The Death Cult of American Individualism

The Cult

America was not founded on the cult of individualism. The Founders had no such notion of putting the individual above the common good. The guarantee of liberty was conceived as the way to enable citizens to fully and responsibly participate in the society.

Following the Civil War, the idea of the individual in society began to shift, until today, it has shifted 180°. In modern America, individual liberty has lost all mooring to social responsibility, becoming an end itself, rather than a means to an end. Social responsibility is no longer discussed in tandem with individual liberty.

One area seriously impacted by this shift is the ownership of firearms. Citizens at the time of the founding of the nation would be shocked to see that ownership of firearms carries with it no concomitant responsibility for safe usage. The modern gun owner argues that he should not be restricted by government from selling his weapon to whomever he pleases, whenever he pleases. And, this is a core axiom of NRA positioning on the sales of firearms.

Gun owners further argue that, if an individual commits a crime with a gun, the responsibility for that act rests solely with the individual, and no blame or culpability attaches to the individual who provided the weapon.1


This question was actually raised by Socrates in Plato’s The Republic 2500 years ago. In The Republic, Socrates offers a scenario.

A man gives you his weapons for safekeeping. Some time later, he returns and asks for his weapons back, because he intends to murder someone with them. Do you return the weapons to him? They’re his weapons, and surely it is just for you to give him back his own weapons. On the other hand, says Socrates, surely it is not just for you to give him the weapons, when you know his intention is to commit murder. By giving the man the weapons in these circumstances, you are enabling injustice, a murder, to occur. 2

In modern America, the question is no longer a question. Of course, you are obligated to return the weapons to the man, because what he does with them afterwards is not your responsibility. The individual is solely responsible for his own actions. This theme of ultimate individual responsibility is woven into American society in many ways. It’s the justification for letting poor people go hungry, for leaving people homeless on the streets, for being indifferent to police officers’ brutalizing and murdering citizens, for allowing criminals and the mentally ill to purchase and own firearms.

Ultimate individual responsibility is how we justify economic inequality, school systems segregated by income class, racial profiling by police, discrimination in hiring, denial of voting rights. In each case, the individual is solely responsible for not putting himself into the situation, or for getting himself out of the situation, and fellow citizens have no role nor obligation in the matter.

This attitude of ultimate individual responsibility has no religious nor ethical foundation. The United States was founded by men educated in the philosophies of the Enlightenment, who would have been, and were, repelled by such antisocial ideas. No words of Christ can be found in the Bible to justify it. No words of the ancient philosophers can be found to justify it. It’s a philosophy and ideal that grew out of the peculiar and parochial American way of life that developed in the 19th Century.

One is forced to make accommodation to some elements of the nature of one’s society. After the school shooting in Newtown, CT, in 2014, which left 20 children dead — 20 seven and eight year-olds — a mighty flood of rhetoric was released about controlling the easy access to firearms in America. This flood filtered through the sieve of American conscience and drained away, with no impact. At some point afterward, I realized that no change was going to be made, in this case nor in any other, to Americans’ reckless indifference toward homicide with firearms.

So tightly woven into American culture is the notion of ultimate individual responsibility, now, that the idea of social responsibility is completely dead. Modern American life is conducted with the sense of social responsibility, the sense of personal responsibility, to be found in a drunk driver. Citizens desiring to change this pattern of life cut around the edges, occasionally pulling loose a thread or fraying a pattern. But such measures have no impact over the whole fabric, and people continue to live in misery, and die sudden and violent deaths.

The thing has arrived to such a height, that we are actually threatened with, becoming a nation of drunkards.

— Temperance pamphlet, Green and Delaware Moral Society, 1815 3

The moral drunkard who has become the epitome of American life feels no restraint upon his actions. We will continue in this manner for the foreseeable future.

  1. No blame or culpability attaches to the gun owner who does not secure his weapons, as a result of which they are stolen and used criminally. Many states now have Stand Your Ground laws, which indemnify an individual who shoots another person to death, no matter what the circumstances, as long as the shooter maintains he was “in fear for his life or safety.” 
  2. Plato. The Republic. Trans. Georg M. Grube. Ed. C. D. C. Reeve. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1992. Print. 
  3. Rorabaugh, W. J. The Alcoholic Republic, an American Tradition. New York: Oxford UP, 1981. Print. 

Do We Still Love Torture, Really?

The squib below is taken from Michel Foucault’s book, Discipline and Punish. Have we come a long way in 250 years, or have we just taken a really long time to get here?

What I note here is that the execution was carried out publicly. In the 18th Century, such a spectacle as described here was not considered out of bounds, unacceptable, to its witnesses. Nor did the executioners object to the roles they played.

