Elizabeth Warren On My Bumper

I’m cognizant that to many people in my area in Ohio my Elizabeth Warren bumper sticker will be taken as a Fuck You to people driving behind me. Does that mean I put it on as a Fuck You to the people who will view it that way?

America is divided, that suggests a “both sides,” but the disgust from one side directed at the other isn’t hard to trace. Rush Limbaugh got rich and famous not espousing views but ridiculing opposing views. The commodity right-wing talk radio sells is piquing the rage of its audience—rage directed at “liberals.” His success led to copy cats all over the radio and then to an entire network, in Fox News.

Hatred of liberals got Trump elected. A president who blatantly lies to the entire country is beloved by one-third of the country who view his lies as “sticking it to the libs.”

I agree with Werner Herzog who said that Americans are realizing that one-third of them would kill another third of them while the other third did nothing. Except I think it’s one-fifth of them who would kill one-fifth while three-fifths did nothing. Of course, the three-fifths reads that and thinks, We would resist that. So you say, but your unwillingness to “get political” as our bigot president cages children, bullies oppressed peoples, leads “send them back” chants, incites violence against people like me, your complacency in the Trump era means I don’t trust you to have my back.

I’m aware my bumper sticker will increase my risk of being killed in a “road rage” incident. Still highly unlikely statistically but less so because of how Trump’s rhetoric has been normalized by people who voted for him and continue to support him, whether openly or with their silence.

I also agree with Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez who recently said that white nationalists will be welcomed back if they stop being white nationalists. Of course, because you were duped. Most of you were robbed into near poverty by the GOP-propaganda machine that learned they could control you by filling you with hate for “the other,” the oldest trick in the book. But we’re not meeting hate halfway. Your support of our bigot president is itself a form of bigotry. You made Muslims and people of color scared to live in their country.

I don’t have the hatred for you that you have for me. I don’t want to kill you like the threat of white nationalism terror makes clear a significant bloc of Trump supporters want to kill me. But if you read my bumper sticker as a Fuck You, directed at you, then yes, it applies. Until you fix the issues that led you to perceive it that way to begin with, which is 100% on you. After that you’ll just see it for what is actually is: my support for the presidential candidate I think will do the job best.

The Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher have stood for hundreds of thousands of years, except they were created by ocean waves eroding the cliff’s base and causing the ledge above to fall, so it would be more accurate to describe the Cliffs of Moher as not having stood for hundreds of thousands of years. They failed to stand. They are a major tourist attraction in Ireland. People flock to them. Then they bird watch because the birds interfacing with the cliffs provide necessary motion in the foreground to appreciate the cliff’s layers of sediment. The sentiment evoked is of time’s slow passing, the geologic pace given context by the ephemerality of the life of the people who walk inside the rock fencing adjacent to a width of ledge outside the rock fencing.

The rock fencing yields and the path expands and veers closer to the cliff’s edge. A sign includes a phone number where a stranger will try to convince people who call their lives have value. One wonders. In a space where time is carving the ground out from under where people walk daily, year after year, people lean over. They dare to look. On the return trip from the cliff’s portion past the stony fence, the safer path behind the wall of knee-high stone feels like only a suggestion.

Helping Stephen King Art

Treasuring artistic creations is simply a narcissistic attachment, the creation an extension of self. So approval from an outside source is required, and it can’t be any outside source. It can’t be anyone who loves you or even likes you a little or anyone anxious to encourage artistic expression in a general way or someone just nice and willing to lie to maintain a sense of their own niceness.

Who does that leave?

People on the Internet. You have to put yourself out there and absorb that criticism from the only people who willingly offer it, strangers on the Internet. Look at Stephen King’s reviews, sometime. Do you think he gets better by reading the five-star reviews by people who wrote about how great and wonderful his books were and added exclamation marks? No, he gets better by reading those five-paragraph, one-star reviews explaining where his books went wrong with well articulated examples.

Wait, is Stephen King getting better, though?

Thanks to the people who tweet at him and tell him the truth because they have no reason to kiss his ass.

Do you tweet to Stephen King?

At. I tweet at him. You don’t tweet to people, you tweet at them, and I don’t just tweet at him. I tweet at everyone. I also write long reviews of the books I read and the movies I watch. You should read them and let me know what you think.

