LIVE IN FEAR

Gentle ladies, gentle men
Waiting till the dance begin
Carefully we come to speak the word for all to hear
If you listen, if you should
We won’t be misunderstood
But don’t expect the words to ring too sweetly on the ear
Live in fear, live in fear, live in fear
In the gutter, in the street
Off his head or off his feet
Listen to the scratchy voices eating at your nerves
Pencil ready, paper dry
Shoot the girls and make them cry
Run for cover, things are bad but now they’re getting worse
Live in fear, live in fear, live in fear, live in fear
Is it painful, is it right?
Does it keep you warm at night?
Fool your friends and fool yourself, the choice is crystal clear
If you break it on your knee
Better men might disagree
Do you laugh or do you stick your finger in your ear?
Live in fear, live in fear, live in fear, live in fear

–Richard Thompson, “Roll Over Vaughan Williams”
For some days now, I have been mulling over writing a post about good and evil. The impetus came to a point recently, but it’s been brewing for some time because of my scarf* and some things I’ve been reading. And we’ll get to that later—probably next post. Because this post is going to be about something else: fear.

Not long ago, I was sitting in church. It was a Fast Sunday (or “Fast and Testimony”) meeting.** One of the speakers was a woman who described watching a video with her children that involved birds, who were wary of the cats below them in the yard, but insufficiently wary of snakes creeping along near-by branches. I couldn’t find the visual version, but I’m 99% certain it derived from this talk.

Such talks are common. Here’s another example:

What these talks have in common, and what they have in common with many other videos, not only those from the LDS church, is that they teach us to live in fear. But this is not only a matter of religion; political figures, similarly, trade on fear. So do manufacturers of commercial goods.

Fear is powerful–I well remember the sheer paranoia that struck us all following 9/11. The day of the attack, the president of the software company where I then worked sent us all home to be with our families, and I remember riding my bike homeward, noticing on an isolated bridge an uncapped plastic milk bottle full of some pale yellow liquid (it could have been urine, but this was Wisconsin, so it was more likely beer or lemonade). I remember mulling over the possibility that the bottle might contain some nerve agent or toxin or disease, ready to be casually knocked over and dispersed through the Western Wisconsin area. Yeah, right.

When the Anthrax letters appeared, even my eminently sensible spouse seriously contemplated microwaving all envelopes to destroy any biological agents.

Fear is powerful.

FDR wasn’t kidding when he said “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

As a kid, I was constantly afraid. Bad things could happen to my parents; I could get beaten up at school; planes would crash, towers would fall. In junior high, I started to read books like Alas, Babylon. The charismatic end-times religion in which I invested myself in high school told me that the end of the world was imminent. I told my parents that I didn’t think I was likely to live to see 30. I was psychologically ready for disaster. I vividly remember a dream in which I was shot for my beliefs. Indeed, I was ready to die.

What I wasn’t prepared to do was to live.

Perhaps that’s why Frank Herbert’s Dune and the Bene Gesserit “Litany Against Fear” struck such a powerful chord in me as, after high school, I moved increasingly toward skepticism:

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

The Litany was the start for me of transcending fear, and while I am still a fearful person, I am much less worried about the future than I once was. And so I turn to analyzing the nature of fear. And we begin at the beginning: What is it that we fear?

I would argue that what we fear is precisely what we don’t know. Some examples may be illustrative:

Consider the famous Reagan/Bush “Bear in the Woods” campaign ad:

The subtext, is that since you don’t know, you have to “prepared.”   Ironically, it was the the bear that would come to the US with a realistic proposal that would have led to complete nuclear disarmament. And it would be the US insistence on a not yet developed antimissile technology (“Star Wars”) that would derail that proposal.

The other week, I had lunch with a woman who was interviewing me for a position with a non-profit (my preferred kind of work, but work in which I’m so far inexperienced). We met at a convenient spot—Ikea’s cafeteria—to talk about the position over meatballs. What struck me was that as we were getting lunch, she carefully put her utensils on top of a napkin, and mentioned that she always did that because she didn’t know how well they cleaned the trays.

Fear.

