Saturday, June 14, 2014

Marc Cary Focus Trio Waltz Betty Waltz

Marc Cary  Piano
Burniss Earl Travis II  Bass
Sameer Gupta  Drums

The first time I heard Marc Cary he was playing with my all time favorite singer, and one of my all time favorite musicians Betty Carter.  I say "musician" because her musicianship were beyond superb, she was among the best.  Marc Cary said:

Waltz Betty Waltz is dedicated to the great Betty Carter.  I wrote this for Betty to somehow document my love for her patience and insistence on excellence and etiquette.  She was open and had ears that could marvel anyone who listened to her.  She progressed my career and ability to be me by 100%  and I am ever grateful.  This tribute to Bettey Features Sameer Gupta on drums, Rashaan Carter on bass and Marc Cary on Piano.  I hope you enjoy this!

The performance at the link has a different bass player, obviously.   Both are wonderful performances.  Marc Cary is one of my favorite piano players.

Why Isn't Denial Of The Risk of Artificial Virus Creation As Disreputable As Climate Change Denial?

One of my online friendships was ended when I insisted that not all possible or likely products of genetic engineering were going to be innocuous and that, eventually, through intention or accident or, most likely of all, human fudging, some uncontrollable harmful organism was going to be released into the wild to become a feral pathogen.   My former friend, who I really liked, is, unsurprisingly, a geneticist.  He was enraged that I wasn't willing to trust scientists to police science.  In the discussion (on a blog) there was some of the moldy old accusation that I'd violated the dogma that all intellectual inquiry is good and right and should never be even questioned.  I don't recall if anyone rolled out the Galileo manikin but that's almost always a part of this kind of thing.

I don't know if my former friend gardens or not but  fighting introduced invasive plants in the garden must account for a quarter or more of my time.   And, with one or two exceptions, those aren't a danger to life.   A better example would be the periodic invasions of the gypsy moth which we had here a decade or so back, which damaged large numbers of trees, many of which never recovered and which had a damaging effect on agriculture.   A lot of people had trouble with allergies, they believed to the feces or other biological consequences of suddenly having millions of caterpillars and moths with no native control on their reproduction except, eventually, starvation from depletion of anything they could eat.   The gypsy moth was an accidental introduction by the naturalist and astronomer, Professor Leopold Trouvelot,  when it escaped during what now we recognize as a hair-brained research project, trying a bit of gene manipulation (as it were), crossing them with silk-worms.    The only reason that we see what he was doing as hair-brained is that we have the combination of a century and a half of science and the experience of his accidental release of his research organisms into the wild where they can't be isolated and eliminated.   Apparently science in his time accepted him as a valid researcher.

I take more of a lesson from him and others like him in the past, though.  What looks like the best and most reliable science possible today is certainly no more able to perfectly contain organisms it works with than they were back then.  People have not definitively progressed past his practices.  Lapses are a given in human or any other activity.   For all of our conceited regard for our sophistication and the responsibility of what we allow ourselves by way of safeguards,  we are certainly deceiving ourselves.   And one of the lubricants that facilitates the slippery lie we tell ourselves is that we all, yes even their holinesses, elite scientists, are willing to cut ourselves barely acknowledged slack when it's a question of money, prestige or merely satisfying our curiosity.   When they allow themselves the permission to work with technologies that could, very conceivably create microorganisms that could do anything from cause massive harm to the environment right up to causing our extinction, there is a lot more reason to question them than there was to question Professor Trouvelot.   Posing those questions is more important than the end of a friendship, it is certainly more important than risking Heathering by a bunch of blog commentators.


The great geneticist who I respect more than most,  Richard Lewontin, wrote another fine essay as book review on this topic, last month.   He brings up a lot of things, from the motivations of biologists in creating synthetic biology.  To the point of what I wrote above, he said:

But there is a broader and seemingly more constructive motivation. Garrett cites Drew Endy, who is on the faculty of the Bioengineering Department at Stanford, as estimating that 2 percent of the US economy at present is derived from genetic engineering and synthetic biology and that this proportion is growing at an annual rate of 12 percent. We can see the results in such genetically engineered products as corn and tomatoes and the new micro-organisms that are now being created for the detection of toxic environmental pollutants.

The vitality of this sector of the economy is reflected in the International Genetically Engineered Machine contest, in which college and high school students compete in building new life forms. (This contest started at MIT and is now organized by a separate nonprofit.) An example, created in the 2006 contest, was a bacterium that detects arsenic in water by glowing. It was created by inserting DNA sequences that code for luminescence and arsenic sensitivity into a harmless bacterium and making sure the bacteria were healthy and could reproduce. The bête machine has ceased to be a mere metaphor and become a competitive construction game for late adolescents that, in turn, might be put to horrific uses, among them new weapons.

