Thursday, February 28, 2013

Expanding the Voting Rights Act

Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act... still considered too much too soon by some

Given the nature of "law" and "justice" in this country, it's likely that the Supreme Court will find a way to strike down the Voting Rights Act and will leave it up to a dysfunctional Congress to rectify the consequences... or not as the case may be. Neo-Jim Crow, here we come.

For generations states have been trying to get out from under the onerous burden of holding free and fair elections in which voting is not "unduly" restricted, and given the successful efforts of many of them to interfere with the voting rights and opportunities of their citizens these last few years, it's clear they are champing at the bit to be liberated from oversight and get on with the business of limiting the franchise to the right sort of people once again -- free at last! Thank gawdal mighty, we free at last!

Though there have been no overt efforts to "unduly" restrict the franchise in New Mexico, there have been a number of ham-handed actions by county clerks and elections officials to gum up the works, most notoriously in Sandoval County in the last general election when far too few voting machines were provided for large-population precincts leading to unprecedentedly long lines and hours long waits to vote. It was so bad that the governor herself came down from Santa Fe and handed out bottles of water and snacks to those in line.

For the most part, elections in New Mexico are handled smoothly and relatively well given the vast empty expanses of the state and the heavy concentration of population in the Abq Metro area as well as the relatively primitive procedures employed -- such as (eek) hand-counting ballots.

If the Voting Rights Act is struck down, it's widely assumed that many states will revert to pre-VRA policies and procedures, which essentially means reverting to Jim Crow exclusionary laws and policies. What most Americans seem not to understand is that Jim Crow-style laws and policies were not limited to the South, they were practically universal throughout the country, and in many cases, the first order of business was disenfranchisement of large segments of the population. This was unfortunately considered a 'progressive' means of 'curbing corruption.'

So it is likely to be again if Congress doesn't intervene, and there is no sign whatever that this Congress will do any such thing.

Millions of course are already disenfranchised by the fact that they are on some list somewhere of convicted felons or other miscreants. Of course, non-citizens are unable to vote in any case. So part of the process of disenfranchisement includes restrictions on citizenship. In effect, those disenfrancised become a separate class of non-citizens who can be subjected to all kinds of mistreatment with impunity -- as they were when time was.

Those who advocated for the Voting Rights Act knew full well what these consequences were, and that was part of the motivation for the Act in the first place. It's not solely a matter of being able to vote, it is a matter of citizenship itself, and the dignity that is supposed go with it.

Apparently, the issue before the Court is whether things have reformed enough in the subject states that there is no longer any need for the oversight and conditions imposed on them by the Voting Rights Act. Practically everyone seems to think that the conservative majority of the Court will agree that the time has come to lift these provisions and overturn the Act, but not because things are necessarily permanently better. No, the issue now is that voting restrictions are being emplaced outside the designated states and jurisdictions, and therefore, the Act no longer works the way it was intended. By the authority vested in the Court, the time has come to overturn the Act and do something else.

There is no federal constitutional right to vote (despite references to it in some of the amendments.)  Perhaps the ideal "something else" would be an amendment that specifically grants the right to vote to all Americans in all elections with few restrictions -- as is customary in almost every other democracy on earth. The second choice might be to expand the provisions of the Voting Rights Act to all states without restricting its provisions to only those jurisdictions with a history of voter suppression. One of the interesting objections I've heard to that idea is that the DoJ would be "overwhelmed" with voting rights cases and issues and would be essentially paralyzed due to the sheer volume of voting rights violations. That may be. Would it necessarily be such a bad thing?

It would be in the sense that the issue would likely be litigated forever, which would more than likely mean that there would be endless delays in lifting "undue" voting restrictions, all the while endless creative attempts at enhancing voting restrictions would be undertaken. We know how these things play out.

On the other hand, I've said many times that voting as such is not the most effective means of making desirable policy changes, as the Voting Rights Act itself demonstrates. The Act was never subject to a vote of the People, of course, nor would it have been in any case. Nor, in fact, were those who voted for it in Congress elected on the understanding that the provisions of the Act would be their objective. That's not to say that the Act was somehow a mistake. It is to say that "voting" as such had little or nothing to do with the creation, passage and implementation of the Act. And so it is with most public policies especially at the Federal level. You don't get a vote on policy. You get to vote for personalities.

Policy changes generally happen through pressure from outside the electoral system, by effective and well placed advocates and activists. Which may mean high-priced lobbyists and their running dogs, or it may mean massive demonstrations in the streets, or it may mean populist uprisings of one sort or another. Strikes. Shutdowns. Resistance.

Voting by itself is generally not an effective means of accomplishing desirable change, nor is it meant to be.

But then, who really wants change, anyway?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Living Theatre Is Dead...?

Save the Living Theatre! from Lucky Ant on Vimeo.

The Clinton Street home of the Living Theatre in Manhattan for the last five years or so has become too expensive for Judith Malina and the remnants and disciples of the theatre company she founded with Julian Beck in 1947 to maintain.

Of course, there have been many closings for the Living Theatre in the past. Their cutting edge work, which was -- and still is -- well beyond any American Establishment notion of "what the theatre should be and is supposed to be", never made them many of the Right Kind of Friends in the perfected power structures of the 1950's and 1960's and that kept them homeless and on the run more often than not.

That was OK back in the day, as the vitality of The Living Theatre didn't depend on having a permanent performance site. But New York being New York, they were subject to constant official harassment and eviction even from some of their temporary sites. They didn't -- couldn't -- fit the format of The Theatre as it was supposed to be.

It's hard for me to express just how much influence The Living Theatre had on my formative notions of what kind of theater I wanted to do if I ever had a chance to do it as I wanted to. I never saw a live performance by The Living Theatre in all my years in the field, though there were some films of their performances circulating back in the day. It was primarily a book that inspired me, however.


It would be wrong to claim that nothing like that had been done before; after all there was an enormous amount of creative ferment on the fringes of the theatre throughout the 1950's and 1960's, much of it done by The Living Theatre itself, and I would see as I learned and did more, that this ferment stretched all the way back to the turn of the century and work done in Europe and Russia to free the theatre from the shackles of convention. While all kinds of experimentation in the theater had been going on for generations, there had never been, to my highly imperfect knowledge, so much confrontational involvement with an audience in America as there was in "Paradise Now," nor had there been so much nudity on stage, so much open pot use, and so much integration between the "stage" and the "audience." It was a revelation to me that these sorts of things could even be contemplated let alone done.

Freeing the theater from the shackles of convention seemed to be complete with the Living Theatre's production of "Paradise Now" -- and yet looking backward, it seems that the conventions and shackles of today are much stronger than they were then, and the idea of doing something like "Paradise Now" as a political statement, inveterate social criticism, performance art, and integrative theatre today would be even more difficult than it was then. It's not that it couldn't be done at all... it could be (I suppose), but only in such a rarefied atmosphere and location that it couldn't/wouldn't be seen by more than a handful.

The first Living Theatre production I recall seeing (on film) was "The Brig" which must have been in 1966 or 1967 at the Midnight Movies down the street from my home at the time. By the standards of the day, I suppose it was a fairly radical production, though it would be considered rather tame and conventional now. The topic, however, of violence and inhumanity in the military and particularly in Marine Corps brigs, is quite contemporary given the Bradley Manning Thing and the vague, dawning realization that the United States has become a prison society operating gulags domestically and all over the world, in which millions upon millions of human beings are incarcerated, tormented, to live if they can, and in too many cases to die.

The Living Theatre has been very influential over the decades, but even so, its European and Russian progenitors like Artaud and Meyerhold have a much higher profile in the American theater than do Julian Beck and Judith Malina. Why that is could be the subject of another essay, but maybe not.

After all, we closed our theater almost 20 years ago now (gee, has it really been that long?)  What we managed to accomplish has inspired more than a few people and organizations to carry on the work we pioneered. While we took many risks and opened eyes and minds to what could be, we were never in a position to entirely break through the conventions which then and now hidebind the theater.

That was and is for something like The Living Theatre.

So, all hail. And what will come after? Something tells me The Living Theatre will live on...
The Beautiful Nonviolent Anarchist Revolution from Earl Dax on Vimeo.

