Sunday, May 31, 2020

Riots, 50 Years Ago

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Saturday, May 30, 2020

Saturday Video

I'm from the other side of town
Out of bounds
To anybody who don't live around
I never learned to share
Or how to care
I never had no teachings about being fair

Depression is part of my mindThe sun never shine
On the other side of town
The need here is always for more
There's nothing good in store
On the other side of town

It's hard to do right
In this filthy night
Just plain simple comfort
Is completely out of sight

My little sister
She hungry for bread to eat
My brother's hand-me-down shoes
Is now showing his feet

Ghetto blues showed on the news
All is aware
But what the hell do they care?

You across the track
Completely relaxed
You take a warning fact
Don't you never come back
I'm from the other side of town
Out of bounds
To anybody who don't live around
I never learned to share
Or how to care
I never had no teachings about being fair

Depression is part of my mind
The sun never shine
On the other side of town
The need here is always for more
There's nothing good in store
On the other side of town

Oh, baby
It's hard to do right, you know
On the other side of town
This depression really got a hold on me
Oh, baby, on the other side of town
The other side of town
Out of bounds

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Birtherism, The Newest Lost Cause

Now that Birtherism has become the latest cause célèbre in the public consciousness, it has progressed from a half-mad conspiracy theory to a half-baked political platform. Once the sole purview of the reactionary Right, questioning Barack Obama's American citizenship is now the stock in trade of would-be-politicians and public figures. But now, having embraced this fabrication, they will live or die by it. A long, ignoble history of similar conduct exists, particularly when an outright fallacy is believed by enough people that cynical opportunists seize fast to it to increase their own power. I could cite any number of examples from history, but I'll focus my attention on two.

Conquered peoples, or at least defeated peoples have a way of perpetuating and substituting legends and myths when the truth is too painful to admit. The Dolchstoßlegende, or stab-in-the-back legend insisted that the German army lost World War I due to the betrayal of its own citizens, not opposing armies. Fact and scholarship prove that this was a colossal lie, but the proud German people, who believed themselves nearly invincible in the field of battle did not willingly accept the reality. And before someone calls Godwin's Law, I will say no more on this subject.

Most appropriate for the 150th anniversary of the conflict, I note that I myself grew up something of a believer in the Lost Cause of the Confederacy. The kind of complete destruction brought on by four years of destructive war could only be softened away by romanticism and a deliberate disregard of the facts. Denial is a powerful force in the minds of men and women, and when it becomes collectively embraced, it is powerful still. Those who are natives of the Southern states refuse to let the conflict go, while those in more Northern localities often cannot understand why such an emphasis is placed upon an epoch they associate more with history books. History is written by the victors, but the defeated never forget. So it doesn't surprise me a bit that the epicenter of Birtherism is the South.

Pro-Confederacy writers James Ronald Kennedy and his twin brother Walter Donald Kennedy wrote a book entitled The South Was Right! In its conclusion, they give voice to a few notions that may sound surprisingly familiar.
The Southern people have all the power we need to put an end to forced busing, affirmative action, extravagant welfare spending, the punitive Southern-only Voting Rights Act, the refusal of the Northern liberals to allow Southern conservatives to sit on the Supreme Court, and the economic exploitation of the South into a secondary economic status. What is needed is not more power but the will to use the power at hand! The choice is now yours — ignore this challenge and remain a second-class citizen, or unite with your fellow Southerners and help start a Southern political revolution.

Birtherism, then, goes well beyond simple dislike of a black Democratic President. Some may have latched onto its most incendiary element, but the underlying philosophy is much more complex and reaches back years into the past.

The historian David Goldfield describes this Neo-Confederate attitude which
"...[explains] that the War of Northern Aggression was not fought to preserve any union of historic creation, formation, and understanding, but to achieve a new union by conquest and plunder. As for the abolitionists, they were a collection of socialists, atheists, and "reprehensible agitators."