That last clause should give anyone pause.  If a geneticist of the renown and reputation of Lewontin sees something to be worried about in just the intentional product of this, then anyone who isn't worried about the prospect of such a "new weapon" being accidentally released is in a state of willful denial.

The rest of his essay contains even more troublesome ideas,  but not as troublesome as this article.

An international team of scientists lead by a University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher have recreated, in the lab, a virus that’s “only three percent different” from the 1918 Spanish flu, which killed nearly 50 million people. The Guardian reports:

Writing in the journal Cell Host and Microbe Yoshihiro Kawaoka describes how his team analysed various bird flu viruses and found genes from several strains that were very similar to those that made up the 1918 human flu virus. They combined the bird flu genes into a single new virus, making a new pathogen that was only about 3% different from the 1918 human virus.

The freshly made virus – the first of several the team created – was more harmful to mice and ferrets than normal bird flu viruses, but not as dangerous as the 1918 strain. It did not spread between ferrets and none of the animals died. But the scientists went on to mutate the virus, to see what changes could make it spread. Seven mutations later, they had a more dangerous version that spread easily from animal to animal in tiny water droplets, the same way flu spreads in humans.

That’s right — not only did they closely recreate the virus, they also made it transmissible.

Despite the accomplishment, the scientific community isn’t all too thrilled with Kawaoka, calling his work “absolutely crazy.” As Simon Wain-Hobson, a virologist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, put it: ”If society, the intelligent layperson, understood what was going on, they would say ‘What the F are you doing?’”

And it isn't just one prominent specialist who is calling this work incredibly irresponsible and dangerous, here's the end of the piece.

According to the Guardian, this has between a long-running tension between scientists: on the one side are the people who think it’s important to know how dangerous viruses work, and who insist that they’re being really, really careful; on the other are the people who believe doing this sort of thing creates a grossly unnecessary public health risk.

“The work they are doing is absolutely crazy. The whole thing is exceedingly dangerous,” Lord May, the former president of the Royal Society and one time chief science adviser to the UK government, insisted. “Yes, there is a danger, but it’s not arising form the viruses out there in the animals, it’s arising from the labs of grossly ambitious people.”

Given the choice between people who know what they're talking about speaking in that kind of language about what their colleagues are doing, and just trusting the researchers doing what could bring a catastrophic pandemic that they'll be real careful, IT'S ENTIRELY INSANE TO JUST TRUST THEM.

IT IS INSANE to just put your faith in the ones hoping to get a Nobel prize or maybe hoping to get a patent on their research as they blithely try to reproduce the "Spanish" Influenza virus.   The "Spanish" got the blame in this country for being the origin of the influenza, though the latest I heard was that they'd traced it back to pigs kept by the American Army in France - they'll probably change their mind about that too.  But I don't think it will be any confort if we can definitively trace another outbreak to the august and esteemed labs of Madison, Wisconsin.  Assuming there is anyone to write it up and get it published or presented on Nova.

I remember during the bird flu crisis a few years back listening to an interview on As It Happens on the CBC.  There was a Canadian angle to the story.  The interviewer was speaking to Matthew Meselson, the prominent geneticist and expert in the dangers of chemical and biological weapons, one of Lewontin's colleagues at Harvard.

At one point Meselson said that it was entirely possible for in influenza virus to mutate into a highly transmissible form that could, conceivably, wipe out the entire human species, world travel and population densities being what they are.   There was a pregnant pause before the interviewer asked if that were really possible.   Melseson confirmed that it was.   Given that there is a chance that nature could provide such a virus without our active help, perhaps taking advantage of fowl and pig farming in China or Iowa, or Maine, for that matter.   I'd really rather not have ambitious scientists and their grad students being the thin white line between us and the product of their intellectual curiosity and great expectations.

I have been around grad students who work with dangerous stuff, they are reliably goofy.  My best friend from high school died of cancer she attributed to the time she worked as a lab tech in an electron microscopy lab.  She said they used to joke about how the chemicals they used to fix samples would kill them all.   She didn't think it was funny when she told me about it, at the hospital, twenty years or so later.   And the dangers they were working with are nothing compared to what this is about, they couldn't replicate and infect people or other animals.

I Don't Have To Pretend That Crackpots Are Not Crackpots Or That "Moderates" Who Enable Them are Moderates.

In the wake of Eric Cantor being successfully primaried out of his position, certainly as the successor to the Speaker of The House, by a tea party darling, lots of people have speculated on what it means.    One of the most widespread assertions is that the old Wall Street Republican aren't being entirely successful at defeating the frightening fanatics they'd believed they could harness even as they provided Republicans with the power to win power.