A Continuation of Sorts: I've been reading an issue of Tulane Drama Review (available to read online, free with signup to JSTOR -- I know, I know. Don't know whether the link will work...) from 1964 about the 1963 bankruptcy and closure of the Living Theatre in New York. It was something I vaguely recalled hearing about back in the day, but it was well after the event when I heard about it, and all the details brought out in this issue of TDR escaped my notice at the time. I am made physically ill by some of the commentary by various theatre leading lights of the time -- such as Peter Zeisler as one contemptible example. I came to know him sometime later in connection with another theater in crisis and I found him to be singularly unhelpful (to say the least), and yes, the theater in question did close as a result of his and his colleagues' ministrations. But his attitude then was little different from his attitude toward the financial difficulties of the Living Theatre years before. It was simply that if the theater couldn't or didn't attract a substantial audience consistently, it didn't "deserve" to survive, period, end of discussion. Bye. Bye. No matter what "creative" (ptooie) leaps were undertaken.

I encountered this attitude widely, consistently -- and disturbingly -- in the nonprofit theater field, and I see now where it came from. It was built in to the fabric of what became the non-profit regional theater from a time long before it became well-established nationwide. That "establishment" took place in large part thanks to the role of government funding through the NEA and the extensive network of Arts Commissions and Arts Councils that resulted from it.

The idea of any kind of "creativity" which wasn't necessarily immediately popular was simply anathema in the field. If one wanted to take risks, one did what everyone else was doing. In fact, when one did what the Moscow Art Theatre had done sixty years before, that was considered about as "creative" as anyone ever needed to be -- and radical, too.

Many of us struggled against that attitude through various subversive means and methods, but few of us were ever successful at it simply because funding the theaters relied on was largely dependent on toeing a rather narrow line.

In my view, the theater -- which once showed such promise and relevance thanks to such creative souls as the Becks and others in the 1950's and 1960's -- has ossified once again. There are still plenty of enthusiasts to be sure, but there isn't a whole lot of spirit anymore, in large part because of the necessity of toeing that line "in order to survive."

Yet another institutional failure...

Monday, February 25, 2013

Mars (Still) Awaits

Mars! Bitches!

Getting to Mars Edition -- Saturday was PBS Science Cafe Day at Los Poblanos in Albuquerque. We've been signing up for this event pretty much since we've been in New Mexico. It's a rather easy-going opportunity to get together with some like-minded coots and other space and science junkies (of which there are many in NM) and hear some talk about what's happening in the field.

Saturday, the field was "Mars and how to get there." Sending humans to Mars, it was confidently asserted, has been a Dream of Mankind for Centuries. Has it? Being the skeptic I am, I questioned the premise right off. Has Mars been a long-sought destination for Mankind for... centuries?  I think not. The Destination factor of Mars has only been around since the age of rockets that made probing the Solar System and beyond a possibility -- if not always a probability. But the issue wasn't really how long Mankind has set its sights on the Angry Red Planet.

The issue was "Why Anyone Would Want To Go To Mars?" And once anyone decided to go, how would they do it?

These issues are being intensely wrangled at various sites in New Mexico as well as around the world. One of the visual aids brought by the speaker was the April 30, 1954 issue of Collier's Magazine featuring articles on Mars by Wernher von Braun, Cornelius Ryan and Fred Whipple, but mostly featuring the striking cover art by Chesley Bonestell seen above.

Well, yes. Without the cover art on popular magazines, and without the enormous number of science fiction movies produced in the 1950's, I sincerely doubt many of us would give Mars more than a passing thought. If that.

Because there was so much popular media focus on Mars when we were children, however, the planet has become a kind of ingrained Place In Space for a lot of people of my generation. But I've got to wonder: do younger people, especially much younger people, give a good gott-damb?

Plenty of spacecraft have visited Mars during my lifetime. The statistic we were given yesterday -- if memory serves -- was "Earth 15, Mars 24" (as in fifteen successful Mars-destination spacecraft, twenty four unsuccessful.)  There have been many discoveries. But oddly there have been none that either confirm or refute many of the various theories about Mars and its potential to harbor biology that have cropped up over the years.

Especially, there has never been a direct effort to confirm (or refute, for that matter) the rather baroque theories of super-oxides in the soils which were offered to account for the failure of the Viking missions to discover life or even organics on the surface of the planet way back in 1976. Nor has there been any direct effort since 1976 to confirm or refute the supposed sterility of the Martian surface.

This has long struck me as very odd behavior by the planetary sciences. The Viking biology results were enigmatic and contradictory to say the least; however, the scientific consensus at the time was that the surface was sterile, and the theory offered was that a combination of soil super-oxides and ultraviolet light destroyed carbon compounds as they formed or arrived on the surface so that there were none to found. A priori, that meant there was and could be no biology on the surface. Case closed. Move on.

While this consensus may be correct, it has never been tested. No trace of super-oxides have ever been sought or found at the surface of Mars, and no measurement of ultraviolet flux has ever been made at the surface. The presence of liquid water -- or some liquid at any rate -- long confidently asserted to be impossible at the surface, has been rather dramatically confirmed in a little known series of Phoenix lander images that show droplets of something on the landing struts of the spacecraft.

Personally, I'm quite leery of asserting that it is "water" in the sense that most of us would recognize it. Due to the fact that the Phoenix landed on a patch of ice which appears to have sublimated and condensed in response to the heat of the landing rockets, the proposition that it is water seen on the landing struts makes sense; yet the behavior of the droplets -- appearing to remain on the strut and remain liquid throughout the mission -- is not the behavior expected of water at the surface of Mars. Any water that was released by the heat of the rockets striking the ice below the lander should have either sublimated immediately or if recondensed, it should have refrozen within minutes; there should have been no detectable liquid phase at all.

And yet, there those droplets are, and there they persisted. How could that be?

I proposed that it's not water. It is instead a brine or an acid that remains liquid at typical Martian temperatures and pressures, and that furthermore, many of the apparently water carved surface features on Mars were actually the result of flowing brines or even a strong solution of sulfuric acid. There may never have been much water -- as such -- on Mars throughout its entire history and there may be very little there now, and what there is may all be frozen as ice.

I could go on at great length about these matters, and have done so in other fora, but yesterday it was the turn of New Mexico Space History Museum Director Chris Orwoll to hold forth on the topic of how to get to Mars and why bother -- oh, and his own journey from submarining in the Navy to his current perch at the museum outside of Alamogordo.

Getting there is being worked out as we speak, the major difficulties being the hazards of cosmic rays and meteoroids, both of which have damaged near-Earth orbiting space satellites and laboratories, and the sheer amount of stuff that has to be carried on the voyage and will be necessary to pre-position on the surface of Mars to supply the needs of landing crews. It's much simpler just to send a robot, as of course has been done many times in the past and will continue to be done for the foreseeable future. Getting people to Mars -- even though it is quite feasible right now -- may be a long time in coming, in part because it is very expensive, there is little current impetus for additional manned exploration of the solar system, and public sector budgeting for space exploration looks rather dismal indefinitely. The private sector is not picking up the slack.

While it wasn't mentioned yesterday, there's a rather good two part teevee movie out of Canada that dramatizes some of the issues involved in manned expeditions to Mars called "Race to Mars" which I recommend as a primer. While I enjoy the many Mars movies made in the past, they tend to be locked in their own time period or to foster highly dramatic but not necessarily apropos story-lines.

Documentaries as opposed to dramatizations often leave out human nature and how people respond to crisis, focusing more on hardware than the people taking the risks and making the voyage. "Race to Mars" strikes an interesting balance and features relatively recent (well, up to 2007) discoveries and understanding of the Martian surface and conditions.

Getting there is almost the easy part. What to do once there is the hard part. The final scene in "Race to Mars" shows the establishment of a little colony in Dao Vallis, where the fictional pioneering Olympus expedition had struck water -- and lost a crew member when the water gushed out as a snow and ice geyser destroying the drilling apparatus.

Water, of course, is the prime necessity for any human colonization of Mars, but whether there is any currently available -- even deep underground -- in Dao Vallis is something of a mystery. Dao is an ancient outflow channel in the Southern Highlands, arising near the Hadriaca Patera volcano and debouching into the Hellas Basin, the deepest hole on the planet. There likely has been substantial water and ice in this region, but whether they are there now -- at least near the surface -- is doubtful primarily because these features are very, very old, dating back nearly to the origin of the planet.