It may also not surprise to know that Neo-Confederate attitudes are also often heavily critical of the Republican Party.
Conservative columnist Alan Stang, in a Southern Mercury article, "Republican Party: Red From the Start", sees a communist conspiracy in the Republican party of the mid-19th century. He alleges that the 1848 revolutionaries in Europe were communists and that some of these revolutionaries came to America after the failed 1848 revolution to perpetrate some type of communist agenda in the United States. Stang states:

...Lee and Jackson did not fully comprehend what they were fighting. Had this really been a "Civil" War, rather than a secession, they would and could have easily seized Washington after Manassas and hanged our first Communist President and the other war criminals.

I am somehow reminded here of those offensive signs displayed by Tea Party protestors, the modern day John Birch Society. And as I alluded to earlier, the defensiveness, aggression, and sloganeering seeks to cover up a larger concept. Denial is, after all, a defensive reaction meant to obscure a painful truth.
Historian Alan Nolan refers to the Lost Cause as “a rationalization, a cover-up”. After describing the devastation that was the consequences of the war for the South, Nolan states:

Leaders of such a catastrophe must account for themselves. Justification is necessary. Those who followed their leaders into the catastrophe required similar rationalization. Clement A. Evans, a Georgia veteran who at one time commanded the United Confederate Veterans organization, said this: "If we cannot justify the South in the act of Secession, we will go down in History solely as a brave, impulsive but rash people who attempted in an illegal manner to overthrow the Union of our Country.

But if we are to attack the true source of this mistrust and paranoia, we must pursue the great tap root. Public mistrust of government leads to conspiracy theories and encourages people to believe that the official line is, in fact, a complete lie. If Wikileaks is any indication, our government and other world governments lie to us everyday. Their secrecy is nonsensical and predicated on its own mistrust, regardless of how the powers that be may argue to the contrary. These prevarications of theirs are not simply white lies designed to protect national security or to aid diplomats at the bargaining table. Rather, they assume that the people as citizens have no ability, nor need to process and understand the state of affairs that currently exists.

But in this assumption, they fail to understand that Pandora's Box has already been opened. That which is needed to regain the faith of the average citizen is increased transparency, within the limit of reason. The Vietnam War, Civil Rights, and Watergate all eroded public confidence in its own government. These events destroyed confidence in all Americans, regardless of their party identification or ideological persuasion. In a prior time, I don't think rampant, unfounded speculation that questions, in all seriousness, whether or not the President of the United States is truly an American citizen would have even taken hold.

If I could propose a solution, it would begin with a drafting of a new contract with the American people, one that doesn't only advance the legislative aims of one particular political party. It would reach beyond well-meaning, but overly simplistic promises by a President who swears he will not lie to us. It would not stop at passing new laws, or even amending the Constitution, if such a thing could even be done. Reducing conspiracy theories to the domain of History Channel programming and those who pass out handwritten manifestos outside bus stations requires courage. It's a courage that states that the average American, regardless of level of education, skin color, class, or socio-economic status can be trusted. Until this is honestly advanced, expect more of these idiotic folk tales.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Just Wars and Cautious Discernment

Each and every time the United States considers military action, those of us who are members of pacifist peace churches feel conflicted and torn. We protest, we march, we register our complaints, but almost everyone ignores us. Once again, we are the keepers of a frustrating, even demanding standard, brushed aside by the majority of Americans with the onset of hostilities. And in the end, even we wonder again if there really is such a thing as a just war.

Multiple ironies abound. Friends were born out of war, birthed out of uncertainty and upheaval. The English Civil War of the Seventeenth Century carried on for years with no end in sight. An intensely religious people, English, Scottish, Irish, and Welsh alike believed that God was somehow punishing them for their misdeeds. Any number of religions and nations have been formed in the fiery furnace of conflict and violent squabble. Indeed, should one examine every country's history and the history of many faith groups, the causes are very similar. When the world turns upside down, there is no limit to what might follow.

The concept of just war stretches back across the centuries. According to early Christian church leader Saint Augustine, who codified the concept, it requires that every single nonviolent effort of negotiation should be taken and exhausted before the war is declared. Furthermore, it demanded that no weapons should be used under any circumstances. Today, this would include bombs and explosive devices. Under this precise criteria, even World War II would not be considered a Just War.