I have never been too impressed with the idea that there was a substantial difference between the oligarchs who didn't really care about social issues as long as they got to steal everything in and out of sight and those who are officially to be considered the real problem.   I didn't notice the Jim Leaches and Olympia Snowes doing anything to reign in the rabid tire biters who got them into committee chairmanships and prominence as members of that rare species, the "moderate" Republicans.   Their reputation for moderation was a useful smokescreen for their party, which produced the worst administrations of the past century, Nixon, Reagan, Bush II with the full support of the moderates, the rare and mild dissent expressed by them, signifying nothing.

How much of a fraud that thing is can be seen by the official "moderate" Republican, Susan Collins full and gushy endorsement of  the tea-party, Republican candidate for congress in my state's second district, Bruce Poliquin  and the paleo-crackpot, Republican and worst governor of my life time, the gratuitously cruel, dishonest and infamous Paul LePage.    Collins' moderation has always been a fraud and it is telling that she either feels it's in her interest to stop pretending or that she is willing to trade her alleged moderate principles in for the votes of the paleo-crackpot Republicans who put LePage in office.   Though, it should never be forgotten, her fellow "moderate" Olympia Snowe had previously supported him, even as she probably knew she had no electoral necessity to do so, noting that LePage, as a young man,  had been a protege of her first husband.

The idea that the "movement conservatives" whose motivations are economic principles are, in any REAL sense, different from the fanatics who they have used to win power, is wishful thinking, at best, a disastrous delusion, in fact.   The idea that the supposedly sane faction of the Republican Party is a safe bet, with the ability to keep their well armed crackpot army under control,  is disproved by their conduct in office.  If the complete criminal disaster, humanitarian, judicial, environmental, AND ECONOMIC that the Bush II regime was, didn't open the eyes of people like Paul Krugman to their danger more than a decade ago, you have to wonder what will.   They are merely the more genteel side of a massive and dangerous criminal faction which has murdered enormous numbers of people outside of the United States and whose policies include killing yet more.  That is called "foreign policy" in our media.  If you have to have proof of that, watch the official near "moderates" Lindsay Graham and John McCain on TV tomorrow morning during the most dishonest hours of TV during the week.

The Republican Party is the most dangerous entity in American life and, so, the world.  The disaster that is happening in Iraq is their baby, though they and their kept media will certainly deny paternity, blaming Barack Obama, one of the few prominent politicians who thought the invasion was wrong and would be a disaster, from the beginning.   I don't think Democrats do him the justice to admit that he was handed two terrible wars by the Bush II regime and enormous problems in Iraq, which couldn't have ended well.   We aren't Belgium in the 19th century, we can't invade and hold colonies which can be held through mass slaughter, despite what the Republicans and their media say.   We could never afford to maintain that and our oligarchs, the billionaire class, the ones who the Republicans, insane or merely evil, serve.   Those who produce the wealth of the country, The Workers, can't sustain that kind of empire.   Though our media is certainly willing and able to do their all to sell it.   If The People knew that's what they were going to be made to do, they would refuse to do it.  If they would go along with it, with full knowledge, we are in far more serious trouble than I've laid out, above.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Augusta Read Thomas


I'd love to have a cleaner recording of this or, better, hear a live performance.

Garden Report

I don't talk a lot about my gardening, though it is, more or less, my day job.   It provides more than half of my food and some supplemental income that music most conspicuously doesn't provide.   Especially since I've been out of circulation since my accident.

This is the second year that I've been using soil blocks  made with Ladbrooke soil blockers to start seedlings for transplanting and it has made an enormous difference in how I garden and how much work it is.

Starting with one micro soil blocker that produces twenty 3/4 inch blocks with a small indentation for starting small seeds, and a larger hand held blocker that makes four at a time, with block inserts (unfortunately, you've got to buy those separately) that allow the little blocks to be put in them.   This year I bought a larger, floor model blocker that makes 20 larger blocks, that some hard core blockers say can produce more than 2000 an hour.  I have made about five hundred in a session without breaking much of a sweat.  You have to directly plant seeds in those blocks, though there is a floor model that makes 12 at a time, which you can fit with the blocks for the micro-blocks, maybe some year I'll get that.  Despite what they say in the literature, I generally have found that most seeds will germinate faster if they are covered with a pinch of soil, any medium you use should either be soil-less or pasteurized.   I've also relied on natural fungus supressors, chamomile tea, cinnamon, clove, to suppress damping off of seedlings when it's not warm enough to expose them to the sun.