There are much more recent "watery" features, and as noted above, the Phoenix craft actually landed in 2008 on near-surface ice and released something ("") that stayed liquid at the surface for quite some time. If there is water to be found on Mars today, it is likely within meters if not centimeters of such surfaces -- high in latitude, low in elevation.

On the other hand, the Hellas Basin, Dao Vallis, and the surrounding terrain are relatively low latitude (ie: in places much nearer the equator than the pole) and low elevation (the lowest on the is planet found in the Hellas Basin) and are more likely to sustain liquid water near the surface than any other location in the Southern Highlands.

It was patiently explained to me by a planetary scientist some years ago that the Hellas Basin is unlikely to contain any liquid water today (though it may have done so in the past) because of an ongoing process of freeze-drying, similar to what happens in a frost-free refrigerator freezer. Evaporation and sublimation such as is likely to take place on Mars can maintain a frost and fluid free environment indefinitely even at relatively high temperatures and and atmospheric pressures.

The basic question remains, "why go to Mars?" And the answer is always the same: "It is human nature to explore and go where no one has gone before." Once the urge to explore fades, the progress of civilization is reputed to end.

Here's the problem, though. Too many times, those who are most intent on exploration of new frontiers are the very ones who threaten -- and often cause -- the extinction of the civilizations they encounter and/or the ruin of the pristine environment they claim.

I suspect Mars is such an inhospitable place -- whether or not it hosts native biology -- that any effort to colonize the planet from the Earth will be fraught with peril and failure to no apparent object. No one expects to find gold or jewels or a functioning civilization on Mars -- all of which were impetuses for exploration and conquest on Earth. There is no one to exploit. There are few or no resources to control. There is almost nothing that could sustain a modern expedition let alone a comfortable lifestyle on Mars. Whatever is found there in the by and bye, it won't be sufficient to sustain a viable human society. At least not as we know it.

The closest analogues on Earth to potential Mars colonies are the science outposts on Antarctica and the telescopes high on the Atacama Plateau in Chile. Neither is even remotely self-sustaining, nor could they ever be in the future. Such is almost certain to be the case on Mars should a colony ever be established there. The question is not so much one of getting there, it is more about maintaining a presence once there.

At one time, after all, it was widely believed -- or at least said -- that conditions at the surface of Mars were almost certainly almost instantly lethal to any and all carbon-based biology; even the slightest contact with the surface dust could be and probably would be a death sentence to terrestrial visitors. Surely the ultra violet flux and lack of protection from solar radiation and cosmic rays would take care of any survivors of Mars dust exposure.

The lethality of the Martian surface is yet to be proved, but it is still not a hospitable place no matter what.

Almost 60 years ago in the Collier's article linked above, Wernher von Braun, the father of (Nazi)German rocketry and the American space program predicted that it would take a century for Americans to prepare sufficiently to undertake a manned expedition to Mars.  That was pre-Sputnik, when there was no American or international space program to speak of.

The space program has once again fallen on (relatively) hard times. NASA lacks focus and budgeting for major space exploration programs is not likely to be abundant for many years to come -- if ever again.

Sixty years ago there was no lack of imagination, however, and it seems to me that we've lost the ability to envision the future. Without that imagination and vision, progress as we have known it ceases.

So just what in tarnation is this thing on Mars, anyway?

Shiny Thing On Mars -- Dubbed The Faucet Handle

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Liberty For Whom? To Do What?

Over the years, I've asked that question of libertarians and constitutionalists and gun rights purists and other types of gung-ho Freedom Lovers many times. I've never received an answer of any kind, from anyone.

Given history, however, I proposed the following motto for those self-same Freedom Lovers: "I demand the Liberty to impose my Authority on you."

Yes, well. That's basically what it is all about, which we can see quite clearly in the whole gun rights debate these days.

To many of these rightists, the Second Amendment is not only sacred, it is the only part of the Bill of Rights, and almost the only part of the Constitution itself that matters. The rest being dross in their eyes, the long-winded scribblings of dead white men...

After all, wasn't it Mao who said, "power grows out of the barrel of a gun"? Thus the primacy of the Sacred Second: it is the ability to impose one's authority on others ("power") that is the chief rationale behind the fervent desire of gun rightists to maintain their nearly unfettered access to firearms.

We see it a lot in New Mexico, though I'm sure it's worse in neighboring Texas and Arizona.

Just the other day, there was announced another Coyote Shooting Contest by yet another New Mexico firearms dealer. The Grand Prize for the most coyote heads brought in by the deadline (so to speak) being one of those AR-15s that are so popular for mass murder these days. I have no illusions that these "hunts" are anything more than modern-day posse/vigilante excursions. They used to be focused on Indians and Negroes and various designated Outlaws, but now, of course, the hunters include plenty of the formerly hunted castes, so it's (once again) the turn of the various wild animals to be slaughtered for prizes -- or just because.

Why did Americans slaughter the buffalo in such gargantuan numbers in the 19th Century? Because they could. It felt good to have such power over Nature. I can't find it now, but I saw a magazine article from about 1915, in which "sportsmen" in California showed off their one day's bag of geese shot along the Pacific Flyway. There were hundreds and hundreds of dead geese piled up around them as they posed with their dogs and their guns in the marshes of the San Joaquin Delta, and this one team of hunters said they averaged some 300-500 kills a day. Even then, conservationists and others were questioning such immense slaughter, and the excuse was the same as you hear now: the animals were feeding on or spoiling crops, and we can't have that! Civilization! What's so obviously idiotic about these claims is that there are far more people living in the area today, and there is far more intense farming going on -- and there are far more birds roosting along the flyway because after being mindlessly slaughtered to near extinction, they are now protected in most places and are thriving. And hardly anybody objects to them, not even farmers and ranchers.

Coyote kills (and wolf kills and mountain lion kills and buffalo hunts and so on) these days are said to be justified because of all the damage these animals cause to livestock and crops. "Everyone knows..." Except they don't. And the farmers and ranchers often wildly exaggerate their losses. The real point of these killings is not to protect livestock and crops, it is to assert life and death power over the Other, in this case, the Natural World.

Gun rightists don't care a whit about preventing "tyranny" in any rational sense. By and large they were either silent or actively cheering on the gutting of the rest of the Bill of Rights by Congress and the Executive during recent times, most being "patriots" and all who don't believe in such luxuries as "rights" when it comes to other citizens and terrorists -- who are often one and the same in their view. While a modern form of tyranny was being imposed and consolidated even before the advent of the Glorious Global (and Forever) War on Terror. In other words, throughout the abrogation of what remained of the Bill of Rights, Sacred Second believers either paid no attention (as long as no one tried to grab their guns!) or they were in the vanguard of the cheerleaders, where most of them still are.

They don't want to prevent tyranny, oh no. They just want to be sure they're the ones to impose it.

"I demand the Liberty to impose my Authority on you."

That is the whole of the Law and the Prophets.

In gun rightist cant and rhetoric, it doesn't matter how many people are killed every year by firearms -- never mind all the animals. According to statistics, most of the firearms deaths are suicides  anyway, and who are we to stand in the way of such Liberty? As for the rest, well, too bad for them; most of them probably "needed killing" or just had bad luck, and who are we to stand in the way of such Liberty?

As for all those other abrogated "rights" Americans once had, or thought they had, so?

Most of them were interferences with the public or private and personal imposition of tyranny in any case, annoying restrictions on what could be done to impose public or private authority on others at will.

I've repeatedly pointed out that the Sacred Second is ultimately derived from the gun rights provision of the English Bill of Rights of 1689, the point of which was to ensure that one British faction was armed while another was disarmed (in the case of the Glorious Revolution, the objective was the disarmament and political neutering of British Catholics). So it has been throughout the history of gun rights advocacy. In America, of course, the objective of the Sacred Second was the private arming of the (white, male) militias, and the disarming of Negroes, Indians, and whatever designated Outlaws were being persecuted at the moment.

It is ever thus.

Liberty for whom? To do what?

As it is, the American firearms casualty numbers are close to those one would expect from an ongoing civil war, and in some sense, that is what has been taking place in this country for many a long year, with periodic spikes and lulls to be sure, but more or less constant over the long term. Arms merchants profit from it, of course, and they are eager to keep it going by any means necessary. It is the nature of their business. They need and want the public fear and suffering, the drama of the many gun incidents, the clamor both for control and unfettered access to firearms. All of it leads to more sales, more profits, more death and destruction. It's a vicious cycle.

