Democrats of a certain age, and just to be clear I was once one of you before I burned my voter registration card, will remember a little thing called the 2000 Florida recount, and also a little court case called Bush vs. Gore in which the Supreme Court settled a presidential election because Florida, due of its confusing ballots, and antiquated voting methods, couldn’t seem to count the votes fine enough to accurately determine the result of a statistical dead heat.
You may remember four years after the Bush vs. Gore nonsense another presidential election marked by reports of hours long lines at the polls in poor neighborhoods, and some funny business to do with the results in Ohio, and the Democratic candidate John Kerry vowing not to concede the election until all votes were counted, but moments later, before all the votes had been counted Kerry gave up the fight when he realized he would lose whether Ohio accurately counted all of its votes or not.
You may have even read the extensive work of investigative journalist Greg Palast on the subject of elections in the US.
Even setting aside the gaming of the vote through gerrymandering, unequal allocation of voting machines, arcane voter registration requirements, the distribution of misinformation with regard to polling places and dates, voter intimidation, skewing of exit poll data, media influence… Even excluding all of this, if you remember 2000 and 2004, you have to at the very least admit WE CAN’T EVEN ACCURATELY COUNT VOTES in this country.
So to say Trump’s skepticism of the process shows ‘a lack of respect for democracy and everything America is built upon,’ is extremely disingenuous. The system is clearly and unquestionably dysfunctional, anti-democratic, and open to manipulation, (ie: rigging.) If you truly and deeply cared about democracy, and not just getting Gore, or later Kerry, or now Clinton the victory, you might see the opportunity for a win-win here: You get a Trump loss, and through his challenge of the result you might have an opportunity to investigate the process and put an anti-democratic system on trial.
Unless of course you want your president’s-of-choice legitimacy to be based on the same footing as was, say, a George W. Bush’s.
WILL MAINE governor Paul LePage step down after his most recent controverscial statements? No one’s really saying. But the possibility is the talk of the town since he left a controversial possibly calculated dog-whistle to his base voice mail on state Representative Representative Drew Gattine’s machine.
As far as I can tell, here’s how we came to this point.
At a town hall meeting in North Berwick on August 24 LePage said:
“Let me tell you this, explain to you, I made the comment that black people are trafficking in our state, now ever since I said that comment I’ve been collecting every single drug dealer who has been arrested in our state … I don’t ask them to come to Maine and sell their poison, but they come and I will tell you that 90-plus percent of those pictures in my book, and it’s a three-ringed binder, are black and Hispanic people from Waterbury, Conn., the Bronx and Brooklyn.” [LePage]
To judge the strict factual accuracy of LePage’s statement, we’d need contents of the three-ring binder in order to crunch the numbers on the arrests between, “ever since I said that comment,” (January 6, 2016,) and August 24th. Furthermore, we’d want to confirm the veracity and accuracy of the three-ring binder: does it in fact contain information on “every single drug dealer who has been arrested in our state” in that time period? And we’d want to spend a little time in LePage’s head: is he quoting a hard number, 90%, or is he relating the impression he had after flipping through the binder of mug shots? To be fair, Americans do apparently often overestimate the proportion of blacks and hispanics in the population.
But you can’t just let the Governor of the state off on a technicality. The image LePage is putting out there by talking about ‘D-Money, Smoothie, and Shifty knocking up white Maine girls,’ and now the unfounded ’90-plus percent’ figure, is that non-whites from away are the main villains responsible for the drug problem in Maine. He’s even gone as far as to say, “I tell ya, everybody in Maine, we have constitutional carry … Load up and get rid of the drug dealers. Because, folks, they’re killing our kids.” [source] So he’s playing a dangerous game here, painting a picture of what a drug dealer looks like– putting a profile out there –and then calling on vigilantes to commit murder.