You can read all about them, a lot of seed companies sell them, or watch a lot of Youtubes about them.  The cost of buying the hand-held ones (currently 20-30 dollars) pays for itself in a short time, the floor models (about 200 dollars) take  longer to pay for themselves, but, considering the volume you can produce, not that long.   I've certainly paid more than that for those plastic six-packs and other disposable containers.  With the soil blockers, your biggest problem will be getting trays to put the blocks in and to keep them moist (the micro-blocks, especially, dry out, especially in warm, dry, and windy conditions.  I use a spray bottle for the small ones and a very gentle watering can for the others.  It's surprising how long you can hold plants in a small block and how much better it is to transplant them, the blocks help prevent transplant shock.   I started and transplanted several hundred sunflowers using blocks, several hundred sorghum plants and am experimenting with things I'd never try sowing directly like grain amaranth.   With how cold this spring has been, then dry, I wish I'd tried corn in them.  Perhaps next year I'll be better set up for that.

Anyway, that's the gardening corner, as close to cosy as I think I'm constitutionally able to get.

Oh, and one more thing,  I'd never even try gardening, now, without one of these Korean hand tools.   I use it for everything, including breaking new ground.  I lost mine for a few hours last year and got so panicked I ordered another one.

Who The Media Won't Have on to Talk About The Fracturing of Iraq As They Continue Spinning It

A lot of people predicted that Bush II's invasion of Iraq would empower sectarian factions, exacerbate ethnic and factional strife and violence and could well lead to the eventual splitting of Iraq along those lines.  Some people who, unlike the neo-cons and Bush-Cheney hacks, knew something about Iraq and the region predicted what we are reading and hearing in the news, today.   Some of the more informed warned that the immediate result would be the strengthening of Iran's influence in Iraq in those areas where Shia Muslims were a majority and Sunni fundamentalists in areas where that faction of Islam predominated.  The Kurds took advantage of their release from domination by setting up a quasi-state.

Those people were largely ignored by the media which, from the NYT and NPR to CNN and FOX, by and large, carried the Bush II narrative of the invasion of Iraq, from the lies used to sell it and the lies used to sustain it.   Now that their predictions are turning into reality, the free-press of the United States will continue to ignore the people who were right all along.

Ours is the news media of a corrupt, aristocratic and decadent empire.  That is the media that the fifty years of The New York Times v Sullivan and broadcast media deregulation and the failure to regulate cabloid media and hate-talk radio has brought us.   That is the media that sold us an illegal invasion that was as clear an example of what Barbara Tuckman identified as the serial marches of folly that corrupt empires take into disaster.  That same media will continue to lie about the results of their criminal irresponsibility.  And I do say criminal, propagandists for war crimes and crimes against humanity have been prosecuted by courts which the United States has participated in, only in other countries.

Here is how one of those criminals described some of what he did.

[Foreign Minister Joachim von] Ribbentrop informed us that the war against the Soviet Union would start that same day and asked the German press to present the war against the Soviet Union as a preventative war for the defense of the Fatherland, as a war which was forced upon us through the immediate danger of an attack of the Soviet Union against Germany. The claim that this was a preventative war was later repeated by the newspapers which received their instructions from me during the usual daily parole of the Reich Press Chief. I, myself, have also given this presentation of the cause of the war in my regular broadcasts.

Hans Fritzsche

Change a few names and it could stand as a description of how our media sold the invasion of Iraq and which continues to pretend what they said the entire time was not absolutely wrong about virtually the entire thing, while others, who they ignored and disappeared, were right about the entire thing.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

I Don't Know Enough About Augusta Read Thomas Four Etudes

The best thing about Youtube, other than the rocket stove videos, is the way it allows you to investigate music you've never had the chance to hear much of.   I've heard a little of Augusta Read Thomas's music before but I think I'll listen to what's there.

Arthur Berger Suite For Piano 4-Hands

Rodney Lister and David Kopps Piano

Welcome To The New Dark Disinformation Age Where The Truth Doesn't Matter

"So the Daily Prophet exists to tell people what they want to hear, does it?" said Hermione scathingly.
Rita sat up straight again, her eyebrows raised, and drained her glass of Firewhiskey.
"The Prophet exists to sell itself, you silly girl," she said coldly.
J. K. Rowling:  Harry Potter And The Order of the Pheonix

There isn't anything like reading the upper-market online magazines and then having occasion to fact-check them to disillusion you about the thrillingly naive myth that the electronic media was going to be a boon for the truth.  Let me break this to you gently, the online Alternet, Salon, etc. are NOT a golden age of journalism.

Despite the popularity of the idea of I. F. Stone and similar giants of independent journalism at such places, their performance is more like Joe Pyne if not Westbrook Pegler.

You expect that from right-wing media, media which serves wealth and oligarchy, media which has traditionally been a receptacle for the kind of scribbler who flirted with the left during the 1920s and early 30s before they took a nose dive to the bottom, sometimes due to a lack of ability, more often in search of money. When it's someone who figured they were leaders of the revolution, by birthright and were disappointed when their lack of ability caught up with them, that dive was at free-fall speed and right to the bottom.