The open question is, are we better human beings for now finding this behavior repulsive? Many people today make casual reference to torture, and to mistreatment, as though they were as indifferent to the inflicted suffering as the 18th Century witnesses of and participants in this execution. Is that even true, are people still able to embrace this behavior? Is repulsion at this violence evidence that we have become “namby-pamby’?

Foucault, “The Body of the Condemned” 1

On 2 March 1757 Damiens the regicide was condemned ‘to make the amende honorable before the main door of the Church of Paris,’ where he was to be ‘taken and conveyed in a cart, wearing nothing but a shirt, holding a torch of burning wax weighing two pounds;’ then, ‘in the said cart, to the Place de Greve, where, on a scaffold that will be erected here, the flesh will be torn from his breasts, arms, thighs and calves with red-hot pincers, his right hand, holding the knife with which he committed the said parricide, burnt with sulfur, and, on those places where the flesh will be torn away, poured molten lead, boiling oil, burning resin, wax and sulfur melted together and then his body drawn and quartered by four horses and his limbs and body consumed by fire, reduced to ashes and his ashes thrown to the winds’.

‘Finally, he was quartered,’ recounts the Gazette d’Amsterdam of 1 April 1757. ‘This last operation was very long, because the horses used were not accustomed to drawing; consequently, instead of four, six were needed; and when that did not suffice, they were forced, in order to cut off the wretch’s thighs, to sever the sinews and hack at the joints …

‘It is said that, though he was always a great swearer, no blasphemy escaped his lips; but the excessive pain made him utter horrible cries, and he often repeated: “My God, have pity on me! Jesus, help me!” The spectators were all edified by the solicitude of the parish priest of St Paul’s who despite his great age did not spare himself in offering consolation to the patient.’

Bouton, an officer of the watch, left us his account: ‘The sulfur was lit, but the flame was so poor that only the top skin of the hand was burnt, and that only slightly. Then the executioner, his sleeves rolled up, took the steel pincers, which had been especially made for the occasion, and which were about a foot and a half long, and pulled first at the calf of the right leg, then at the thigh, and from there at the two fleshy parts of the right arm; then at the breasts. Though a strong, sturdy fellow, the executioner found it so difficult to tear away the pieces of flesh that he set about the same spot two or three times, twisting the pincers as he did so, and what he took away formed at each part a wound about the size of a six-pound crown piece.

‘After these tearings with the pincers, Damiens, who cried out profusely, though without swearing, raised his head and looked at himself; the same executioner dipped an iron spoon in the pot containing the boiling potion, which he poured liberally over each wound. The the ropes that were to be harnessed to the horses were attached with cords to the patient’s body; the horses were then harnessed and placed alongside the arms and legs, one at each limb.

‘Monsieur Le Breton, the clerk of the court, went up to the patient several times and asked him if he had anything to say. He said he had not; at each torment, he cried out, as the damned in hell are supposed to cry out, “Pardon, my God! Pardon, Lord.” Despite all this pain, he raised his head from time to time and looked at himself boldly. The cords had been tied so tightly by the men who pulled the ends that they caused him indescribable pain. Monsieur Le Breton went up to him again and asked him if he had anything to say; he said no. Several confessors went up to him and spoke to him at length; he willingly kissed the crucifix that was held out to him; he opened his lips and repeated: “Pardon, Lord.”

‘The horses tugged hard, each pulling straight on a limb, each horse held by an executioner. After a quarter of an hour, the same ceremony was repeated and finally,after several attempts, the direction of the horses had to be changed, thus: those at the arms were made to pull towards the head, those at the thighs towards the arms, which broke the arms at the joints. This was repeated several times without success. He raised his head and looked at himself. Two more horses had to be added to those harnessed to the thighs, which made six horses in all. Without success.

‘Finally, the executioner, Samson, said to Monsieur Le Breton that there was no way or hope of succeeding, and told him to ask their Lordships if they wished him to have the prisoner cut into pieces. Monsieur Le Breton, who had come down from the town, ordered that renewed efforts be made, and this was done; but the horses gave up and one of those harnessed to the thighs fell to the ground.The confessors returned and spoke to him again. He said to them (I heard him): “Kiss me, gentlemen.” The parish priest of St Paul’s did not dare to, so Monsieur de Marsilly slipped under the rope holding the left arm and kissed him on the forehead. The executioners gathered round and Damiens told them not to swear, to carry out their task and that he did not think ill of them; he begged them to pray to God for him, and asked the parish priest of St Paul’s to pray for him at the first mass.

‘After two or three attempts, the executioner Samson and he who had used the pincers each drew out a knife from his pocket and cut the body at the thighs instead of severing the legs at the joints; the four horses gave a tug and carried off the two thighs after them, namely, that of the right side first, the other following; then the same was done to the arms, the shoulders, the arm-pits and the four limbs; the flesh had to be cut almost to the bone, the horses pulling hard carried off the right arm first and the other afterwards.