Government is right on board with it, too.

Bringing an end to the ongoing civil war Americans are immersed in will be the key to curbing or ending the gun culture. But in order to do that, power will have to be re-distributed from a tiny minority of killers and exploiters to the rest of us. That can be done once the rest of us refuse to be cowed by the handful of killers and exploiters who rule.

So far, there is no common understanding of how to do it, and it may be generations before anyone figures out how. But history shows it can be done.

Liberty for whom? To do what?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Change of Pace: Memory Jogging At The Movies. "Kronos" (1957)

Kronos, ready to stomp Los Angeles to smithereens while sucking up all the energy in creation

While tooling around the YouTubes over the weekend, I stumbled on this little SciFi effort from 1957, and after some Other Important Matters were tended to, I was able to watch it, mostly without interruption.

It was quite a trip. Deja vu all over again. I'd seen the picture before, and I was pretty sure I knew where and when: At the Saturday kiddie matinee at the Covina Theater in the summer of 1957. I went every Saturday from about 1954 to 1959, and that's where I saw most of the SciFi pictures released during the era. Also lots of Warner Brothers and Walter Lantz cartoons.

I was pretty sure I had not seen "Kronos: Ravager of Planets" since then, either. It's a very, very strange sensation to watch a movie that you haven't seen for more than 50 years and to recognize the scenes, and to even be able to anticipate the dialogue and what would come next.

It's hard to describe the effect this movie had on my young self, but I seem to carry a body-memory of it. It was frightening and energizing and intriguing all at the same time. Many of the sensations I must have felt while watching the movie all those years ago, the feeling of being in the theater, even the smells of the place (let alone the noise of the children who were there every Saturday like I was) all came back, almost as if no time had passed. It was very strange.

The theater was in downtown Covina, California, out in the far eastern part of the San Gabriel Valley; it was in an old building, but the theater had been fairly recently remodeled and brought up to MidCentury Modern Movie House standards. I paid a quarter at the box office to get in, bought a popcorn, a small Coke, and a box of Jujubes at the counter (maybe another 35 cents) and went in to what seemed to me to be a very large auditorium, but I doubt it was really that large. It had a stage, though, and a balcony. And I think it had a red velvet or possibly damask curtain. I should remember, but I can't be sure. I went to movies at many different theaters all my young life, and I can't recall for certain the details of the decor of any of them.

Science fiction was by far my favorite genre after I got over my cowboy phase -- which was at about the age of four or five.

I saw many turgid melodramas and thrillers at the movies when I went with my mother to see the regular programs in the evenings, but on Saturday afternoons, I was on my own. I would be dropped off at the theater a few minutes before the start of the kiddie matinee and would be picked up a few minutes after the program ended. Typically there would be several cartoons, an episode of a serial, a game or contest or prize promotion from the stage, then the feature presentation, and sometimes there would be another cartoon after the feature. Usually my head would be reeling from so much stimulation. Now and then, I won a prize offered by one of the sponsors of the matinee. I looked forward to the science fiction pictures. "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" was a favorite.

"Kronos" wasn't far behind, and because I was older when I saw it, I understood it better and identified with the characters somewhat more. I could enjoy "Invasion" for the scare. It was very much a character piece, but "Kronos" was an accessible story for young people and a feast of visuals that I really got into.

I noticed right off when the YouTube version began that I had seen it before -- when I was a child -- because I recognized the very distinctive and unique flying saucer that would be seen repeatedly in the early sequences. "Labcentral" was a familiar destination, too:

Labcentral, whereat SUSIE computated
Of course the special effects were primitive even by the standards of the time, but that didn't matter so much. The story was gripping, especially after the appearance of the Kronos Machine on the beach in Mexico.

The Machine I saw on YouTube was very familiar, and I recalled how intrigued and horrified I was with it when I saw it stomping its way up the coast toward Los Angeles and the area of my home at the time. Science fiction set in or near Los Angeles naturally had an immediate appeal that stories set far away did not. And the more plausible the story was -- at least to a kid-mind -- the better the picture. And this story, for whatever reason was highly plausible to my kid mind, so much so that this movie became the basis for a fantasy-game that my friends and I played in the schoolyard at recess and after school.

We were playing with notions of "what could be" if the aliens landed one day and took over one of our bodies (this was a popular theme in the SciFi genre of the time.) And we were trying to imagine what the Future -- or what advanced alien civilizations -- would look like. The helicopter and B-47 seen in the picture were the latest things. The B-47 is, to my way of looking at it, the most elegant bomber ever built. The Kronos Machine, too, was extraordinarily spare and sleek, and it was visually striking because it completely eschewed both streamlining and the "googie" look of the era.  We knew from "googie." It was everywhere anything new was, and out in the far eastern suburbs of Los Angeles in the 1950's most things were new, and a lot of it was quite fanciful.

The idea of aliens coming to Earth to extract energy -- including the energy of the hydrogen bomb -- was really an interesting notion in that it carried an underlying assumption that Earthlings were producing and using a shit-ton of energy via electric power and nuclear weapons that some other civilization "out there" noted -- and wanted. We didn't have much of a conception in those days of how very tiny the Earth is compared to almost anything else in space, and how practically unnoticeable (and probably uninteresting) the Earth would be to actual aliens searching for energy resources. No, we saw the Earth as large and important and central to our lives -- and therefore of primary and central interest to the aliens, too.

"War of the Worlds" was perhaps the most thematically similar movie of the genre, but it was a blockbuster compared to the modesty of "Kronos" -- and frightening as hell to my young self (I wouldn't have been much more than five or six when I first saw it). Of course watching a model of Los Angeles get destroyed in the movie was deeply disturbing to me. The scenes of destruction of Los Angeles in "Kronos" were not so scary -- because they didn't look anything like Los Angeles. As far as I could tell from the YouTube version, they looked like they were from the 1935 movie of "The Last Days of Pompeii." But maybe it was some other movie that featured the destruction of Pompeii. There were a lot of them.

In order to save what was left of Los Angeles and the lives of those who survived, the science team at Labcentral has to figure out how to reverse the insight that brought forth the atom and hydrogen bombs. It's pointed out that while "we" know how to make energy from matter, the aliens use energy to make matter. By reversing the polarity of the Machine, they will be able to turn it into energy and thus destroy it. It will "eat itself alive." This is perhaps the most intriguing notion in the film.

What would happen if E=MC2 were reversed thus: M=E/C2? Would matter spontaneously appear from the background energy if the velocity of energy were somehow reduced?

In the film, "omega particles" -- whatever they are -- are sprinkled (by a bomb, of course) between the electrodes of the Machine, and behold, the polarity is reversed and the thing commences to consume itself until there is nothing left but a heap of smouldering rubble. Yay! Close call, but we survived.

There's much to like and to ponder in this somewhat silly low-budget SciFi picture, and I was delighted to see it again after so many years. I wonder what else I'll stumble across I haven't seen in all these many years.

Why Do They Call The Police? - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - |

Seems like every day there's another story of someone getting executed by police who've been called to handle a mental health crisis/emergency that family, friends and caregivers apparently can't.

Why. Do they call. The. Police?

This is what I don't get. Hundreds of people are killed by the police every year in extremis as it were. These killings -- executions -- take place with heartbreaking regularity, and most of them get plenty of coverage on the news. By now, everyone should know, without question, that once Emergency Services is called for help dealing with someone having a mental health crisis, the police will be dispatched, and in far, far too many cases, the person in crisis will be terminated.

And yet seemingly every day the calls get made, the police are dispatched, and some poor sod -- who is probably not a threat to anyone -- winds up dead.

Rule 1: When they get these calls, Emergency Services dispatches the police, not mental health caregivers or even EMTs.

Rule 2: The prime directive of the police is force protection. Everything and everyone is evaluated first and foremost in terms of threat to the officers. Any perceived threat must be neutralized by any and all means at the officer's disposal.


Rule 3: Someone having a mental health issue is almost by definition a threat to themselves, those around them and/or responding officers -- or Emergency Services would not have been called.


Rule 4: That threat must be -- and will be -- neutralized before any other service is rendered. The only means of neutralization the police know any more is through violence, including on the spot execution.

The officers are not there to "help." They are there to neutralize a perceived threat by any means necessary. In their world, those means are violent, bloody and deadly.

And they will get away with it in almost every case.