So of course LePage is taking heat. He became enraged when he heard that a State Rep had called him a racist. The Representative, Drew Gattine, claims to have never called LePage a racist, but that he instead said, “that the kind of racially charged comments the governor made are not at all helpful in solving what the real problem is…” [source.] But whatever Gattine actually said, LePage’s reaction led him to leave this voicemail in response:
“Prove I’m a racist,” LePage challenges.
First, as discussed above, LePage is promoting an image of black and Hispanic drug dealers plaguing Maine and corrupting our young white women. One of the oldest, racistist tropes in the book.
Second, LePage has not provided the data to back up the image he’s promoting, namely his 90-plus percent figure. What’s more, the data that is available, does’t bear LePage’s depiction out:
Data like what purportedly are in LePage’s binder are hard to come by: Spokespeople for the Maine court system and the Maine Department of Public Safety said the agencies don’t keep records of the races of people charged with drug crimes.
But 301 — or 70 percent — of the 430 state prison inmates convicted of any type of drug trafficking self-report as white, according to data provided Friday by the Maine Department of Corrections. Another 98 — or 23 percent — self-report as black.
That total is disproportionate in Maine, which is 95 percent white. Figuring out why blacks are overrepresented, however, is tricky.
On one hand, police have said that out-of-state gangs are a piece of the drug trade here. But on the other, a 2015 study from the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine found racial bias in Maine’s juvenile justice system.
Either way, LePage’s thesis is wrong, reducing a complicated public health and crime problem to a caricature. [Bangor Daily News]
LePage is either lying intentionally to paint blacks and Hispanics as the bad guys, or he’s willfully ignorant of the actual figures and potential racial biases at work in the state’s criminal justice system. What type of person would be thus untruthful, or so blind?
Then again, maybe LePage has access to data that the courts, the Department of Public Safety, and police agencies don’t even track. Maybe he’s telling the truth. If so, maybe he should produce the data and prove he’s not a racist.
There is an underlying issue here. Using the Department of Corrections Prisoner Search service, at the time of this writing, we find of 9155 total adult prisoners and probationers in the Maine Department of Corrections system, 8089 (or 88%) have a race/ethnicity of white. Though not as pronounced as the 70% white among those incarcerated for drug trafficking, the overall numbers are still out of whack when compared to census data which shows the state population to be 95% white. The Bangor Daily News article quoted above mentions a Muskie School of Public Service study that a found racial bias in Maine’s juvenile system. When the dust from all of this political grandstanding settles, will the likes of LePage and Gattine allow the adult justice system go unexamined?
IT’S SAID, in clichés, every day, that it’s best to avoid conversations about religion or politics in polite company. But I’m a shy introvert, so to be honest, I steer away from most conversations. And as a cynical malcontent, in the interest of politeness, it’s probably for the best. But if a guy can’t open up on his long defunct blog to expound on the topic of religion for a thousand-plus words, then where can a guy?
I’m not cocksure enough to call myself atheist, nor so timid as to call myself agnostic, nor pretentious enough to reject labels altogether. I consider myself a deist (with qualifiers.) “Deist” to distance myself from the trollish ‘new atheists,’ and “(with qualifiers),” to say that I replace the notion of “God,” with “Truth.” That is, the likely unknowable true nature of the world/universe/reality. I say the creative forces of the universe (if any) have abandoned humankind to our own devices. And I’d add that if there truly is an intelligent, all-knowing, all-powerful creator watching over us, then they are an asshole. Like the possibly apocryphal graffiti, said to have been scratched on the wall of a Holocaust death camp says, “If there is a God, He will have to beg my forgiveness.”
In any case, I hold to the possibly apocryphal advice, often attributed to Marcus Aurelius:
Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones. I am not afraid.
This seems to be the main thrust of the church: To teach people how to live good, virtuous lives, and to get right with God, or the gods, before death. The problem I run into with religion is that the dogma reads to me like some of the more kooky conspiracy theories: with an over-reliance on circular reasoning and confirmation bias. And yes, I’ve listened to and read a lot of Catholic apologetics, as well as watched a lot of (literal) Flat Earther YouTube videos over the last [embarrassingly long period of time.] These are hobbies of mine, and are entertaining for the same reasons. Circular reasoning: tremendous fun but irreconcilable.