‘When the four limbs had been pulled away, the confessors came to speak to him; but his executioner told them that he was dead, though the truth was that I saw the man move, his lower jaw moving from side to side as if he were talking. One of the executioners even said shortly afterwards that when they had lifted the trunk to throw it on the stake, he was still alive. The four limbs were untied from the ropes and thrown on the stake set up in the enclosure in line with the scaffold, then the trunk and the rest were covered with logs and faggots, and fire was put to the straw mixed with this wood.

‘… in accordance with the decree, the whole was reduced to ashes.’

  1. Foucault, Michel. “The Body of the Condemned.” Discipline and Punish. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage, 1995. 12-14. Print. 

Citizens and Liberty

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

This is the text of what may be the most famous, or most popularly known, of the first ten amendments to the US Constitution.  Among a significant portion of American citizens, this amendment is considered the most important.  On it, the claim is made, all the others depend.  If you don’t have a “well armed” populace, you can’t protect liberty from overweening government. 1

This claim has no basis in history.  No original supporter of the Constitution endorsed this view — not at the time of its writing, nor at the time of its ratification, nor at the time of ratification of the first ten amendments, sometimes known as the Bill of Rights.  That does not in itself invalidate the claim.  Times change, as does our understanding of the Constitution and of our rights as citizens.

What invalidates the claim is its assumption that liberty can only be, or even finally be, defended with weapons.

Liberty is defended by citizens living free.  It is defended by citizens who refuse to yield.

History has some heroic defenders of liberty, some of whom are justly famous, many of whom are not.

  • Raoul Wallenberg, diplomat: Issued protective passports and sheltered Jews in buildings designated as Swedish territory saving tens of thousands of lives.
  • Oskar Schindler, businessman: saved over 1000 Polish Jews by employing them in his factories and warehouses and hiding their Jewish identities.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr., minister: Marches, jail and magnificent speeches to inspire Americans to do what is right.
  • Rosa Parks, secretary, civil rights activist: Refused to give up her seat on segregated bus
  • March 7, 1965, protesters: “Bloody Sunday” marchers were beaten, gassed and jailed while attempting to march from Selma to Montgomery to register to vote.
  • March 9, 1965, protesters: “Turnaround Tuesday” march ended with the KKK beating to death a Unitarian minister from Boston.
  • Ron Kovic, Vietnam Vet, bronze star, purple heart, paraplegic, antiwar protester: “I had been beaten by the police and arrested twelve times for protesting the war and I had spent many nights in jail in my wheelchair. I had been called a Communist and a traitor, simply for trying to tell the truth about what had happened in that war, but I refused to be intimidated.”
  • Nancy Wake, journalist: Courier between Allies and French Resistance during WWII. Her husband, a businessman, was captured by the Gestapo. Although tortured, he refused to reveal her whereabouts and was executed.
  • Dietrich Boenhoffer, minister: German anti-Hitler pastor who took part in an assassination plot, imprisoned, tortured and hanged in 1945.
  • Freedom Riders, civil rights activists: May 1961, attempted to desegregate interstate bus travel, beaten and in one incident, locked inside a burning bus.

All these disparate incidents have one common element: citizens who refused to yield.  Citizens.  They did not wait for the guns to arrive, they did not want guns; they did not wait for the troops to arrive; they wanted liberty.  And liberty was “liberty for all,” for “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  By securing liberty for others, they secured it for themselves.  They understood that liberty is for those who take the risks, who act.  Liberty is not gained by killing those whom you find disagreeable nor even those who represent a real or imagined threat.

Violence can never provide the answer. The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.  Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

In vain, the RTKBA’er fantasizes that crushing a couch cushion and banging down pounders is all that he needs to do — because he has an arsenal of firearms in his basement.  All he has to do is kill that vague “someone” who “threatens to take away his guns.”  And send more money to Glenn Beck, who will tell him who needs killing.  In the meantime, he can catch the game on TV.

The notion of liberty amuses the people … When a butcher tells you that his heart bleeds for his country he has, in fact, no uneasy feeling.

— Samuel Johnson

The RTKBA’er already has agreed to warrantless and secret searches by the FBI.  He’s agreed to Federal agents infiltrating and spying on local political activist organizations.  He’s agreed to NSA listening posts in every telephone exchange CO.  He’s agreed that protesters must be kept blocks away from delicate, sensitive politicians and multimillionaire corporate CEOs who bribe them.  He’s agreed to militarized police squads, aka SWAT, that on a regular basis, break into the wrong homes and businesses, beating and even killing innocent citizens and inflicting millions of dollars of uncompensated property damage.  He’s agreed to let local, state and Federal prosecutors seize and dispose of citizens’ property before trial and often, even before charges.  He’s agreed to indefinite imprisonment without trial, even for American citizens.  He’s agreed to copyright laws that make it illegal for a shade-tree mechanic to fix the electronics on a car engine.  In fact, there’s hardly any aspect of real liberty that the RTKBA’er is not willing to part with, so long as he maintains ownership of his firearms, to kill that deadly “someone” who “threatens to take away his guns.”

