).

Monday, April 14, 2014

Snapshots of Endarkenment--and Enlightenment--at the "Los Angeles Times" Festival of Books

Yesterday, I attended the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.
     The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is an annual (as far as I can tell) gathering of authors, publishers, book vendors, book stores (remember those?), and others that occurs on a Saturday and Sunday in the spring.  There are barters, bargains, lectures, and signings.  I attended a previous iteration at the University of California at Los Angeles (and attended a memorable--and hilarious--discussion between James Ellroy and Joseph Wambaugh); this past weekend's festivities occurred at the University of Southern California.
     The various tents hoisted off of Figueroa Street represented every conceivable entity and theme, from militantly religious to militantly atheistic ("Atheists United"--which would presumably include, in theory and in the abstract, Nat Hentoff and Noam Chomsky at the same time); from major publishers (Penguin's truck, unfortunately, was heavy on contemporary trivialities and light on their Classics) to more modest competitors; from well-known local bookstores (Skylight Books, where I also saw James Ellroy) to smaller vendors; from horror writers' associations to a series of adventure books set in Disneyland.  C-SPAN had a truck that I did not have time to enter.
     The following is a brief recounting of a lowlights and highlights of my brief visit.
     A surfeit of tents were devoted to comic books and graphic novels.  (I have no problem with them and still occasionally enjoy them, but they should not dominate.
     During a brief colloquy at the stand of Book Publicists of Southern California (where I was twice proclaimed to look like a "discriminating reader"--either because of my copy of The European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche and my Les Misérables journal or because that man said that to everybody who approached the tent), another man hawked his book with alacrity.  The book's content: interviews of the "victims" of Hollywood's anti-communist blacklists (remember when Hollywood was anti-communist?).  He stated that his subjects fought to get "minorities" (including blacks--an actual minority--and women) jobs in the motion picture industry, "put[ting] their asses on the line."  He did not mention that they lied to their employers and were members (or fellow travelers) of an organization that engaged in criminal (violent) activity in the service of one of the most (if not the most) destructive, deadly, anti-mind, anti-individualism, and fundamentally anti-human ("minority" and otherwise) ideologies ever propagated.  I was about to say, "If you are trying to sell [note the irony] a book that sympathizes with Hollywood communists, you are talking to the wrong individual."  Lingering difficulties with verbal communication, coupled with the fact that this middle-aged man appeared to be beyond reason or redemption, effected a restraint on my part.  Perhaps I should have at least asked him about "the other blacklist" (in which those notorious blacklist-haters have blackballed non-leftists like me from their industry) and asked if he could get this "minority" a job.  (Friends of Abe, the non-leftist group of Hollywood professionals, refuses to divulge their members' identities despite the tolerance, open-mindedness, non-judgmental nature, and aversion to blacklists of most of the industry.)  I just gave him "the cold shoulder."  Although I reserve most of my activism to writing, I will try to be more outspoken in the future.  (Practice makes perfect.)
     For relief, I sought, then found, the Ayn Rand Institute booth.
     There was not much activity at the tent representing the most valid philosophy in history (and only significant Aristoelian, Enlightment afterglow of any significant size or influence in the Endarkenment).  But what activity I saw and engaged in was encouraging, if only slightly.  Since I already owned most of the books the handful of people behind the table were selling, I did not purchase any.  I did introduce myself and say "hello" to a few new acquaintances, however (who would just as soon not be named in this weblog, I would guess).  I mentioned a mutual (and legendary, in certain circles anyway) friend (who has been named in this weblog, with his enthusiastic approval).  It was a relief to encounter rational minds, in person, when they are becoming increasingly rare (and confined to Internet communication).  I picked up a bookmark and information on the Ayn Rand Archives (since I am spending an inordinate amount of time in Orange County, I might as well make an appointment to visit them).
     I did not encounter any warm, loving, caring, empathetic, open-minded leftist (or religious) hecklers (I heard reports of them at the previous festival I attended in Westwood).  However, I did see a young woman who was unusually sanguine and congenial (like those representing ARI) ask for information about Ayn Rand with acute alacrity.  She was wearing a T-shirt with the printed legend, "Schrödinger's Cat is Dead."  The joke can have a number of meetings, but my impression was that the gal was ridiculing quantum theory (and perhaps its post-Kantian, subjectivist epistemology and underpinnings as well) and that the young woman was sincere, earnest, and smart.  (Most people who are unfamiliar with Schrödinger and his cat, and most of those who are probably find it uncontroversial.)
     I have doubts that the (growing) minority of rational minds can saturate the dark Endarkenment with the light of reason and stave off another Dark Ages, but I will certainly do what I can to help (and live a more "examined life" doing it than I otherwise would).