If we are to start somewhere with our sober analysis, we should probably begin around two thousands years ago.

"You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles.This passage in the Gospel of Matthew has been controversial since the very day it was uttered. In a era less imbued with compassion and mercy than the current day, these ideas were radical and offensive. They still are. Since the advent of Christendom, religions, countries, alliances, and individuals have struggled to understand just what Jesus meant. A literal interpretation leaves no wiggle room, but many people have taken liberties with what the text says because it does not fit with their schemes and plans.

I happen to be part of a group that has taken this passage word for word. No war under any circumstance is the hard line I take. It's not easy and I doubt it ever will be. I do know that we as a race of primates and sentient beings are probably nowhere near ready to adopt this difficult challenge without consistently failing at it. We've been willing to entertain some of these notions in piecemeal fashion, but full implementation is, in my opinion, still centuries away.

Though many of us may not believe in any religion, much less Christianity, our beliefs about war are shaped by centuries of Christian thought. A little less than a thousand years following Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas built upon the concept of his predecessor. Aquinas' approach was three-part.

First, just war must be waged by a properly instituted authority such as the state. (Proper Authority is first: represents the common good: which is peace for the sake of man's true end—God.) 
Second, war must occur for a good and just purpose rather than for self-gain (for example, "in the nation's interest" is not just) or as an exercise of power. (Just Cause: for the sake of restoring some good that has been denied. i.e., lost territory, lost goods, punishment for an evil perpetrated by a government, army, or even citizen population.) 
Third, peace must be a central motive even in the midst of violence. (Right Intention: an authority must fight for the just reasons it has expressly claimed for declaring war in the first place. Soldiers must also fight for this intention.)These are worthwhile goals and aspirations, but difficult to put into practice. Are we seeking to win the peace, or is that very statement an oxymoron? This philosophy insists upon restraint and a higher purpose, but war by its very nature can easily become sadistic and bloodthirsty, especially when revenge and retaliation makes savages of us all. It doesn't really matter who started it, but even as children on the playground we use that justification to back up our actions.

Now to the current day. Regarding Syria, we are engaged once again in a great discussion as to whether military action is necessary. I am preparing my metaphorical marching shoes for one more go-round. To use a sports analogy, I sometimes feel like I am part of a football team who, outclassed and out-manned, loses a series of close games to other squads with better players and superior talent. I content myself with moral victories, but I concede would be nice to win every now and again.

Nothing Shocking, Except Childhood Sexual Abuse

On Monday, I shared my own story here. The Herman Cain, and especially the Jerry Sandusky charges both prompted me to write a more detailed account of the sexual abuse I experienced in childhood. The accusers in both cases all have something in common, that beyond some aspect or another of unwanted, non-consensual sexual acts. The accused are alive and able to face the allegation.

The man who molested me is dead. He has been deceased for many years. I don’t think he was ever formally charged with anything, since the family never publicly acknowledged the abuse. In an effort to try to speak to the part of me that cries out for justice, I’ve considered many options. I’ve even wondered whether confronting the other party who was himself abused might provide further answers and needed context. However, no person-to-person interaction could be potentially more awkward and emotionally combustible. He may not want to recall or to remember, and I don’t want to impinge upon his privacy.

In the context of some retroactive legal proceeding, of course, requesting information in this fashion might make some sense. However, he and I have not talked in over a decade. We were never friends. Being that we were both innocent participants in a coerced act, silence and evasiveness typified our behavior towards each other. At the ballpark, at school, or around town, we avoided each other consciously. Should our paths ever cross by coincidence, we never made eye contact. The two of us harbored a terrible secret, one I think he could not help but remember more fully because of his proximity to the source. His own father was the abuser.

My post of Monday did not spell out specifics because I don’t want to be seen as adding any element of needless sensation to what was already horrific enough. Here, for the sake of comprehension, I will be a little more specific. If you want to get technical about it, the exact term is called child-on-child sexual abuse. The two of us were forced, or at least emotionally manipulated into performing a sex act on each other. There was more to it than that, but this is enough for now. Factor in an aspect of inter-sibling incest, itself its own abuse, this between older and younger brother. Knowing this, one can now see the complexities.