The Guarded Gate: Reviewed

The eugenics movement is a dark chapter in American history we’ve failed to learn from because we’ve mostly ignored it. Shortly after Darwin’s Origin of the Species, Francis Galton suggested England marry the inherently superior and gift them money so they could start having babies to benefit the country by improving its citizenry, positive eugenics. A nation’s citizenry could also be improved through negative eugenics, the reduction of breeding from the undesirables of the citizenry. In America this led to sterilization of people below a certain IQ. Some might be surprised to learn of involuntary sterilizations of “imbeciles,” done legally in the United States, but the even more buried story told in The Guarded Gate, by Daniel Okrent, is the decades of bigotry, spread by the junk science of eugenics, that led to The Immigration Restriction Act of 1924.

Eugenics was pushed through books that sold like James Patterson novels in the early part of the twentieth century, proving by manipulating data that the Nordic race was superior to all other races. The Passing of the Great Race, by Madison Grant, was praised by Theodore Roosevelt, whose letter to the author was used to promote the book in several later editions. Adolf Hitler would cite from the book in speeches decades later. What I learned growing up was that the Nazis showed America the wrongness of the eugenics movement, which is partly true, but what I never learned was that our eugenics movement inspired the Nazis.

The fear of “race suicide,” a phrase made popular by Theodore Roosevelt, was that the supposed superior Nordic race would vanish if immigrants kept coming in from southern and eastern Europe and out-bred those already here. So the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 (The Immigration Restriction Act of 1924) limited immigration from the countries where the supposed inferior races were. (They used countries instead of mentioning races to reduce criticism but there’s no doubt from private correspondence and really from public statements the real aim.) But by then, by 1924, immigrants had already “poured” in from these countries. So they skipped the 1920 census, the 1910 census, and the 1900 census, and based quotas on the 1890 census, only taking in immigrants at percentages that matched the population in 1890, predominantly from the north and west of Europe. This meant tiny numbers of these immigrants could enter in a year. People in mid-passage when the law passed were sent back. In 1939, the SS St. Louis sailed from Germany to America, “the Voyage of the Damned,” on board were 900 refugees from Nazi terror. They were turned away because the immigration quota for the year had already been met. A bill that would have relaxed the quota specifically for twenty-thousand German Jewish children died in the Senate. The wife of the U.S. commissioner of immigration said, “20,000 charming children would all too soon grow up into 20,000 ugly adults.” This blatant antisemitism was not uncommon. Polling at the time showed a majority of Americans unwilling to take in escapees from Nazi brutality.

This book is so relevant to our current immigration system being devised by the racist, white nationalist Stephen Miller and implemented by our bigot president, who campaigned complaining about Mexicans “pouring” in and calling them rapists, that it would seem intentional but the author wrote the book not knowing Trump would be elected.

Check Engine Light On

You remote control detonated my check engine light, again, so I guess I’m in that engine block and a brake pad spot where my only option is to pay you 200-1000 dollars to turn it back off.

We have no control over your car’s sensor lights, as we’ve told you before. Our technicians can diagnose why your car’s sensor lights are indicating a problem with your vehicle and quote you a price to fix that problem.

Then the engine light will go off?

Yes.

And that will cost what?

We’d have to identify the problem, could be something small or a bigger problem. Impossible to guess.

Is 200-1000 dollars a likely range for the cost?

It’s likely to be in that range, yes, but it could be more. We perform the diagnostic and then get your okay before proceeding.

It could be more but not less.

It could be less, too.

So I pay you 200-1000 dollars, maybe more, probably not less, and you turn my check engine light off.

No. The light goes off because we fix the problem. The problem isn’t the light. The light indicates the problem.

Hey, the car is running fine. The oil is good, the coolant.

Then why is the check engine light on?

You heard my theory.

I promise we wouldn’t remote control turn on our customers’ check engine lights even if that existed as a thing. The check engine light is an early warning feature that offers the advantage of an early repair, usually cheaper, instead of a more expensive repair possibly following a breakdown and a tow. If the check engine light being on was your car’s only issue you could fix that with a piece of electrical tape over it.

Thanks for being helpful. I’m going with the electrical tape fix.

