Bear People, Wolf People, People People

Image courtesy
Image courtesy

I’ve been thinking about that gorilla that just got shot to death at the Cincinnati Zoo.

The outpouring of sympathy for the poor, poor mother who only looked away for a few seconds, the tearful “You people just don’t know what it’s like being a mother!” is only one of the annoying mass responses.

Meanwhile, here’s this innocent gorilla, killed with no second thought, the moment a human child plops down in his enclosure.

Something I’ve said on social media:

What bothers me is that we’re framing the incident in this simplistic homocentric manner — the life of a human baby against that of a Dangerous Wild Animal — even though the issue is MUCH larger and more important.

The thing is, if we can’t keep ourselves from shooting to death an endangered animal WHICH IS ALREADY IN A CAGE and which is breeding stock to keep the species alive, we can’t keep ourselves from killing anything and everything. Which means, inevitably, WE WILL.

EVERY time the life of a human — or the appetite, or comfort, or property — of a human comes up against the life of an animal, we will kill the animal.

The calmer and more forgiving we are about that, the faster it will happen.

I have to imagine Native Americans — Stone Age people everywhere — thought of birds and animals in a dramatically different way than we do. Living with and among them day by day, they saw and understood things about them we modern people almost never even notice.

The modern idea is one of separation, differentness. They’re not US. We have nothing in common with THEM.

But living among them — living WITHIN nature rather than on the edge of it as we do today — depending on observing and coexisting with them, Native Americans would have seen those in-common things that really are there. Would have used them in their daily thinking. Would have felt closer to everything around them in a deep and profound way that we today are normally incapable of imagining.

I try to picture what that might have been like, and I think I have a handle on it with a simple linguistic transform that redefines the word “people” to mean a bit more than we normally allow it.

Currently we define it to mean US. To recreate something of our earlier commonality and connection, the word could be expanded to mean — well, still “us,” but an “us” larger than the human species.

Maybe we’d add an extra tag to each descriptive use of the word, identifying the species referred to. Thus humans would become “human people.” Likewise, dogs would be “dog people,” and the individual dog would be a “dog person.”

Extending it outwards, bears become bear people, or perhaps Bear People. Around us in the natural world there would be Bird People, Wolf People, Coyote People, Elephant People. Lion People. Mouse People.

It wouldn’t extend to everything. I’d include only those things that had brains and shared our common sensory and possibly emotional experience. (And undoubtedly, we would not like all of them. I don’t have any great fellow-feeling for alligators, for instance; I’m willing to see them as real, still don’t want them in my neighborhood swimming hole.)

But it would build a bridge for us to explore from our side, looking to understand — to FEEL — the commonality.

Without actually using the word “people,” a lot of us already have the strong feeling of connection contained within it when we think of our dogs. I have friends who see their horses and mules that way. But using the words out in public would send that message to others: There’s something here, a new viewpoint, worth thinking about.

We’ve spent several thousand years with the idea that they’re separate and lesser than us, and it’s freed us to kill and poison them, to level their habitat, to drive them out, to casually extinct them. Or to breed them down to defenseless and helpless forms that become permanent prisoners of whatever indignities we choose to heap on them.

Those people with small dogs, I’m often convinced they have no concept of what they have. They have in their heads some silly image of a disposable entertainment device, a toy, a comical baby — Oh, he’s so KYOOOT!! — and it never really occurs to them they have a BEING in their care, something, someONE, who would much rather run and swim and wallow in mud rather than spend time dressed in a costume, propped grossly overweight and gasping on a pillow, or imprisoned in a purse.)

We see them as inferior THINGS — either useful or annoying — rather than co-equal SELVES. The average city-dweller has zero respect for animals. (Hell, they have little enough of it even for their fellow humans.) But if we’re going to keep the world alive around us, we have to feel more than ownership for it and the things in it. We have to have fellowship.

I expect there will be plenty of people who won’t get it.

No doubt some will interpret what I’m proposing in that icky-sticky, bosom-clutching “animal spirits” way. “Ooh, yes, we’re all SPIRITS together, we and the little animals! We should go out into the forest and show them our love!”

Others will soundly reject the concept, crying “But they’re different! They’re not people! They’re nothing like us.”