Religion for its part, at every sticking point, circles back round to faith. My malfunction is that I don’t consider faith as a virtue. Appeals to faith serve as a boundary demarcating the limits of acceptable thought. It’s a kind of restraint that compels me to rail against it. (Again: cynical malcontent, with a serious anti-authoritarian streak.)
Still, I strive to be open to other ideas, so let’s not write it off without further examination…
I’ve heard it said that faith, hope, and charity are the three pillars of Christianity, so I would like to make sure I’m giving faith a fair shake here.
The virtual identification of faith with believing a set of statements is … a serious impoverishment of the word “faith.” The word has several rich meanings… To see faith as “belief” not only obscures the other meanings, but also distorts the notion of faith itself. Seeing the heart of Christianity requires recovering the rich meanings of faith, a recovery that leads to a relational understanding of faith and to an understanding of Christianity as a “way”—as the way of the heart. [Marcus Borg [via: AZ Spot [via: FB [via: A Book I Have Not Read]]]]
Indeed, “belief” is an issue for me, I prefer the more open territory of “opinion.” And “faith” isn’t mere belief. Faith is unquestioned belief. Not having the man’s book at my disposal, I’m left to ponder what the other several rich meanings are. The word “relational” seems important. I’d hazard we’re talking about things like trust, loyalty, and sincerity as aspects of faith. Maybe some sense of openness? (Openness with respect to the relational faith of the individual to God and/or the church.)
Now, I wouldn’t go so far as to call faith a weakness. Indeed, it seems indisputable that power can be drawn from it. It’s just not for me. There’s a place for things like trust, loyalty, fidelity, allegiance, etc. But why should these things be accepted on faith, to never be reexamined? There is power in changing one’s mind! (Mine is a serious anti authoritarian streak.)
The first order of living a good life is … living! To keep going! Perseverance!
One need not hope in order to undertake, nor succeed in order to persevere. [William the Silent]
Again, I don’t consider hope to be particularly virtuous. It’s harmless, but unnecessary. The absurdist in me only ‘hopes,’ in perseverance, for a few laughs along the way.
This is where religion gets it right. The third pillar was charity, which to me is an expression of love. Love is the big one. Love is the linchpin of a good and virtuous life. Not just romantic love, but love in all of it’s forms, especially “agape”:
The fourth love, and perhaps the most radical, was agape or selfless love. This was a love that you extended to all people, whether family members or distant strangers. Agape was later translated into Latin as caritas, which is the origin of our word “charity.”
C.S. Lewis referred to it as “gift love,” the highest form of Christian love. But it also appears in other religious traditions, such as the idea of mettā or “universal loving kindness” in Theravāda Buddhism. [Roman Krznaric]
Romantic love and familial love are easy. Selfless love is a virtue. Kindness, respect, empathy, nurturing, equality, charity, sincerity, forgiveness! Common human decency. Treating others as fellow human beings with stories and feelings, rather than objectifying them as economic resource units, or sex toys, or disabilities, or freaks, or sinners, or illegal alien detritus, or parasites, or criminals, or ordnance.
Polyamory, when it comes to romantic relationships, tends to get a bad rap. First of all, try treating polyamorists as equal human beings. Show them some of that selfless love. Secondly, what I propose is a revolutionary kind of polyamory: Love everybody. Practice loving in all of its forms, and embrace selfless love as a virtue.
If there is a universal statement here that in my opinion reflects an ethical Truth worth championing, it’s in the words of my late, great, Great Aunt Brenda: “Love one another.”
[blows out dust] Is this thing on?
JUSTICE SYSTEM’S got me down lately. You most likely have heard of the case of Henry Lee McCollum and Leon Brown. The two African American men released from death row 31 years after they were wrongly convicted on the basis of coerced confessions.