The patterns and particulars of abuse involving an older adult perpetrator and a dysfunctional family are never simple. I’ve since read that these things are, depressingly enough, both extremely common and among the least reported. Should a stranger be involved, we have no emotional connection to the assailant. So we’re more comfortable with breaking our complicit silence in that circumstance. With family members, however, this is not quite so easily accomplished.

In the end, who started it is important, but is only one part of achieving some resolution. The direction that child sexual abuse takes afterward is also crucial. Children often mimic and act out on other kids what has been done to them. Should they be under the age of twelve or so, as I was, they are not old enough in their own sexual maturation to make sense of what happened. For me, personally, my brain decided to use disassociation to forcibly block out much of what happened. I think the other boy involved, who was also my age, may have had so many other experiences that he remembers more than I do. After all, I lived three or four houses down. He had to live with it on a daily basis.

In my last post on this topic, I was critical of how we submerge and leave criminal acts like these unreported. Yet, it was once much worse. Second-wave feminists of the 1960’s and 1970’s are to be commended for providing a safe space for women to talk about rape and sexual assault. Their work has made it possible for both men and women to feel comfortable telling their stories. What we may see now is the beginning of a generational shift for the better. It may be further possible to confront these details, which still retain their ability to shock, disgust, anger, and sicken. Nothing may be sacred anymore, but perhaps fewer things are too taboo to even be discussed.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Quote of the Week

"Pain nourishes courage. You can't be brave if you've only had wonderful things happen to you-Mary Tyler Moore

Saturday, May 23, 2020

The Iranian Quandry

Current events have been an enigma to me since forever. Keeping track of them is like trying to grab handfuls of flies. It’s a waste of time. The devils fly through the gaps of your fingers, rendering your action moot. But that’s until current events become current for you, too. One of my doctors is Iranian, Persian really, but has been called back for a month for home. These are not Pro-American times in Iran, and the unrest I read about makes me wonder if she is on some imperative family errand. I wonder if her papers will be denied to her somehow, preventing her return. My worries go beyond finding another doctor.

Until now, as I have gathered, the crackdown has been mostly on the media. The regime doesn’t want publication of what it is doing by any means. My doctor is part of the group who left because of the Revolution in 1979, making this trip seem mysterious, to say the least. She is also my age, which at 35 is possible, but makes me know I am growing into an older adult. Most Persians loyal to the Shah went to California, but some of them migrated to this greater Washington, DC, area. And yet she is working on her English.

I could speculate about this topic and be no further along. She said she had no choice in the matter, which is a curious reason to cite. It speaks of intrigue but may not really say much in the long term. I’ve never had a doctor need to flee the coop with such urgency and at the last minute. Last minute decisions are rarely made with positive consequences, or even expecting them.

Maybe one of her relatives has gotten wrapped up in this mess. I’m not sure I’d feel safe as an American in Tehran right now. Death to America is once again the chat of the hour. Has it ever stopped, really? I find it hard to not want death and destruction for them, if they hate us so much. As I’ve written before, it tries my pacifism. I don’t want to surrender to what I see often as bullies.

They’ve taken away someone who provides an essential service to me. I’m not sure she will be allowed to return. I don’t think she is the source of the problem, but it is someone or something dear to her. I can pick up that much from the way she apologized for this arrangement, completely off-balance, wobbling, teetering slightly. It’s somewhat unprofessional, but forgivable.

We’re trying to keep nuclear material out of the hands of a dictatorial power. How we do it is a matter of debate. But in the meantime the people suffer as the dictators profit from the hatred they fan. And how do we break that resolve? It makes the Soviets seem meek and mild by contrast, and as someone who values my own religious freedom, it’s a temptation to say that this religion is neither free, nor religious. It’s an ideology of terror justified by blood sacrifice.

These are our current events, should we choose to accept them. This is what makes people run home out of haste. And how we deal with it is everyone’s choice.