But they are like us in so many ways, not least that they have our same feelings, the same sense of self, the same desire to live their lives. Anyone who works closely with horses, or elephants, or so many other critters, knows it. They’re People.

So the next time you see me, yes, I’m going to be using it. I’m going to speak to your dog, “Hello Dog Person!”, to your cat “Hey there, Cat Person!”

Hey, I might even manage to notice YOU. —Because that’s just the kind of People Person I am.

Free College? I’m In!

I heard a guy in Subway a couple of years back loudly ranting about public schools. He finished with “They want us to pay to educate other people’s kids! That’s how you destroy a country. That’s how you bring down America.”
He was talking about PUBLIC SCHOOLS.
I had this brief happy vision of a giant Monty Python thumb coming down from the ceiling and just crushing him into jelly. Silly ninny. Those young people — other people’s kids — are the ones who will eventually shoulder the load of making the world work. Not just doing all the physical and mental labor, but learning about the world, understanding it, and making decisions about it. They will be tomorrow’s movers and shakers and VOTERS. Tomorrow’s doctors and inventors and scientists and, hell, DMV workers.
Having them educated — as opposed to ignorant and helpless — is a damned good thing. Having them educated a LOT is a double-damned good thing. That part of my taxes that goes toward education — as opposed to, say, military spending or giving tax breaks to big corporations — oh boy am I happy about that.
This business about free college that’s come up lately — I see people reacting to it as if it’s some monstrous idea proposed by people who hate America. But I can’t help but think that investing in the minds of the people who will someday soon run the country and some significant portion of the world, that would be a good thing.
Yes, somebody has to pay for it. But no, it’s not the sort of point-of-a-gun robbery some people are making it out to be. Education is not an Xbox or a Ford that starts to lose value the day you take it home. It’s not you paying for your neighbor’s above-ground pool. It’s an INVESTMENT IN THE WORLD, one that pays off and pays off and pays off, over and over, for all the time to come.
I’d rather live in — and grow old in — a society filled with as many educated people as possible.
So: Free college? Yeah, count me as a supporter.

Hillary, This Time You’re Goin’ Down! I Mean It! Really Really!

This bubbled up elsewhere, shared by someone I like.

Tell you what I think:

More than 20 years of investigations, accusations, smears, and innuendo have resulted in exactly zero charges. Is it because the fix is in, or is it because none of that stuff is true? Here’s the thing: If any of the accusations were true, Congressional Republicans — who hate Hillary and Bill with rabid passion, and who not long back CONTROLLED THE WHITE HOUSE AND BOTH HOUSES OF CONGRESS and had a free hand to do any darned thing they wanted — would have made sure she (and anyone else they deemed culpable) was arrested and charged and tried.

They would move Heaven and Earth TODAY to make it happen.

This woman is likely going to be the next President of the United States. Not because of some “fix,” but because a majority of American voters prefer her to all the alternatives. She’s one of the most admired Americans in the world.

Gonna be interesting to see how the real “patriots” react to her election. Will they attack and undermine her at every turn, the way they’ve done with Obama, or will they decide to support her? I’m predicting a breathtakingly vicious attack that will last every second she is in office, just as they’ve attacked Obama every second he’s been in office, further undermining American stature, effectiveness and progress.

And damn, I wish that wasn’t so. It’s disturbing to see even good friends, people I otherwise respect, falling into line on this never-ending nonsense.

Obama and Hillary aren’t the problem. The problem is that Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and company would rather get ratings by broadcasting outrageous paranoid crap than they would help America succeed. The problem is that too many of US would rather attack and attack and attack, rather than cooperating and trying to get things done. Too many of US hate Obama — and Hillary — more than we love and support America. We would flush the entire country down the toilet before we’d believe in them or work with them on the least little thing.

Here’s something I’ve realized: If John Smith can’t think of a single good thing to say about some supposedly evil person, unless that person is Hitler himself, it’s not the “evil person” who is the problem. It’s John Smith. NOBODY is as underhanded and deceitful as certain conservatives paint Obama and Hillary. Hell, I hated Richard Nixon with a passion, but even I had to admit he did some good stuff.

People are STILL claiming Obama is a secret Muslim, born in Kenya, bent on destroying America, avidly trying to take all our guns and put us in FEMA camps.