This case, as well as the dumb “10 Books Challenge” that has been circulating on Facebook, put me in mind of Bertrand Russell’s take on social power and the justice system, which we covered here at Stump Lane in looking at this all too similar case of wrongful conviction, imprisonment, and threat of death.
Rather than paste the whole Russell thing here again, let’s just select the juiciest nuggets and place them alongside Democracy Now!’s coverage of the McCollum and Brown case. And I suppose we should do so as a list, since that’s where web content has gone since we retired from ‘long form’ blogging.
- The institutions of law enforcement and justice are by their very nature corrupt:
RUSSELL: In every democracy, individuals and organizations which are intended to have only certain well defined executive functions are likely, if unchecked, to acquire a very undesirable independent power. This is especially true of the police.
PROF. STEVE DRIZIN, via Democracy Now!: [The simple presence of] the death penalty can corrupt the search for truth. Clearly, police officers coerced and threatened these suspects with the death penalty at the beginning. The prosecutor wore his death penalty convictions like notches on his belt in this case. And even the death penalty lawyers, two of the best death penalty lawyers I know of, they felt compelled to pressure Henry to confess to an expert, because they figured that they were going to—that Henry was going to get convicted after his case had been reversed, and that they needed him to confess in order to save his life. So the mere presence of the death penalty corrupted the search for truth at every single process of this case.
- Police and prosecutors are incentivized to convict the innocent:
RUSSELL: …a policeman is promoted for action leading to the conviction of a criminal … in consequence, it is to the interest of individual officers [to do whatever it takes to elicit a confession (or build their case).] … For the taming of the power of the police, one essential is that a confession shall never, in any circumstances, be accepted as evidence.
DRIZIN: …once they focused on McCollum, they brought him in and they grilled him relentlessly for hours. And they threatened him with the death penalty, and they promised him that he would go home. And they prepared a detailed written statement for him to sign. And at that point in time, as he says, “I would have pretty much signed anything in order to go home.”
- The most able instruments of state power are exclusively brought to bear against the accused:
RUSSELL: The whole of the resources of the State are set in motion to seek out possible witnesses against you, and the ablest lawyers are employed by the State to create prejudice against you in the minds of the jury. You, meanwhile, must spend your private fortune collecting evidence of your innocence, with no public organization to help you. If you plead poverty, you will be allotted Counsel, but probably not so able a man as the public prosecutor.
ATTY. VERNETTA ALSTON, via Democracy Now!: …law enforcement had requested that a fingerprint … found at the crime scene next to sticks with the victim’s blood on it … be compared to Roscoe Artis, whose DNA was found at the scene and who committed a very similar rape [and murder] three weeks later. … that request was made three days before Henry’s trial and was never carried out. And based on what we know now, that request was never divulged to Henry’s trial attorneys by the state. … [T]hese cases, in 1984, were prosecuted by Joe Freeman Britt, who was a notorious, notorious supporter of the death penalty and who secured between 40 and 50 death sentences during his tenure as district attorney. … what we’ve seen as a pattern in those cases is that he was incredibly reckless, to the point where all but two of his convictions, his death sentences, had been overturned. And the only two that haven’t are folks who have been executed. … that should signal a huge problem with all of his cases, in terms of what he’s turned over, what he hasn’t, in his own rush to judgment, in his own priorities in getting a conviction rather than seeking the truth.
- The resources the state does allow for defense are insufficient:
RUSSELL: If law-abiding citizens are to be protected against unjust persecution by the police, there must be two police forces … one designed, as at present, to prove guilt, the other to prove innocence; and in addition to the public prosecutor there must be a public defender, of equal legal eminence.
