The Campaign for Critical Thinking

This campaign, which I am officially launching, though nonchalantly, will likely meet with the same fate as my undeniably innovative and, I’m sure, verifiably effective, program for team problem-solving, the student-run animation workshop.   A good idea, no matter how good, is not enough, of course.  If the idea is not self-monetizing and irresistible to angel investors, one needs funding, or, at minimum, a large network of enthusiasts.   In our culture, money speaks, and spreads the word, and makes or breaks.  One billionaire backer makes all the difference.

Even in the case of genius, great skill, luck and complementary genius is often necessary before an idea can get huge, become a force in society.  The Beatles would quite possibly never have become the worldwide phenomenon they became without the public relations genius of Brian Epstein.   The president we have now would not be the president without the genius of those who helped promote him, target his message, data-mine voting patterns to pinpoint the exact number of districts he needed to win the Electoral College, an anti-democratic mechanism created by the framers of the Constitution that can only be understood in connection to protecting the rights of slaveholders, who were a tiny minority of the population.  In some cases these poor slaveholders lived in states where they were also part of the racial minority!  Can you imagine the pressures on them?!

The certainty of failure must not deter the pursuit of a needed idea.   I heard Chris Hedges couch this in terms of his Christian belief– the duty to intervene on the side of righteousness does not depend on your chances of success.  In fact, you could argue that the duty becomes greater as the abuse escalates and the odds of failure increase. 

A simple idea then.  Reserve opinion, and advocacy, until you have as many facts as you can get.   Facts, you will say, are slippery.  There are now also “alternative facts” and facts invented for profit.   Many of the unverifiable facts that influenced the outcome of our recent election were dreamed up by industrious young capitalists, creating a market-driven product for which there was a huge demand.  

Millions hated Hillary, it was simply shrewd business to create another incendiary reason to hate her.   Make it wild enough you could get millions of monetized clicks.  How about a factual account of a child-sex ring she was involved with, located in the basement of a pizza place that has no basement?  They got millions of hits on that one, each one sounding a distinct “cah-ching!”. The story was repeated over and over among those who hated Hillary, each time it was liked, more profit for the “content creators”.  A guy with a gun finally went to investigate, to free the child sex slaves that Hillary and her people had locked up in that basement.   Hard to blame the guy, in a way.  

The same cynical genius, or a similar nonpartisan businessman, also came up with the Trump and Sheldon Adelson gang-raping the under-aged girl story.  CAH-ching!  Much of this fake news was created by highly successful content creators who wrote the fake news of the right and of the left.   They had no dog in the fight, did not even like dog fights, maybe, but there sure is money in the right dog fight.

Critical thinking is harder than reflexive thinking, for sure.  It is harder than many things.   The confirmation bias is one factor, we tend to believe new things that conform to what we already believe.   This has been greatly exacerbated by that tsunami of capitalist genius, Facebook.   Most people get their news from their friends on there, and algorithms track the news and send them more like-minded well-liked stories (and related ads).  Everybody wins.  Except for critical thinking. 

There has been a deliberate campaign against critical thinking in the United States, accelerated since the days of Reagan when political debate began to be reduced to “I Know You Are, but What am I?”  That anti-intellectual ideology is now personified in a party “intellectual” like Paul Ryan whose political credo was forged while reading a really long novel by a supremely opinionated Russian anti-communist named Ayn Rand.  Paul Ryan considers this poet, a rationalist, a self-proclaimed Objectivist, who believed that the “Invisible Hand” of the “Free Market” would free mankind from the tyranny of altruism, a profound political philosopher.

In Ayn Rand’s gigantic allegories about the evils of Communism she makes her case that the remarkable man will always be considered an enemy of the State, hated by the herd.  The titanic struggle of the remarkable visionary protagonist of her books inspires readers to admire persecuted individual genius and to value it far above the craven needs of the masses, who are lazy, corrupt and indifferent to evil.   Her novels also hammer home the message that it is no virtue to want to help others.  

Paul Ryan is considered a Republican intellectual because his political epiphany came while reading a really, really long book.  Take a quick, mocking look at the philosophy of Ayn Rand.   Here is the visionary herself, explaining to Phil Donahue why wanting to do good in the world is not a virtue.   If you have the stamina, toward the end of her presentation, you can hear Ayn Rand’s attack on public education, which she says creates a class of brainwashed slaves to government tyranny.  She also states that she would never vote for a woman for U.S. president.  A female commander-in-chief of the Army, she said, is “unspeakable”.