At some point, you just have to start thinking “Wait, if this accusation was a lie, and that accusation was a lie, and this OTHER accusation was a lie … maybe all of this stuff is just lies. Maybe whoever’s sending out all these lies, maybe THEY are my real enemy, manipulating me for their own ends. Making me so angry or scared I can’t think anymore.”

What’s really destroying America is the unrelenting hate, the constant lies. The hatred and suspicion of government itself.

And I really don’t get why it’s all happening. We are freer and richer and safer than any moment in history, and some large part of that is because American government, and government regulation, WORKS.

And just FYI, I’d bet the Clinton camp itself worked to make this investigation happen, with the FBI carefully examining every detail and bringing the whole thing out in the open, so it would be determined OFFICIALLY she did nothing very wrong. It will be a non-issue by November — again not because of any fix, but because it really is a relative non-issue.

LaVoy Finicum: Folk Hero Patriot, or Suicide By Cop?

Ha — finicumIf you root for neither team, both sets of fans will hate you.

I said some time back I no longer consider myself a liberal, but rather a Rational Centrist. Certainly I’ve managed to piss off an ample number of liberal-trending people with my jaundiced view of modern feminism, and rejection of those liberal-heartstring-plucking outrage stories (Fort Lauderdale hates the homeless!, etc.) and memes constantly projected at us.

But lately I seem to be equally good at pissing off certain conservative-trending people with my views regarding LaVoy Finicum, the “militia” member involved in the wildlife refuge takeover in Oregon.

My response to the picture-meme above:

Yeah, two more miracles and he becomes a saint.

When you arm up and take over a public building, vowing repeatedly to go down shooting, and then almost hit an officer with your vehicle, your “Honest Law-Abiding Citizen” card is voided. After that, any action but peaceful surrender MUST be considered an active threat to officers and bystanders. Sitting under a tarp with a rifle didn’t do his “sane, peaceful citizen” image any good either. To the officers involved, he must have looked loony and dangerous, and I can’t blame them even a little bit for taking him down in that tense situation.

Seems to me the people in that vehicle ALREADY KNEW the cops weren’t aiming to kill them. Otherwise they wouldn’t have been out driving around so casually. If you know you’re only going to be arrested, and you deliberately do something that gets you killed — say charging out angrily and reaching into your coat — it’s hard to see that as anything but Suicide By Cop.

Probably every one of the officers involved have families who hoped for their safe return that day. I can’t help but remember that. It will be interesting, in the days to come, to find out who those officers are, and what sort of service histories they have. I’ll bet we’ll see records of cool-headedness and restraint.

It seems to me that trying to make this guy into some sort of patriotic folk hero is not simply a mistake, but an insult to real heroes — many of which serve in “the American Government.”

The police roadblock at which Finicum managed to get himself killed is being characterized in conservative circles as an “ambush.” One of the mildest comments I saw criticized the police with “Diplomacy in resolving conflict, no matter how long it takes, is the wiser course.” I responded:

This WAS diplomacy. If these were heavily-armed black gangstas holed up in a building in NYC, they’d all be dead and the building burned down ON THE FIRST DAY. But even in diplomacy, I don’t expect officers to let themselves get shot.

I dismissed the hero-worship elsewhere with:

The thing about Finicum is that he was ON RECORD that he wouldn’t be taken alive, that he would fight to the death. That he came close to killing an officer with his vehicle adds on. The question isn’t “Did he have his hands up?”, the question is “Did he act in such a way as to make it obvious he was no threat? Did he act to guarantee his safety and the safety of the officers involved?” And the answer is, no, he ratcheted up the danger by failing to surrender instantly and peacefully.

His obituary was interesting, in that it baldly asserts he was “murdered.”

Robert LaVoy Finicum was born on January 27, 1961 in Kanab, UT and was murdered the day before his 55th birthday on January 26, 2016. […] LaVoy loved God, his family, and his country. He believed that the Constitution of the United States was inspired by God and he was willing to, and did, die while defending our freedoms stated within.

The guest book attached is filled with glowing tributes, a LOT of them. (By the way, do NOT go over there and add comments. I realize the thing is public, being on the Internet, but this is not the time or place to set anyone straight.)

They’ve already got the makings of a shrine. I can’t help but imagine a statue in a year or two.