Interviewing for a type of position I’d never had before, I felt a different kind of fear.

Job changes, moves, roller coasters, the possibility of disease—all of these things hold fear, but it is not because they in themselves are threatening. Indeed, waiting for a diagnosis of disease is, in my experience, far more unsettling than a knowledge that you have it.

What all of these have in common is that they present us with black boxes. We go in without knowing what we will find and we assume the worst.

But why should the unknown fill us with fear? Why not exhilaration? Imagine if the crew of the NCC-1701 had been like most of us—the Enterprise would have huddled in near-Earth orbit for five years.

To boldy go where no one has gone before!

In spite of the split infinitive, it suggests something. It suggests that what we do not know might not be worse than what we do know, but perhaps only different or—maybe—even better!

So let’s look briefly at why organizations—I’m looking at you, churches, at you politicians, and at you, advertisers—tend to use fear. I think the answer I’m contemplating should be pretty obvious from the last paragraph:

Organizations train us in fear so that we do not contemplate other possibilities. Because other possibilities might be better. Don’t like your church? You might find the one down the street more to your liking or—zounds!—maybe you’re more inclined to be an atheist! But you’d better not try. The folks down the street are Catholics; and if you’re an atheist, you’ll burn in hell. Different is bad. Indeed, Apple Computer, which once told us to:

ThinkDifferentreally meant, “Buy our stuff.”

Organizations use fear of the different to keep people in line.

I’m not saying that all fears are unreasonable. It’s unlikely that a world blasted by nuclear war would be better—or even simply different—from the world in which we live now. But I am saying that it’s fear of difference that tends to keep us where we are, chained to the present instead of contemplating the future.

In Ray Bradbury’s short story, “The Toynbee Convector,” a man travels into the future, records it, and shows it to people so that they can see that the future will be better than the present. Stripped of fear of the future, they eagerly turn their hands toward building that future. It is only at the end of the story that the time traveler reveals that it was all a sham: he built the future out of papier-mâché and cardboard (this was before Photoshop) because he knew that his contemporaries feared the future. Shown that it was not to be feared, they built it.

How many of us struggle with the same problem? The devil we know is better (we think) than the devil we don’t. We live in fear.

We are encouraged to fear. We encourage ourselves to fear. And, as we shall see in my (hopefully) next blog entry, much of that fear has to do with notions arising out of the way we divide up the world. We believe that good implies evil; that because Gryffindor exists, so must implies Slytherin. That the Shire implies Mordor.

But does good (always) imply evil?

——

*It’s a University of Minnesota striped scarf, which gets mistaken for something that a Harry Potter fan might wear. I’m serious. I was visiting my old stomping ground a few years ago when I heard a guide telling prospective students that one of the cool things about the U of M was that you got to wear a “Harry Potter” scarf. Magical herbs, anyone?

**I’m a Mormon. For the benefit of non-Mormons, Fast Sunday, ordinarily the first Sunday in a given month, is an opportunity for members to spontaneously speak (briefly) about their faith in the Church or on whatever other topic upon which they feel moved to discuss. It’s also a day on which members are supposed to fast for two meals and donate the money not spent to help the needy.

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We Are Not All Heroes.

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We Are Not All Heroes.

(Quick edit:  I forgot to add the video!)

tl;dr: living with something does not a hero make.

I have so many things I want to write about, but I’m starting here because I haven’t finished a blog post in some time and I need to. Also, because I saw the video above and it moved me to think about something.

There is a tendency these days to describe anyone who faces conditions different from ours (i.e., that look more difficult) as “heroic.” And perhaps it is disingenuous of me to write this, because I’m not different from Julie. I have been diabetic for almost 44 years (I was diagnosed at 13). But I am different from Julie in that I am not “battling” diabetes. I am living with it.

It’s true that when I was diagnosed, back in 1971, the life expectancy of diabetics after diagnosis generally was given as about 25 years. I discovered this in 1976 when I read it in a brochure at a fund-raising concert for diabetes. But it’s also a hell of a lot longer than it used to be (before Canadian doctors Banting, Macleod, and Best isolated insulin in 1921). It’s true that my prospective father-in-law told my prospective (at the time) spouse that she would be a young widow because I was diabetic.