The "800 babies in a septic tank" story has been just another occasion for the journalistic wanna bees to show they aren't about facts.   And they weren't necessarily the first with the false factoids, either.  The old rump of print media was as invested in it as anyone.  I haven't yet seen anyone wonder if, perhaps, just as the cabloid 24-7 "news" cycle forced a sensationalist and ideological cheapening of what was once the upper end of TV news, that the "new online media" hasn't had a similar effect on print.   They certainly haven't been getting better since they've been forced to compete with online media.

What is ever more clear about commercial and for-profit online media is that it's driven by whatever attracts people to click on it, preferably repeatedly.   Its income depends on that and its income is what drives its content in an endless spiral that seeks the greatest number of those.   As I said, yesterday, it will use our greatest weaknesses and it doesn't care if those weaknesses are among our worst character traits.  The thrill of hating on things, the gratification of using that to think better of ourselves and the gratification of identifying with a group that can convince itself of its superiority and virtue is guaranteed to get lots of clicks.

The media, unless it is forced to serve a higher purpose, like the common good, will pander to the worst in us.  The worst in us is what is in its financial self-interest to serve, its real service base, its advertisers, its investors, its owners, are served all the better by appealing to our lowest and basest, most selfish and least thoughtful characteristics.  And it does have to be forced to do anything better than that.  I'm not under any illusions that is going to be done on the basis of regulation, not any time soon, not within my life time.

As to solutions, the only one I think has any chance right now is to amend The Constitution to make it possible for politicians and public figures to sue for libel and slander.   The experience of the past half-century, during which  New York Times v. Sullivan has been used as a license to destroy, mostly, liberal politician and figures with the kind of of sensational lies that can be designed to, as we have learned with the internet, go viral.  That it was originally intended to be a protection of the media from lawsuits brought by right-wing politicians only shows that the greatest wisdom of Supreme Court justices is frequently not so wise in practice.   The New York Times, the beneficiary of that ruling celebrated its 50th anniversary by pooh, poohing its usefulness to liars.

The ruling was revolutionary, because the court for the first time rejected virtually any attempt to squelch criticism of public officials — even if false — as antithetical to “the central meaning of the First Amendment.” Today, our understanding of freedom of the press comes in large part from the Sullivan case. Its core observations and principles remain unchallenged, even as the Internet has turned everyone into a worldwide publisher — capable of calling public officials instantly to account for their actions, and also of ruining reputations with the click of a mouse.

But the government can upset the Sullivan case’s delicate balance by aggressively shutting down avenues of inquiry, as the Obama administration has done to an extreme degree in prosecuting those suspected of leaking classified documents, and even seizing reporters’ records. Uninhibited and robust criticism can go only so far without meaningful access to information.

That the politicians who are being destroyed by the unrestrained freedom of the corporate media turn out to be those who would be least profitable to their advertisers is certainly no accident.

The steady drift of our politics to the right in those fifty years since the Sullivan ruling is, among other things, a direct result of the freedom with which the corporate media can lie.  That is the profit driven media that makes its money by serving those with the greatest ability to by ads AND MEDIA COMPANIES.   NYT v Sullivan didn't end up in the way that the Supreme Court justices believed it would in 1964, despite its intended effect in the case it was brought in.  As anyone with a realistic view of the media and its perfect ability to be willingly corrupted could have predicted, it would end up enabling exactly the same neo-confederates and their descendants who now dominate our media and our politics. And the media "left", which has pretty much morphed into a pseudo-left, libertarian substitute for one, is just a invested in that corruption.   It's no more interested in fact checking than CNN, in many cases, FOX.

The New York Times, no doubt, finds it in its corporate interest to be uninhibited but, as its role in peddling the invasion of Iraq proves, it used that lack of inhibition to sell a massive lie.  That lie has cost hundreds of thousands of lives and the price in blood is still rising, as todays news shows.  It has cost in sectarian bloodshed, it has cost women an enormous price in freedom, it has benefited the worst of the terrorist groups in the world.   The New York Times, the impeccably modernistic, secular, sciency New York Times called that, the most bloody and most corrupt and dishonest of all crusades, by carrying the lies of the oil oligarchs and selling them to a public gulled by its authority as a beacon of truth and light.   The Crusades along with the Inquisition are the two great items on the catalog of shames of the dark ages, our media glories in its ability to wage an inquisition and has promoted several crusades, William Randoph Hearst is reported to have boasted of his ability to do that at will.   The most benighted of all are those who are benighted but mistake that dark for the light, holding it up as a banner and a virtue.   That would be today's media, even at its highest end.