COVD-19 Saturday Video

I've waited many years
Every print I left upon the track
Has led me here

And next year it'll be clear
This was only leading me to that
And by that time
I hope that
Love me
Love me
I move with the trees
In the breeze

I know that time is elastic
And I know when I go
All my particles disband and disperse
And I'll be back in the pulse
And I know none of this'll matter

In the long run
But I know a sound is still a sound
Around no-one

And while I'm in this body
I want somebody to want
And I want what I want
And I want
To love me

And I know that you do
In the dark

I know that you do
And I know that you know
That you got the protector to pick me up

And I want you to use it
Blast the music
Bang it, bite it, bruise it

Whenever you want to begin, begin
We don't have to go back to where we been
I am the woman who wants you to win

And I've been waiting
Waiting for
To love me

Saturday, May 16, 2020

The Slimy Underbelly of the Anonymous Collective

The Anonymous Collective, for those unaware, are a loose grouping of activist hackers. Their vigilante-style justice, while superficially appealing, leads to heavy-handed, self-righteous attacks against sworn enemies. Once, I held I kind of grudging admiration for the work that they did, as it agreed with my sensibilities. In particular, the protracted attacks against the supposed Church of Scientology won my respect and stoked my curiosity. If I had to describe the basic composition of the group, I'd ask my audience to imagine the creators and the sardonic humor of the abrasive animated comedy television show South Park.

More recently, Anonymous hacked into Donald Trump's files, a move that might be satisfying until we contemplate the legality of its stated aims and tactics.
The collective “Anonymous” claimed on Thursday that it had hacked GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, releasing what it alleged was his Social Security number, cell phone number and other personal information. The decentralized group of international activist hackers has been linked to numerous high-profile incidents over the years, including Internet attacks on governments, major corporations, financial institutions and religious groups.

I bring this subject up because, seven months ago, I too was a target.

In August of last year, I began investigating the fascinating legal case of an anti-Scientology protester and Anonymous hacktivist. I know his pseudonym and real name, but to spare myself from further headaches, neither will be mentioned here. As the story went, the man's vociferous, noisy protests outside of a Washington, DC, Scientology church ended up getting him eventually sent to jail. He had been a Scientologist earlier in life, dropped out altogether, and then became a constant, energetic protester outside the Dupont Circle-area center.

His accused crime was that of stalking, a District statue that was only on the books as a way to more effectively protect women from potential assailants and harassing behavior. The Church of Scientology, out of fear and likely to even the score, twisted the legal language in its favor, sending Anonymous to prison for a time.

The legal wrangling resulted in a trial some months later. The judge hearing the case dismissed all charges in utter dismay, stating that the law as intended simply did not apply in this context. Anonymous was freed and then left Washington. He may have believed that his cover was airtight, but I will say that it was relatively easy to trace him. In hindsight, I learned a hard lesson from the nastiness, namely that I should never play into the paranoid fears of a potentially unstable person. If I had it to go over again, I would never have sought to pursue the story.

Working with a lawyer who had observed the legal proceedings in DC with rapt interest, we tracked the hacker to his current location, several hundred miles north. My intention, I cannot emphasize enough, had only been to interview him, to give him a chance to plead his case in a public forum. The attorney who directed me to this assignment wanted to know more to satisfy his own curiosity, and felt also that he was giving me work. I should have known better; my naivete was showing. It was like interviewing a kleptomaniac and being surprised, by the conclusion, that a few possessions of mine had mysteriously disappeared.

The hacker's story was unique, but everyone I consulted who was attached to the case, even his lawyer, declined politely to provide any additional information. My partner had a knack for locating missing persons, which is how I stumbled across the hacker’s tracks. If I had it to go over again, I'd ask why it was so easy for him to locate a person who clearly did not want to attract any attention from anyone, for any reason. This is a truism for anyone in the Anonymous Collective and if I’d done my research properly, I’d never have sought to engage.

I made two or three direct requests to interview Anonymous, responding by way of a form e-mail on his webpage. My mistake was being persistent. All I did was stoke the fears of someone who was already justly paranoid. Three or four days later, I logged into my computer one morning, only to find that I was no longer in control of it. Instead, he was, and to punish me for my efforts in trying to find him, he decided to terrorize my life for most of a week.