Comfort and Control: Atheist Convention Reflections

Driving back from the American Atheist convention, in Cincinnati, I caught a radio program that seemed like a perfect fit with the talks given at the convention. They were saying the Continental Congress approved government funding to import thousands of bibles from Holland. Later when England’s embargoes made importing bibles impossible, the Continental Congress approved funding to start printing bibles. It was a great illustration of how the hypocrisy of a country founded on the principle of separation of church and state is in constant violation of that principle, a hypocrisy itself embedded in its founding. I was being naïve. I was in southern Ohio, where signs along the highway declared hell real five times on the same billboard—or I was in central Ohio by then or into the northern end. I was in Ohio.

They were using this hypocrisy to justify their push for further like-hypocrisies. They were arguing that the bible is and has always been integral to the country and that we’ve always been a Christian nation, like it or not. Separation of church and state is a part of our constitution but we’ve never actually abided to that rule so we shouldn’t now either? I guess was their argument. I’m not sure they said it out loud or left it implied, which is how radio programs like this usually work. Their job is to pique your rage. (“The liberal media is trying to destroy this president!” Then when a listener mails bombs to CNN offices, Sean Hannity had nothing to do with that.) They’ll wait till a swell of people are demanding the bible be taught in schools and then pretend that’s the will of the people when it’s actually just their audience regurgitating their planted ideas.

Voltaire said, “If God did not exist it would be necessary to invent Him.” What I love about that quote is that it gently points out the tautology that is religion. Existence in God is only “proven” by belief in God’s existence. It’s Carl Sagan’s dragon is in his garage that is there but can be shown to be there by no earthly demonstration whatsoever. Why would it be necessary to invent God? Because our extreme intelligence reveals to us our lives are temporary. We and everyone we know will one day die. That can be an enormously painful realization and the idea of a God welcoming us into an eternity a correspondingly powerful comfort. Here’s the thing about atheists, none of us would have any desire to take that comfort away from people who prefer to live with it.

At the convention, I backed up in an elevator to make room for people getting on. Apparently I got a little close to the woman behind me carrying a drink. She said, “If you spill my drink, I’ll send you to your maker.” Another guy on the elevator said, “Your maker?” The three of us were all wearing our atheist convention member lanyards. I said, “When she said that I assumed she wasn’t with the convention.” We shared amusement over this. (I don’t think we actually laughed.) That might have been the closest a conversation ever got to whether or not God exists.

What came up repeatedly was why people’s religion has so much influence over our government when we’re supposed to be a nation based on the principle of separation of church and state. One of the tables at the convention was set up by people from Kentucky protesting not the existence of a creationist museum and Noah’s Ark replica theme park but protesting that the state of Kentucky subsidized the place with millions of tax payer dollars. The world was never flooded by a god. Ancient religious texts usually if not always have stories of the world flooding, because when you traveled within a radius of a dozen miles your entire life, if your region flooded, you thought the world had. To maintain a relationship with your invented god you had to imagine he or she did this on purpose. If people want to celebrate the bible’s flood story with a replica of Noah’s Ark, fine, but why should atheists have to help pay for it?

Another speaker described how hold ups in stem cell research, during George W. Bush’s presidency, delayed the cure for his wife’s illness. The cure was discovered during Obama’s presidency, when stem cell research was allowed to continue but the cure came too late for his wife to survive. Pressure from religious groups, religious voters, people voting based on their religious beliefs, took his wife from him. Atheists might snidely refer to God as a made up man in the sky but it’s hard not to understand why when people’s religion goes beyond comforting them about the nature of our existence and takes the unnecessary second step of controlling other people who don’t hold those same beliefs with the obscene rationale that it’s okay because other people should hold those same beliefs, because that’s what the bible says. No one can prove the unprovable hypothesis that there is a God whose existence can’t be proven or disproven, but we can pretty definitively say that the bible is a book written and rewritten and translated and retranslated by human beings. Citing it ends no arguments with people who realize that. It doesn’t comfort an atheist whose wife could still be with him.

I went to the convention not knowing what to expect. I don’t consider being an atheist a passion of mine. I don’t consider not believing in something a passion. I found people who felt the same way. Just a friendly group of people having a fun time, but we were encouraged to be a presence. We have a message we’re trying to spread. The message isn’t other people shouldn’t be comforted by their religion. The message is your comfort shouldn’t lead to control over anyone else. Yet barely are we back and religious extremism is leading toward a government mandate that women carry all pregnancies to full term. Religion prevents religious people from recognizing this is a violation of a woman’s individual rights, because it’s a rule ingrained in them from the time they can talk. As atheists, we don’t care if your religion comforts you, we don’t even mind if it controls you, but when you take it and try to control the rest of us, we’re going to call bullshit. We don’t care if the religious label that sacrilege. That word only means something to the religious. That religious people are threatened by atheists illustrates the degree of control the religious believe their religion gives them a right to wield.