Keep you doped with religion, and sex and TV,
And you think you’re so clever and classless and free.
But you’re still fucking peasants,
As far as I can see.

— John Lennon

No liberty without sacrifice.  And by “sacrifice,” I mean being prepared to bear the brunt of unlawfully or immorally wielded state power: refusing to yield. Workers at lunch counters; marchers on the bridge to Montgomery; a man in a wheelchair leading a protest march; a female journalist carrying secret messages. These people didn’t get up in the morning and say to themselves, “I’m going to do something heroic today, I’m going to defend liberty.”  No, they just bore witness to injustice and refused to accept it, refused to yield.  Their actions came out of the moral imperative.

No sensible person is going to show up at a protest march armed with a semiautomatic rifle and engage in a firefight with police and National Guard troops.  But, you can join in and engage with your fellow citizens and put your own body on the line.  You may find yourself gassed, beaten, arrested.  For liberty.  No sensible person is going to pull out a gun and accost a group of police officers kicking and clubbing a suspect handcuffed and lying on the ground.  But, you can pull out your phone and start photographing — you may find yourself arrested, beaten, your phone confiscated.  In extreme cases, citizens have lost their jobs.  But congratulations.  You’ve taken on the responsibility of a free citizen.  You refused to yield.

  1. Originally published 19 May 2013 on my Spankenheimer Meister blog. Formatting changes have been made, and minor grammatical edits. 

The Clinton-Sanders Axis

“He said – she said” is a piss-poor paradigm on which to make judgements about political candidates. Why should I care about what the candidate said, when I can look at what he or she has done?

Two qualities of Democrats and so-called progressives that I find particularly annoying are:

  • No loyalty, neither to the brand nor to the candidates
  • No patience, no willingness to work on a long plan to achieve goals

One reason conservatives can hold the line, even when they hold positions deeply unpopular within the public, is that they remain committed to the party brand, and to each other as bearers of the standard. The hidden benefit to the Tea Party rampage is that its members have broken the line; the brand loyalty, and the solidarity of shared sacrifice are breaking down on the right. However, because the Left is equally disloyal, and uncommitted to its brand, it can’t take advantage of the breaking apart of the enemy ship.

For as long as I have been voting, which is a pretty long time, the Democratic Party, and especially its liberal base, has focused on and looked to the national government as its base for implementing social change. This probably is an outcome of the civil rights struggle, the legal aspect of which had to be fought at the national level. But, the national victory was based on local struggle. The bus boycott, Selma, the lunch counter sit-ins, the Freedom Riders, and the like, were the foundation on which the legal scaffolding was raised.

The conservatives regrouped after the losses of the 60s and early 70s. They looked for another way to get their policies into power. That other way was through local government. At the outset, they probably had no idea that liberals would simply roll over and take a nap, leaving the small potatoes to the conservatives because they thought owning the big potato would trump all that little stuff.

We are now 40 years into the process, and conservatives fairly well own the country. The only piece of the political pie which the Democrats have been able to contest successfully in the past 30 years is the Presidency. And that may be on the brink, what with so-called progressives in the Democratic Party again playing the old “I’ll take the ball and go home, if you don’t make me QB” theme.

Tired of compromise? You’re tired of government. The essence of government is that you don’t get your own way all the time. I’ll tell you what. The other side is tired of compromise, too. And they’d like nothing better than for you to forfeit the game, and let them have complete control of the government. Which will then rapidly cease to be government and become the state of fear and repression.

Democrats have been, for four decades, the gold medal champions of Own Goal sports. The rights and liberties of the whole nation have been dribbled away by single issue voters, behaving for all the world like old men with weak streams, pissing on their own shoes and down the legs of their trousers. On the right, the single issue voter has nothing to lose. He will gladly surrender to theocracy, or any system that will reserve rights to his own particular group. On the left, ostensibly, the single issue voter has been contending for the rights and liberties of all Americans. Events have shown us that such is not the case — and that the contention is for the top spot, the QB, the Big Chair — who gets to decide what’s important, and who is left to ask politely for favors.

