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I went up to FOGcon this morning to have lunch with a couple of friends. Had a marvellous time, but had to come home early to pick my wife up to go to dinner with her family in celebration of her birthday.

All was uneventful until I got to the freeway exit for our house, where I saw a number of police cruisers and a bunch of flares blocking off the off-ramp. That's odd, I thought, and proceeded up to Skyline Boulevard to come around via Hickey and Callan. At the corner of Callan and Serramonte, some blocks from the house, I encountered another group of police cruisers and a half-dozen officers directing traffic, not letting anyone into the neighbourhood. I explained the date with my wife and her family to one of the officers, who replied, "I understand, sir, and I apologize. But you can't go up there." There were about two dozen local residents standing on the various corners of Callan and Serramonte, so I asked one of my neighbours what was going on. His response:

"They've got a fugitive holed up in one of those apartment buildings at the bottom of the block. They say he shot a San Francisco cop." Ah, that would explain why there were so many SFPD cars down here in Daly City. (SFGate story link)

So I called my wife and let her know to call her mother and let her know we were likely to be late. And after milling around for ten to fifteen minutes chatting with people and determining that no one really had a firm grasp on what was going on, I decided to see how far up the hill the police perimeter extended. Eventually, I was able to approach our house from the uphill side and make our dinner date.

So, long story short: we're all right, but our quiet little neighbourhood wasn't so quiet tonight. I thought I had something pithy to say about the event, but I don't, really. I just hope this doesn't become the new normal, and I am uncomfortably aware that in too many places and for too many people, this is just daily life.

Edited later to add: They haven't found the guy, but the news story made the front page on KRON and KTVU.
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If you're thinking of using your personal friendship with me to obtain not-yet-published information about events I'm associated with, then you don't know me as well as you think you do. And it says entirely too much about what you think of me that you would try.
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Build the road of peace before us,
Build it wide and deep and long.
Speed the slow, remind the eager,
Help the weak and guide the strong.

None shall push aside another,
None shall let another fall.

Work beside me, sisters and brothers,
All for one and one for all.


(Emphasis mine. Yes, I've quoted this song before. But it best sums up what I see in front of us.)

May we strive to see the best in others, and strive to live up to the best that others see in us. And bless each other with our love, as much and as often as we can.

Quick plug

Dec. 18th, 2008 04:45 pm
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I've put my thoughts about Rick Warren giving the invocation at Barack Obama's inaugural up here at Pam's House Blend, and I'd like some feedback on slogans and other clear ways to get our point across. Please take the poll over there, and comment either there or here. Thanks for your time.
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... I think I can safely say that I have read the most beautiful use of rhetoric that we will see in this presidential campaign, and possibly the best use of political oratory this decade.

If you only read one political speech in this interminable presidential campaign, please, please, read this one. )

Hat tip to Mark Kleiman.
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Courtesy of [livejournal.com profile] jmhm in this post: When you see this, post an anti-war song in your journal.

Save The Country
(words and music by Laura Nyro, as performed by The 5th Dimension)

Come on, people! Come on, children!
Come on down to the glory river.
Gonna wash you up, and wash you down.
Gonna lay the devil down, gonna lay that devil down.
Come on, people! Come on, children!
There's a king at the glory river.
And the precious king, he loved the people to sing;
Babes in the blinkin' sun
Sang We Shall Overcome.
I got fury in my soul,
Fury's gonna take me to the glory goal.
In my mind I can't study war no more.
Save the people!
Save the children!
Save the country, save the country ...

Come on, people! Come on, children!
Come on down to the glory river.
Gonna wash you up and wash you down.
Gonna lay the devil down, gonna lay that devil down.
Come on people! Sons and mothers!
Keep the dream of the two young brothers.
Take that dream, and ride that dove.
We could build the dream with love, I know,
We could build the dream with love, I know,
We could build the dream with love, I know,
We could build the dream with love, I know,
We could build the dream with love, I know,
We could build the dream with love ...
I got fury in my soul,
Fury's gonna take me to the glory goal.
In my mind I can't study war no more.
Save the people!
Save the children!
Save the country, save the country, save the country ...
NOW!!!
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Yesterday, I sent Jon Carroll a fan letter about his column.