Warriors Against Tyranny … or Not

__ranchersI’ve thought many times that there should be a Handbook of Sudden Fame and Riches, a little something that would provide needed guidance to child actors, lottery winners and overnight-sensation rock stars. The basic idea of the thing would be “Yeah, this is all great and stuff, but how do you handle it all so as to survive and be sane and successful LATER?”

For child actors, one of the lessons would be “This isn’t forever. Eventually you’ll be less cute, less appealing to that fickle audience, and they’ll stop paying to see you. The number of child actors who transition to successful adult acting careers is vanishingly small, and there’s a good chance you won’t be one of them. Invest the money rather than spend it. Also, get an education. And maybe take some real acting lessons.”

For lottery winners, the lesson might be “Your life is undergoing as drastic a change as if someone you love had died. It looks like a positive change to you, but you’ll later find it’s not all positive. The foundation of your earlier life — your values, your real friends and family, your home and neighborhood — is gone, and you’re going to have to find a way to live with the situation until you build a new one. There are people out there who can spend a million dollars in a month. If you become one of them, the money won’t last. And then you’ll be without your old home and friends and neighbors AND without the money. Feel your way into this gradually; don’t make any drastic changes in the way you spend, the way you treat people, etc.”

For rebels like Ryan and Ammon Bundy, I think the lesson might be “Don’t believe your own press.”

Here’s the latest on the “militia” members captured in Oregon:

Oregon Militants Denied Bail As Prosecutors Use Their Own Words Against Them

During the occupation, the militants frequently used social media to threaten and intimidate. They warned they would stay for years if necessary, and would use their guns if law enforcement tried to arrest them. They said they were willing to fight to the death.

__mugsBut … they didn’t, did they? Only Lavoy Finicum stuck to his guns, dying in the snow next to a remote road. The rest surrendered to law enforcement.

After reviewing the lengthy list of the occupiers’ boasts and threats, Judge Beckerman denied all the men bail, saying they pose a danger to the community, and that she is concerned they would not obey the court’s order to return to Oregon for criminal proceedings.

Ironic. Denied bail because the judge is concerned they won’t obey the court order to return to Oregon for trial. In the act of rebelling against government itself, they’ve convinced a government official they can’t be trusted to cooperate.

When I picture them going back home and forting up again, in a place where they can draw supporters for ANOTHER armed standoff, I have to agree.

As to the remaining four occupiers of the federal wildlife refuge, it’s hard to tell if they’re still believing their press or if they’re hoping for some fairy-godmother-like event that will set them free.

Four remaining occupiers of wildlife refuge remain watchful

We’re not dead yet,” he said, repeating a theme that he and others have expressed through the weeks of the occupation. They’ve said they will only leave if given immunity from prosecution and are ready to die defending their position.

Oh yeah, they’ll TOTALLY get immunity. Probably get a ride home in a chauffeured limo too, with champagne and snacks.

It will be interesting to see what sort of arguments they all make in their defense. I don’t guess an impassioned faux-patriotic stand will play well with the court.

Interesting too to think that this ultimately SILLY sideshow has lost their father Cliven Bundy a handful of pawns and two of his knights, making him freshly vulnerable. You can bet nobody has forgotten him and his grazing fees, or the fact that his defenders were aiming rifles at law enforcement officers not long back.

Now for some long and, for these guys at least, dreary trials. I imagine them seeing themselves all this time in a heroic fantasy as valiant defenders of The Constitution, and now facing the dull, real-world fact that they will never sleep in their own beds again, never again wear their own clothes, never again eat home-cooked food. The drab machinery of government has swallowed them, and they will never come out of it.

They probably swore to each other, over and over in recent weeks, that they were willing to give their lives for their cause. The thing is, as they’re realizing now, they HAVE given their lives for it.

I’ll bet it will come to them many times over the decades ahead, sitting lonely and forgotten in federal prisons while the world outside moves on, that Finicum got off easy.


I’ll tell you something. There’s a part of me that sees this as part of a larger whole, in which great numbers of people are being lied to and frightened and incited daily — rather than, say, INFORMED — by the likes of Fox News and the Limbaughs and Becks of the world. In that view, these “militants” are children who have believed the fairy tales, but then taken up adult weapons and stood out in Grownup Land brandishing them.