At a coffee shop near the hotel, I was wearing my convention badge, and a few guys were talking about us at the convention. The one picked me out and asked what hotel I was staying at. I told him, and he said, “Good!” and stalked off. I guess he wouldn’t have been able to stand it if we were sharing the same hotel. Another guy said, “I understand, man. Sometimes I wonder too.”

Good for him. We don’t really wonder, though. We feel sure that we wish to live in the observable world, and we are standing up for our right not to be controlled by other people’s beliefs about an unobservable one.

Heartbeat Bill’s Flaw

Ancient peoples connected emotion with parts of the body at various times. Science has demonstrated emotion exists in the brain, but we have residuals of this ancient thinking in phrases like “gut feeling” and “broken hearts” that remain so powerful referencing them evokes an emotional response. This emotional response makes us susceptible to manipulation. Arbitrarily determining abortion should be illegal at the point a heartbeat can be detected, the “heartbeat bill,” is a manipulative tactic. Any determination of when a fetus in a woman’s body should be considered a life due the protection of society should be based on the brain activity in the fetus, not on the development of a muscle that has a history of evoking an emotional response based on superstition.

This “heartbeat bill” is just a push from groups convinced abortion should be illegal to restrict women’s choice. We still have an arbitrary line at which a woman’s right to choose and the right to life of a fetus change over, but now instead of basing it on brain activity we intend to base it on the development of an arbitrary muscle. The brain of a fetus is first developed enough to dream at the beginning of the third trimester. All mammals dream. This seems like a sensible place to draw that line, which is where current law draws it.

People against abortion, who label themselves “pro-life,” are focused on the fetus. They debate this issue as if they have a monopoly on caring about life. The actual difference between those who identify as “pro-life” and those who identify as “pro-choice” is that the first group, almost to a person, ignores a fetus at under six months of development remains utterly dependent on the body containing it, who is a person with freedoms. The reason, for the vast majority of them, is that religious law commands asserting the fetus as a life and the termination of an underway pregnancy murder. Religion can inform people’s opinions, it would be impossible for it not to, but when religious rule is so rigid as to prevent people from even understanding the nuances of an issue their opinions lose power. Religious fanaticism should never dictate law over majority public opinion in a country founded on the principle of separation of church and state, yet that is happening.

Their religion also gives them permission to expect women to abstain from sex and if they don’t and get pregnant they have to “accept the responsibilities” that come with having sex and carry the fetus to full term, but this isn’t a responsibility the individual woman who gets pregnant is choosing to take on, it’s a responsibility these, primarily religious, groups are putting on them, which is a violation of their individual freedoms. A fetus is a living being but it is a living being with no autonomy and only one individual, the woman carrying that fetus, has the opportunity to keep that fetus alive. We could encourage women to carry these fetuses to full term by supplying those in need for them with resources but the same people willing to force these women to complete these pregnancies are the first in line refusing to help them. They vote for the politicians who want to cut the SNAPS program and Medicaid. They vote for the politicians working to pass more money from the poor to the wealthy.

I value life. I rescue bugs. I’m also highly conflicted by the restriction of women’s rights in forcing them to complete every surprise pregnancy that occurs from them being sexually active, which is healthy and natural and only wrong, “a sin,” if religion says so, which means nothing in a country where church and state are separate. We have to form a compromise out of social consensus on where we want to draw that arbitrary line where the right to life of a fetus overrides the rights of a person to choose what happens to her body. That line should be when that fetus possesses the autonomy to live outside another’s body. That is at about six months, where the law currently stands. Any change to current law should have a better argument than that a muscle is functioning. It should have public opinion on its side. It should recognize the effect of historical misogyny on public policy involving women’s rights. It should understand and contemplate the enormous stripping of individual freedom it is taking from women.

