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Civil Disobedience

Saw Captain America: Civil War over the weekend and I experienced a serious flashback to my law school days. Having sprung from a time when the law began to be exalted, I had a naive belief in the possibility of justice. Over time, I realized we simply had witnessed the high water mark, that the law was merely an articulation of the powerful v. the powerless. One aspect of this was hammered home again during the movie, prompting me to remember a line voiced by the character of JFK in the film 13 Days: "There is something immoral about abandoning your own judgment." Yet people do it every day, though often at an unconscious level, or so demoralized as to not trust their own, looking to others for validation. It’s easier not to have to be on the front lines weighing truth and justice and being responsible for the outcome, but life, particularly in late stage imperialism, doesn’t give us such imaginary luxuries. Whether you actively choose or not, you are picking a side.

Doctor WTF

Much as I was looking forward to Capaldi’s curmudgeonly Doctor, having loved his bravura performance in The Thick of It, I have to confess the poor quality of the stories has been terribly disheartening. Fans are always quick to scream “hater!” at you if you evidence the slightest distance from doctrinal worship, so I’m forced to work out my ideas in this remote location. Not that there haven’t been nice flourishes every now and then (shades of script doctoring!) but the storytelling has been flabby and uninspired, with some scripts tending toward overt contempt for its audience.

The recent offerings The Girl Who Died and The Woman Who Lived are the latest in a spate of soggy examples of poorly thought-out plots, tissue-thin characters and missed opportunities. Almost a season and a half to pay off the “why did I choose this face?” and all they can come up with is a smack to the head “oh, that’s right: I’m the Doctor and I save people.” Easy thing to forget, that. As is the curse of immortality, apparently. Clara, a character I was never particularly fond of once the Impossible Girl puzzle was solved, has grown so inconsistent as to be unrecognizable from one episode to the next, a failing of which the actress seems painfully aware to the point of telegraphing.

And I’m not even getting to the sonic sunglasses, the afterthought afterlife, the better off dead boyfriend or a moon with no gravitational effect (the ultimate zipless fuck?). I’m not expecting writers to comprehend quantum nonlocality but some working scientific knowledge easily found on the internet, such as a definition of organic matter, can provide clever twists even when vaguely referenced (wibbly, wobbly). While I am looking forward to the return of River Song, it’s beginning to seem more like a Hail Mary pass, attempting to remind us of when the show was actually enjoyable.

Now they are suggesting Capaldi may be leaving after his third season. This is heartbreaking if he doesn’t get anything truly meaty by then, a whole incarnation wasted. Perhaps Moffat is unconsciously looking for an excuse to end it rather than hand it off to another showrunner. Don’t you think he looks tired?

In Dreams Begin Responsibilities

Last night I dreamed I was at a protest and the cops used some sort of tech that ID’d everyone by reading their credit cards and drivers licenses and turned off every parked car in a 2 mile radius. Then for everyone who uses a key card, they shut off the key card of everyone they ID’d to prevent them from getting back in to their apartments. After that, they used a curfew law to arrest everyone who could not get indoors (and people wonder why I’m turning Luddite). Clowns would have been gilding the lily.

It's not merely the surfeit of police brutality videos lately, it's also that landlords are requiring increasing amounts of personal information, demanding guests be "registered," wanting photos of your pets, putting tracking devices in your access cards so they know how often and when you use various facilities. All this with the Orwellian claim that they are leasing "apartment homes" when said hovels begin to resemble Mexican prisons than civilian residences. When does "none of your business" enter into anything anymore? The invasion of privacy goes way beyond any commercial justification but the enforcers are so inured to the system that they consider you paranoid simply because you want to be left alone. Why should this need explanation or justification?