Let’s be clear about something. There are heroes in my story. My parents in particular, J and M, who recognized that my thirst and fogginess might indicate something. My pediatrician, Dr. L, who agreed with them and had me tested as soon my parents explained what was going on. Another doctor, Dr. DE, who was partially responsible for the creation of modern diabetes education, and in whose education center I spent a week when I was 13, learning what it meant to be diabetic.

When I was diagnosed, there were no continuous glucose monitors (“CGM”s). The scary-looking needle you see in the video is a disposable device that uses a needle to insert a fine sensor wire under the skin. You snap in a little transmitter (also shown) into that and it transmits a glucose reading every five minutes to a device that looks like a tiny iPod, on which you can read your approximate blood sugar. While not ultra-accurate, it does allow for trend analysis. You calibrate it by testing your blood glucose every 12 hours or so, and it’s worth testing blood glucose more often, since it’s often more accurate than the CGM.

When I was diagnosed there was no way to test for blood glucose outside of a lab. These days, you put a test strip into a shirt-pocket-sized (or smaller) device, poke yourself, and squeeze a tiny drop of blood onto the end of the strip. Five seconds later, you find out your current blood sugar.

I first saw crude blood testing strips in the early ‘90s. You put a big drop of blood onto these and waited 60 seconds (IIRC). Then you wiped off the blood with a cotton ball and waited another 30 second (again, IIRC) and compared the results to a color chart.

Before there was blood testing, there was urine testing. Because if you’re diabetic, your blood sugar is often so high that the kidneys can’t filter it, so it spills out in urine. In the ‘80s, when I had given up on testing for the most part, I used something called Diastix. Hold one of these in your urine stream, then time it for 30 seconds, and it gave you a read on how much sugar you were spilling. Ideally, the strip turned blue, indicating no spill (but then you had to watch for hypoglycemia, when your blood sugar drops too low) and if you weren’t lucky, the strip would go dark green or brown, indicating a lot of sugar in the urine.

Before that, there was TesTape, which came in a roll and which you could use the same way as Diastix for a quick sugar/no sugar in the urine test.

And before that, there was the little chemistry set that I carried around my junior high school. I can’t even find a photo of online. There was a gray plastic base and a gray plastic cover. In the base was a rack that held a glass test tube, a glass eyedropper, a glass bottle of reagent tablets (which may have been foil wrapped—I don’t recall clearly) and a color chart. The test worked this way: You put three drops of water into the test tube with the dropper, then stuck the dropper into the urine stream and added three drops of urine. Then, looking at your watch, you carefully unwrapped one of the reagent tablets and dropped it in. An extremely exothermic reaction followed—the tube got so hot it would burn you—and in sixty seconds you compared the color of the fluid in the tube to the chart to get a rough idea of how much you were spilling. Once again, if you were lucky, the color was blue.

You then washed out the tube, the dropper, dried everything, and put it away in the box. I used to do this all between classes.

Before these tests? Doctors—and, I imagine, caregivers generally—had to taste the urine of diabetic patients to tell whether there was sugar present. Wonderful.

And syringes. My great-grandmother (who I never met) was diabetic, and she had reusable glass syringes that had to be boiled, and the needles were reused as well, and were heavy, thick things.

Today almost all insulins are crystal clear products of recombinant DNA research. They are synthetic human insulins and are generally measured 100 “units” to the CC (hence, this is “U100” insulin.

When I was diagnosed, there was U40 (40 units to the CC) and U80 (twice as strong) and there were rumors of U500 for those who had built up resistance to the alien properties of insulin, which was then derived from the pancreas of cows and pigs slaughtered for food (there was a special beef-only insulin for observant Jews, but since pigs are more like people, pork-based insulin was generally held to be superior). Insulin came in two or three types (I’m sure there were more, some highly specialized, but these I remember). There was Regular, NPH, and Lente/Ultralente. Regular acted quickly, NPH was longer term, and Lente and Ultralente could last in the body for something like 24+ hours. The longer-term insulins were made from Regular by adding compounds to slow the absorption of the insulin. I remember swirling NPH insulin prior to taking a shot (with, thank god, disposable syringes, the needles of which seemed to get shorter and finer with each passing decade) to mix in the compound—you never shook it, because the compounds were fragile, and could be broken up by that shaking. Animal-derived insulin also lost potency if got warm (synthetic does also, but much more slowly and to a lesser extent) so you kept it in the fridge.