The fine Canadian actor, Martha Burns, rather perfectly described writing blog posts, only she was talking about acting in a TV show.   She said that it was "quick and dirty".   In other words, if you post pieces every day they're not going to be uniformly brilliantly written and well edited.   That is assuming you're capable of brilliance or coherence that passes for good editing.   A few days after I began blogging I came to realize that a man who acts has his own editor has a blogger for a client. 
Which, my former co-blogger, Echidne, pointed out, only applied to men. As she is a far better writer in English, a second language for her, than I am in my native tongue, it was an apt point.   

The dirtiness of my writing is highly correlated with the speed with which I have to do it.  I suppose it's also related to the degree of shamelessness I have about the form of it, at any given time.  This month I've been more shameless than usual, apparently.  Yesterday's long post is in such need of editing that I will certainly rework it and post that version in the near future.  I apologize for its problems, especially the paragraph that seems to have gotten the end chopped off rather noticeably.   All I can say is that I'll try to do better in the future, though that good intention will probably wax and wane, subject to the shifting circumstances of life.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Highly Selective Expression of Outrage on the Issue of The Rape of Children

If true, this is outrageous.

In extraordinary testimony last month, Archbishop Robert Carlson said he was unsure about whether he knew it was a crime for an adult to have sex with a child.

Carlson, the head of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, was deposed for a case regarding sex abuse allegations that took place when he was auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis from 1979 until 1994. He investigated those allegations during his time in Minnesota.

During the deposition, which was released Monday, attorney Jeff Anderson asked Carlson if he "knew it was a crime for an adult to engage in sex with a kid."

“I’m not sure whether I knew it was a crime or not,” Carlson said. “I understand today it’s a crime.”

If it's true, Archbishop Robert Carlson should be forced to resign and take up a life of penance and seclusion for such an obviously dishonest answer.  That is if he isn't convicted of any crimes, for which he should serve any appropriate sentence in prison.  I would be curious to know if there was ever any discussion of lowering the age of consent in his state, during those years, which I am certain that the bishops of his state would have weighed in against.   This is exactly the kind of lawyerly dishonesty that has done so much damage to the reputation of the Catholic hierarchy and, through the scandal the hierarchs brought onto the reputation of the Catholic Church.*

However, and in response to the entirely predictable comments at Talking Points, as I've pointed out before, there were people, groups, blogs and even Wikis and people within the anti-religious establishment,  who have campaigned for an irresponsibly low age of consent, some as low as 15, or lower, and some who have campaigned for the legalization of sex between children and adults, in almost every case that would be adult men.  Those are active and public and posting online every day with almost no serious objection by the same people who have no expressed problem with the issue,  except when it's some ass covering archbishop or cardinal who is following a lawyer's advice instead of making a full public confession of their past repulsive irresponsibility.   Given the religion bashers'  willful blindness to those who are not merely hypocrites in their disapproval of the sexual use of children but who actively promote it, you might be forgiven for doubting their outrage ON THE ACTUAL ISSUE OF CHILD RAPE is sincere or even genuine.

Note:  I am not talking about those groups who advocate the attempted treatment of people who are sexually attracted to children and who also oppose them pursuing their desires, who are sometimes the object of right-wing political use as hypocritical and disgusting as the anti-religious use of this issue.  Anyone who is trying to encourage treatement and tries to help people keep from acting on those desires is not the object of this post.

Also note, I will not call this "pedophilia" because it isn't an act of love to abuse a child.

*  While I'm sure it's a point that will be lost on many people,  the crimes of the pedophile priests and employees of the church were almost exclusively done to The Church, which are the entire membership of the Roman Catholic Church, as defined by the Second Vatican Council.

Not With A Bang But With A Snicker Lessons About The Danger To Democracy

I worry a lot about the future of American democracy, it keeps me up some nights.  The violence and the chaos that we experience, the gun violence the willful ignorance and the new forms of superstition, gun-nuttery, climate change denial, foisted on a willing segment of the population by the corporate media, a media increasingly led by the worst of it, make me doubt that anything like democracy is going to survive here.

The best alternatives to democracy are no comparison to democracy in its ability to improve the lives of people and their posterity.  None of the many alternatives are comparable,  though many are, indisputably, preferable to other available alternatives when the requirements to have a real democracy are absent.

The Egyptian election which installed a military leader of the coup against the elected President and legislature has certainly ended the heady optimism people had for the Arab Spring.  While I have no doubt that many Egyptians want democracy, those who wanted a Western style democracy didn't prevail at the polls.  A democratically elected government by The People chose the Muslim Brotherhood members who didn't appear likely to produce that kind of democracy. So, we can see, just by that, that elections don't do it.  That an egalitarian democracy depends on the things that lead people to choose who they vote for. But we know that from our far more developed experience of elections which have chosen the anti-egalitarian Nixon, Reagan, Bush I and the tolerated, stolen election of 2000 in which the Supreme Court installed Bush II.