Today, I got a very short and sweet response thanking me for my note. Very definitely not a form letter. How cool is that?

Radical thought for the day: If feminism is the radical notion that women are people, then one could make a case that humanism is the equally radical notion that all humans are people, regardless of place or time of birth, upbringing, gender, creed, colour, or any of those other pesky distinctions that we seem to like to use to divide ourselves against one another.

So, I invite you, go forth with a twinkle in your eye and a song in your heart, and watch the folks who have nothing better to do than pick our pockets and spy in our bedrooms wonder what the heck we're up to.

Subversive in its simplicity, I tell you. Because really, rolling over for them hasn't done us a lick of good.
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Jon Carroll knocks one out of the park today:


The reality is the mirror image of the stereotype. The real keepers of the American flame, the real practitioners of daily love and a life of the spirit, are gay and lesbian parents. They are, gosh darn it, what made this country great. Someone get a damn fife and drum.

The people who hate America are the members of American Family Association and its ideological fellow travelers. They're the ones who do not believe that all people are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, and that among these rights are life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. They're the ones who believe that this country was founded on hate and fear; they're the ones who want the hate and fear to continue.


As the saying has it, read the whole thing.
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(Sung to the tune Ode to Joy, from Beethoven's Symphony No. 9)


Build the road of peace before us
Build it wide and deep and long.
Speed the slow, remind the eager
Help the weak and guide the strong.

None shall push aside another
None shall let another fall.
Join, join, sisters and brothers,
All for one and one for all.


(You know, singing this one out loud got Pete Seeger labelled a Communist in the McCarthy years. Then as now, Republicans get nervous when the riff-raff start singing about working together. Myself, I think the Republicans need to be a damned sight more nervous than they are currently.)
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OK, folks, bear with me here. I've had less sleep than usual, and so this is going to be a bit more stream-of-consciousness (or perhaps stream-of-conscience) than my average entry. But I promise you it'll give you some insight into the dark recesses of my brain.

Last time I talked about television and information overload. One of the patterns in my life that really disturbs me is that I tend to use the Internet as a substitute for television, and abuse it in some of the same ways that television gets abused. There's such an incredible wealth of information out here, and I can browse until my eyes are square on any given subject. But in the end, all of that information doesn't make knowledge, it doesn't mean anything unless it is turned into tangible action. All of the political blogs I've watched over this past US election season, all of the outrage and passion for democracy that I've seen -- it's no better than television if it doesn't move me, if I don't decide to get up off my bottom and do something.

The same is true of the Free Software-related activities I've been part of for lo these many years. I've been using UNIX-derived systems since 1986, and running my own since I've had hardware powerful enough to do so. My opinion of the notion that I should have to pay someone to lease a program that I can't change, copy, or even examine closely without violating some sort of "End Users' Agreement" is very much like my friend [livejournal.com profile] elenabtvs's reaction to the thought that she should actually pay directly to see a doctor -- it's nothing short of obscene. In her case, it's a matter of "isn't that what we pay our government to provide?" whereas in mine it's much more like "isn't this what programmers and scientists do -- build on each other's successes, learn from each other's mistakes, and pass the results on to the next generation?"

I have benefitted from the contributions of thousands of writers, programmers, scientists, and hooligan-nerds who came before me -- their work has enabled me to earn a living, to communicate with people far-flung across the earth, to share joy and sadness and exquisite mathematics with a group of friends who care about computers and communication and ethics and love poetry and yes, even the occasional television show.

So what can I do, to carry on this fine tradition of putting words and expression and computer programs in the hands of people who will change them, copy them, and even examine them closely?