As testing techniques improved, I went from one U40 beef/pork injection each morning (a mix of Regular and NPH insulins) to two, switching to U100 when the standard changed, then three—with human synthetic Regular, and finally four, using a very short acting insulin called Humalog and a very long-acting insulin called Lantus. I went from testing my urine religiously in junior high to occasional tests with Diastix in high school to completely ignoring it in college and grad school. Only after my first child (who would in turn develop diabetes at 15) was born in 1989 did I begin blood testing occasionally, at my spouse’s behest. With human insulin and improved testing devices (not to mention improved insurance) I was eventually testing 10-12 times each day.

Six months ago, I started wearing a CGM, and back in November, I got an insulin pump. Julie’s wearing one of these in the video—you can see a white device on one of her upper arms. Mine’s a little different, but the idea is the same: You use a complicated little device to insert a soft plastic connector into your belly, then attach that to a cartridge of insulin that sits in a pump that pushes a little insulin our continuously (the “basal” dose). When you’re going to eat, or your tests tell you your blood sugar is too high, you can add a dose calculated on your current blood sugar or and/or what you’re eating to cover it. The pump is filled with Humalog, and a cartridge lasts two to four days.

There is hope that someday soon, pumps will be combined with CGMs to provide a true artificial pancreas—seamless blood glucose control. They’ve been promising me something like this since 1971, so I hope (for myself and my child) that it comes soon.

So I’ve faced incredible odds, right? I’ve been a hero, right? I’m an inspiration, right?

Bullshit.

I’m just like you. Maybe your nose gets clogged. Maybe you have asthma. Maybe you wear glasses. Whatever it is, you live with it.

Julie isn’t fighting diabetes, and neither am I. We’re living with it.

We are not heroes.

So who is?

Well, frankly, it’s not the companies that produced the pumps and CGMs and blood glucose meters. They’re making plenty of money (insulin pumps retail for around $7,000, but insurance covers that. The parts to make one? Generously, $100. The rest is to cover research and development certification, I suppose. But do the math. Capitalism works.

No, the heroes? Banting, Macleod, Best. The people who conceived of the idea of urine and glucose tests. The ones who invented, designed, and built the first CGMs and pumps. These are the people who fight diabetes. And especially the ones looking for a biological and genetic cure.  My parents, my pediatrician, Dr. L, and Dr. DE, who taught me how to live with diabetes.  My spouse, who loves me and prods me from time to time to make doctor’s appointment.

These are the people who let me simply live each day, just like wearing glasses or using a cane or a handkerchief. It is because of these people that I say that I am diabetic, but not a diabeticThese are the heroes.

To these people, I want to say thank you, thank you, thank you! I can’t say it enough.

Because not all of us are heroes.

But some of us are.

 

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A Tablet Desiderata (In Which I Become Ned Ludd)

Luddites, who theoretically take their name from Ned Ludd, are supposed to be opposed to technology.

I, on the other hand, love technology.  Computers, smart phones, you name it.

But as of today, I have to confess that I hate tablets.  Or maybe I only hate Windows 8.1 tablets.

A couple of weeks ago, Microsoft decided to have a sale in their stores on the 7″ Toshiba Encore Mini tablet.

I thought I might give it a try.  It’s true that the thing “only” had about 16 GB of “disk” space, only 5 GB of which were free.  But 5,242,880 kilobytes is a lot of space.  Since I figured I’d mainly use it for notes into OneNote, I thought that would be plenty.

So.  The machine arrived.  I plugged it in to charge, and after a few hours, it was loaded and ready to go.  Once I had entered my information, it loaded my profile from OneDrive (a thing about which I simply cannot say enough good things), looked at my network and installed our printers, and it was good to go.