Women in Egypt have certainly not enjoyed increased freedom as a result of the Arab Spring revolution that ousted the Mubarak government, neither under the Muslim Brotherhood nor the military rule that ousted them .   That failure to produce egalitarian democracy in what is sometimes considered one of the most modern and developed countries in the region, with a relatively large middle-class and educated population with a feminist movement that goes back to the beginning of the last century,  points to the fact that wanting democracy is no guarantee that you can get it.

An even more instructive example is how Russia in the post-Soviet period has gone through a chaotic period of government under an elected president and legislature and has chosen, as an alternative, a classic strongman who shows no evidence of turning into any kind of mythical Cincinnatus.*   How egalitarian democracy has not happened in Russia shows how hard it is to get and how hard it is to sustain.  The corruption of the Yeltsin years with the habits of thought by those with power and the people who elected them,  the nationalistic terror campaigns by separatist factions, and the putrid rise of the billionaires out of the incompetence and corruption - many of them high up in the communist state, those are just some of the things that seem to have prevented democracy from taking hold in Russia, even with elections. Even with, briefly, a free media.

If a country as developed, as educated, as Russia hasn't managed to get the democracy that I have no doubt many if not most its people would like to have,  it is clear that believing you want democracy is no guarantee that you will get one. Around the world we can see that just because there are elections under a constitution, by an electorate that is fairly well educated, isn't a guarantee of democracy.   That is something we should have learned from Germany in 1933.

Why it takes in some places,  such as (cross your fingers) Tunisia and not in others seems to me like something worth serious study.   What we find out might just save democracy in the few places it survives.

I don't have anything like a complete theory of how democracy arises and survives but it is certain that its possibility has prerequisites and is as dependent on contingencies in the environment in which it will either exist or not as any living organism.   The examples of failed elections, corrupt elections, elections that result in a free choice of despots and those who will develop into despots shows it's far more than a matter of merely following a formula and the recipe contained in even a justly adopted constitution.   It certainly doesn't just happen when people want it to or like the sound of the words and ideas.

Democracy exists in a tension with those things that work against it.   Unfortunately and, I am absolutely certain, a lot of those things that work against democracy are some of the more attractive tendencies in human nature, exactly those things that the free-press use to sell us products sold by its funders and depots use to sell ideas, beliefs and attitudes to those who are more than willing to be duped by the attractive packaging.   Perhaps that is why the class with the greatest ability to satisfy its desires, the rich, seem to be the natural enemy of egalitarian democracy (with some exceptions, of course).  But those pathogens of democracy can infect anyone with even a small amount of wealth.   Selfishness, comfort, laziness, self-indulgence, are the message of the American media guaranteed to give them a larger market share than exhortation to strive for the common good.   In the last half-century, under the banner of freedom, the media here has been laying the ground for what is going to destroy American democracy.

The freer the media is from requirements to actually serve the public good, it will attack the foundations of democracy.  This paradox is made to seem more pardoxical by the poetic, vague and inspecific language of the First Amendment to our Constitution,  which leaves out the most important and non-negotiable reason that a free press is desirable, that it serve to inform and convince The People of the absolute necessity of egalitarian idealism so they can produce government of, by and for The People.   Sufficient information is important, entirely important, but without the real and effective belief in the moral necessity of acting justly, even when you would rather be self-centered and selfish, information will only serve to make The People act like well informed oligrachs, working for their individual gratification and not the common good.   That the media has made that seem corny and trite, it is more important than the form of election and constitutions.   It was the power of that belief that led the frequently reluctant and recalcitrant American people from the white, property holding, aristocratic form of the original constitution, through the Civil War, Jim Crow, women's suffrage struggles,  the labor movement, the gilded age crooks, imperialism, etc. to the high point of American democracy SO FAR before the decline beginning with Nixon.   It was the abandonment of that ideal through a stylish cynicism that held its expression in contempt, through a weariness with civic virtue that

The interview of the President of Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza, I heard this morning, was the motivation of this post**.   When the British interviewer righteously brought up charges of violations of free speech and the prospect of him violating the two-term provision of the constitution, Nkurunziza pointed out that elections in Burundi have hardly been an ideal expression of the common good but a dangerous and deadly occasion of ethnic violence.  The change of government in Burundi, for the entire period of independence has been that of removals by murder and coup d'etats.   This time-line can give you a quick education as to the inauspicious climate in which whatever democracy Burundi can manage, lives.  I think the interviwer's questions might have been somewhat different if he had looked at it.   Nkurunziza may, as a number of sources say, the best leader the country has had in a long time.  If that's the case, it might be worth the chance that The People of Burundi could if they vote him back into office, despite the term limit.