They will now receive grownup punishments, and there can be no doubt that they should. But really, some large part of the responsibility for what they’ve done lies elsewhere.

I only wish there was some legal mechanism for punishing those others.

The Sly Accusation of Islamophobia

COE SquareI think we’re all making a big mistake in defining “Islamophobia” as “hates Muslims.”

OF COURSE it’s wrong to hate people. But it’s not wrong to have serious reservations about a religion, a philosophy or a culture. It’s not wrong to judge IDEAS, and to find them wanting.

Because there really are inferior cultures and beliefs, cultures that deserve to be hated and stamped out. I grew up in one of them — a racist Southern culture which insisted that skin color should be the decider for acceptability, and which wasn’t above using extreme violence and terroristic threats to make the point.

Islam, in my view, is an inferior culture. For the way it treats its women. For the way it creates a one-way door — you can step into Islam, but you can’t leave it. For the way it brainwashes its people, stifling creativity and innovation. For the way it reacts violently to harmless humor.

Muslims themselves are victims of that culture. Most of them are trapped permanently within it — lacking the freedom to marry whom they want, to wear what they want, to observe or not observe their traditions. Lacking the freedom to LEAVE.
Having reservations about Islam — even hating it — is not the same thing as stomping down on some group of poor, downtrodden people who only want to live and love like everybody else.

And yet we’re being taught, every darned day, that it is. On some level, I’m pretty sure this is deliberate. To the extent that we unquestioningly accept this, I think we’re losing an important argument — allowing our natural compassion to be used against us. In an avid desire not to be seen as haters, we back away from inspecting Islam with open eyes, fairly judging it, and we end up welcoming it in, allowing it to invade our own culture with its lesser ideas and philosophies.

As for myself, I’m actually in favor of accepting — of WELCOMING — the Syrian refugees. Aside from anything else, the United States helped destabilize the Middle East.

But I’m not going to blindly assume that everything they’re bringing over with them is good. If they’re coming here, I expect them to have first allegiance to America, and not to Islam, or to Syria. I expect them to fit in with US, rather than insisting that we have to adapt to THEIR beliefs and traditions, or that they can permanently maintain a separate culture. And yes, I expect them and their children to learn English.

For the rest of us, you wouldn’t buy a horse or a car without the chance to look at it, to judge for yourself whether it was something you wanted to welcome into your life. And you definitely would judge it. Treat Islam — which is not a group of downtrodden, helpless victims but an IDEA, a philosophy, a religion and culture fully equipped to defend itself — with the same clear-eyed honesty.

Finally, it’s not enough to say, as some are, that the extremists in Islam are no different than Christianity’s KKK. When’s the last time the KKK openly rioted and burned and shot people? If the KKK burns down a black church here in the U.S., we have no doubt that the people who do it are criminals and racists who deserve to be caught, prosecuted, and treated harshly. Not one honest Christian would celebrate the burning of a black church. Our extremists are on their own – with no support from moderates.

On the other hand, the Islamic murder of staffers at Charlie Hebdo, the French humor magazine, came in the midst of violent demonstrations all over the Muslim world. People were assaulted and killed, churches and schools were looted and burned, death threats were made. All out in the open – as if the people involved had every right to be doing it – with no white hoods or secrecy in sight. And eventually, a couple of guys walked into the Charlie Hebdo offices and shot 11 people dead. Because of cartoons.

Never let anyone make that comparison. The KKK and Islamic extremists are in no way equivalent. Even if they were, we stopped tolerating the KKK more than 50 years ago. They wear those hoods because even their own neighbors would reject them if they showed their faces.

We should no more tolerate the threats of Islamic extremists than we do violence – or the threat of it – by anybody.

And we should JUDGE Islam for its content, for the acts carried out in its name, and for the effect it has both on the people caught within it and those forced to live with it in the larger world.


Mona Lisa tearsThere’s a storm of media coverage happening, lots of talking heads talking. I’m waiting for information to accumulate, hoping to get some sense of the big picture.

I do see the assholes are already blaming Obama for … whatever. I’m sure there’ll be plenty more of that tomorrow.

But my initial reaction is … Damn. Just damn.

Starbucks, Part Deux: Chasing the Red Dot

Watch the video.

The cats are you and I. The guy holding the laser is the media. The red dot is the Starbucks coffee cup story.