But.  There are some problems with Windows 8.1 on tablets.

  1. Most productivity apps on Windows 8.1 (things that require any kind of extensive input–like say, web browsers or text processing programs–are not native Windows 8.1 applications.  Rather, they run on the desktop, which means that if you do want to use a keyboard, you have to invoke one.  Nor are these “desktop” programs easily resized to make them more readable on a small screen.
  2. When I installed a native “modern” browser (the very nice UC Browser, which I do use on my Windows phone) I could not make it the default.  Whenever I clicked on a link, Windows 8.1 tried to open Internet Explorer (or, after I installed it) Firefox.  Which meant I was kicked back to the desktop mode (for which, see 1, above).
  3. Handwriting recognition (and I realize this is a fault in both hardware on this inexpensive tablet and the way things are implemented in 8.1) is very poor.  You can write maybe three or four words before the program catches up…not so good.  And while the recognition is good, I don’t think it’s as good as my old Palm PDA.  Which is saying something scary.  Given modern cell-phone prediction capabilities, and decades+ handwriting recognition technology, this should be a no-brainer.
  4. Windows Phone 8.x has a cool keyboard that lets you slide from letter to letter, so it’s almost as quick as writing cursive.  Especially on a small touch-screen keyboard.  Windows 8.1 does not support this.  Too bad, because I’d probably have kept the tablet if it did.

There are hardware issues as well.

  1. Even with all that plastic, the 7″ tablet was just too heavy to hold comfortably.
  2. Also, for someone like me with large hands–even for someone like me–the tablet felt awkward to try to hold in one hand.  Partly the weight, partly the size.  In contrast, my 6″ Kindle Paperwhite feels only slightly too big.
  3. The battery didn’t last nearly as long as it should have.

Finally, it just seemed weird.  Here I had a device that wasn’t a phone, and wasn’t quite a computer.  But my smartphone could do almost everything the tablet could do, some things it couldn’t, and it fits in my pocket.  It’s always on.  The battery lasts all day.  And if I want to do extensive writing, I can open up my notebook.  Fumbling for an uncomfortably-shaped object and trying to use it felt wrong.

This morning I called Microsoft and got an RMA.  Out it goes.

So here I am, Nate Ludd, standing athwart technology and yelling STOP!

So what do I want in a tablet?  In the best of all possible worlds?

  • I want a small, light device.  6″ might be just fine.  5.5″ would probably be better.  But it all depends on how much skirt there is around the screen.
  • I want it to run OneNote, maybe a browser, and that’s about all.  Minimal interface elements.  Well, OK–a camera linked to OneNote (quick white-board captures).
  • It should run both WiFi and 3g/4g connections for data.  Remember SUN’s slogan, The Network is the Computer?  At one time I thought it was silly.  Now I think it’s essential.
  • I want instant-on, with a good 24-hour or better run time on the battery.
  • I want handwriting recognition that’s at least as good as my old Palm Zire:

(Or better.)  I want a fine-pointed stylus, not some bozo foam-head crayon.  And there should be an option to draw on the screen as well as to have text recognized.  A pop-up keyboard for when you really, really need it (entering passwords, for example).

  • Along with handwriting recognition, I would absolutely love it if I could use one of my fountain pens, sans ink, as a stylus.  Dunno if that’s possible, but it would make writing so pleasant!
  • A tough color screen that won’t break easily.
  • And a price of <$100.

That’s not really all that much to ask, is it?

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More Fun with Technology and Goodwill: Welcome GLaDOS

Some of you are aware that I like to troll the electronics aisle at my local Goodwill. Between that and the tie section, I manage to keep myself amused for not very much money.

So, after finding no decent ties on Thursday, I went back for a last scan of the electronics section, and sitting there was this HP IQ770 “all in one”:

Well, sort of. It didn’t have a keyboard, and it was dirty and covered with $30 stickers. This machine is now 8 years old, was one of the first Windows Vista-based desktops* and comes complete with touch screen.