I don’t know that the party, and what it stands for, can be saved. The ability to work together, as a team, to accomplish concrete and recognizable goals, is key to the success of any political and social movement — just as it is to any other undertaking. The ability to see the connections between all the disparate members of a set of goals, and work them into your plan for success, is key to the leadership of the team. Even Hillary Clinton, who to my mind is far and away the most capable candidate on the floor today, has the vision to see the goals, and at least some of the connections; but not the vision to communicate the connections to the party.

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

— Theodore Roethke

Total World Domination

That Google-flavored Kook-Aid

Occasionally, I mention that I have drunk the Google-flavored kook-aid, and contemplate the extent of my perfidy.

Despite the occasional, and usually monumental, blunder, Google is the well when it comes to technical wizardry. The fact that the company’s blunders are ginormous is a testament to how much risk-taking the company indulges.


This moment of musing is brought on by this morning’s “Google Doodle,” which is a celebration of Duke Kahanamoku, the “father of surfing.”

Consider the imagination with which the Google team selects its candidates for a Doodle feature. The Doodle is not your run-of-the-mill “today in history” blurb. It usually pops up someone or something interesting and which has probably dropped off the collective radar, or never was on it.

The Doodle often features some kind of interactive “Easter egg,”1 2which you can waste some time figuring out and playing with. These animations range from simple things like making a balloon float up, up, and away; to games in which you can move a character through a series of obstacles and opponents, to win through to a prize.

These interactive animations are all written in HTML 5, meaning you do not need a special plugin like Java or Flash to use them. The Google Doodle was the first place I came across this aspect of HTML 5, a couple of years ago. All done with plain old markup — brilliant.

It Just Works

Gmail, Google Apps, Google Drive, Google Play, Google Music. As a music lover, Google Music is the bomb for me. Whenever I get a tip on some music I haven’t heard, I can almost always find it on GM. If I like it that much, I can buy it. Google Books. Plenty of places to buy ebooks, these days. With Google, I not only buy them (usually, at a discount), I download them and import them into a reader of my choice. I am not stuck with Google Books as a reader, and I am not stuck with reading them only on one (proprietary) device.

The Google Web Toolkit, AngularJS, Dart. BigQuery. Web Developer. The “sync” feature in Chrome browser.3

“It’s Your Money, Use it When You Want to”

Google Wallet! Isn’t this the final step toward World Domination? Not only can you pay from your phone (not completely unique), but you can send money directly from one Wallet to another. Last week, I went through a hellish fracas, trying to send the spouse some emergency funds while she was away, travelling. MoneyGram had some kind of problem, and wouldn’t send the money; and with Western Union, the pay station at which my wife tried to pick up the money had some kind of operator error, as a result of which she had to wait until the next day to get it. The MG would have cost me $25, and the WU did cost me $20.

With Google Wallet, I could have sent her the money, no charge, from my Wallet to hers, in about 60 seconds. Really. I’ve done it, with other accounts. 4

The Google Wallet card has two other features I like. One, the moment a purchase is made on the card, I get a notification of the location and amount of the purchase. Sometimes, when I’m taking the little gal to school in the morning, she pesters me to stop at the convenience mart, so that she can get something for breakfast. I give her my Wallet card. Before she’s back out to the car, my phone dings, and I have a notification from Wallet. I know how much she has spent.

Secondly, the card will allow you to zero out its balance. With my bank ATM card, I can either be declined for NSF, or go over and pay the penalty. The Wallet will not allow me to spend more than I have. It will, however, allow me to spend exactly as much as I have. If my order at the Dunkin window comes to $10, and the Wallet card has only $6.50 on it, the card will disburse the $6.50 and the clerk will tell me I need to come up with an additional $3.50.

Oh, dear, I don’t have any cash — what to do? Well, I open up the Wallet app on my phone, and punch the “Add $20” button. And a few seconds later, I have the additional money to pay up.


I will criticize one Google service that I have used, and which just really blows chunks; and that is Blogger. I just could not make that tool work for me. I was constantly fiddling with stuff, trying to get the most basic tasks done, like properly formatting the page, or inserting a picture. I finally gave it up, and have gone over to the dark side, with WordPress. I’m sorry to say it, but WP just works right out of the box, in the way that I want it to work.

Sin Boldly

Folks, it is all in the details. I sometimes have that moment of creeping guilt, at allowing myself to quaff another cup of the delicious beverage. But, Google provides me with tools to do what I want to do, and with a minimal interference. Really — don’t Yahoo users get tired of that screaming advertising cacophony called the Yahoo home page?

  1. An Easter egg in a software application is a hidden feature that can be activated by some (often mysterious) keystroke, or set of keystrokes, or by a mouse click. 
  2. Microsoft Word 97 Easter Egg Instructions for unlocking and playing a pinball game, an elaborately hidden Easter egg in Word 97. 
  3. Chrome browser itself is unique in that each tab in the browser is a separate process, as a result of which, if a web site crashes one tab, the whole browser doesn’t go down. You just close the errant tab. 
  4. Now, I’ve set up herself an account, too. 