We're all Bashos on this Bus

Where free will ends and our muses begin:

...This something in me took to writing poetry years ago, merely to amuse itself at first, but finally making it its lifelong business. It must be admitted, however, that there were times when it sank into such dejection that it was almost ready to drop its pursuit, or again times when it was so puffed up with pride that it exulted in vain victories over others. Indeed, ever since it began to write poetry, it has never found peace with itself, always wavering between doubts of one kind and another. At one time it wanted to gain security by entering the service of a court, and at another it wished to measure the depth of its ignorance by trying to be a scholar, but it was prevented from either because of its unquenchable love of poetry. The fact is, it knows no other art than the art of poetry, and therefore, it hangs on to it more or less blindly. -- Matsuo Basho 1644-1694

Living in a Post Reality-Based Universe

The recent just-before-recess spate of decisions have highlighted an issue that has been festering for a few years with the current Supreme Court majority. With Hobby Lobby, Citizens United, McCullen v. Coakley (clinic buffer zones) and Town of Greece v. Galloway (town hall prayer), the legal community is right to be concerned about a pattern that runs through so many Supreme Court decisions of late, and that is the absence of factual or precedential support. Rather, each of these decisions seems to have been driven by a results-first, logic second approach.

In Hobby Lobby, the court altered its strict scrutiny test by allowing the corporation to define for itself, and contrary to science, what causes an abortion. Moreover, a day later, the court further muddied its decision by declaring that it applied to all forms of contraception, not just the ones the corporation protested, thereby undermining its own “sincerely held belief” justification. A wonderful analysis of the strict scrutiny test can be found here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2014/07/the-hobby-lobby-decision-a-summary-explanation.html. Furthermore, in one fell swoop, the court also tossed aside the separation of powers doctrine, the Establishment Clause and the concept of piercing the corporate veil.

In Citizens United and its follow up, McCutcheon, the court opened the floodgates by declaring money to be identical to speech and not merely a method of broadcasting it, determining that corruption only exists when it is direct, quid pro quo bribery, that no other form of sending money to a candidate will corrupt the political process. Historical examples demonstrating the deleterious effects of unlimited campaign cash mattered not.

In McCullen, the unanimous panel declared the law was not narrowly tailored because it burdened more speech than is necessary to advance the government’s interests in ensuring clinic access and public safety. This flew in the face of the factual basis for this particular buffer zone, significantly smaller than the Supreme Court’s own, which came about after a series of clinic murders. The size of the zone in McCullen, said the legislative sponsor, “transformed the sidewalks outside clinics into ‘a safe, peaceful environment.’ Before, protesters could stand in the clinic doorway, shoulder to shoulder, forcing people to squeeze through. She recalled a visit when a protester screamed at her from just inches away. ‘It was, to say the least, frightening,’ Walz said. ‘That is what is of such concern to us. The court is essentially saying that kind of behavior may resume.’” . Moreover, the entire decision was predicated on this insupportable claim that the protesters were not there to harass but to “counsel.” (http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/07/09/abortion-clinic-protesters-are-there-to-harass-not-counsel/)

In Town of Greece, the court declined to apply its own Lemon test to determine if the law had the effect of establishing a religion and decided simply that it hadn’t. In dissent, Kagan wrote: "So month in and month out for over a decade, prayers steeped in only one faith, addressed toward members of the public, commenced meetings to discuss local affairs and distribute government benefits. In my view, that practice does not square with the First Amendment’s promise that every citizen, irrespective of her religion, owns an equal share in her government." The town could have avoided this by simply insisting prayers be non-denominational or by inviting clergy from different faiths to allow equal treatment. In spite of imposing such an obvious, easy, and solomonic remedy, the majority disregarded common sense as well as precedent to give such obviously discriminatory and unconstitutional conduct the green light.

David Dayen observed this tactic in Harris v. Quinn, the overturning of fair share union dues by somehow couching home health care workers as not workers. Dayen outlined the tactic as using the initial case to signal the eventual overturning of precedent in a subsequent case (without any real distinction between the first “signal flare” ruling and its subsequent overturning), the tactic being to simply provide cover for their agenda-driven decisions and maintain some level of credibility. In this manner, the majority is systematically overturning precedent at an alarming rate, leaving only scorched earth behind, the most activist bench in history and there’s nothing we can do.

