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.

I kinda miss the good ole days . . .

. . . back when Groundhog Day was a IMG_7123time for bickering about which Bill Murray characters were the right amount of rapey, and to what degree your childhood was “raped” by a bunch of millionaires remaking a mediocre ’80s comedy.

Anyway, gotta jet: I need to get on hold to wait and ask my congressfolk to try and keep the Shadow President from deporting my neighbors, touch base with the head of security at my local Jewish Community Center, then walk to a meeting for some pro-bono legal advice. Busy day!🇺🇸🔥

Could your office’s awful flickering fluorescents stave off Alzheimer’s?

Almost certainly not, but listen:

Crappy fluorescent fixtures flicker at 120 Hz (i.e., 120 times each second, twice the frequency of the AC mains)—but that’s when performing perfectly.  Usually, you won’t notice that at all.  In fact, a flicker can get down to around 60 Hz before the average person can see it (I’ve been told that this was part of the motivation for choosing that frequency, as early incandescent bulbs would tend to noticeably pulse along with the AC).

But if the fluorescent light is visible and unambiguously flickering, then it’s Nackratte_01definitely down below 50 Hz.  And here’s the thing:  the bright LEDs they’re using in this experiment to successfully treat and reverse symptoms of Alzheimer’s, they’re pulsing at 40 Hz—i.e., the “creepy horror-film industrial building” frequency.

(Please do listen to the entire podcast before deciding to spend a lot of time sitting under shitty office lights; the research is in its infancy and the rate of successful transfer of Alzheimer’s research from rodents to humans is something like 0.4%).

 

Tech Companies: “How Dare You Suggest We’d Help Build the Muslim Registry We Already Built!”

So, when I saw this item the other day, I immediately thought of this blog post I penned in January 2015.  tl;dr on all this:

Trump transition team has been publicly mulling over creating/reviving a “Muslim Registry.” The Intercept started calling social media/tech companies and only one—Twitter—said “We’d never help with this!” (FYI, IBM has been down this road before, and yet still somehow doesn’t know the right answer to this question).  Yesterday, Facebook finally clearly said “No way! We won’t do it! We’d never build a Muslim Regsitry!”

But here’s the thing:

  1. As I pointed out back in Jan 2015, these companies have already built these databases.  They know when you are sleeping, they know when you’re awake, they know if you’ve been bad or good or if you even give two shits about Santa Claus.
  2. More to the point, the abstract threat I wrote about back in Jan 2015, when it freaked me out a little that Amazon had clearly flagged me as a Jew, became real in the Spring of 2016 when a bomb threat was called in to the Jewish Community Center housing my daughter’s daycare.  Because I sit on the Board of our congregation (which uses that building regularly for our religious services), I ended up touching base with the local police and FBI agents investigating the incident.  As it turned out six JCCs across the U.S. (in locales as far-flung as St. Louis, New York, and Louisiana) received the same threats at the same time—and all had very similar names.  When I did some googling, I found that all of us were listed together alphabetically in online Jewish education directories, with our phone numbers and addresses.  I.e., someone was just working their way down a list. This time around, it was just to make phone calls and fuck with us and our kids.  Next time?  Who knows; here’s what said in 2015, and it’s still about the same:

[I]n Amazon’s datacenter, I’m a row in a table. The index on that row is something like “CUSTOMER #2045674” and the cells include “kindle-owner” and “SF reader” and “owl pellet buyer” and “Jew” and my mailing address. Just another row, among millions–until that table gets resorted by the “Jew” column, and then I’m a box waiting to be ticked off by God-knows-who for God-knows-what-reason. Maybe they want to send me free Xanukah candles! Maybe they want to send me a bomb disguised as a printer cartridge! I guess I’ll have to wait for the mail man to come and find out then!

So I guess it’s swell that Facebook and IBM and Amazon and whoever else handwould never-ever-ever build the Muslim Registry they already built, but what if they maybe entirely accidentally do build a registry (which they already built, which is already being used to facilitate hate crimes and international terror)?  What then?

FYI, in business jargon, this is an externality.

 

Offered Without Commentary: “Little Ghost”

This is the only comic I've ever drawn. I have no idea when I drew it, or why, and have no recollection of doing so. But that is definitely my penmanship.
This is the only comic I’ve ever drawn. I have no idea when I drew it, or why, and have no recollection of doing so. But that is definitely my penmanship.

TRANSCRIPT:

[panel #1] “Hey”

[panel #2] “I… um…”

[panel #3] “I’m… a little… concerned

[panel #4] “that I look like a wang, Dave.”

