Paris, November 13, 2015

November 14, 2015

Paris will endure. It will not forget, nor will it regret, nor will it repent.
Paris has seen plagues and sieges, revolutions and revulsion. Religious-excused slaughter is not new. In the 17th Century Catholics committed the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in the heart of old Paris. It was an attempt to keep Protestantism from spreading, just as today’s jihadists kill to preserve medaeval Islam’s patriarchal beliefs. In its great revolution at the end of the 18th century Paris put to death much of the Catholic priesthood. Thus began France’s adherence to a very secular public and political life. No wonder it’s a target of fundamentalist fanatics in this century that is seeing the old religions dwindle away. Paris has always moved toward the new, the freer, the more humane. The Enlightenment could be man’s most important project and Paris was its capital.

In 1794 the French Republic abolished slavery, sixty years before it was officially ended in the U.S. Capital punishment was banned in France in 1977. Yet through the centuries the streets of this ancient city city have often seen men killing one another, blood and bodies are not unprecedented.

Pascal and Picasso. Humboldt and Hemingway. Balzac and Baudelaire. Rodin and Renoir. Manet and Monet. Gauguin and Gide. Sartre and Saint Simon. Colette and Caillebotte. Degas and Danton. Proust and Pisarro. Chanel and Chevalier. Villon, Voltaire and Van Gogh. Paris has been the capital of art and literature, revolution and philosophy time and again across the ages. For generations the oppressed and creative have fled to Paris for freedom and tolerance. Simply as a storage location for great art there can certainly be no other city to match it.

Of course it is target of hatred, fury and nihilism from those who don’t want the future to be coming, don’t want the few select men to lose total authority, don’t want women to have freedom, or non-believers to have breath and especially don’t want the Internet to show the impoverished and doubting that there are choices that can be made apart from what the imam says is the way.

Paris has seen many atrocities in its history. The Hundred Years War. The occupation by Germans, twice. The French Army’s massacre of the Communards in the 1870s. The arrest and execution of most of its Jewish population during World War II. Bombings in World War I. Later, bombings during the Algerian Revolution. Paris endures. The Parisian will meet the bleak dawn of November 14th of this year with an existential outlook and a Gallic shrug. The terrorists will not have destroyed daily life, the love of beauty and vin rouge, the appreciation of brie and brio.

Paris has been the center of great sadness many times before. When the Nazis arrived, Julian Green wrote: “first there were the black weeks during which the mere mention of Paris broke the hearts of all who heard it….”

“Parisian freedom of judgement is exemplary, and so is Parisian distaste for power.
Paris reads between the lines of history. It has a good nose.” –Marguerite Duras

“Nothing’s sure save what is yet uncertain,
nor more obscure than what is evident.” –Villon

Perhaps Gertrude Stein captured the essence of why Paris draws the hatred of the single-minded and angry from Alabama to Arabia. She once wrote, “Propaganda is not French, it is not civilized to want other people to believe what you believe because the essence of being civilized is to possess yourself as you are, and if you possess yourself as you are you of course cannot possess anyone else, it is not your business. It is because of this element of civilization that Paris has always been the home of all foreign artists, they are friendly, the French, they surround you with a civilized atmosphere and they leave you inside of you completely to yourself.”

“The last time I saw Paris
Her heart was warm and gay.
I heard the laughter of her heart
In every street cafe.
The last time I saw Paris
Her trees were dressed for Spring,
And lovers walked beneath those trees,
And birds found songs to sing…
The last time I saw Paris
Her heart was warm and gay.
No matter how they change her
I’ll remember her that way.” –Oscar Hammerstein

Here is musician playing John Lennon’s song of humanism outside the theatre where the slaughter was the worst.



November 4, 2015

Hotter weather…warmer oceans…happier algae blooms…poisoned marine mammals. This is our future as those with power and money dither. This algae poisoning of marine mammals is happening here on the Pacific Coast.


October 26, 2015

Time to revel in a bit of bitterest irony.  Schadenfreude.