Clearly, the Roberts court, in its capricious application or non-application of its own standards, in its disregard of the facts presented in the case, lays bare its agenda-driven process. And while we can see the obvious winners and losers in these cases, we all become losers when one can no longer know what the law is anymore. Business decisions, personal and public behavior are determined in part by what we perceive to be acceptable and legitimate. But when facts and reason are no longer reliable guidelines and everything becomes subject to the whim of five unelected, life-tenured individuals, society becomes tentative and fearful. Businesses will increasingly have to rely on graft and corruption to ensure that their actions will not fall on the wrong side of the court’s scrutiny while the rest of us will have to rely on luck. There are historical examples for this, and they are notorious, such as the lettres de cachet of 18th Century France, the reign of Richard II in England, or Czar Nicholas of Russia. Governance built on caprice cannot sustain any sense of legitimacy, whatever the charades that game the voting process. Sooner or later, the uncertainty, not to mention the obvious unfairness, causes cracks in the social fabric.

While Roberts thinks he can keep dressing up his radical decoupling of the legal system, the entire absence of logic and reality is becoming painfully obvious to those outside the legal community. Even tyranny is based on some level of legitimacy, which is what keeps it going. Precedent can crush, as in Dred Scott, or it can liberate, as in Brown v. Board of Education. But the Roberts court is another thing altogether. He may fancy himself to be terribly clever but unless he’s hoping to destabilize this nation, he’s turning out to be the village idiot.

"For love are in you am in i are in we"

If there is one resource on this planet that is truly limitless it is love (followed closely by solar power, but I digress). Yet we manage to be so stingy with it, as though it became more valuable with hoarding. It is not diminished by spreading it around; rather it is something we gain the more we give away. “O man! refuse not thy wife, if she will! O lover, if thou wilt, depart! And it must be without conditions. If it is contingent, it is not love but mere approval which can be withdrawn at a moment’s notice.

It can hurt to love but it hurts more to not love for one is not truly alive if one is not open to life’s possibilities. Even lost, it can be found again. Even lost, its residue remains to sustain us through memory. And while this day tends to be about romantic love, that is only the tiniest portion of its enduring power. So if you have ever loved or been loved, pass it on. It is the great advantage of being alive.

Muchas smooochas.

Slow Learner

Maybe it’s just the (likely) last wave of Saturn returns that have finally jogged me out of the torpor of grief in which I have been wallowing for so long. Although friends have commended me on “getting on with my life” there’s the physical act of making efforts to fill the empty hours and actually finding a vivid life of one’s own. To Socrates’ “unexamined life is not worth living” I would like to add that neither is the unfelt life. Either open up all the way and let life do its best or dirtiest or you are not really getting your nickel’s worth.

Grief is like a fog that hugs you, keeping the outside world at arm’s length, like the time I was hit in the head with a tuba – a story for another day – dazed and hearing voices like I was at the bottom of a well, expecting to spit out teeth. I didn’t lose consciousness but I wasn’t truly present either, as now. But in the last few months I have begun to experience intense feelings and not simply ones of sorrow but of unadulterated joy, excitement, urgency, hilarity, desiring that intensity again. Time is running out and I must grab life by the throat or lose the point of it. The irony is that this discovery came out of my spending more time alone at home, working on projects, catching up on films, cleaning out closets, reading books that had been stacking up. I suppose that is as meditative as spending 40 days and nights in the desert, giving the mind time to ruminate and make its own discoveries organically. I don’t know what’s out there or what I’m going to do about it just yet but I have done the mental preparative work to emerge from that cocoon and stand sword ready to do battle with or alongside the Fates. The last time Saturn came ‘round, I quit my job, left my friends and relations, moved 2,000 miles to a strange land and met the most wonderful man. I doubt it will be quite so dramatic this time but keep watching this space.

"JJJJJJ Jesus, It's JJJJJJ Jesus!"

Religions don’t evolve, they metastasize. What starts out as a simple but profound core takes on barnacles the minute the prophet exits the scene and second rate intellects, middle managers, flim flam artists and institutions glom onto the next marketing opportunity. Elegance and understanding are subsumed by rococo and byzantine doctrine cooked up by people who wanted to be “the guy” and eaten up by those seeking easy comfort. I am indebted to Selina O’Grady’s hard work in “And Man Created God” for providing the backup to my own observations. It happened to the Buddha, it happened to Zoroaster and to Isis and it happened to Jesus.