For further reading I recommend “Authority and American Usage” where David Foster Wallace makes the point that being American requires us to be both Pro-Life and Pro-Choice: Exceprt: “Given our best present medical and philosophical understandings of what makes something not just a living organism but a person, there is no way to establish at just what point during gestation a fertilized ovum becomes a human being. This conundrum, together with the basically inarguable soundness of the principle ‘When in irresolvable doubt about whether something is a human being or not, it is better not to kill it,’ appears to me to require any reasonable American to be Pro-Life. At the same time, however, the principle “When in irresolvable doubt about something, I have neither the legal nor the moral right to tell another person what to do about it, especially if that person feels that s/he is not in doubt’ is an unassailable part of the Democratic pact we Americans all make with one another, a pact in which each adult citizen gets to be an autonomous moral agent; and this principle appears to me to require any reasonable American to be Pro-Choice.”

Pretty Wonder

One summer we went with an intrepid friend on a bike ride across town. He’d found the uncommon name of one of the most popular girls at our middle school in the phone book and got her address. I imagine he knocked. I don’t imagine we got all that way and he didn’t knock. I stayed on my bike out by the curb the whole time. This would have been the summer between sixth and seventh, seventh and eighth, or eighth and ninth, one of those three because she hadn’t gone to our elementary school. She was the pretty wonder that accompanied the shock of elementary schools’ populations crashing at our town’s junior high. Younger kids were out playing in the street, which I remember because that observation is what it took for me to realize that of course every neighborhood had its network of kid friendships and rivalries.

She came out. Whether he knocked or we lingered long enough at the curb by her house to be unignorably conspicuous I have trouble remembering. The first makes more sense intellectually but the second more emotionally because while he, our friend, whether boldly or audaciously, was paying a visit to a girl he knew, we were just lingering outside her house on the curb. She talked to him but not us, but we didn’t talk to her either. She thanked him for coming but not us and then went back inside. She was the pretty, popular girl but she didn’t treat him like he was ranging too far. We kind of did, by coming along just to gawk from the curb.

Scotty’s Donuts

In Dubois, PA, Scotty’s Donuts has a wide berth from the nearest Dunkin. At Scotty’s, Kristen doesn’t ask how you’re doing, she can see that, she asks about your wife and kids, by name. You don’t ask Kristen what she’s up to—she’s fucking at work—you don’t ask how she’s doing in school, you ask how her Social Studies test went. Kristen is still in high school. She only works weekend mornings from 5AM until they run out of donuts. At Scotty’s, when they run out of donuts, they lock the doors, put a sign in a bucket filled with concrete that says CLOSED—OUT OF DONUTS, and go home.

A half dozen donuts gets you seven donuts, which they’re so used to that when people from out of town stop at Scotty’s Donuts in Dubois PA and order half a dozen donuts and show confusion after picking six and being told by Kristen they get one more Kristen doesn’t explain the special or call it something else, like a baker’s half dozen, she just says, “Half a dozen gets you seven,” like you’re counting wrong, but she tells you with a smile like she cares not only about you but about your loved ones not present, and it’s an extra donut—even though it’s priced into the half a dozen tally, obviously—so it’s not a bad thing. You’re in Kristen’s world now, at Scotty’s Donuts, in Dubois PA, where six is seven, and if you keep coming, she’s going to pry into your life to find out things about you to ask about again, on repeat visits. That comes free with your six donuts, along with your seventh donut.

Defending Trump for Fraud against the American People

Trump voters are downplaying, it not outright ignoring, piles of indictments among people in his immediate circle. A common defense is that “liberals” and “Dems” are overly motivated to “get him,” and they’ll defend Trump and his cohorts by saying, “If you dig deep enough, you’ll find something on anybody.” So we have all these poor to middle class people, which is most of them, because those groups comprise most Americans, essentially aiding wealthy criminals by exerting public pressure on the country’s justice department not to investigate them for stuff “everyone does,” which isn’t true even of the wealthy but certainly isn’t true among poor to middle class people who lack the power and resources to commit these “process crimes,” also known as fraud. This is the figurative “dance with the devil” playing out literally. First people just voted for Trump because they hated Hillary, but now they’re in, like owing a favor to the mob, and forced to come out publicly calling for the Mueller investigation to end. Not claiming Trump is innocent but basically saying, “We don’t care if Trump maybe defrauded the American people.” They think this position makes them “true” Americans.