Sanders v Clinton: In the Trenches


Semi-regularly, supporters of Bernie Sanders complain about the insulting behavior of Clinton supporters, especially the labelling of them as “Berniebots,” and the like.

Berniebot, n.

  1. A supporter of Bernie Sanders for President, who uncritically accepts everything positive about that candidate and uncritically rejects everything negative.
  2. A supporter of Bernie Sanders for President, who spams a discussion forum with memes ridiculing Hillary Clinton’s appearance, ideas, and occasionally, even her political positions.

When the Berniebot spams out these memes, what is the goal of the activity? Not to persuade Clinton supporters to change their votes, of course. Even allowing for the fact that they’re bots, and not thinking about what they’re doing, the bot programmer would understand that caricature and ridicule persuade no one to change a position on any subject.

I believe the activity can be laid to three intentions. First, the Berniebot gets a frisson of smug satisfaction at its own cleverness and at its own above-average intelligence. The bot is not “one of those fools” who has “fallen for” the other candidate’s lies. Nor is it “one of those hypocrites” who falsely professes liberal or progressive views.

Secondly, the bot wants the positive reinforcement of generating amusement among its compatriots. Ridiculing the outsider is a well-known tool with which groups solidify and maintain their cohesion.

Finally, the bot wants to drive away the supporters of the other candidate. On the one hand, Berniebots have free play in spamming the forum with rude messages. On the other hand, supporters of the other candidate are cautioned repeatedly to “stop the insulting behavior.” When the group is split unevenly, maybe 70-30, it’s natural for the bot programmers to want to scrape off that 30% holding the wrong views. The political circle jerk is one of the most common forms of intellectual masturbation. Sanitized conservative groups have no exclusive patent on holding members of the collective responsible for maintaining purity of thought.

This relentless pursuit of group think is one of the oldest forms of political activism. Many people are that insecure in their understanding and comprehension of complex issues, that they need constant reinforcement from “their own kind.” They have my sympathy, but not my time. I have no difficulty in maintaining my integrity in the face of fierce opposition. While the Berniebot is building up mad skillz at the meme generator, I’m analyzing voting records, reading position papers, listening to interviews, searching out background information and expert analysis. Perhaps, one of these days, a Sanders supporter will program a bot to do the same.

Many Democrats who voted for Obama in 2008 were shocked and angry at decisions he made in his first term. The willingness to sacrifice Social Security, to cut spending in social services, to “vigorously pursue” whistleblowers, to maintain NSA spying, to use drones to bomb villages back to the Stone Age.  They were shocked and angry only because his speeches were the only part of his campaign to which they paid attention. I wasn’t one of them.  Whichever candidate shows up on the ballot in November 2016, I won’t be surprised by the post-election behavior then, either.

Hillary Clinton Gets My Vote – I

I admire Hillary Clinton.

Tough-minded, ambitious women are not popular in America. Even so-called progressives don’t like them. Hillary Clinton is one of those women.

When she was still an undergraduate student at Wellesley, classmates remarked that she would be America’s first woman President. Before she was out of her teens, she was already off the road of conventional bourgeois life. She was chosen by her classmates to be the first student in the history of the college to give the commencement address. That speech, in which she criticized then-Senator Edward Brooke, who was on the platform with her, received huge acclamation from her audience and led to Life Magazine featuring a profile of her.

From the very beginnings of her legal career, families and children were the focus of Clinton’s work. She worked at the Yale Child Study Center while a student at Yale Law School. She worked on child custody cases as an intern at Treuhaft, Walker and Bernstein, a law firm that specialized in Constitutional issues, and which was founded by two former members of the Communist Party known for their “radical left” views. While still at the school, she wrote the article “Children and the Law” for Harvard Law Review. In that article, she surveyed the legal precedents and case law for children, and advanced the view that children were “powerless individuals” under the law, who should not be (as they were at the time) regarded as being legally incompetent for the entire period of their minor status. Rather, she wrote, they should be considered as becoming gradually more competent as they grew up. This article became one of the foundations for modern legal opinion of children under the law.

Fresh out of law school, she went to work for the newly founded Children’s Defense Fund as its first staff attorney, and she provided legal consulting to the Carnegie Council on Children.

This focus on legal issues for families and children continued throughout the next twenty years. She co-founded the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families. She chaired the Arkansas Rural Health Advisory Committee and the Arkansas Educational Standards Committee. She created the Arkansas Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youth to help families get their preschoolers ready for school.