On my business card, there is a motto: making the magical world of computers and software gentler to human beings. That's my manifesto. Whether by coding, by writing, by giving lectures and seminars and workshops, or by methods I've yet to discover (and perhaps, if I am very lucky, some methods that you suggest to me), that is what I want to do with my life: Use these slabs of silicon and waves of electrons to increase the power of love in the world.

How's that for a pipe dream? Or a life's work?
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I mentioned yesterday that I hated television with a blinding passion. It's probably worth it to go into some of the whys and wherefores of that statement, and to explain some patterns in my life about which I have some ambivalence.

First of all, bashing television has gone in and out of style over the last three decades, at least -- Harlan Ellison's Sucking the Glass Teat wasn't that long ago, was it? And what about the TV shows that have brought some of my dearest friends together, like Buffy or Firefly or, saints add preservatives to us, due South? No, my complaint is not so much the programming, although that, like anything else, obeys Sturgeon's Law with a vengeance. I mean, I don't want to burn all the bookstores down just because Ann Coulter's got a new bestseller out. My problems with television lie primarily in two areas -- one, the glorification of the short-attention-span culture, which I find both frightening and inevitable, and two, the commodification of the audience into receptive consumers for the benefit of the advertisers. Media consolidation and the stifling of political dissent enter into my misgivings as well, of course, but I see them as consequences of the two major objections above.

The television tells us, again and again, that being part of the modern world means constantly being bombarded with new information, and that speed is of the essence when dealing with this new information, because it is all vital. It encourages us to 'process' information as if we were machines designed for that purpose. But I don't feel any attraction, as a human being, to 'processing' information, any more than I have any attraction to 'processing' food. The same society that keeps us too tired to cook joyfully, to share the gathering of the daily bread with our nearest and dearest, is the one that is constantly screaming at us that we need more information, and we need the information that only the advertisers have. It isn't true, and even though we learn the cynical lesson that television programs are really there to sell us the products advertised during the commercials, we still accept the practice with no more than a passing reflection on the ways it shapes our actions and reactions.

The humanist paradox of what I call the here-and-now (roughly speaking, North America since 1945) is that although we've shown ourselves to be very good at inventing 'labour-saving' devices and exhibited a huge appetite for boundless growth, we're not any happier than we were in 1945. We produce enough food to feed the whole world, but somehow the whole world doesn't get fed. The United States is one of the wealthiest nations on the globe, and yet we can't seem to get all of our people fed, much less make a serious dent in feeding the rest of the world. But the amount of attention-grabbing material generated on behalf of huge commercial interests in the same timeframe is ... well, you can read a television schedule, right? How much of what is in that schedule is commercials? How much of it has anything to do with anything but keeping the money in the hands of the people who put on the programming? You want my primary objection to television? That's about the best face I can put on it.
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5am, Monday 30 May 1988, Sheremetyevo Aiport, 20 km outside Moscow, USSR.

The grueling 16-hour flight from new York was finally over; my butt was still vibrating. My 79-year-old grandmother had made it through with surprising aplomb and energy, but she was still exhausted. We disembarked from the Aeroflot 747 and emerged into an eerie silence; the plane was the first one to land that morning, and the airport was very nearly deserted. An empty airport is a very different thing acoustically from a full one, to hear the echoes of your footsteps in an airport is deeply wrong in a way I am not sure I can explain. We descended a long, dim corridor towards the ominous-sounding Passport Control. No one spoke, and I wondered why, thinking perhaps they were too tired, too drained from the long journey. And then I saw them -- a line of about a dozen fresh-faced Soviet youth, standing at some approximation of parade rest, not looking particularly hostile or particlarly welcoming, with that blank expression that speaks volumes to those who have seen it, as some of my companions had, on a thousand borders all over the world. And each youth was holding an automatic rifle in an easy two-handed grip, very carefully not pointing it at anyone. It wasn't until after I had the thought, "Dear God, they could kill us all from that position; no one in the corridor would survive," that I realised they were in uniform. That was the moment when I realised how lucky I was, how safe my world had been to have never seen this before.