ALSTON: The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission … function[s] independent of … any prosecutorial agencies or any defense organizations. They’re an independent agency that looks into claims of innocence to find, you know, evidence that hasn’t been uncovered and to verify claims of innocence. They got involved in 2010, following a letter from Leon Brown in 2009 asking them to look into his case. So, from 2010 up until basically Tuesday, they’ve had an active investigation going on in Leon Brown’s case, with the understanding that the evidence related to Leon’s case is identical to that for Henry McCollum. So that’s how they got involved. And they’ve conducted … an exhaustive investigation and have tested and retested many of the items of physical evidence that were found. They’ve conducted interviews. They’ve done a phenomenal job in this case.*
- Police and prosecutors aren’t meaningfully held accountable for wrongful convictions:
RUSSELL: The defending police force should, moreover, become the prosecuting police force where one class of crimes is concerned, namely crimes committed by the prosecuting police in the execution of their “duty.”
BONUS #6: It has everything to do with race:
More and more it appears that the police are here to “hold the line” between the social and economic classes, disadvantaging the lower classes who lack a “private fortune” to mount a competent defense for themselves. In a nation where class lines have been drawn and enforced along racial lines, established largely through pervasive institutional racism, means these mechanisms of power and justice come to bear on people of color in a spectacularly brutal and unjust fashion.
* I said “insufficient,” but I’ll allow that 31 years late is slightly better than never, amirite?
THIS BLOG has documented a change. It was the development of some ideas clanging around in your host’s head.
- It was the story of a Liberal whose liberalism became meaningless as new vistas of thought opened up.
- Whose pacifist anti-war stance hardened into an all-inclusive anti-imperialism.
- Whose pink capitalism, (a trust of laissez faire economics mixed with misgivings about every single aspect of the economy requiring petroleum, and the lack of a market metric for human dignity,) became economic disestablishmentarianism.
- Whose environmentalism became environmental defeatism.
- Whose “feminist” Nigel-ism became cultural nihilism or, mayhaps, Anarcha-Feminism.
- Whose democratic electoral reformism became alienated non-participation which in turn became a conscientious objection to democracy itself.
- And somewhere along the line your host started a midlife crisis, became obsessed with time, realized that time to do the things one wants, (to spend with one’s loved ones, to be creative,) is priceless, for everyone, and came to realize that valuing peoples time unequally when you
askforce them to work, is evil.
Really, the recent Grid Not Goal series of posts pretty well sums up current political views.
So, here we are at the end. The site will remain, but Stump Lane will no longer be updated. The Tumblr site will continue, though under a brand new different URL, at Odoriferous Zephyrs. (Yes it’s a fart joke.) Montag — the internet handle, not the meatspace person typing these words — is dead. Still not ready for complete non-anonymity, a new moniker is born for commenting, and potential future blogging purposes, though hopefully in a more creative vein.
DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO [Image via Anarchist Art]
ANARCHY, from the Greek, means without rulers. So what does it mean to be an anarchist? It’s certainly a striving to surrender to no authority above one’s own conscience, a desire to not be ruled. But to be ethically principled, recognizing the evil in imposing the absolute power of a truth, there must certainly be another component to this anarchism: to, in turn, not wield power over others.
Statelessness/lawlessness is only a temporary condition. Power Seekers see such a state of affairs as a power vacuum that, if they only play their cards right, can be taken advantage of and worked to their benefit. It’s only a matter of time before some assholes get going and start acting like a state.
An anarchist Utopia, egalitarian voluntary mutualism with a premium on individual freedom, or whatever, only works with a population comprised entirely of anarchists. What are we to do, then, FORCE people to become anarchists?
The system is a travesty, society a mob. But the part of me that looks first to our nature as human animals when putting thought to this kind of thing, recognizes the situation for what it is: an ecosystem. This is the environment in which I, a human animal, must strive to persevere. The state, despite what democracy lovers say, isn’t something for ‘the people’ to control, it’s something to cope with.
As I said, Old Montag would make a shitty anarchist. So this, I suppose I should admit, is my capitulation. My revolution is strictly… of the mind. For me, anarchism is a grid, not a goal.
WHAT IS MEANT BY “GRID?” Well, it’s an idea borrowed from Discordianism. Though intended as a way to describe opinions about metaphysical truth, I apply the term to opinions about the characteristics of Western society. Here’s what the Principia Discordia has to say about grids, in the section entitled “THE SACRED CHAO.”