I am not using this despicable example simply to bash Republicans and Libertarians.   Democrats may be arguably likelier to critically debate policy positions, at least during the primaries, but they are hardly great advocates of critical thinking.  They defend their own indefensible inconsistencies as doggedly as their colleagues across the aisle.  

Any time you have only two positions to choose from, you are probably leaving important considerations and options off the table, not thinking very critically.   And critical thinking is now more critical than ever, as vast areas of the inhabited earth will soon be uninhabitable, as we pass a climactic tipping point while false arguments are forcefully presented, at great expense, by those who profit handsomely by the destruction of the planet. 

Critical thinking.  The Campaign for Critical Thinking.  Hastag don’t be a fucking asshole.

Compassionate Care Act, my ass

In a nation that for more than one hundred years could not agree that freed slaves had a federal right not to be lynched by terrorists in the states that formerly employed them, or anywhere else, it is not surprising that other, lesser injustices are sometimes tolerated.  We only have so much ability to be vexed by injustice, after all.  How many people can really get exercised when Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, the diminutive racist Attorney General with the recently affronted honor, apparently blind and deaf to the lessons of American history, declares that the long war on marijuana users is back on, big time, baby.  Lock ’em up!   Lock ’em up!  

I am thinking of the short, violent, lawless failed experiment in making America sober, the Constitutional Amendment that gave us Prohibition, before that Amendment was repealed by another Amendment thirteen years later.   For many of the years it was illegal, you could do heavy time for transporting or even drinking alcohol.  Not surprisingly, it was a better bet for the mugs making a dollar hauling booze to reach for a machine gun than a driver’s license when stopped by the feds.   Today, the same is true, in certain states, for people carrying large amounts of marijuana in their cars.  

You can make a good argument that this country’s inexorable swing toward surveillance and the ever-increasing exceptions to the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures (not to mention increasingly organized crime) are all traceable to the selective war on selected intoxicants.  I would — and I will, for my customary fee, drop me a line and a check.   In the meantime I’m here to say, once again, what the fuck?

Alcohol is a dangerous drug that fucks and kills thousands of Americans a year, destroys lives.  Liver disease, drunk driving and vehicular homicide, increased risk of heart disease, domestic violence, foolish and/or disgusting public behavior, bar fights, fights between angry drunks at sports stadiums, regrettable teenage overindulgences, direct deaths from alcohol poisoning in cases where a college freshman may have a quart or more of vodka poured into a tube inserted into her asshole, or when delicious, sweet liquor is guzzled by a child.   It’s not surprising that there was an effort to curb its abuse.  

But like the War on Terror, the war on some people’s need to abuse certain intoxicants can’t be won by SWAT teams overpowering people and throwing them into cells for long prison stretches.  

Hey, YO! it doesn’t fucking work, if your purpose is to actually address the problem you claim to want to solve.  That’s not really your purpose, as any child can see, but who am I to question the motives and wisdom of those who declare and conduct such wars?  

Anyway, dating back as far as Prohibition, there was a federal effort to root out marijuana use.   It is racist and xenophobic in its roots, sure, was codified and doubled down on by Richard Nixon, a paragon of moderation in his nightly alcohol use as his paranoia escalated in the lead up to his resignation in disgrace, yeah, yeah.  We know all that.   One can say that the criminalization of marijuana, a relatively innocuous intoxicant, while alcohol, a drug whose ongoing destructiveness is well-known, is readily procurable by any determined ten year-old, is a bit hypocritical, or whatever.   I just want to point out one recent example of “let me take a shit down your throat and tell you that it’s raining.”  It is part my campaign for critical thinking.

Criminal law under our Constitution is a matter for each state to decide for itself.  That is a cornerstone of our federal system.  The states make their own criminal, matrimonial, family and business laws.  That’s why, before the Supreme Court stepped in, some states could allow same sex marriage while other states could as be homophobic as their most influential homophobic constituents pleased.   Same goes for pot.  In some states you can now smoke marijuana “recreationally,” in other states you have permission for “medicinal use” which is given liberally, in some states permission for medicinal use is given less liberally.  