3pm, Friday 5 November 2004, 12th Street BART Station, Oakland, California, USA.

The group of policemen were gossiping loudly, in that hail-fellow-well-met sort of way that tells you that they've never been told to keep their voices down in their lives. They were standing to one side of the entrance to the station; there were six of them. Two armed in the way one is used to seeing transit cops -- flashlight on one belt hook, automatic pistol on the other side. The other four -- how can I describe them? I don't know guns well enough to tell you a maker or model, but I know these were fully-automatic rifles, the next thing to a personal machine gun. One of them adjusted his rifle on its strap, and though the muzzle never pointed at me, I found myself abruptly imagining what it would feel like to look down the barrel of it. I had seen the individual men in fatigues carrying these things at airports since 9/11, of course. But they tended to travel singly, or in pairs at most. Seeing four of them together, with their weapons casually slung, as if it were nothing that they could simply pull a little piece of metal and hold it down and everyone in this bustling plaza would either take a bullet or run screaming for their lives. And I knew in my head that I should be grateful that these were familiar American good-ol'-boys rather than silent, unreadable, unmistakably Slavic young men. But that didn't stop my heart from breaking.

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America, who was most beloved of nations! See how she is cast down,
and rends her garments at the faithlessness of her usurpers!


Boys in uniform, her precious children, sent to kill and die in lands
far from home; who will teach them the way, show them the reflection
in the stranger's eye, instruct them in the language of Brotherhood?
Where is her mercy, her love? Twisted, perverted, made to serve that
hideous beast, Mammon.


Children perish in her streets, starving, orphaned, alone -- where is
her bounty, her endless love and generosity? Plundered, attacked,
destroyed by the usurper and his minions.


Death have they sown, and death shall they reap; see how she weeps at
their abuse of her companions, so that none dare come to her aid.


Electrodes and boxes, forever denying their kinship with the Other;
she weeps as her flesh is stained by this, her depraved guardian's
barbarity.


Faithless pretender! Hypocrite! Mouthing his prayers as he mocks the
Law, serving none but himself and that great Beast, the Deceiver and
False Prophet!


Greatness is in her soul, her eyes still a shining beacon to the
nations. Her fidelity is of legend; her friendship a glorious gift.
But she is despised by those most sworn to protect her, and is undone.


Heaven knows the hearts of those who transgress; nor shall they escape
punishment. Things unseen will be seen; deeds done in the darkness
shall be revealed in the light.


Israel, O Israel! Hearken to the words of the Lord your God: "THOU
SHALT NOT KILL!" The Law is the Law, and God is God!


Jerusalem, your children are suffering! Put away your swords; no more
children made motherless, fatherless, lifeless! Listen to their cries
and hear the voice of God!


Killing in the name of God is not righteousness; it is blasphemy! She
hears the lamentations of the widows, the orphans, the maimed, the
dying, and the sound will not leave her ears.


Love shines in her eyes; but he has forgotten her love, and goes to
make the war plans. She weeps to be broken and abused so, abandoned,
rebuffed.


Mammon rules him, and cruelty, revenge and dark thoughts of
slaughter. Her love is as nothing to him, beside his dreams of glory and
power.


None dare to resist the transgressions of wicked men, even as they
take more tribute, and fill their coffers with the blood of children.
None dare assist her, alone, her virtue vanquished and her skirts
torn. Where are her friends now?


O friends of America! Arise, resist! Deliver her from the clutches of
this Beast and his ministers! Show her your love, your fidelity,
your steadfastness! Bring her children home and care for them. Obey the
Law of the Lord your God!


Peace is denied her; her armies are broken, one by one, and her
children lament. Strife and murder mark her days; her nights are
filled with sorrow.


Quick is the poison he feeds her; he takes her blood and her treasure
and feeds her on his lies. She looks in vain for aid; her faithful
companions have deserted her, and she is surrounded by enemies.


