Briefly On Neil Gorsuch and Compromise

I’m not super-duper enthusiastic about Neil Gorsuch joining the SCotUS—which is probably not much of a shocker—but some of his writing resonated with me, and I wanted to meditate on that.  Here’s a snippet from his book on assisted suicide and euthanasia:

All human beings are intrinsically valuable and the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong. We seek to protect and preserve life for life’s own sake in everything from our most fundamental laws of homicide to our road traffic regulations to our largest governmental programs for health and social security. We have all witnessed, as well, family, friends, or medical workers who have chosen to provide years of loving care to persons who may suffer from Alzheimer’s or other debilitating illnesses precisely because they are human persons, not because doing so instrumentally advances some other hidden objective. This is not to say that all persons would always make a similar choice, but the fact that some people have made such a choice is some evidence that life itself is a basic good.

That orange emphasis is mine, because I agree 100%.  I’ve double emphasized “private persons” because Gorsuch uses that to cop out of some things that I find absolutely essential to humanity leveling up from here, but I’ll let it slide because I believe something else: 

I’ve never seen a human action that was not undertaken by a “private person.”  That private person may have been acting on the orders of the State or a corporation or along the dogma of thier faith, but the actor in the moment—the human holding out the bowl of food, holding out the knife, holding out the gun, holding out the helping hand—has always been a private person choosing (perhaps under duress, perahaps in a situation where there are no good choices) to comply or to refuse.

But that’s my bit, not Gorsuch’s, and it’s beside the point, becasue what I diuscovered in reading this is the following:

Given these words, Gorsuch and I aren’t such different people (apart from a religious/superstitious disagreement about what constitutes a “human life.”)  And the thing is, I would accept living under the Christian supersition that a lump of potentially viable human cells entirely dependent upon staying embedded within the person of another human being is somehow a “unique human life” if that also meant no more death penety, no more war, no more state application of potentially deadly force, and actually fully funding and implementing “our largest governmental programs for health and social security” so that folks on these shores don’t just have an abstract “right to life,” but a true and concrete right to a decent life.

That’s both a logically consistent trade off, and one whose ramifications I would accept, even thought it would mean putting me in violation of the true and deeply held tenants of my faith.

But, of course, this isn’t the trade off I’m being offered.

According to the WaPo (all the blockquotes in this post are from this same article):

[Gorsuch] specifically avoids discussing war and capital punishment, saying they “raise unique questions all their own.”

In other words, we’re back to the cryptic American assertion that one murder by one man is horrible and to be avoided at all costs, but thousands upon thousands murdering thousands upon thousands is somehow A-OK.  It seems to me this is sort of our thing as a nation, right?  Your kid steals a candy bar, you ground him.  Your kid grows up to make millions stealing people’s homes, and he’s a captain of industry.  #America

So there we are:

All human beings are intrinsically valuable (even ones who don’t exist) and the intentional taking of human life is always wrong (except for when the government decides to do it).

The Washington Post goes on to note:

Gorsuch rejected that view [i.e., U.S. Court of Appeals Justice Posner’s assertion that there were situations where physician-asssisted suicide should be permitted], writing it would “tend toward, if not require, the legalization not only of assisted suicide and euthanasia, but of any act of consensual homicide.” Posner’s position, he writes, would allow “sadomasochist killings” and “mass suicide pacts,” as well as duels, illicit drug use, organ sales and the “sale of one’s own life.”

Again, sorta interesting that all of these consensual things are no-go—because all human beings are intrinsically valuable, even the ones who don’t want to keep being human—but if the state very much against your will decides to torture you to death with a crazy nonsense drug cocktail . . . well, I don’t need to belabor the point.

For what it’s worth, I was talking to some law school lawyers last week, and the second-hand inside-baseball from them (one of whom has a pal who clerks for Gorsuch) is that the dude is solid, fair-minded, and non-ideoligical when he’s on the bench—the sorta thing you want in a Supreme Court Justice, I’m told.

The Math I Should Not Have Done

There have been more than 60 bomb threats targeting U.S. Jewish Community Centers in the past month, more than 30 of them since the inauguration alone (i.e., in the last twelve days).  Most of these have been domestic in origin (I have that from several sources, include a JCC security head who was told this at an info session with the Detroit FBI office this week).

just another funny little joke, i guess
just another funny little joke, i guess

That number sounds bad—but you don’t really have a benchmark for this, right?  I mean, you ask yourself “Well, how often do folks call bomb threats into YMCAs or non-Jewish daycares?”, and the answer is “Basically zero”—so that sounds bad.  But then you poke around online, and find that U.S. schools get over a thousand bomb threats every year (in fact, I used to teach at an alternative school, and one of my students—a very sweet and peaceful kid when I knew him—had been kicked out of his last school for making a bomb threat).  And how often do schools get bombed?  (Actually, bombs are placed at schools more than you think: According to some old ATF numbers, nearly 100 devces are placed each year in schools).

So I started poking around the FBI UCR (Universal Crime Reporting) Hate Crime stats.  Here’s a representative sample of annual anti-Jewish “intimidation” crime tallies (“intimidation” is the UCR category that includes, but is not limited to, bomb threats).  You’ll note a predominantly downward trend:

  • 1996 had 363 such offenses 
  • 1997: 387
  • 1998: 380
  • 1999: 420
  • 2007: 201
  • 2008: 201
  • 2010: 201
  • 2011: 187
  • 2012: 87
  • 2013: 152
  • 2014: 93
  • 2015: 114

(My numbers above are spotty, owing both to gaps in the FBI stats and because I just can’t dedicate too much time to picking around UCR reports tonight.)