New study of climate change has a warning for the Persian Gulf where authoritarian governments get their wealth and political immunity by feeding the world’s oil addiction.  The outdoor temperatures and humidity may get too high for human survivability…outdoors.  So we can look forward to oil-financed indoor living for the wealthy in Dubai. Mecca and other places round the old Gulf.  Not sure what this means for the annual trek of religious pilgrims to Mecca.


October 13, 2015

If this holds up this is huge in the world of guns, no guns. Control or current wide open market. Could a gun show be next in line? Or a parent of y9ung man who kills 9?
Here’s the story of two cops who sued a gun shop for selling weapon used to shoot those cops.
This will take years to play out, but that is far faster than any action we’ll see by lawmakers in red states or in Congress. It took many such lawsuits to finally get the nation to take drunk driving seriously. Seriously


October 12, 2015

It’s a small, simple piece of paper tipped into an ordinary library book. The book itself dates to the mid-1930s.LIBE

Gone are those days of paper card catalogs, the smell of ink as the library’s check-out person slams the date stamp onto this piece of paper inside each book. Such items are now relics, like carbon paper, typewriters and dial phones (few people alive still even recall hand crank phones that hung on the wall with two huge dry cell batteries inside.).

Libraries persist and I’ve had the chance to visit many fine ones: New York Public Library main branch, Beinecke at Yale, Library of Congress, the Pompidou, Huntington in LA, Newman in Chicago, JP Morgan in New York, Stanford University, Bancroft at UC-Berkeley. But nowhere have I enjoyed or even been able to imagine anything more appealing of life-consuming than the British Library in London. That is an archive truly comprehensive of a land, a culture and a language that has spanned the globe through military and naval might, then through ubiquitous language (not since the Romans…) and now the force of the dollar and American entertainment. Even Bollywood, the largest challenge to Hollywood depends on English. And the British Library is repository of this global language. Go see it. Get a library card if you can and then savor the wares.
They kept their card catalog though the place is now entirely computerized, except for retrieving those requested tomes from the several floors of shelves.


October 9, 2015

Here’s one personal account of reporter finding his AK-47 in two hours. Now that’s real freedom.

Two hours…and the streets of L.A. aren’t even a globally recognized war zone.  Perhaps that needs to change.  Who needs to be afraid of foreign terrorists when we got our own young men with guns, ammo and intentions.

Would the NRA like to see the AK-47 carried at the local supermarket to cut down that two-hour wait time?  Never know when you might need a couple dozen rounds to stop the next zombie invasion or some such, right?