Practically every homicide committed by police is ruled "justified." Any and all threats the cops perceive are justification for use of deadly force in practically every conceivable circumstance.

So my question is: why do people keep calling the police (or Emergency Services, knowing the police will be the first responders) when all they want is some help in calming a friend or relative in crisis?

Why do they keep calling when they know -- or should know -- that the police don't do calming interventions, they do deadly ones? Do they actually want the deadly interventions that take place hundreds of times every year?

Perhaps it's an automatic and unconscious thing, as we've all been conditioned to "Call 911!" whenever we need assistance for a life threatening emergency. And perhaps we believe that if we explain the situation carefully enough, the right sort of assistance will be sent.

What do we want? Help with something beyond our control.

Who shows up? Police. And what do they do? They kill.

For the most part, there is no mental health care assistance available to the public when they call 911, only police. And the police are not concerned with offering "assistance" to the public in a mental health crisis emergency; they are interested in protecting themselves from any threat of harm from the subject of the call. They are trained and expected to use deadly force whenever they perceive a serious threat, or literally in many cases, any threat at all.

Someone in the throes of a psychotic break is about as serious a threat as police encounter, for there is no way for them to anticipate the actions/reactions of the subject. So they shoot.

What's needed is health care intervention as opposed to force protection. But that means relearning how to do it -- a skill that has been largely lost over the past few decades -- and dedicating resources to ensure that those who can do it are made available as widely as possible.

Police are the wrong responders in these situations -- that is, if those calling for help actually want help rather than deadly force. EMTs won't go to these incidents until their safety is assured, and that can't be done until the threat is neutralized, and that too often means the death of the one in crisis.

Sunday, February 17, 2013


I made a tour of some of the now incredible number of videos of the Russian Meteor Thing yesterday, and I was struck by how phlegmatic the Ruskies were when the apparition appeared in their skies. Mostly, it looked like they were uninterested as they continued to go about their business as if there were nothing unusual happening at all. "We see this shit all the time." (When I looked in some of the video archives, indeed, it seems that it's not all that uncommon to see something streaking across the skies in daylight in parts of Mother Russia.) The brilliant flash of the meteor exploding high in the atmosphere -- far outshining the sun for a brief moment -- seemed not to phase the people on the streets at all. That, all by itself, would be enough to make Americans shit their pants.

The sound of the explosion(s) seemed to get the attention of the multitudes however. How many of the after-noises -- noises that sounded like bombardment/gunfire -- were due to echoes and how many were due to smaller pieces of the object exploding, I don't know, but the noise as recorded in the video above and in many others was terrifying and very destructive. They said something like 30,000 buildings were damaged, a million windows were broken, and more than a thousand people were injured  -- mostly from flying glass. The physical injury, damage and destruction from the Thing seems to be greater than the larger Tunguska Comet-or-Asteroid of so long ago, wherein there seemed to be very little damage/destruction to anything but the forest.

I saw some postings suggesting or implying that Chelyabinsk is some sort of remote village in the taiga. Yes, well. Turns out the city has a population of well over 1 million, and I thought it was kind of special that the main boulevard is still named Lenina Prospekt, the main square is called Revolution Square, and the statue of Lenin therein still looms tall and proud. This video is from Revolution Square in Chelyabinsk:

That is the statue of Lenin at the center. And it is obvious the flash is much brighter than the sun.

The videos of the contrail all show a double trail of condensation which suggests to me that there were two objects side by side crashing into the atmosphere, perhaps due to one object splitting apart as it encountered the upper atmosphere or perhaps from gravitational effects. After the big explosion, there is still a double contrail, though it is much smaller. Finally, it looks like it becomes a very small single contrail before there is a little puff and it's gone. I've read that there are many, many pieces of the Thing scattered on the ground, and one pretty good sized one seems to have punched a large hole in the ice.

Ice Hole after Meteor Event in Russia

Many of us have carried an image in our minds of what a giant meteor or asteroid strike on the earth might do, no due to the many illustrations and animations of the asteroid strike that is proposed as the cause of the dinosaur extinction.

This image by Don Davis is one of the many he's done of what an asteroid impact on the earth might look like from space:

And supposedly the dinosaurs saw something like this just before the impact itself:

But for the multiplicity of impactors, the illustration above tracks the sight in Russia the other day pretty closely.

Of course for generations, it was widely assumed in space and earth sciences that nothing like this could -- or rather would -- take place in "modern times," that is, within the last many millions, even billions of years. Certainly not within the space of human history. Perhaps there were incidents of meteor and asteroid impact long, long ago at the very beginning of the Earth's existence, and maybe once or twice since then there have been significant impacts, but the general belief was that there were none "recently."

All the reports that things like this may have happened in human history were discounted as figments of primitive imaginations run wild. Everyone knew the earth and sky were stable, the continents didn't move, and that all change was gradual, imperceptible, incremental over vast periods of time. Uniformitarianism was the standard understanding of just about everything.

Then there was the atomic bomb, and the very foundations of the Uniformitarian paradigm began to shatter. Nothing quite as apocalyptic had ever existed in human history. Or had it?

Many students began to reconsider the old stories and legends and myths of catastrophic events in times gone by, events that were said to have destroyed entire cities and wiped out whole peoples back in the day. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb himself, began to think about what may have happened in the past.

Soon enough, many of the discredited theories of Catastrophism were being given a rehearing, spurred on by the popularity of Immanuel Velikovsky's "Worlds in Collison" published in 1950. Velikovsky was a Russian Jewish psychiatrist who used Biblical and other ancient scholarship and insight into the human psyche to establish in his own mind that something awful and wonderful had happened not so very long ago, and that the people who experienced it had recorded it in myth and story that is still preserved today.

He saw in those Biblical records and others that not so very long ago the Earth had experienced near collisions with the planets Mars and Venus; that Venus itself had been ejected or erupted from Jupiter as a comet shortly before these encounters, and that the Earth and Moon had been bombarded with debris from both planets causing untold destruction and misery... All of which was in the Bible. The implication was that as bad as atomic weapons might be, it had been bad -- no, worse -- in ancient times.

The physics, cosmology, geology and astronomy communities had a collective nervous breakdown, because what Velikovsky was proposing had the potential to undermine the foundations of all of them. For his part, Velikovsky seemed to relish the possibilities.

He followed up with a number of other popular books that explained and expanded on his position, and he eagerly engaged in debate and argument with "establishment" scientists for the rest of his life. Debunking Velikovsky became a cottage industry among "estsablishment" scientists, but at the same time, a great deal of work was undertaken to modify or dispense with the Uniformitarian paradigm in order to accommodate an abundance of evidence of past catastrophes on immense scales, some of them fairly recent in a geological sense.

Velikovsky was not to be admitted into the laboratories and halls of science, but the fundamental idea he proposed: that catastrophe and Catastrophism were more common and intrinsic to the history of the Earth, the Solar System, and the Universe than standard Uniformitarianism allowed was accepted and developed widely.

For a time, cosmic collisions and catastrophe were said to be behind just about everything. It was silly.

It's still a matter of debate whether the dinosaurs were wiped out by a cosmic collision 65 million years go. But there is no doubt now that such collisions can happen and have happened with some regularity over the course of Earth's history, and the consequences for living things on Earth can be dire.

Later in the day of the Russian Meteor Thing, a small asteroid zipped by the Earth at very close range, less than 20,000 miles, and people's thoughts turned to "what if?"

We know these explosive things can happen; they can come out of the blue, unanticipated, at any time. There is no real protection against them. There was no warning that something like the Chelyabinsk Meteor would appear on the morning of February 15, but thankfully, Science was quick to reassure us that it only happens once ever 100 years or so (and only in Siberia? :->)  Not to worry!

Of course nobody ever thought they would ever see a train of comets impact Jupiter or any other planet, either.

Ya never know.

But as the late, great Jack Horkheimer would say, "Keep looking up!"


Saturday, February 16, 2013

False Statements

Isn't it something that the SBSD and the LAPD can issue a tissue of lies, a veritable festival of them when it comes to it, regarding Dorner and his last few hours -- and get away with it, while Dorner himself quite likely told the truth about misconduct he witnessed within the LAPD and got his ass fired for it, his life ruined and finally ended, in one of the most gruesome and yet inevitable endings we've seen since Waco.

It's pretty much the definition of the era we live in.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Russian Meteor -- Run For Your Lives!