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A World of Hope

In the later stages of an anti-reason Endarkenment, a culture lover with a love of and respect for reason cherishes the vestigial afterglow of better times that remind us of an enlightened past and its living artifacts as well as their reminders of the potential and basic decency that can still be found in life and most of its people.  At this point, there is not much of that left in any "serious," "adult" art and culture after the nineteenth century (and the further past the nineteenth century the less likely one is to find it).  As time goes on, it primarily exists in "popular culture."  Even popular culture has devolved to a nadir of "serious" and "realistic" naturalism (itself a misnomer in the context of aesthetics) that could inspire the most serious and realistic (and childless) of adults (this one, anyway) to turn to the world of family entertainment.  Which brings me to The Walt Disney Company (and its media and parks) in general and a specific recent celebration in particular.
     It is a marvel of increasingly archaic capitalist hegemony (the best kind of hegemony) and the awesome productivity of a free(er), bygone age (its world-famous, benevolent majordomo emphasized the virtues of the free enterprise system and refused public funds for the construction of his sui generis parks).  For that reason alone, it (and its empire of trade) is notable.  Moreover, when serious culture flaunts the unintelligible, the decadent, the explicitly anti-rational, and the depraved, a noble soul with a love of culture and story finds the intelligible, the clean, the rational (implicit or otherwise), and the dignified wherever he can, regardless of its (appropriate, given its all-ages audience) limits.  (A careful, thorough, and logical dissection and analysis of Disney fare would find many of its detractors' criticisms lacking--but that is another topic for another day.)  If one must choose, in an age of false alternatives, between the likes of Humbert Humbert & Holden Caulfield & Tyler Durden on the one hand and Belle & Johnny Tremaine & Peter Pan on the other, one may be better suited choosing the latter (and the alternative may not be entirely false, considering either the latters' original literary sources or their Disney filters).  And the spectacle of Disney's parks, with its history and subtle reminder of what America (and capitalism) used to be, reminds the most pessimistic realist that the Endarkenment hasn't smothered the Earth in complete darkness yet.  While researching an article, I purchased an annual pass to the Disneyland Resort (since it would pay for itself in just a few visits).  It has helped this quasi-misanthrope and taciturn pessimist remind himself that, even in the twenty-first century, technology isn't all that is marvelous and rational.
     Two days ago, all five Disney Parks simultaneously participated in a celebration: the 50th anniversary of it's a small world.
     The ride (in a smaller, embryonic iteration) apparently debuted at the New York World's Fair on April 10, 1964 after its individual components were designed and constructed in Southern California.   (My mother and her family attended the fair and rode the ride in 1964 or '5.)  The ride was shipped back across the continent, expanded, and reopened at Disneyland in Anaheim in 1966 with its new, magnificent clock tower exterior (which its counterpart in Florida--"the imitation Disneyland" and "copycat" according to Disneyland partisans--does not have).  Supposedly, 1965 shipping stickers are still visible on the backs of some of the dolls in Anaheim.  (The ride was originally conceived as Children of the World.  He commissioned the brothers Robert and Richard Sherman to write a song for the ride.  They delivered "It's a Small World (After All)" and performed it to Walt Disney and some of his staff.  Disney was so enamored of the song he changed the name of the ride.)
     The Walt Disney Company and Disney Parks like to celebrate.  On Thursday, they did--temporally at all five of their parks and for posterity on the Internet.  Given my renascent interest in Disney's life and work (including his original park) and my familial background, I attended the celebration nearest me (at the original ride itself).  The Anaheim events were somewhat anticlimactic, if only because they were sparsely attended (it was a weekday in April--hopefully the sparse attendance had as much to do with industry as with indifference or destitution).  But they could have warmed the cockles of all but the most unregenerate, incorrigible cynics and nihilists.