[panel #5] OFF-PANEL VOICE: “You aren’t a wang! You’re a little ghost in a cape, and if I call it…”

[panel #6] OFF-PANEL VOICE: “… Little Ghost, then everything will be fine, so you shouldn’t worry.”

Rule the Season: Make Fancy Booze to Give to Your Friends!

Once again it’s that very special2012-11-14-12.10.49-768x583 time of year when I remind you that it’s hella easy to make your own booze, appropriate for gift-giving or general drunkification. (That link goes to my time-tested E-Z DIY Limoncello recipe; make it now, give it during Xmas/Xanukah week, get super-popular in the Dark Days of the Unconquered Son/Sun)

Continue reading “Rule the Season: Make Fancy Booze to Give to Your Friends!”

It’s Better to Light a Candle than to Sit and Curse the Dark

If you see tweets like this:

and your gut drops with the sort of ice-water dread usually reserved for hearing phrases like “metastatic cancer,” then you are not alone.

Nicholas Kristof has some suggestions which I think are a super-duper solid starting place: “Are you traumatized by the election of Donald Trump? Here’s the program for you.

Here are a few additions/refinements:

  1. You can’t take care of anyone else if it takes all of your available energy just to keep your shit together and function.  I made myself this “survival” playlist and listen to it first thing every morning while I’m writing; I’m not sure all the choices make sense to the general public, but they all buoy my spirit.  Make your own survival playlist and listen to it religiously.  Keep your heart, kid!
  2. Wigged out that the erratic President-Elect—either through his business practices or bellicosity—will trigger (or maybe somehow worse, fail to trigger) a Constitutional crisis? Give monthly to the ACLU.
  3. Wigged out about the shouts to repeal Obamacare?  Call your congressional reps and call Paul Ryan, who has set up a sort of voice-mail straw poll to take the temperature of the electorate on this issue:  202.225.3031.  Doing both of these will only take you a few minutes, tops.
  4. Wigged out about voter suppression and election rigging? I talked to my state rep, Jeff Irwin, at the local coffee shop.  He pointed me to this very good project for fixing our damned-near broken electoral college system: http://www.nationalpopularvote.com/  He also suggest you should work in your state to support expansion (or creation) of early voting and a shift to “universal absantee ballot”  If you want to support the Greens’ recounts, you can still give money to fund that (recounts are paid for by whoever requests them—not the public at large; I’ve already kicked in).  More importantly, you can volunteer to help with the recount itself in MI, WI, and PA.  It looks like they’re maybe getting deluged with trolls spamming their forms, so I’m sure honest, legit volunteers are much appreciated right now.
  5. Wigged out about access to women’s health services?  I spoke to Sarah Erdreich—author of  Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement—and she noted that the best place to give is as locally as possible:  “A lot of the effects will be felt by women that need the services but won’t be able to afford them. … as long as the government is still funding non-[abortion]-related services at PP  [Planned Parenthood] health clinics, it has a guaranteed funding source. … Near-term, a lot of the issues women have with accessing PP’s [abortion] services as financial, so if the local PP has a way to accept donations targeted towards defraying the cost for patients, that would be the most immediate. If they don’t, check out NNAF—Nat’l Network of Abortion Funds—and see what independent clinics in the area have set up.” Here’s the direct link that allows you to give to state/regional/local Planned Parenthood organizations.  Sarah especially supports the Willie Parker Fund for Abortion Access in the South; the map on this page will help you find similar funds in your area.
  6. Wigged out about hate crimes? Wear the safety pin—but more importantly, cultivate a good natured and incredulous: “Hunh.  You don’t really believe that, do you?”  Practice saying it with a squint and smile, and deploy it frequently when someone gets out of line.  Gently obliging someone to articulate their feelings and acknowledge the repercussions of what they say, and to own those words—or, hopefully, to decide they don’t really want to own those words and where they lead.  The safety pin is a nice outward symbol, because I like the idea of “safety” in the safety pin, and of being a presence to help calm the nervous. But more importantly, for my own mental health, I like to dwell on what a safety pin is for: We use them in an emergency to hold our shit together long enough to get somewhere safe and really assess what repairs we need to move forward.  And, goddamned if we ain’t in that place right now, brothers and sisters.
  7. BONUS ROUND: Wear the flag, too—not with snark or irony or upside-down, but with pride.  Let us not cede our unified identity to the haters.  E pluribus unum; the Union forever.usa-american-flag-waving-animated-gif-26

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.