State laws are generally untouchable by federal law, except in the very special case where there is an overwhelmingly compelling need for a uniform federal law that preempts local and state wishes.  For the important federal purpose of breaking up protests and jailing political enemies, Negros, jazz musicians, itinerant Mexican workers, hipsters, hip-hoppers, poseurs, vipers, slackers, scoffers and other morally degenerate pot smokers, enforcement of the federal law against marijuana is clearly one such compelling exception to our general rule of States’ rights here in America.

States wishing not to arouse the federal government to literally send a SWAT team in and mass arrest those who, while complying with the laws of their own state nonetheless defy the unamended 1970 Controlled Substances Act, the federal anti-marijuana law, must “narrowly tailor” their state marijuana laws so that they do not run afoul of the federal law. The federal law defines marijuana as a dangerous drug with absolutely no redeeming medical value, a substance that needs to be controlled at all costs.  Federal law makes it very difficult to even conduct scientific research on marijuana.

Wait, I know, how do you not run afoul of that federal law with a medicinal marijuana law based on marijuana’s proven medicinal value when the federal law from 1970 clearly classifies marijuana among the most dangerous drugs, a potentially deadly substance with no medicinal value?  You actually can’t, of course.  But New York State, under its neoliberal asshole governor, gave it a good shot recently with its incredibly narrowly tailored, and puckishly titled “Compassionate Care Act”.  Check it out the overflowing compassion.

In the State of New York, you can use a preparation made from marijuana (but not the natural product itself– it is illegal under all circumstances, in NYS, to smoke or vaporize the actual plant) if you suffer from a select list of debilitating or deadly conditions AND have an additional associated, complicating factor.  If this surgically drawn list makes you think of John Yoo’s cunning redefinition of torture in that secret memo he wrote for Dick Cheney’s trip to the dark side, you’re not alone.   Here you go:

You are potentially eligible for medical marijuana if you have been diagnosed with a specific severe, debilitating or life threatening condition that is accompanied by an associated or complicating condition. By law, those conditions are: cancer, HIV infection or AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury with spasticity, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathy, and Huntington’s disease. The associated or complicating conditions are cachexia or wasting syndrome, severe or chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures, or severe or persistent muscle spasms.

The source of this is the NYS Department of health website, via the FAQ, the last of a few dozen, from the website of a corporation with a franchise, that includes New York City, to provide medical marijuana derivatives under New York State’s Compassionate Care Act.  Check out these dynamic cutting-edge, physician-led benefactors of the selected extremely ill of New York State.  

If you have PTSD, glaucoma, loss of appetite from chemo (but neither severe nausea nor facial wasting), sleeplessness, anxiety, severe pain not associated with the listed conditions, or suffer from the effects of any other non-specified condition that marijuana is known to palliate — have a very nice day, and best of luck to you.   New York is interested in complying as strictly as possible with the Controlled Substances Act, even though it is a clear logical impossibility to do so.    We’re working harder to serve you better, bitches.  Vote for me and I’ll set you free.  

And if you just want to get high, and not use alcohol or a pharmaceutical, we can still lock you up, if you’re going to be an asshole about it.

I’m going to go drink a flagon of Monkey Shoulder now, if you will excuse me.

 

The Reason I Know Flag Day is also DJT Day

I was a bit harsh on the late night comedians the other day.  They really do serve a vital purpose in our democracy, beyond making us laugh and being an escape valve for the relentless feeling of helplessness all but a super-privileged few experience in the face of the policies and priorities of our democratic republic.  Trevor Noah, Colbert, Seth Meyer, Samantha Bee and their ilk inform us, put things plainly that are obscured by millionaire media assholes who perform for their advertisers without the sense of humor.  

It does relatively little to report that the Attorney General may not have been entirely truthful in his sworn testimony in front of a senate committee.    Playing the clip of what he said while tap dancing at the hearing, and then playing a collage of clips where he said the opposite a few weeks, or days, earlier, as the late night comedians routinely do?   Priceless.

The president had a film crew on hand the other day to make a record of his first full cabinet meeting.  Reince Preibus, a man with the best name for his job this side of Rex Tillerson and Jefferson Beauregard Sessions the Turd, began by telling the president with an ingratiating smile, on behalf of the entire White House staff, what a privilege, honor, blessing, benison, stroke of good fortune it is to serve this remarkable and historic president.  They went around the table, each one declaring similar sentiments.  Among the well-wishers, Ben Carson may have unintentionally spoken a sobering truth by his selection of a verb tense: Mr. President, it’s been a great honor to work with you.   