Enter freely and of your own True WillCollapse )

"Yes I Said Yes I Will Yes"

After watching the 50th anniversary Doctor Who special on the 8th doctor (I'm religiously watching them all), I found myself at a loss. Having only the one TV outing followed by radio specials which I have never had the opportunity to hear, I had forgotten the impact this transitional figure had on me (or perhaps subsequent incarnations brought it into clearer focus). For all the years I had watched the show, sometimes intermittently, I found the character fascinating but remote. For the first time, in Paul McGann’s performance, we see a more emotionally accessible character, wearing his damaged heart on his sleeve, who when he said, “come with me” for the first time I answered “yes.” Not for me to be a pet along for the ride, amusing and sometimes useful, I finally found a doctor with whom you would not feel lonely blasting around through time and space. Without daring to have a more approachable doctor, we would never have had River Song, Rose Tyler or, for that matter, Donna Noble. Yet at the time all the horrified uproar was about the Doctor kissing a woman. To be Gallifreyan does not necessarily mean to be celibate, though humans might seem a bit of a step down for a 900 year old time traveler. We take this as a given now, but as with all revolutionary changes, the revolutionary is a dead man. And not just that he fought and likely died in the last great Time War. Doctors 9 through 11 have benefitted enormously from this charismatic leap, as Daniel Craig followed Timothy Dalton’s harder edged Bond to a more appreciative reception. David Tennant keenly observed that the chipper 4th Doctor cast a long shadow but the dark 8th Doctor casts a long light.

Going Medieval on Our Ass

Serfdom was a form of modified slavery that became the foundation of the medieval economic system across Europe and Russia for centuries. With the rise of the European nation states in the 5th through 8th Centuries and the concentration of wealth among new elites, peasant labor that could migrate freely in search of employment became problematic to the emerging class of large estate holders. Thus, in collaboration with the Catholic Church, the system of serfdom was invented to create a captive labor market whose token benefit was ostensibly the “protection” of the local estate holder against other, invading estate holders not unlike the latter day version enforced by the Mafia.

As described by encyclopedia.com, “serfdom was primarily a means of attaching peasants to the land, restricting their mobility and choice of how, where, and when to dispose of their own labor, and of extracting payments in return for services over which the landowner had a monopoly.” The freedom of the serf to negotiate his price, to organize with his fellow serfs or to migrate in search of more advantageous employment was nil and efforts to do so were punished heavily. Although not taught in history classes, peasant revolts were common during this period but it was the Black Plague that truly freed Europe and made way for a new mode of commerce, one not so heavily dependent upon landed wealth.

Any similarities to 21st Century trends in security, immigration and labor laws are therefore not coincidental. The recent shot off the bow, by the rapacious Koch Brothers, is that minimum wage supposedly hurts the poor. As we further militarize our border (http://www.nationofchange.org/creating-military-industrial-immigration-complex-1373639752), we don’t realize that this, combined with international trade agreements, has the effect of penning us inside as much as it pens others out (or lets others in only insofar as they undermine the wages and working conditions of American workers). With a few decades of practice to examine these trade agreements, we can easily discover the effect to be one of throwing small farmers off their lands, creating a new subclass of laborers in “special economic zones” (aka maquiladoras), releasing corporate elites from legal responsibilities, and freeing capital to move without taxation or any other limitation around the globe while pinning workers more firmly in place. Less visible are the foreign workers shipped in by private contractors to work our army bases around the world who are as trapped as those caught in the net of increasingly widespread human trafficking.

The latest of these agreements, the TPP, currently being negotiated in secret, will further restrict the rights of workers by superceding national sovereignty to permit corporations to strike out legislation that “creates a barrier to commerce” such as environmental, public safety or labor laws. While the full extent of this treaty is yet unknown, the results of similar so-called “free trade” agreements are quite transparent. Moreover, the rise of private prisons has led to a new class of laborer, one fully fixed and not subject to the (albeit decreasing) protections of as-yet free labor. If this weren’t bad enough, Republicans are now assaulting limitations on the use of child labor, harkening back to the Dickensian nightmare that was the Industrial Revolution. The right to organize is being removed, state by state, while federally the National Labor Relations Board has been disempowered, distancing even organized labor from the enforcement of long-won rights.

“Only Nixon could go to China” may be a political truism but “only Obama could repeal the 13th Amendment” reflects the other side of that coin.