*As numerous articles have pointed out, it’s not really a desktop. Aside from the fact that it weighs a ton (about 40 pounds, actually—more than my sheet-metal Kaypro!) it is built largely of laptop-category components and has no room for expansion cards.

The thing that grabbed me was that it looked so much like a 1970s interpretation of what a 21st-Century home would have. All the nice rounded edges and so many controls and ports! Beyond the usual, it has:

Six external USB 2.0 ports, one of which is paired with a power port for the accessory printer that could be integrated with this unit, Ethernet, TV and FM antenna ports and an on-board TV tuner (I haven’t yet found drivers for this) S-video, 1394, lots of audio in and out connectors, including 1/8” (3.5mm) headphone jacks and RCA connectors, Mini-VGA, slot-loading DVD writer with push-button controls (no driver for the controls yet), external volume and channel controls (likewise) very nice built-in speakers, a port for a “pocket” hard drive, a more than decent screen (especially for the era) that can be adjusted up and down and canted at any angle, and did I mention the touchscreen?

Here’s a note. Alan Turing conceived of the computer as a general-purpose device. That is, something that was not dedicated to solving a particular mathematical problem. Though it’s possible, it’s unlikely that he foresaw modern general-purpose PCs. But I am convinced that if he saw all of the highly-specific hardware hanging off this thing, he would spinning in his grave. The extras on this not only go well beyond gilding the lily, they get into gilding the silly. It reminds me of a $400 Toshiba monitor I once owned.  But I digress.

So I plugged it in and turned it on, and of course, it didn’t boot. It kept complaining about a disk error. So far, so bad. I looked around for a keyboard so I could take a look at the ROM BIOS, but for the first time in recent memory, the only keyboards I could find were PS/2, and the stack of USB keyboards from last week was missing in its entirety.

I decided it was worth the risk and hauled it out to my car, $30 poorer, but calm in the assurance that that was $30 Goodwill would otherwise never have seen.

When I got it home, I borrowed my youngest child’s keyboard and found that I could, indeed, access the BIOS (and better, that the BIOS wasn’t passworded). It didn’t seem to have a hard drive installed, but I had to be sure, so after a couple of days, I looked up how to open it (hint: the hard drive lives on the back of the monitor support, not in the “pizza box” section on the bottom) and started poking around.  Nope, no drive.  This is a smart thing to do when you donate something to Goodwill, but many people forget.

I discovered that it needed a 3.5” SATA drive, and that it wasn’t set up to boot from USB. Also, with the help of my youngest, that there was no working facility to eject the CD we’d poked into the slot-loading drive in hopes of seeing whether it worked or not.

Eventually, with the aid of a dinner knife and some tape, I got the audio CD out of the drive.   Some poking about in my desk uncovered a Win7 installation disk, and once I had modified the BIOS, I found that I was able to boot from that disk. Still left me without a hard drive, though.

Inspiration struck! I had been using an old WD “book”-type external drive to test the USB connection. There was lots of free space on that 320GB drive. Hmmm. A little poking around showed that inside the housing was a 7200 RPM SATA 3.5” drive. A little work, and the drive was naked, and then plugged into the SATA and power connectors in the computer. I didn’t have the right brackets, but some careful insulation cut out of foam and a little duct tape held the drive in place perfectly.

The Win7 CD recognized the newly-installed Barracuda 7200 SATA drive, and went ahead and installed on it, and—lo and behold—let me boot from it!

Windows installed all the requisite generic drivers, I adjusted the screen resolution (turns out 1024×768 works OK), and it was working. Of course, there was no network cable downstairs (we run wireless) and this thing did not support WiFi. But with a spare Ethernet-over-AC adaptor, soon it was talking to the ‘net.

My kid spent most of last evening tweaking it. It’s a nice home entertainment center between its touchscreen, bright, wide display and good audio system. It now has icons for Amazon video, Netflix, Hulu, and a couple of other things in place. I’m going to buy a wireless keyboard to use as a remote, and Bob’s yer uncle.

I hope to find drivers/software to support some of the more esoteric components of this beastie, but if not, not. It works.

It sits on a rolling cart in the three-season porch that serves as family/exercise room, and can be rolled into the living room if we want it there.