The president smiled graciously.   Then he addressed the group and informed them that although he had declared his candidacy on June 16, a candidacy that nobody could believe, leading to a presidency that nobody can believe, his birthday is actually June 14.   “Flag day,” I thought, when I heard it.  Anyway, that’s how I know today is the president’s birthday.   I laugh now, admittedly without that much mirth, thinking of the merciless imitation of the child-president by Trevor Noah, done in connection with the surprise announcement of his birthday.  

If I was a nicer guy, or in a better mood, or truly the selfless servant of my reader(s), I would find the wonderful moments I am thinking of, place the links here.  There is a feature on youTube that allows you to copy a link to the exact moment you want a friend (or hated enemy, or whatever) to see.   I could scroll through one of Trevor Noah’s wonderful pieces and find that moment where he does the president as a spoiled child of less than average intelligence.   I could find that great expression Seth Meyers makes in a comedically pregnant pause following a freeze frame from the president’s photo op/cabinet meeting.  But my attitude today, in honor of our president’s birthday, is fuck you.  Seriously, and sincerely, you can all go fucking fuck yourselves.    

Anyway, at the risk (even certainty) of being redundant, that’s how I know that today is the president’s birthday.  I could look up how old he is today,  I’m pretty sure it’s either seventy-one or three, but, honestly, who gives a shit?  

If I was sending him an electronic birthday card today, I’d include this link.  I told you I’m in a foul mood today.   For a fascinating discussion of the Emoluments Clause violations charges Democrats are bringing against the birthday boy, clickez ici.   God bless.

Why the fuck am I keeping this on-line journal?

Good question, even as I have to jet out of here in a moment.  I write here, as often as I can, mainly for the feeling of being in control of things we humans have little or no control over.  It makes me feel good to write.   I write here to make sense of things as they happen, to the extent I can.  I find it helpful and hope that what I write is sometimes also helpful to someone reading it.    

I also like to keep the old writing pencil sharp, because I love the craft of writing.  It is very satisfying to see words lined up to bring something into focus.  I also hope, one day soon, to sell these little darlings like the adorable hookers they’re supposed to be, in the Free Market.  After all, any craft unsold is just a fucking hobby (he added, with gratuitous bitterness).

Today I made an appointment for screening of my skin for more possible cancer, long overdue in part because I’ve had to find three new sets of doctors in the last three years thanks to my man Obama’s beautiful compromise with the perfect, which disabled my ability to see the dermatologist I’d been seeing for years, a doctor I liked.  The earliest appointment for a new patient I could get today is for August 31, at 2:30 pm.  I took it.  I’m also on the waiting list for any earlier appointment that might pop up.  If I’d done this three months ago, instead of being discouraged when nobody I called accepted my new Silver level insurance, I’d have an appointment for next week.  Of course, I’m free to call as many other dermatologists as are on my insurance company’s list, in the meantime. This is America, after all.  In the meantime, I fucking write.

I’m being pressured to begin immunosuppressive therapy for my kidney disease.   This therapy includes three months of steroid treatment, in alternating months (chemotherapy type agents are administered every other month) each month beginning with three days of IV infusion of steroids.   I am trying to educate myself about the disease before committing to this pharmaceutical blunderbuss approach.   I read this just now, from the Mayo Clinic:

Membranous nephropathy (MEM-bruh-nus nuh-FROP-uh-thee) occurs when the small blood vessels in the kidney (glomeruli), which filter wastes from the blood, become inflamed and thickened. As a result, proteins leak from the damaged blood vessels into the urine (proteinuria). For many, loss of these proteins eventually causes signs and symptoms known as nephrotic syndrome.

In mild cases, membranous nephropathy may get better on its own, without any treatment. As protein leakage increases, so does the risk of long-term kidney damage. In many, the disease ultimately leads to kidney failure. There’s no absolute cure for membranous nephropathy, but successful treatment can lead to remission of proteinuria and a good long-term outlook.

You have to admire the candor of “in many, the disease ultimately leads to kidney failure.”   Regardless, I have my life to live, and a nice box of chocolates to buy for a 95 year-old birthday girl, who I have to dash off to see after a shave and a shower.    

I feel so much better having taken this little break to practice my word arrangement.  Thank you, Diary Dear.