During those years, she also found time to become the first woman to chair the board of directors of the Legal Services Corporation, the first woman on the Walmart board, the first woman to be made full partner at Rose Law Firm, one of only two women on the faculty at the Law School, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. She chaired the board at the Children’s Defense Fund and the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession. She continued to write scholarly articles on children and the law. She served on the board of the Arkansas Children’s Hospital Legal Services. Twice, she was recognized by the National Law Journal as one of the top one hundred most influential attorneys in the United States.

What’s wrong with this career? Hillary Clinton is not a man. Such an intensity of purpose, such ambition, would cause no remark if its owner was male. For most of the Clinton marriage, Hillary Clinton was the principal breadwinner. Oh, no you don’t, uh-uh, this is Murica.

After she left private life in 1992, to become First Lady, she did not stop being an advocate for families and children. Throughout the long years of being pilloried as a veritable Satan, accused of murder, denounced as scum for not abandoning her philandering husband, with every aspect of her personal life turned into some kind of conspiracy of evil, — through all that, she continued to work on issues for children and families. Elected to office for the first time at age 53, she established herself in short order as one of the more effective Senators in the national legislature. She got things done. Her ability to lead, and create legislation that would be successful and that would become law, put her in the top half of the Senate by the end of her first term.

I watched the video of her “confrontation” with the Black Lives Matter activists. Toward the end, after she listens calmly to the guy berating her, she says, “Okay, what do you want me to do?” He’s stumped. She goes straight to the point — all these things he says are true, now what do we do about it? And he doesn’t have an answer; for which, later, he blames her.

Well, she says, you can fill Yankee Stadium with white people, and a million more besides, and they all say, “I hear you, I’ll try to be better,” and it will accomplish nothing. You have to change laws, and processes. Apparently, that’s not what he wanted to hear, and it pissed him off. But, that is exactly what I wanted to hear. Because that’s what I want from the leader of my country: someone who will go straight at the problem, someone who will focus on changing the laws and processes.

The end of segregated schools; the Voting Rights Act; the Civil Rights Act; the Fair Housing Act; did not come about because we waited for white people to wake up and decide to get moral. They didn’t come about because people burped out two-sentence sound bites about “income inequality” and published them on campaign photographs on the internet. They didn’t come about because career politicians gave good speech, or looked good in a suit. They came about because people like Hillary Clinton were willing to step into the scrum and move the ball forward.

She has my respect, and she gets my vote.

That Old Tin Foil Beanie

Local Shared Objects

Today’s poke at paranoia is brought to you by the letters L, S, and O. Together, they form the initials LSO, “Local Shared Object.”

The LSO is a data storage mechanism that originated with Adobe Flash about 10 years ago. The purpose of LSO was to allow Flash to store information on your computer about Flash movies or games that you were using in your browser. The LSO might store your game position, or your location in the movie.

The LSO is like a cookie in the browser cookie cache. However, unlike cookies, a single LSO cache is used by all browsers. Thus, if you play your Flash movie in Firefox, and then later reconnect to it with Internet Exploder, Flash will be able to reload your information stored while you were using Firefox.

About the time that advertisers and web sites began to be hammered by paranoia about cookies, and especially about 3rd party cookies, they discovered the genius of the LSO cache. The LSO data storage mechanism is almost unknown to non-technical users. “Clear browsing history,” in any of its incantations, does not touch LSO. This fact led to something dubbed cookie re-spawning.

When the browser accepts a cookie from a web site, the site may also choose to store a copy of that cookie in the LSO cache. Now, suppose you delete that cookie. The next time you are using that web site, if the cookie is not found, the site will automatically look for a copy in the LSO cache; if it finds one, it respawns or recreates the deleted cookie with the saved information.

Web developers bolted on several methods of manipulating the LSO cache in their web sites. HTML 5 formalized a methodology for this activity. Your friendly web site can now bank information about you in the LSO cache with a few lines of JavaScript on the page.

Haha! You were being so conscientious about deleting your cookies, too.

All is not lost. Newer versions of Firefox now include the LSO cache in “delete browser history,” and other browsers provide options to delete items from it, as well. If you’re feeling, well, paranoid.

Linux Desktops

That Desktop Clutter

Linux introduced me to the twin concepts of virtual desktop and multiple desktops. Although it’s technically possible to do these things on Windows, the implementation is opaque, and in practice, I have found the experience horrible.

Virtual desktop depends on the fact that your monitor screen operates as a “window,” allowing you to view the desktop created by your operating system GUI. (In Linux/Unix, this window is sometimes referred to as a viewport.) By convention, the viewport is the same size as the desktop, e.g. my current viewport is 1920×1080, as is my desktop.

But, that is a convention, not necessarily hard wired into your computer. The size of the desktop is constrained by the native ability of the graphics card. The size of the viewport is constrained by the capability of your monitor (its “resolution”).