Time for something completely different. This meteor exploding over Russia puts a sort of punctuation on recent events, I'd say. Of course, the official word is that it has nothing to do with anything, it's just one of those things that happen, coinkydink that there's an asteroid barreling through Earthspace and whatnot, and boy aren't the videos grand!

This site has collected most of them (can't vouch for its security, though, being Russian and all.)

When I saw the first one, I thought, "Holy fuck!" I've seen plenty of meteors while driving at night, so it's not an unfamiliar sight at all -- though it always surprises. Especially when they are bright and seemingly very close. I have seen a couple of them appear to explode as well, but I've never heard a sound like the sonic boom recorded in some of the videos. I've heard a somewhat peculiar hissing sound associated with a meteor fall, but according to experts, "it can't be."

Yes. Well.

Bad Astronomy will fill us in on expert opinion. As skeptical as the pros and experts are about something outside their specialty, it's always wise to be skeptical of their pronouncements about what "we now know" and don't know, too. Knowledge in the sciences and especially in astronomy and planetology is always changing. What is pronounced as fact or truth with utter certainty today will turn out to be startlingly wrong tomorrow, almost guaranteed. At any rate, the Bad Astronomy article is useful as an example of how astonishing things are handled, and what kind of thought processes go into that handling.

The Guardian is keeping tabs on things. Wish I understood Russian better so I could keep tabs on their reports. Oh well.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

We Have Seen This Movie Before


Luckily the Dorner movie ended and the credits were running when His Serenity appeared at the entrance to the House and made his way to the podium to speechify for a bit about the State of the Union (it's strong as always).

The shift was seamless.

I didn't really watch or listen to it, nor did I more than glance at the rejoinder by that very appealing Cubano, Marco Rubio (who isn't "rubio" at all!) They say he's quite the accomplished liar and his mother should be ashamed. But that's another story for another time.

The point is that neither of them said anything that meant anything nor do they ever do so at these opportunities for Imperial Display. It's pomp, it's pageantry for its own sake -- and to remind everyone that these people can and will do whatever they want to you at the time and place of their choosing, and you -- by golly -- would do well to sit still and shut up until your time comes.

With the stench of the smoke of what happened to someone who got uppity about it still wafting around in the background of the speechifications, the message was clear: keep your nose clean, your head down, and your forelock tugged at all times. You are not in charge here, we, your betters, are. Don't you forget it.

At least on the CBS feed I was watching online yesterday, the newsreaders remained fairly skeptical throughout the "movie" (one of them actually said the events unfolding was "like a tragic movie.")  They had a newsman on the scene, Carter Evans, someone who was actually eyewitnessing everything as it was taking place, and who was uploading video (from his phone?) from time to time to show the people some of what he was seeing and hearing. So far as I know, he was the only newsman on scene, and he was there by accident he said, having followed the police brigade up the road, and was setting up for a live shot (teevee shot, that is)  when the shoot out started. He saw the deputies wounded no more than a few yards away from him.

The video he put up was stark -- but it had been edited to take out the naughty words and any blood that there might have been. There were also whole scenes kind of mindlessly cut out. Obviously, he got quite a lot of video that his masters at the studio felt it was inappropriate to show. Some of it may have had the infamous words now gone viral: "We're gonna burn him out! Burn the muthafukka!"

Yes. Well.

They did that all right. We've seen this movie before, haven't we?

Of course we have, over and over again, for decades. When a gunman or a rebel cell of some sort is holed up in a compound, even if it is only a trailer in the woods, and the gunman or cell is firing weapons or has fired weapons in the past causing injury or death to the brave men trying to take them into custody, it has long appeared to be policy to "burn them out." Setting fire to the hideout is the time-honored custom, isn't it? One would think it is standard policy by now.

So is the denial.

We'll never know for sure what happened. There will be endless speculation for years to come. A cottage industry of theories will arise. It is ever thus.

Even though CBS LA had a man on the scene, he may not know himself what happened, of if he does know, he may be too scared to say. Retaliation is a bitch.

The newsreaders in the studio, however, maintained a reasonable skepticism regarding just about anything the police and sheriffs and officials had to say, however, and that was refreshing. At least they seemed to be skeptical. It was not, at any rate, the usual media cop-worshiping. Since nobody had reported actually seeing Dorner at this hideout, they wouldn't even accept at face value that it was Dorner inside -- or that there was anyone necessarily inside.

That kind of skepticism is very unusual in the media, so I was somewhat taken aback by it.

But let's assume that it was Dorner, and that the charred corpse found inside the burnt out wreck of a "cabin" -- it was quite a large house -- was his, and that the single gunshot reported just prior to the start of the fire that engulfed the house and the corpse was Dorner putting an end to his own life. Let us assume that's what happened.

Then let us ask my question: Was Justice done?

We start to see how complicated the answer to that question can be. This whole sequence of events might not have happened at all had Dorner believed that the processes of internal discipline and court appeals that he had endured over the past few years (which also seemed to have included his -- involuntary? -- separation from the Naval Reserve just before the start of his mission...) had resulted in Justice. He didn't think so; what purports to be his manifesto (or his last will and testament, depending) says that he felt betrayed, lied about, abused, and the victim of institutional racism and retaliation for trying to do the right thing when he reported to a superior the police brutality and abuse he said he witnessed during the arrest of a mentally ill suspect.

"Everyone knows" how abusive and brutal the LAPD is notorious for being. That's become true of many police departments throughout the land, if it wasn't always the case. Milder forms of this institutionalized brutality -- and sometimes not so mild -- were on nearly constant and universal display during the coordinated suppression of the Occupy demonstrations around the country not so long ago.

That suppression was routinely violent and brutal, something it is still hard for cop-worshipers to deal with. The specific case of LAPD is no less difficult to deal with, for it seems they have learned lessons from being caught time and again abusing their authority (including brutality, murder, planting evidence, and so on) and at other times, it appears they've either learned nothing or have learned how to be as corrupt and violent as they want to be without getting caught.

In Dorner's case, he was inside the department, and it appears he felt the full force of institutional retaliation when he spoke up against abuse he witnessed.

Yes. Well. Anyone who's been "inside" knows the sensation, knows what happens to whistleblowers, snitches, uppity mouthy punks. They get run out, sometimes run over. It is Iron Law -- institutions must protect themselves first and foremost, and anything that threatens the institution must be controlled, isolated and removed.

No matter the "protections" they ostensibly have at law.

So let's acknowledge that in the specific instance of Dorner's firing from the LAPD, he felt that a tremendous injustice had been done to him personally, and he attributed that injustice to the inherent racism and dishonesty of his police colleagues and the institution itself.

He wanted revenge.

His form of revenge was to disrupt the institution through various means, including murder. He partially succeeded at least temporarily. If his intention was to destroy the LAPD, he failed.

If he saw his revenge as Justice, then we could say he was able to obtain Justice. But his personal desire for revenge/Justice conflicts with social and political mores accepted by most people that say that "Justice" is found through legal processes alone, and in Dorner's case -- too bad, so sad -- the legal processes he endured did not produce a result in his favor. If the result of the legal process he went through was unjust, oh well, that's the way the cookie crumbles; he should just get over it and move on.

He didn't. No, he fought back. That's how he got to be a folk/cult hero, something that may have scared the LAPD more than his threats and actions. I never thought they were responding to Dorner as much as they were responding to the public disgust with their behavior -- both historic and contemporary. The fact that someone from inside the institution, though rejected by it, actually took them on and made a huge splash in doing so, regardless of whether he was justified, or whether the action he took was appropriate (to put it mildly) was literally terrifying to the institution, and thus I thought his designation as a Domestic Terrorist was more apropos than not.

Fighting back the way Dorner did, violently and maliciously, with the intent to destroy the institution itself is something that is almost never done in this country. Nonviolent resistance or standard political/legal processes are nearly always asserted as the only appropriate ways to bring change to institutions.

The other path, the violent path, will almost always result in the fiery extermination of the rebel foe.

We've seen this movie again and again. It always ends the same way.

Is it Justice?

Depends on who is doing the evaluation, doesn't it?