     The famous ride was reopened for the first time in weeks (if not a few months).  A gargantuan "50" adorned the towers.  (Since I was riding the non-"holiday" edition of this particular ride for the first time since 1984, I do not know what, if anything, changed inside the ride since its last refurbishment a few years ago.)  Richard, the surviving Sherman brother, was interviewed in a "Google event" in front of the attraction in the early afternoon.  He is a youthful, wiry eighty-five who could pass for seventy-five.  He looks like a smaller Walter Matthau.  He (consistently) projects an air of the simple (but valid) innocence and benevolence that his famous song projects.  He sat at a piano on a riser while a bright-eyed (if not bushy-tailed) twentyish personality interviewed him.   A gaggle of local press and other media professionals stood in front of the two with camera eyes and microphone ears in a fairly large area encircled by rope.  Consequently, I stood relatively far away in a small crowd.  The event was broadcast live on the Internet, but the microphones were not amplified loudly (effecting hearing difficulty and contributing to the idea that this was a podcast and not an immediate, temporal gathering).  The interviewers eyes, smile, and brown bangs were much louder than her and her interlocutor's voices.  I think I could ascertain a few fascinating highlights of the discussion, however.  He and his brother disagreed about "everything" but found a way to "compromise" when composing (the best kind of compromise).  He and his brother had no hand in designing the ride (besides composing its theme song).  And no one "except perhaps Walt" had the slightest premonition of the song's staying power when they performed it for the first time.  Following the interview, he performed a Sherman Brothers song at the piano I did not recognize (it was not "Stay Awake" from Mary Poppins).
     About a half hour later, the Disneyland Band marched from Fantasyland around the right of the infamous "Hub" to Main Street, USA performing a brass arrangement of Richard's work.  He sat behind them in the Disneyland Fire Engine, leading the gathered small crowd (and the procession behind him) in a singalong of the gentle anthem in his avuncular, understated, gentle, warm burr of a baritone.  At least, that was the idea.  I don't recall anyone singing but he.  It didn't seem to matter or undercut the song's spirit, though, and he didn't seem to mind.  He wondered that fifty years had transpired and the song was as prominent as ever.  Then he playfully kidded, "And I'm only thirty-five years old!
     My day at the park started and ended with a boat ride through the "small world."  Perhaps it has aspects that are superficial (even "simplistic"), but the theme of universal basic human decency, dignity, and benevolence was realistic and relevant--perhaps more than ever in these dark times.  (And the Shermans' song's melody and relative sophistication reminds the knowledgeable listener how much popular music has imploded since then--actually, since the 1980s.)  It's certainly true that the world is smaller than ever.  At the ride's climax--known as the "goodbye room"--the boats travel past a series of oversized postcards printed with various legends (including "goodbye" in various languages).  The final postcard is an advertisement for the ride's current sponsor, Sylvania.  Whether mere advertisement or more, it states: "A bright world is waiting."
     These days, that is easy to forget, but it is still true in myriad ways.

Postscript (04/14/14): According to a 1989 monument on the site that commemorated the attraction's  twenty-fifth anniversary, the "first voyage" was on April 22, 1964.  Perhaps the celebration date of Thursday, April 10 was an arbitrary date based company convenience and/or Richard Sherman's availability (though it seems like an unlikely day of the week for such an event--and Sherman is presumably not terribly busy at this stage of his life).

Richard Sherman answering a question at the piano.