I could, for example, have a viewport of 1920×1080 and a desktop of 2970×1620. The viewport would reflect my monitor’s resolution, and the desktop the capability of my graphics card. Portions of the desktop would then be invisible, off the edges of the display, and I would move the viewport around by hitting the edges of the display with my mouse pointer. Virtual desktops are quite useful for working simultaneously in several applications, and switching rapidly from one to another.  The application windows don’t bury each other.

Virtual desktop 2970x1620. This desktop is 1.5 times the size of the viewport.
Virtual desktop 2970×1620. This desktop is 1.5 times the size of the viewport.

Having multiple desktops is the bomb. I currently use 4. Now, I have multiple applications running simultaneously, and segregated from each other. I often keep this browser running on a desktop by itself, while doing real work on the others. I may also keep my email open on its own desktop, or a programming IDE/editor. In any case, distractions are reduced by keeping irrelevant activities off screen, and by a simple keystroke (or mouse movement) I can return to some other activity. After 20 years, I’m so used to this environment, that I’m constantly trying to CTRL-ALT-<arrow> to other desktops on my Windows box, sometimes with unfortunate results, depending on what application I’m using at the time.

Four desktops - four work areas
Four desktops – four work areas

Follow That Mouse

Everybody who has worked in Windows is aware of a basic annoyance.  When you move from one application window to another by clicking into the target window, you reset the position of the application’s cursor.  Whether you are editing a document, or creating a presentation slide, you now have to remember — hopefully, you do remember — to move the cursor back to the proper insertion point, before continuing.  Of course, I often don’t remember, until I’ve whacked my document with an enormous paste operation.

Focus follows mouse is a standard behavioural feature on Linux desktops that eliminates this annoyance.  Again, you can activate it on Windows desktops, but its implementation is sub-optimal and I have found it to be not useful. Focus follows mouse means, simply, that when you move the mouse pointer out of an application window, that window loses focus (becomes inactive) and when you move the mouse pointer into an application window, that window gains focus (becomes active).  Not having to activate a window by clicking means that you do not, cannot, accidentally move the window cursor when you activate the window. (It also means that you have to be conscious of where your mouse pointer is.  It’s possible to start working in the wrong application, if you fail to notice which one is active.)

Because, Linux

It just makes most of my work so much easier.

A Cop’s Life

I can unabashedly admit, much about a police officer’s life is unappealing. The pay is not great.  It’s shift work. It can comprise long stretches of mind-crushing boredom.  Paperwork. Close proximity to assholes.  And, constantly under pressure to conform to a “code of silence” about corruption, malfeasance, and illegal activities. Reporting a fellow officer for such behavior is “ratting,” and will get you shunned, and probably fired.

Oh, yeah, and sometimes, there’s even physical danger.

We get the police force for which we are willing to pay.  In most places I’ve lived, I could make more money driving a forklift than I could driving a squad car.  Nationally, the median annual earnings for a police officer is $45,000.  Does that make sense? Really?

I want police officers that are disciplined. Of course, I want them well trained in their use of force; emptying a clip at a fleeing suspect (or one lying on the ground at your feet) is just right out. But, I want them disciplined — able to maintain control of ambiguous situations and make rational judgements about their courses of action. If a cop is firing 15 rounds in order to hit the guy once, she has more than a problem with her aim.  A cop who is emptying his pistol’s clip at a fleeing suspect is a cop who has lost control of the situation.

I don’t accept that the present crews are completely incapable of such discipline. But, the officers aren’t getting the training they need. Proper training can and will cull the outright incompetents. That’s a start. But, you are not going to have a sufficient pool of applicants, if you’re asking them to work for Burger King wages.

The problem for police departments is that the have to fill seats. Getting hired as a police officer follows a cycle. The best and brightest can work where they want to work, and are most likely hired by the departments with the best salaries, working conditions, and benefits. The remaining members of the pool ripple out from there, finding positions that match lesser abilities with lower salary, &c.  Officers who are fired from one department can usually be found working at another, a short time later. Thus, it’s no good simply “going after racist/corrupt/brutal cops,” because it’s whack-a-mole. When that racist cop gets fired in Dallas, he’ll soon be found working at McKinney. There’s always some police department, somewhere, with an empty chair that needs filling.  And, that means that police officer selection processes gravitate toward the LCD, seeking to get as many applicants as possible through the exit chute, rather than seeking to cull as many applicants as possible.

Police departments face a situation similar to that faced by many school districts. Again, the best and brightest teachers can pick their spots. The rest filter down through the system, gradually coming to rest at something approaching their level of least incompetence.

Police officers and teachers are two groups of citizens whose careers are boxed by taxpayers accustomed to buying the cheapest products possible.  When you go cheap on a teacher, children are neglected. When you go cheap on a police officer, people die.