And its name?

GLaDOS. And the cake?  Is a lie.

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Kid, Are You Innocent?

This post comes out of an interesting discussion with my youngest child last night.

I forget the precise nature of the discussion, but it had to do with conservatives and their views on (among other things) science, abortion, and the relative values of lives.  I would remember more but I was building a fire at the time this all came up.

Oh, yeah!   She asked me how conservatives justify imposing “morality”-based laws (e.g., DOMA) on other people when they view the imposition of laws generally as a “bad thing.”

Anyway, this morning the discussion was still resonating when I came across two pictures that, taken together, were a revelation.

The first was this shot of a banner.  This is not the original banner, but a rather troubling Photoshop job.  I’ve seen the original banner, and the last line was added later by someone who I probably wouldn’t like all that much:

Here’s the original:

(In case the photos disappear, the original is of a black banner that reads, in white lettering, #BLACK LIVES MATTER.  The ‘shop job adds the line:  “BUT ONLY WHEN THEY’RE KILLED BY COPS.  KILLED BY EACH OTHER?  NOT SO MUCH.”)

And then I saw this, as a corrective:

And suddenly, I got it.  It’s probably blindingly obvious to other people.  But here’s where I think a large part of the conservative mindset is coming from:

Guilt and innocence. 

It’s OK to impose bad consequences (or, alternatively, a law) on those who are guilty.  And it’s OK to impose harsh consequences (i.e., via a law) to prevent harm to the innocent.  Government exists to protect the innocent from the guilty.

Now.  How do we figure out guilt or innocence?

I think it’s largely taken from a very crude (you will pardon the phrase) Judeo-Christian perspective that has in turn been influenced by a whole mess of philosophies and institutions, including patriarchy and slavery.  So the innocent include, inter alia:

Fetuses and/or children (age cutoff depending on denomination), [female] virgins, successful business[men–because of Calvinism], Europeans [because of anglo-Israelism, etc.] the faithful in religiously-sanctioned heterosexual marriage, those who have accepted Christ as their personal savior.

The guilty and/or potentially guilty include, inter alia:

Anyone who hasn’t accepted Christ as their personal savior, adults, particularly those who are not faithful in religiously-sanctioned heterosexual marriage, providers of abortion and/or birth control services, those who do not succeed at business and the poor generally [because of Calvinism] and non-white people [because of the mark and or curse of Cain].

Now, being an attorney (a much nicer term than lawyer, I think) it’s important to notice that there are some interesting relationships here.  First of all, innocence is supposed to be conjoint (i.e., there’s supposed to be an “and” connecting all of those categories) and guilt is supposed to be disjoint (i.e, you are guilty if you are an abortion provider even if you’re successful in business).

In practice, the relationships don’t work out that way.  Many successful businessmen are held to be innocents even though they have been unfaithful in marriage, and of course, taking Christ as one’s personal savior covers a multitude of sins, as does public repentance (which is much the same thing).  And black people are generally held to be less innocent/more guilty (even if they’re children or successful in business).

Second, like the list of factors that effect guilt or innocence, the precise outcomes of various mixtures are going to vary widely.  Ronald Reagan was approved by religious conservatives even though he and his spouse were big astrology fans (astrology being very much on the outs in general) and even though he had divorced his first wife.  Newt Gingrich is approved for several reasons even though he is a Catholic convert and has been married multiple times.  Conversely, Martin Luther King, Jr., was a professing Christian, but he was black, so he gets a stamp of disapproval (also, because we know that blacks are intensely sexual animals).  Matthew Shepard?  White, but gay.  Jews are considered proto-Christians, so they’re inherently less innocent than Christians but more innocent than Muslims.

Ultimately, it comes down to a tribal calculus of guilt and innocence.  Innocent lives aren’t worthy of the same sorts of protections as guilty lives, so when someone says they’re pro-life, consider what they mean.  Remember, government exists to protect the innocent.  And punish the potentially guilty.