October 7, 2015

Do we have too much democracy in the U.S.? Do we open our governments from local to national to those who should not be trusted to vote, or even think in a way that considers political results for the rest of the country…never mind our beleaguered planet? I bring up this touchy issue because it has long been clear to observant thinkers that democracy and voting is no guarantee of wise, moral or even rational choices by the body politic. Many demonic dictators first came to power through popular elections. The American Confederacy both before and after the Civil War enacted white supremacy laws. In many nations with elections (like India) women are still forced to live decidedly endangered and second class lives. Voting will not necessarily reform an archaic, violent, patriarchal culture. We see how well elections have turned out in those two nations we Yanks recently “liberated”—Iraq and Afghanistan. We seem to have removed one thugocracy to see it replaced by another. And how well has “democracy” worked out in Russia. Anybody pleased besides Yukos and Putinocrats? Democracy has its definite downside from Ukraine to Singapore.
Writing in the 1930s about Sacco-Vanzetti’s judicial murder in Massachusetts, historian and all-around skeptic, Bernard DeVoto, said he was opposed to their execution but not surprised about what happened here in democratic America.
“I believed them innocent of the crimes for which they were executed… I was unable to feel surprise at the miscarriage of justice—unable to recall any system of society that had prevented it or to imagine any that would prevent it…I was unable to believe that any order of society would alter anything but the terms in which social injustice expressed itself.”
There is little doubt in this “nation of laws” that we have executed and still execute innocent of mentally ill prisoners in some states. Much of the rest of the world has banned capital punishment. One reason no national government openly supports ISIS is its use of the most brutal forms of genocide, rape and torture.
So how would diminished democracy help us work toward a less violent America? How might we drop out of the lead in the global league of mass murder? Simply take the voter away from men. There are those Sarah Palins in the world but their minds might be greatly altered if the majority of Congressional votes and political donations no longer came from old white men.
Polls suggest that women would strengthen social welfare programs, improve education with more than dollars, make it harder for whackos to get guns, legalize marijuana and outlaw the “war on drugs” thus leading to far fewer prisons and prisoners (another dubious area of America’s exceptionalism). We might suddenly find ourselves concerned as a country with quality daycare, less rampant drinking in universities, wiping out date rape drugs by making them a really serious offense not laughed at in frat houses. Hell, we might even tell the energy lobby to shut up while we do something to help make this planet safe for our grandchildren to try to live on.
Sure, we would beef up mental health services to a less than minimal level not just for our military veterans (very badly needed) but even for mere civilians and students and worried parents of troubled young men. Very little of the violence in America is really due to mental illness and that percentage is not exceptionally high compared to other lands—about 5%. It’s our gunaholics that make us unique in the world.
We have legal limits on how much alcohol you can have in your blood while driving. You can’t take over 10-thousand dollars in cash to the bank without getting a background check and disclosing source. You can’t get an open-ended prescription for an unlimited number of highly addictive pain killers despite all the lobbying of Big Pharma. Only drunk drivers can come as close to being massively lethal as an angry young man with lots of guns and bullets. Note the word: man.
None of those proscribed or limited actions are as dangerous to me and others as you owning an arsenal. So why should you or I be able to amass a huge arsenal of guns and ammo without some monitoring by the alleged forces for social good? Maybe tracking devices in each gun and bullet? Alarms could be set up in public places that would alert police and public if somebody with a huge cache of arms is present. And pinpoint the possible killer. That’ll send the NRA up the wall because their leaders want to be the ones with the power of the gun. They trust no one, esp. you and me. I trust my friends and neighbors. It’s the reclusive, unbalanced man I’ll never see that I need to fear.
BTW, where the hell was the big Homeland Security apparatus when the killer in Roseburg was trolling the Internet for info on how to be the most effective killer possible? How about some homeland security for a change?
When yet another crazed young male with many guns wants revenge on society for his miserable existence? You are on your own, America. Roseburg: another great victory for the surveillance state? Not.

[Note: I like Roseburg. On the beautiful in drought-diminished Umpqua River amidst forests and rolling hills. Even some fine wineries thereabouts. It’s a depressed and depressing place, never fully recovered from the end of wall-top-wall tree cutting. But it has natural beauty, open space, the ill-fated junior college, a VA hospital, country government, a migration of Vaux’s Swifts each fall, a high school and 20,000 or so residents. Roseburg deserved better and certainly is not a violent place despite its economic hard times and empty store fronts and right-wing sheriff.]


October 7, 2015

UPDATE: Another campus shooting…we’re averaging more than one per week in the U.S. Puts us far ahead of the competing nations. Is this the kind of American exceptionalism we want?

Guns don’t people. People with guns kill people. Eleven year old uses shotgun for gun little girl he apparently bullied.
Let’s hear it for the right to bear arms, or just leave the said legal arms lying around where any young male can get one to exercise his need to control….or vent a little anger.


October 3, 2015

“Orygun” is a common bumper sticker here in Oregon’s more rural parts. Roseburg, site of the 45th American school shooting of the year, qualifies as rural and redneck. The county sheriff there in depressed and depressing Douglas County is a strong supporter of guns for all. Does he honestly think his refusal to say the gunman’s name is going to prevent future massacres? That’s almost as lame-brained as the local county official who asked everybody to pray for Douglas County. Too late for that.
How about serious liability for the mother who lived with this guy and his thirteen guns and his mental problems? Did she try to get him into mental treatment? Is there any such thing in Roseburg? That would require some kind of tax base, of course.
How about building and staffing some mental treatment centers? How about we monitor the mentally ill and maybe see how much ammunition they have? Let them use guns at gun ranges but not carry them around? If the pro-gun folks really want to have lots of guns maybe they can be bullied into letting mental health issues be a litmus test?
Meanwhile, the U.S. leads the league in personal massacres of the innocent. And just one more reason for home schooling which I think is a terrible idea for the nation, but makes sense for concerned parents everywhere.