I’ve emphasized 1999 for three reasons:

  1. It is the peak of the available numbers by a significant margin.
  2. It’s the year of the Los Angeles Jewish Community Center shooting committed by Buford O. Furrow
  3. If January 2017 is indicative, then we can expect 600 bomb threats this year.  And if bomb threats generally correlate to the volume and volatility of anti-Semitic hate floating around out there . . . well, you can do the math.

A Grab Bag of Human Music Technologies

Girl totally rocks the original “Super Mario” medley (complete with coins and power-ups!) on a sheng, sounds like she totally belongs in the Mos Eisley Catina Band:

A robot plays a pop hit (I love the rhythmic element that the robot’s motors and gears bring to the song):

Props to Arthur Lacomme for pointing me to this one featuring “Mr. Curly” (which is the instrument, not the dude playing it).  I love that watering-can clarinet Pollack demos around 1:45! 

(Arthur also recommends the open-source Rakarrack software package, which he uses when he rocks his Mr. Curley.)

This one is pretty interesting if you stick with it; what you no doubt initially take to be a precursor to the 8-track is playing cartridges loaded with ribbon-based analog records(!!!).  The macro-lens bit at around 5:20 gives you an example of both the sound (pretty damn solid) and the mechanism (OMFG! Wünderbar!)  Hilarious remote control, too.

And then there’s this guy:

chordophone-lyre-plucked
My beautiful picture

(FYI, that caption was Wordpress’s suggested—and I love it!!!)

o_O  The thing that makes this one, for me, is how the strings are anchored in the eye sockets(!!!)  The Met has several of thesefrom different generous donors and almost certainly different artisans—and they all use the eye sockets and brow ridge as a saddle and bridge.  Humans, amiright?

N.B. that, according to current expert opinion, this thing—which is indeed from Central Africa, where it was crafted in the 19th C by a native artisan—was produced for no other purpose than to sell something fantastically “primitive” and “savage” to European tourists/anthropologists (and thus inform European opinions of these nations and, in all likelihood, form the foundation of the moral justifications for brutal colonialism).  I invite the reader to meditate on their own how this might mirror our current situation with imported polarizing/fake news, and who the greater savage might be: The supplier who makes the ersatz evidence, or the customer who furnishes the demand and shells out the cash?

HAPPY THANKSGIVING: “As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly!” #gobblegobblegobble

This is, in my humble, a damn-near perfect gag—which is saying something, because I find single-camera laugh-track situation comedies almost entirely unbearable to watch.

I hope your day is good and sweet.  Gobblegobble!

(If you wanna read more of my thoughts on this specific gag and what it can teach writers, you can do so here.)

Pseudopod: Year 10–Support this Lil Engine that Can and Does

In celebration of their 10th anniversary Pseudopod—a consistently solid horror fiction podcast—is running a kickstarter:


Pseudopod has an excellent track record—both in terms of delivering the goods and doing right by their contributors—and impressive longevity (10 years of weekly operation publishing fiction for free is hard going; I know from experience).  Their goal is to raise funds to increase what they pay artists and ensure their longevity.  These are Good Things™

Kick in a few bucks; the 21st Century is nuts, and perhaps the nutsiest thing is the jaw-dropping array of free arts & letters we each enjoy every day—but it can only be free on the daily if we all kick in now and again.  This is one of those moments.


Add bonus
: there are some really nifty backer premiums, including this rad-as-hell mug and their first ever anthology, For Mortal Things Unsung—which features both reprints of pieces they

Pseudopod Horror in Clay limited-edition tiki mug
a mug of unspeakable horror

bought for the podcast (including mine), as well as new work A.C. Wise, Jim Bihyeh, and others.

Free Fiction Friday: Halloween Edition

For your seasonally appropriate reading:

Enjoy!

I Want to Thank Donald J. Trump… [UPDATED]

… for being a good role model to boys—or, more precisely, an excellent cautionary tale.

art by DonkeyHotey https://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/
(art by DonkeyHotey)

I watched most of the debate with my 10-year-old son last night (he bugged out ~20 minutes from the end because “it’s getting boring and just repeating itself.”)  Overall, he was baffled and appalled, and more than a little embarrassed.

I think we all saw the embarrassment coming (including the good folks who advised not letting children watch): Talk of the #TrumpTape had my kid covering his head with a blanket (in part this owes to the boy being a tad non-neurotypical; the concept that someone might purposefully touch someone who didn’t want to be touched is sort of existentially dreadful to him).

As for the bafflement, my kid just couldn’t get his head around anyone wanting anything to do with Trump, based on what he was seeing on the screen, let alone thinking the man would make a good president.

And the idea that he might ever be considered to anything like that man?  That appalled him.  In his own words, Trump was “not responsible, reliable, or trustworthy.”

So, if nothing else, we’ve at least got a new and effective bogeyman, a debased, debasing bad-touching Struwwelpeter of the soul:

“Dammit, kid: Wash your hands, do your chores, then help the lady next door by shoveling her walk—or else you’ll turn out like Donald J. Trump!”

UPDATE Oct 11, 2016: Another debate nugget that just came to mind: When the issue of Trumps “ban on all Muslims entering the country” was raised, my kid shot up, aghast, and shouted “But that violates core democratic values!”  (He has a class at school called “Core Democratic Values”—which is basically, content wise, the class we called “Civics,” but that clunky phrase, latched to his very real and visceral distress, really cracked me up, so I thought I’d share.)