Individuals can make profound changes in institutions all by their lonesome, and the methods they choose to do so -- whether violent or nonviolent -- often don't make much difference. If the intention is institutional change, the methods chosen to accomplish change are almost beside the point. But in Dorner's case, the apparent intention was the destruction of the institution of the LAPD, and the method he chose (he described it as "asymmetrical warfare") was both physically and psychologically violent. Institutions and states facing this kind of threat tend to throw up the barricades and to hunker down, and in the end, they tend to unleash mindless and appalling violence against their perceived foe(s). Which is pretty much what we saw in the case of the LAPD facing the threat from Chris Dorner. For a time they lashed out wildly at anything that moved.

The parallels, of course, with the actions of Our Great Nation concomitant with the advent of the Glorious and Perpetual Global War on Terror (which Dorner participated in the Navy) are stark and obvious.

"Bringing to justice" became something of an oxymoron during the most intense periods of that conflict, for all it meant was exterminating anyone and everyone who became targets whether or not they had any role in the conflict. How many thousands, tens of thousands or millions of stark innocents paid with their lives and are still paying with their lives in the name of that kind of "Justice" for attacks long ago?

Revenge and random slaughter is not Justice. Not in any conception of Justice I can imagine at any rate.

Thus it is hard to justify Dorner's tactics as having anything to do with "Justice."

On the other hand, what about the later coordinated and fiery response to his revenge? Was that Justice?

Dorner's threat to the institution was eliminated in a very dramatic fashion, covered live on teevee, witnessed by tens of thousands, and the job was completed before the President's scheduled appearance before Congress in the Imperial Pageant of the State of the Union. All is now well, and we are back to normal. Justice has been done.

Or has it?

Is threat elimination by itself "Justice"? Not to my mind.

The elimination of one more perceived threat to the continued operations of a violent, rotting and corrupt institution is not even remotely related to any concept of Justice I can imagine. And the LAPD is practically the textbook example of institutional violence, rot and corruption.

So ultimately Justice still failed to materialize in this tragic movie.

The ancient Greek tragedians faced a similar frustration and dilemma. Going against the gods produced... results: ugly, disturbing, and often fiery or bloody results. Damnation was certain, but often the innocent were consumed along with the guilty, and the only thing the survivors could do was accept their fate -- or struggle against it and fail. Was the result Justice? In the gods' view, certainly.

For the mere mortals subject to it, the Cruel Justice of the Gods, however... not so much.

Let us reflect on Prometheus...

  PROMETHEUS BOUND from Manatee Idol on Vimeo.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Meanwhile At the Imperial Display

His Serenity Sprach
"The State of the Union is Strong."


The Dorner Legend Continues -- Live Coverage From The Scene

Been watching (on line) the live coverage (video above at least for as long as this continues) on KTVU KCBS channel 2 news in Los Angeles  of police surrounding  someone who is believed to be Chris Dorner in a house above Big Bear Lake in San Bernardino County. Interesting. (KTVU is channel 2 in Oakland)

There are reports of carjacking, hostage taking, shoot outs, wounded officers, perp holed up in a vacation cabin (it's quite a large house on the screen), no communications, police holding press conferences urging Dorner to surrender, schools locked down, no confirmation that the perp holed up is actually Dorner, friends of hostages interviewed, hopes that this "ends without further bloodshed," speculation (and excitement) over what might make the police "take him out."

Now there's a kind of breathless speculation that Dorner was holed up at 1236 Clubview Dr all the time, directly across the street from the media center established when the burnt out truck was found the other day.

They're saying, "It's like it's a tragic movie."

Yes. Well.

UPDATE: Tear gas fired. Dorner hideout now engulfed in flames.  No attempt at fire suppression. Officers surrounding house with guns aimed at the burning house. We have seen this movie before...

It's About Justice Not Process

During the height of the Occupy demonstrations, I took to using a slogan that I derived from the Egyptian Revolutionary movement and other social efforts going on prior to, during and after the Arab Spring

Such simple, indeed obvious, concepts but so far from realization in the modern world, even after the Revolution comes, as it did to North Africa. The reasons why are topics for many other days, but for now, let the topic be JUSTICE. For that is what the Dorner Thing and many other seemingly spontaneous or random acts of vengeance and violence are all about.


Dorner's central claim as stated in his purported manifesto is that he was wrongly accused of making false statements and unjustly fired from the LAPD in 2009, and that he attributes that injustice to institutional racism, the Blue Line of Silence, corruption, and the dishonesty of a long list of LAPD personnel.

His claim resonates strongly with practically anyone who knows anything about the LAPD.

Whether his case was as described in the manifesto is impossible for those of us not involved to know, but most of the relevant court documents are available online, and they paint an unpretty picture that is ambivalent about the facts of Dorner's claims but deny him any and all recourse from being terminated from the force.

The internal investigation of the incident in question -- in which Dorner asserted that his superior and trainer kicked a mentally ill suspect several times during the course of a messy arrest -- found that it could not establish with certainty that the kicks occurred. Witness and victim testimony was inconsistent, the officer who was accused of kicking the suspect denied it, and there was no written report (or video evidence) that indicated that the suspect had been kicked by the officer taken at the time of the arrest.

From the evidence of the documents so far, Dorner had ample due process -- during the internal investigations, the LAPD's Board of Rights hearings, and during a number of court actions and appeals. The process could hardly have been more complete. But process is not Justice, something lawyers and devotees of process are widely unable to understand or accept. And Dorner's claim is that despite all the process he received, he did not receive Justice.

He put it very simply and poignantly: "I never lied." From the evidence in the documents and what has been said about Dorner's character by those who know him, that's probably true, he didn't lie about what he witnessed and reported.

But the Board of Rights determined that they could not establish with certainty that he told the truth.

And thus, he was fired.

Think about that. Someone within a police department can witness and report abuse such as kicking a mentally ill suspect, but unless there is sufficient visual and/or written evidence at the time of the incident to establish with certainty that it took place as described, the police witness to abuse will be (not may be, will be) subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination, for "making a false report."

What sort of Justice is possible under such conditions? Naturally, most incidents of abuse will not be reported at all under the circumstances. And isn't that the point of threatening with termination anyone who does report abuse without also having airtight evidence?

Process can go merrily along, regardless. Process usually produces results, but those results are not in and of themselves Justice. And when injustice is the frequent or typical result of process, rebellion and revolution are almost inevitable.

Lawyers, particularly prosecutors, for their part seem incapable of even imagining such a thing. To many of them, the process itself results in justice; there is no other way to find justice except through established legal process (for example, through our adversarial courts, or the intricate and arcane investigative rules surrounding police misconduct) and whatever results from that process is by definition Justice. Even when the result is self-evidently unjust. Which more and more frequently in our corrupt and dysfunctional system of "justice" is the result.

Charlie Beck claims he will reopen the process to make sure it was done right.  Not to make sure that the result was just. This is related to the infamous Scalia observation that there is no legal reason why someone who is factually innocent shouldn't be put to death if all of the legal process was done correctly.

In other words, actual Justice doesn't matter so long as process and procedures are followed correctly. If the process and procedures produce arbitrary and/or unjust results, oh well!

I've wrestled with this issue many times online, challenging some assumptions about process and justice along the way. My father was an attorney and a JAG officer during WWII and Korea, and while the common snark is that "military justice is to justice what military music is to music," he said that actually, as imperfect as the military system was, it was intended to and designed to produce justice, and from his experience, that's what happened more often and more dependably than in the civilian court system. I know from the experience of other family members that it doesn't always do so, however, and that the military system can be abused and manipulated to accomplish patently unjust ends. Whether that potential for abuse outweighs its ability to produce justice I'll leave to others to decide.

I brought the reality of military justice up when there was so much controversy over military commissions at Guantanamo charged with meting out justice to terrorist suspects. The commissions were deeply flawed, there was no doubt about that, and some of the officers assigned to them said so in no uncertain terms. A few even refused to participate in them and many observers called them farces and charades, kangaroo courts and worse.

But something surprising happened in the few cases that actually went through the commissions: though they lacked many of the rules and attributes that we would commonly associate with fair trials, oddly enough they produced something much closer to Justice in the few cases they adjudicated than the civilian courts did in many cases of terrorist suspects they handled. Indeed, the commissions, though hardly even a shadow of a fair trial as commonly understood, tried to get to the bottom of the accusations against suspects held at Guantanamo and quite surprisingly ordered their release or imposed very light sentences when they discovered that the accusations were undersourced and overblown.