September 26, 2015

My latest mulling was triggered by the Boehner bye-bye. He certainly leaves a man of some authenticity, compared to say…Dick Armey, or Tom DeLay, or Newt Gingrich or Dennis Hastert who is accused of illegal financial dealings to pay off a man he may have been fond of fondling. Boehner will not make it into THAT particular category of fame. Now the Republican Party that first gave us self-deportation as a sophisticated political concept now focusers its collective political acumen on itself. I see the Republicans led by those lay-off masters Trump and Fiorina and those House of Rep members who live in their own parallel universe about to unveil…you guessed it…self-disembowelment. Will be a fantastic toopic in the next political science text if the Repubs don’t find some way to make college too expensive for everybody.

Change is upsetting. It is particularly difficult to stomach when you’re on the losing end, when your power and privilege begin to leach away. Anger, jealousy, bitterness, violence. If you’ve been in control for a long time and somebody challenges your right to that control, violence can often be the result. The Catholic Counter-Reformation. Burning heretics at the stake. Europe’s 150 years of religious wars after the Reformation began. A generation of mass murder under Stalin. Chile’s right-wing coup aided by the CIA. Egypt at this very moment. Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, what used to be Libya, Somalia, Nigeria. France trying to suppress revolt in Algeria and Indochina. South Africa’s all-white government trying to maintain Apartheid. The American Civil War to protect slavery in the Confederacy. These are just a few of the obvious examples of political and economic structures that were losing in the face of opposition so they turned to violence.

Today’s most egregious example are the fundamentalist, patriarchal movements in Muslim countries trying to recapture the 15th Century, stop any chance of women’s rights or birth control or freedom of conscience or religion or Hollywood movies or any other pollution from outside the closed society that existed for centuries. The Internet and digital media have now made that old, narrow society completely untenable. Saudi Arabia still does not let women drive! Violence is the last resort when trying to preserve that which is dying.
For years white supremacist groups used anti-black violence to maintain their semblance of control. That failed for lack of popular support and through federal intervention. Same for opposition to women’s rights and more recently, rights for all regardless of sexual identity. When the violence does not work, nihilism is the next step. If they won’t do it our way we will destroy it. Couple that with an alleged insight into religious truth and you have the various kinds of fanaticism that plague our globe today.
Sad to say one American political party is now prone to a pallid version of that patriarchal, nihilistic view. The Republicans have so expertly catered to the racist and reactionary elements that have always been part of America (or any other country prone to change that leaves some behind) that they now are dependent on politicians from the Confederacy and the red-state, rural parts of the West. To keep those voters the party has become ever-more nihilistic with a strong element that would like to shut down all federal power except the military and Homeland Security, even to the point of letting the highway funding run down. Ten years ago nobody would have imagined either party deliberately trying to stop fixing American roads and bridges. But nihilism backed by religious fundamentalism can be a heady mix, intoxicating and so simple. Just say no.
The Kentucky county clerk who won’t issue any marriages licenses: no. Planned Parenthood: no. Obamacare: no. Climate change: no. Registered guns: no. A black President: not American. Treaty with Iran: no. Trade with Cuba: no. No, no, no.

Turgenev wrote his finest novel about nihilists. I know he’s probably seen on the American right as a Russian communist propagandist but they might take heed. But then again they’ve not heard of Ivan at those for-profit colleges that are bilking our federal treasury and returning military veterans.

Nihilists want to bring down the government, not to change it or improve, to stop it. So what if the highways fall apart or the annual mean temperature rises another few degrees. Who needs forests and marshes and birds and alfalfa fields. Just give me a good dose of Trump on TV. Nihilists regard this: the house you burn down could have been the best place you ever lived.


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