Remember the widow, the orphan, the stranger: these you are commanded
to protect. Hear the shouts and cries of the prisoners; their
warnings are for you.


She calls out to the nations: "Help me! Deliver me before I am driven
mad by sorrow!" But their hearts are hardened; they see his actions
and call them hers. And thus he defeats her a little more each day,
the poison doing its deadly, corrosive work.


The usurper dares speak the name of the the Lord your God, but he
knows nothing, obeys nothing, believes nothing. He dismisses the Law,
sends this holy land's sons to do senseless murder, and is deaf to
their cries upon their return, beaten and battered and maimed.


Unite, and obey the Lord your God! Be not deceived by these
hypocrites, charlatans, deceivers! Obey the Law, love one another,
care for the old, the infirm, the stranger, the lost. Show your
reverence to the Lord your God in how you treat all souls.


Vision is given to him who will see; the Lord delights not in
cruelty, in mayhem, in destruction. Build your groves, care for
your flocks, look to each other and to your Lord for help and
comfort. Save this precious land from division and destruction;
embrace your neighbour as one of your own kin.


Weep for the children, of all the tribes, a thousand lives
betrayed for false piety and pride. Return, America, away
from endless war. Your children need you; they are crying and hungry.


Xenos, the stranger. Remember the Law: protect the stranger.
He is far from home and helpless; the Lord your God entrusts his
safety to you.


You are indeed His beloved children; return to the fold now,
and care for your holy land, for she is bleeding, wounded by the
usurper's poisoned dagger. The time for playing with toy swords
is past. Leave vengeance to Him who has claimed it; keep the fields
and tend to the dying.


Zealotry in obedience is full of wonders: the stranger is your
brother. You are, as Cain was, your brother's keeper.
The Lord your God has commanded you: Thou shalt not kill.

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America is a country that needs war to sustain its economy and hate to nourish its pride.

-- Ed Turner, the only black faculty member at UC Davis, April 5, 1968.


Less than three months after George W. Bush was inaugurated in 2001, I lost my job and the only hope I ever had of achieving the so-called American Dream. The past three and a half years have been hard-scrabble, punctuated by periods where I couldn't afford to go to the doctor because I was uninsured, where I have abandoned physical therapy because I couldn't afford it, leading to what may well be a lifelong impairment, where savings that was intended to go for the down payment on a house was instead committed to keeping my family fed and housed, and the one windfall from the Clinton years swallowed up by the very same tax code that gave billons of dollars in tax cuts to people far wealthier than I. Not only am I not better off now than I was four years ago, I very much doubt that I will ever be able to make up the difference. I have gone from being able to support my family of four single-handedly and comfortably to watching all of the adults in my household take $10-or-less jobs in an effort to keep the house over our heads.

I fully expect another four years of this treatment to defeat me utterly -- I quite literally do not expect to survive it. This is not to say that I will not fight, with all of my heart and soul. For my family, my friends, my loved ones, I must do that much -- but I am breaking inside, and I can feel it. I can no longer afford to be ill, but I am pushing my body to the point where it is clearly communicating to me that it will not take much more.

That sound you hear is yet another formerly-middle-class American falling through the cracks. There will be more of me, as the social safety net frays and disintegrates, and sooner or later, long before you expect it, one of them will be you.

This is what happens when you elect people with no conscience, no empathy, no ability to put themselves in another's shoes. You get imperialism and hubris and policies made up of flights of fantasy with no conception of their human costs.

America will remain at war in Iraq to sustain its economy, to enrich the defence contractors and the ruling cabal's cronies. And oh, the pride. Down with the queers! Down with the Muslims! Down with those filthy peace activists! America for Americans! And we will tell you who the real Americans are. And you will hate who we tell you to hate. And you will be proud to hate them.

Ed Turner died in the early 1970's, after a long and tortured struggle with the culture of which he never quite managed to be a part. I do not intend to follow the same path. But I feel, tonight, more than I have ever felt in my life, the truth of the words he spoke on the day after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.

June 2015

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