I’m going to call them Red Dot Stories from now on.

They don’t mean anything. They’re not significant in any way. And yet we still leap excitedly to follow and talk about them. Just like cats, we allow ourselves to be jerked around by that irresistible fascination with the red dot.

Starbucks Cups: Yeah, Get Angry … Suckah!

starbucksAnd so the annual “War on Christmas” begins — the viral claptrap that comes out every year like Christmas lights, earlier and earlier. Here’s this year’s volley.

A number of articles from mainstream news sites — New York Times, Washington Post, Time Magazine, New York Daily News — say “some Christians” or “Christian evangelists” take exception to Starbucks’ new plain red cups … but they never actually name the “some Christians” they’re talking about. Is it the Catholic Church in all its might? No. The Southern Baptist Convention? No. It isn’t even Pat Robertson.

Apparently it’s this one guy, Joshua Feuerstein, a “public figure” who does stuff like this to promote his own video rants on Facebook and elsewhere. Obviously Starbucks is getting massive amounts of free publicity, which makes me wonder if Feuerstein is getting paid to play out this song and dance on screen. But mainly, Feuerstein is an instant media celebrity on CNN (CNN MYSTERIOUSLY CUTS AUDIO WHEN FEUERSTEIN SAYS >>THIS<< ABOUT OBAMA!!!) etc., and will probably go on to write books and scam his way into lots and lots of money through the empty fame machine. He’s now famous for … well, for being a loud and insistent ass, with no real point other than artificial — MANUFACTURED — outrage.

We’re all talking about those Starbucks red cups, though. I’m sssooooooo proud of us for, you know, CARING so much about the color of Starbucks cups. We may not have a point, but man, we’re ANGRY. We’re INTERESTED. We have OPINIONS. Bully for us, right?

I don’t care about the color of the cups. I don’t care much about Feuerstein. I do care that so many of us are getting sucked into this as if it’s some critical issue that MUST consume our attention.

I care that there’s a mechanism for putting us in this situation of being interested in nothing.

It’s a little bit like a magic act, where the magician does some vigorous waving with his left hand to distract our attention while he does the magicky stuff with his right. Only in this case, there’s no magicky stuff — it’s just that  distracting left hand up there waving.

But hey, Earth People, do your thing.

I’ll just stand over here feeling very alien.


UPDATE: Oh, good, Donald Trump weighs in. Starbucks has gone presidential!

One Billion Atheists: The Army of the Other Side

Billion Atheists copyLook at this:

Evangelicals Aim to Mobilize an Army for Republicans in 2016

One afternoon last week, David Lane watched from the sidelines as a roomful of Iowa evangelical pastors applauded a defense of religious liberty by Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. That night, he gazed out from the stage as the pastors surrounded Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana in a prayer circle.

For Mr. Lane, a onetime Bible salesman and self-described former “wild man,” connecting the pastors with two likely presidential candidates was more than a good day’s work. It was part of what he sees as his mission, which is to make evangelical Christians a decisive power in the Republican Party.

“An army,” he said. “That’s the goal.”

And Mr. Lane is positioning himself as a field marshal. A fast-talking and born-again veteran of conservative politics with experience in Washington, Texas and California, Mr. Lane, 60, travels the country trying to persuade evangelical clergy members to become politically active.

That’s what we’re facing.

What Mr. Lane, a former public relations man, does have going for him is a decentralized landscape in which a determined believer with an extensive network of ground-level evangelical leaders and a limitless capacity for talking on the phone can exert influence on Republican presidential candidates eager to reach evangelical voters.

I used to go to town council meetings in my little mountain town and sometimes almost burst into delighted laughter at seeing the hidden political mechanics in action. I HATED the sonsofbitches and what they were doing, but I marveled at the coordination, the deftness of manipulation of the public sentiment, the streamlined perfection of the lies.

Seeing it was a daily lesson in political strategy in a small town, and beyond.

Nothing they did was done for the people of the town or the surrounding mountain environment. It was purely extractive and manipulative — a roofied drink and a followup rape in every sense but the sexual. But damn, they were good at it.

I don’t want us to ever forget that this is out there, working day and night to take advantage with lies and subterfuge, to wrest the future out of our hands and make it theirs again. To wreak short-term profit by keeping the world as it is.