That’s why the reference to “black on black” violence (as opposed to “white on white” violence).  There is an underlying assumption is the black people are less innocent/more guilty.  And that the #BLACKLIVESMATTER idea is thus a sort of false complaint.  It’s not a complaint about the “acceptance” of black on black violence within the black comunity (an acceptance which I have not seen)–it’s an endorsement of it.  You’re black?  Expect to encounter violence, either at the hands of police or at the hands of your fellows.  You’re not as innocent as white people.  You’re different from us.  You don’t have the same respect for life that we do.  We’ve all heard this language before.  In Viet Nam.  In the Middle East.

In other words, from a conservative perspective, #WHITE LIVES MATTER MORE.

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Talking to Craig

I remember the first time I held one.  It was plastic, dark green and silver, a little on the large side for my hand, but at the push of a button it connected me to my brother through the air.  We could sort of speak and sort of hear each other.  Granted, the range was maybe 30 feet or so, and the sound quality was terrible, but it was hard to beat that first pair of walky-talkies.

Talky(The ones I remember were something like this, but larger, and didn’t have the cool code key.)

You may remember something like this.  I’m not talking about the FM kind with the short rubber antenna and lighted LCD dial that fit in the palm of your hand–those were much later.  These were real Citizens Band toys, with long chrome antennae that could put someone’s eye out and, under the right set of circumstances, could bounce of the ionosphere to all parts of the globe.

I was reflecting on this earlier today because I was browsing eBay, looking for an item that I had years ago.  Surprisingly, I found almost exactly what I was looking for–and then paused.

The old was good.  Those walky-talkies, while they lasted, burned through a lot of 9v “transistor” batteries.  They were cool.  But today I have a much smaller device that fits into my pocket, handles voice/video calls and email and texting and…it’s even connecting me to this massive computer network so that I can write this blog entry.

It’s nice to hold onto the past.  But the future is pretty cool, too.

So long Craig.  Over.

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The Sick List

On the evening of December 30, I got sick. I mean sick. I felt cold regardless of the house temperature and had the worst set of shakes I can recall in quite some time.

Except for a brief attempt to go to work on the 31st (I lasted four hours) I have spent the time since then bundled in bed or in a chair in the living room. Watching some junk on Netflix and reading.

Mostly reading.

(As you may know from a previous post, I’m a fan of apocalyptic fiction.)

At some point, I saw a list of the “Best SF in 2014,” something like that, and since I had had very good luck with some of the books on that list (notably The Martian, which is already, as I understand it, being made into a film). Two books on the list struck me, and I downloaded them via Kindle.

The first, and in my opinion, the better, was Station Eleven. I probably shouldn’t have been reading this while I was sick. Imagine a flu. A bad flu. A flu that kills almost all of its victims within 24 hours. Imagine that the survival rate is something like .01%.

That, a comic book, and a Canadian production of King Lear, are the setup. The next 20 years are the story.

Don’t read it because it’s SF. Read it because the writing is amazing. It’s the kind of writing that could sustain nearly any kind of fiction, not the kind that SF readers are used to, where the writing takes second place to the technology. And forget about technology; this is classed as science fiction only because it roams in a speculative future. There is no technology. The break between future and past is the pandemic, and after that…

One of the most striking features of the book is the way it makes it plausible that there might be a disaster with no rescue, no national guard helicopters, nobody coming to save the victims.

The second book is a series, and kind of odd. It’s known as the Southern Reach trilogy, and I’m about 40% of the way through the last volume. The writing here is good—not as good, but good—but very different from that in Station Eleven. I would use the term “diffident.” The novels (collectively the “Novel”—damned if I ain’t a lawyer) tell the story of something called Area X. Area X is located somewhere along the southern East Coast (it’s implied that it’s the East Coast of the United States, but that’s never made clear). Something has happened there—but it’s not at all clear what. And whatever has happened is enmeshed with the politics of the Southern Reach, the agency designated with containing Area X, and with the nation’s intelligence apparatus.

It’s a strange but engaging book.  The Novel pulls you in spite of the fact that you might find it off-putting. The second novel in particular has a kind of Vonnegut-tinged black humor running through.

So, Station Eleven and Southern Reach. I’d recommend the former over the latter—unless you think you might be coming down with something.

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