With our concept making apparatus called “mind” we look at reality through the ideas-about-reality which our cultures give us. The ideas-about-reality are mistakenly labeled “reality” and unenlightened people are forever perplexed by the fact that other people, especially other cultures, see “reality” differently. It is only the ideas-about-reality which differ. Real (capital-T True) reality is a level deeper that is the level of concept.
We look at the world through windows on which have been drawn grids (concepts). Different philosophies use different grids. A culture is a group of people with rather similar grids. Through a window we view chaos, and relate it to the points on our grid, and thereby understand it. The ORDER is in the GRID. …
… Some grids can be more useful than others, some more beautiful than others, some more pleasant than others, etc., but none can be more True than any other.
The point is that (little-t) truth is a matter of definition relative to the grid one is using at the moment, and that (capital-T) Truth, metaphysical reality, is irrelevant to grids entirely. Pick a grid, and through it some chaos appears ordered and some appears disordered. Pick another grid, and the same chaos will appear differently ordered and disordered. [Principia Discordia]
Why do people desire social order in the first place? Why do they disregard individual reason in favor of custom? Why allow their strengths and aptitudes to be appropriated and prostituted within a social order and take part in a system of alienated labor? Why allow hierarchical authority to bend their abilities toward its own ends? It’s a deeply ingrained, almost religious faith that those ends are the same, or at least in concert with their own natural drives and desires.
It’s obvious people need other people. We need other people to reproduce. And then, our infants are so helpless that a whole cooperative family structure makes sense in order to get youngsters to the point where they can take care of themselves. Beyond that, when it comes to meeting basic subsistence needs, cooperative social relations are clearly advantageous for groups of buddies helping their buddies out.
Well, this notion of cooperation and society has in a way taken on a life of its own. The culture that emerged to hold the cooperative together has been shambling on down through the centuries sloughing off generations of people like dead skin cells, developing and persisting in its own right. Today we have nation states, millions of people strong, and that seminal ideal of cooperative solidarity is writ large: every individual is responsible in their fair share for the well-being of the millions of people who occupy the borders of whatever nation they happen to have been born to.
So, if you are a Normal you might look at the current state of affairs and see that it’s bad. You might say that the US state has ‘lost touch’ with the basic purpose of ensuring people’s wellbeing. That corruption and profiteering are like rust and rot that eats away at the bolts of an ocean liner over time, which comes without regular maintenance, upgrades, necessary retrofits. You might even subscribe to Lawrence Lessig’s call to “build a system to fund campaigns in which all of us, or at least the vast majority of us, become the effective funders, [sauce,]” as if the powerful could be called upon to enact laws to put an end their own corruption. You might think of politics in terms of “the common good,” or “of the people,” or “equality under the law.” If so, you are employing what could be called Benevolent State Grid.
The Malcontent might look at the current state of affairs and see that it’s bad, and realize that my friend Mr. Fundamental’s society-as-Titanic analogy is apt. That the very idea of an unsinkable ship, too big to fail, is pure folly. That the thing Normals fear when they think of anarchy, “a world where the biggest gang has grabbed all the guns and cowed everyone they can’t shoot,” where there is no authority strong enough to hold the gang to account, is precisely what we’re dealing with today. That the basic purpose of the US state is not ensuring people’s wellbeing; it’s the preservation of entrenched power. That society has developed a whole mythology that serves to cover up this fundamental untruth. This is how things appear through Anarchy Grid.
To employ Anarchy Grid to evaluate the characteristics of Western society is to harbor what JR Boyd calls “skepticism toward authority … in the absence of justification.” Under this regimen of skepticism, one sees that the gang with the most guns, the state, is based on nothing more than the FAKE justification for it’s exercises of negative power, of domination. Nurturing, or the positive use of power, is its own justification, no state, no authority, no mythology necessary.