In civilian courts, on the other hand, false accusations and entrapment were routinely used to convict and sentence suspected terrorists in case after case, in embarrassingly unjust show trials, over and over again, and that system was being held up as the one that should be utilized for the Guantanamo detainees, because it's process was the proper one -- regardless of how unjust the results.

I wrote about the case of Sir (later, Saint) Thomas More as an illustration of how far from Justice a devotion to process can be.

It seems clear that a failure of Justice was the catalyzing element in Christopher Dorner's rage against the LAPD. Enormous numbers of people appear to be very sympathetic with his cause because they know just how far from justice the culture and behavior of the LAPD has been for generations. They know how corrupt the institution is, how venal, how brutal, how unaccountable. Yet Dorner was apparently afforded ample due process, numerous hearings, court appeals and so on. Never, so far as we know, throughout this ordeal was Justice more than an abstract consideration. It was all about process. Following rules of procedure. With an apparently unjust result. And an attitude of "Oh well! Bye bye!"

This isn't a "madman," this is a man who has suffered a gross injustice from a system that he had put his faith in. There are almost too many Americans to count who have suffered something similar, not to mention the millions around the world who have suffered or been exterminated by American "justice." Dorner's cause resonates because there have been so many victims of much the same thing as he went through, not because they approve of his radical tactics in getting revenge.

The defenders of that system, however, seem to be incapable of appreciating how inhumane and unjust it often is, and how ultimately unreformable it is. Instead, they will focus on some individual or attribute or mechanical device -- Dorner or police misconduct or drones or whatever -- asserting that if only Dorner were taken out or police were better trained or drones were eliminated, or something-something something-something, then things would get back to normal and be OK.

No. In my view the systemic and institutional failures are too severe to stay focused on the superficial and never probe the rotting foundations of it all.

The Catholic Church would rather lose its head than probe its own rotting foundations, so it's easy to imagine how difficult it is for LAPD or many other failed secular institutions to do the right thing.

Another Christopher was laid to rest yesterday -- Chris Kyle, the American Sniper -- and so many thousands turned out that they had to conduct the service in a football stadium. Think about what he did to gain his notoriety. He saw it as "justice."

Was it?

And think about what Chris Dorner is accused of doing. He apparently said he saw that as Justice.

Was it?

(In the case of Dorner, what he has actually done -- as opposed to what he is accused of doing -- is difficult to know. Evidence linking him to the killings he is accused of is slight to none, his supposed appearances have not proved out, and there is a whole body of conspiracy theory claiming his "manifesto" is either entirely fraudulent or has been severely tampered with. On the other hand, what there is actual visual evidence of is Dorner's burnt out truck said to hold destroyed weapons inside, and Dorner seen on video disposing of weapons in a dumpster.)

"Chris, All The Best, Chief Bill Bratton"
[One of the best summations I've so far read about the LAPD Thing: "LAPD Chickens Come Home to Roost" by Ruth Fowler. ]

Monday, February 11, 2013

Disappeared -- The Pre-Legend of Chris Dorner

Here to Help

Have you noticed that despite the intense media coverage of the Dorner Manhunt, and even despite the $1 million reward offered up by the City of Los Angeles yesterday (thanks to a cohort of anonymous wealthy donors)  the object of all this attention hasn't been seen or heard from in something like a week now.

He's disappeared.

Have you noticed, too, that despite the efforts of the LA and other police forces to provide Dorner with the formal three-name sobriquet always utilized for major league -- and some minor league -- criminals (in this case "Christopher Jordan Dorner") most people seem to be sticking to the informal "Chris Dorner," as if he were somebody they knew or had a beer with on occasion, who they liked and trusted, who was their friend.

Have you noticed that even though Dorner is now designated a Domestic Terrorist by the LAPD (by what authority, I wonder?) the public outpouring of understanding and even support for his cause -- which is widely recognized as a cause of "justice" -- has not diminished; if anything, it's increased. His methods may be wrong, but his cause is just, so goes the reasoning.

I've mostly followed the story online and watched with something close to amazement as the comments about it have gone from clearly in favor of the police doing "whatever is necessary to take him out" to "he's doing what he has to, may not be the right way to do it, but he's already done or tried to do all the right things and has been screwed over." The sympathy/empathy for him and contempt for the LAPD is almost all that appears in comments about the story now. It's nearly universal.

This is, I think, unprecedented at least in modern times. I've heard of outlaws in pioneer days and during the Depression receiving a lot of public support despite their status as outlaws, but the Outlaw Character has practically disappeared from American mythology these days, and people who do things which are counter to the prevailing social mores are routinely denounced, demonized and whenever possible destroyed.

This is something else again.

While the police initially panicked to protect themselves, causing a great deal of collateral damage -- thankfully no one died in the hail of bullets let loose against phantom targets of opportunity -- now they're scrambling merely to hold on to any public good will at all. It's a sight to behold. Step by step, as they have lost the public's good will through many unforced errors over the years and the clearly out of control bolloxing of this case going back to its origins in the official mistreatment of Dorner for daring to complain about abuse he witnessed, the police have tried practically all the PR stunts they can think of -- mass armed assemblies and fruitless searches in the snow at Big Bear, conceding the need for further review of Dorner's complaints while designating him a Domestic Terrorist, fundraising and offering a million dollar reward, moderating press conference statements about him, apologizing to the citizens shot up by mistake, so on and so forth -- they are not winning back the public trust. The more they try to smooth over the PR disaster they have on their hands, a disaster of their own making let it be said, the more the public sees their desperation, and the higher their level of contempt.

The more I see of this Charlie Beck person who is allegedly chief and in charge of the operations of the LAPD, the more repellant and snake-like he becomes. He's been floundering so badly, and yet is still put forth as the face of the agency. Something tells me he's not in charge at all; he's the fall-guy and will be sacrificed at the appropriate moment by those who are really in charge.

Who could that be I wonder.

Is this all an elaborate ruse to get rid of him while preserving the malformed institution he ostensibly heads? The "Chinatown" elements of whatever happens in LA are never buried very deep in any case; things are typically not what they are said to be or what they seem to be, there is always an underlying -- and often very different and very corrupt -- "necessity" being protected and promoted.

The LAPD exists to protect certain interests and certain people and to ensure that the control and exploitation of the rest continues without interruption or hindrance. When things go wrong, as they do every now and then, the LAPD pays for it with another round of "reform." But the "reform" never actually reforms the institution, because its whole point is to protect certain people and interests while ensuring control and exploitation of the rest. That's what the LAPD is for. When you understand that, you understand what their motto ("To Serve and Protect") really means. It doesn't mean they "serve and protect" you you see. Never.

There seems to be a widespread understanding that Dorner tried to do the right thing by bringing abuse that he witnessed to the attention of his superiors and he was punished for it. We can be certain that he is not the only one by any means.  He did what he thought was right and what he was supposed to do, and he was slapped down, hard, by a system that cannot accommodate that kind of idealism and honesty.

For the supposed chief now to reopen his case and pledge honesty and transparency (of course, we can assume it's a fraudulent pledge, but that's another issue, not germane to the matter at immediate hand) in reviewing the facts and Dorner's complaints, tells me that Dorner's "manifesto" has struck a strong chord within the department, that many, many LAPD officers have either hesitated to bring their own complaints about racism and abuse to the attention of superiors for fear of retaliation, or that they themselves have faced similar punishment to that of Dorner for trying to do the right thing, and now they're saying, "Look, this shit has got to stop."

Of course, the purpose of the institution requires that the shit continue. Even redouble. So they'll do what they have to to make it look like they're reforming or changing, but they won't actually reform. They'll fuss with process, they'll declare the matter settled. If you have any doubt about how these things go, look at what the Catholic Church has done in the face of withering criticism (oh yes, and lawsuits, many many lawsuits) of its institutionalized child abuse. Almost every "reform" has been eyewash.

So it is and will ever be with the LAPD.

It is the Iron Law of Institutions, and the only way to really change it is to abolish the institution and start over -- which isn't going to happen. Well, not before the Revolution comes.

Dorner's pre-legend is being put together right now, despite the fact that he is nowhere to be found. Is he even still alive? Who knows? He will become a legend whether or not he is ever found, dead or alive (my own suspicion is that he took his own life, perhaps in Big Bear). He might become a legend as powerfully iconic as the Hugo Weaving character in "V is for Vendetta." Let there be comics and movies and songs and stories.

And let there be masks. He's already got the smile...