Anonymous gained access to my e-mail account and my cell phone. The latter has never been the same, as he deliberately damaged a few features here and there. Friends of mine in my address book and e-mail account were sent threatening, nonsensical text messages and e-mails. I still have never determined what precisely was written and sent along, as I have no record of it myself. My Sent Mail folder is no help. I was told latter that the messages were rambling screeds, full of unconjugated verbs. It was a curious move by someone surely articulate enough to speak the Queen's English, but much that transpired in that stressful week will never be known to me.

I filed two charges against him. One was for identity theft, as he had gained access to my bank account and opened a second account under my name, just to prove he could do it. I swiftly reported the crime and a fraud investigation commenced. About two weeks later, I received a letter in the mail confirming that, as I knew beforehand, I had not opened the account myself and was not at fault. It was fortunate that he'd chosen to steal a few dollars from me, because identity theft cannot easily be prosecuted unless theft has taken place. Those of us who have been victims of crimes like these can attest to how impotent laws on the books can be.

Anonymous was clever. I'll give him that much. I had to replace a cable modem, close an account in one bank, open a new account with a new bank, change about twenty passwords, and gain access to my own information in a sneaky sort of way. I deliberately stayed offline for three days solid, then made my changes swiftly before he recognized what was happening and tried to keep me from regaining control. It's terrifying and traumatic to know that your personal data is in the hands of someone with nefarious, uncertain intentions. His hacking skills were refined enough that he even tracked my internet activity to a local library and prevented me from accessing the Internet. This kept me from logging into my e-mail account for almost a week, which is practically everyone's lifeline these days.

After much research, I determined a way to get around the cyber-blockade. Anonymous had discovered my IP address from the e-mails I'd sent and had proceeded from there. That is how he gained access to my files and my information. I don't want to spell out directly what I did to regain access, for fear that Anonymous members might take note of it in the future. What I will say is that, after installing a program, I was at least able to read and respond to my electronic correspondence and the inevitable backlog. The next morning, I observed with pleasure that Anonymous had tried for hours to take apart the program I'd installed, unsuccessfully. After that, he either gave up or determined that he was through punishing me.

Local law enforcement worked with me and I'm thankful for their efforts. Along with identity theft, I had him charged for making harassing statements. He made threats against my personal safety, which I retained on my laptop and then presented in front of a sympathetic police offer. The law has not always kept pace with the new reality of internet-based crimes, which hampers prosecution. Though mostly successful in covering his tracks and clinging to a grey area in the law, Anonymous went too far. This proves to be the undoing of most criminals, and here was no exception.

When I tried to appeal to a higher authority up the food chain I had no success. A brief talk with the FBI got me nowhere. I spoke with a very condescending officer who, in our one and only phone conversation, impatiently asked me a series of patronizing questions. Eventually I gave up. In her eyes, I merely needed to take my laptop into the shop or consult with an IT specialist. Helplessly, I tried to explain my situation again, but, for the most part, Anonymous had been careful to not directly incriminate himself.

If I had to wager a guess, I'd say that Anonymous wanted to scare me, to show me how easily he could gain access to my data. He wanted to teach me a lesson, which I received loud and clear. I'm grateful that he hasn't resumed his attacks, though I am now much better prepared for the next one, if it arrives. In this post, I could have revealed his real name, his location, and the tactics he used, but I fear further reprisal and don't want to be sued for libel. I don't want to stoop to his level. Let this post be a warning to everyone.

Anyone who has been a victim of online crime recognizes how imprecise and inexact a process prosecution can be. The Internet has given rise to a new Wild West, which we embrace at our own risk. Crimes of passion seem appealing. Something must be done, we assert. I once felt the same way, but no longer. I am no anarchist. My new goal is to improve enforcement and strengthen the rules that govern our society. That happens through direct participation in the process, not standing outside of it and resorting to criminal means. I hope my case will serve as an example to ensure that my story will never be repeated to anyone, at any time.

Saturday Video