I Don’t Know How Amy Goodman Does It

I admire Amy Goodman.  She is plain-spoken, hard-working, fair-minded, idealistic, undeterred, reporting important, often otherwise unreported, stories every day.  I am informed by her reporting, learning things you never hear from the wealthy talking heads of the main stream media, the consolidated, advertising-driven corporate mass media even our president reviles.   Watching her update for today just now I noticed this by the side of the video:

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I know about this story from Democracy Now! and the reporting of people like Jeremy Scahill (a one-time protégé of Amy’s, if I’m not mistaken).  Yemen, one of the poorest countries on earth, is being assaulted by Saudi Arabia as the wealthy oil producer seeks to keep Shia militants from taking  over control of Yemen, an impoverished country bordering Saudi Arabia.   Our president, moments before doing a sword dance with leaders who behead heretics and protesters in their nation,  announced the great deal he made with the Saudis. We are giving them a very good deal, we learn, on $110,000,000,000 of America’s best armaments, munitions, weaponry, planes, drones, bombs, missiles.  

The Saudis are putting state of the art American weapons to good use against their Shia rebel enemies in Yemen.   Saudi ordnance is killing the Houthis, and anyone else within range, as the Saudis lead a coalition of other wealthy Arab nations intervening violently in the civil war in Yemen.   Meanwhile, in Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East, there is what the United Nations calls a massive humanitarian catastrophe underway.  Among other horrors, people are dying of cholera, an ancient disease that today mainly effects those living in poverty.

Cholera, google tells us, is an infectious and often fatal bacterial disease of the small intestine, typically contracted from infected water supplies and causing severe vomiting and diarrhea.  

With all the problems we Americans have at this moment, is it any wonder that only six people have watched the Democracy Now! report on the cholera deaths in Yemen?  After all, nobody knows that doomed child staring out of the youtube hero frame, one of countless poor brown children doomed to die today in dozens of war zones all over the world.  It’s not as if the anonymous child is an American kid from Connecticut, a young individual with a name, a cute school photo, a bright future and grief stricken parents, caught in a preventable but, for him, deadly epidemic.   Yet Amy Goodman persists in reporting the “anonymous” kid’s terrible story.  God bless her.

Amy followed up on the ongoing Saudi white phosphorous war crime issue today.  What is white phosphorous?  

In September 2016, The Washington Post reported that Saudi Arabia “appears” to be using US-made white phosphorus munitions against Yemen, based on images and videos posted to social media. Under US regulations, white phosphorus is only allowed to be used to signal to other troops and to reduce visibility in open ground, creating a smoke-screen. It is not to be used to attack humans as it burns human flesh down to the bone, which is considered excessively cruel. A United States official said the department was looking into whether the Saudis used white phosphorus improperly.[376]

Look, I get it.  We can all agree that using a weapon, even one made in the U.S.A., that burns flesh down to the bone is excessively cruel.   War crimes are horrible, whether allegedly committed by our allies, by our troops or by our hated enemies.  Who wants to read about that kind of thing, an atrocity we are utterly powerless to stop in any case, when we can all rally around even a foolish American president who drops a gigantic bomb that is magnificently filmed as it falls and fills the night with majestic flames?

If, as Amy reports, an armed U.S. Reaper Drone in the skies over Somalia rained down several Hellfire missiles yesterday, and reportedly killed a bunch of Al Shabaab militants in a camp, isn’t that something to celebrate?   We are killing the terrorists over there before they can kill us here.   This is the War on Terror that Bush and Cheney started, and it will take more than the rest of our lifetimes to finish the job.   It would take Jesus Christ himself, punching out the American president on live TV during prime time, to change anything about this sacred and lucrative war against religious maniacs who want us all dead.  

And still Amy Goodman reports, and endures, and finds hope wherever it is to be found.  

In other news she reported this morning, the attorney generals of Maryland and Washington D.C. have sued the president for alleged violations of the Emoluments Clause, a provision in our Constitution which makes it illegal for a president to take money, or anything else that could be counted as a bribe, from foreign governments.   The suits center on the millions this president has allegedly received so far from foreign governments who were paying guests at the president’s hotel in Washington D.C., including dignitaries from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Kuwait who have all paid to stay at the hotel since the inauguration.   I’m sure the Grey Lady reported that one today, too.  I see that within the last hour or so many mainstream news services have jumped on this story.  God bless the press.

Here’s an inspirational moment from today’s Democracy Now! broadcast.