The People, their common good, the environment they and we all depend on, is the entire reason that such things as Constitutions have any legitimacy, the only reason those matter.  

If the common good and the environment are in conflict with provisions of the constitution, then it isn't unreasonable to see the constitution is of inferior importance.   That is true despite our view from a distance, who seem to believe that the possibility of democracy depends on people merely liking the idea of it, of wishing they had it in their country and the possibility of having it, in part or in whatever fullness we imagine it exists in some, as of yet, unattained ideal form.  The reality is that democracy is very difficult to achieve and is always bound to be a matter of continued striving and maintenance of what has been achieved.   It seems to me that instead of people in the United States or Britain lecturing people who, in the face of obstacles such as those faced by people in Burundi, Rwanda, or other places making some progress, insist on them producing, full blown post-war, Western style democracies, we should take the difficult steps necessary to protect those from the decadence that endangers the core of that democracy.  Beginning by reestablishing the kind of egalitarian ideals, justice and respect for the truth that the media is always trying to talk us out of respecting is more important than insisting on what those other countries can't and, perhaps, shouldn't try to achieve.   I've pointed out before that it was the freely expressed, Western style shock-jock radio in Rwanda that both encouraged the genocide and enabled it.  Yet, here, encouraging the development of the kind of violent, racist, bigoted, shock-jock style, is considered the very pinnacle of free press.

*  Just why a democracy would look to that champion of aristocratic privilege over rule of law instead of his opponent, the champion of the common  people, Terentilius, is well worth considering.   And when I have considered it I may write about it.

**  I will post a link if I can find one.  I haven't been able to so far.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

More on the Tuam Scandal

I have to thank my friend RMJ for alerting me to some problems with the story of "800 corpses of babies in a septic tank" at the Tuam institution for unwed mothers.  It would seem that the story, widely reported in the media is based mostly on conjecture and reportorial license.  How widely spread and believed can be seen from a report in the Irish Times

‘I never used that word ‘dumped’,” Catherine Corless, a local historian in Co Galway, tells The Irish Times. “I never said to anyone that 800 bodies were dumped in a septic tank. That did not come from me at any point. They are not my words.”
The story that emerged from her work was reported this week in dramatic headlines around the world.
“Tell us the truth about the children dumped in Galway’s mass graves” – The Guardian.
“Bodies of 800 babies, long-dead, found in septic tank at former Irish home for unwed mothers” – The Washington Post.
“Nearly 800 dead babies found in septic tank in Ireland” – Al Jazeera.
“800 skeletons of babies found inside tank at former Irish home for unwed mothers” – New York Daily News.
“Almost 800 ‘forgotten’ Irish children dumped in septic tank mass grave at Catholic home” – ABC News, Australia.

It would seem that the septic tank angle which, I will predict, is what most people will remember about this years from now, is based on the decades old memory of a boy who was 10 at the time of the reported discovery.   And it's not clear that what he was describing would have been a septic tank at the time that former workhouse became the institution for unwed mothers.

On St Patrick’s Day this year Barry Sweeney was drinking in Brownes bar, on the Square in Tuam. He fell into conversation with someone who was familiar with Corless’s research, and who repeated the story of boys finding bones. “I told her that I was one of those boys,” Sweeney tells The Irish Times in his home, on the outskirts of Tuam. “I got a phonecall from Catherine a couple of weeks later.”
Sweeney was 10 in 1975, and the friend he was with on that day, Frannie Hopkins, was 12. They dropped down from the two-and-a-half-metre boundary wall as usual, into the part of the former grounds that Corless and local people believe is the unofficial burial place for those who died in the home. “We used to be in there playing regular. There was always this slab of concrete there,” he says.
In his kitchen, Sweeney demonstrates the size of this concrete flag as he recalls it: it’s an area a little bigger than his coffee table, about 120cm long and 60cm wide. He says he does not recall seeing any other similar flags in their many visits to the area.
Between them the boys levered up the slab. “There were skeletons thrown in there. They were all this way and that way. They weren’t wrapped in anything, and there were no coffins,” he says. “But there was no way there were 800 skeletons down that hole. Nothing like that number. I don’t know where the papers got that.” How many skeletons does he believe there were? “About 20.”

At the Irish Times link you can read other problems with the story of the septic tank, as reported around the world and believed by, among others, the idiot whose comment embroidered on a shaky story even more to slam Catholic in general and Irish Catholics, in particular.

But the central fact of the high death rate for children at the Tuam institution, while it was being run as a place for unwed mothers should be looked into.  Until there are answers as to how the children actually died, why they died, we can't just assume we know what happened.

We certainly shouldn't believe we know what happened on the basis of what has been reported.   Ireland, which was one of the poorest countries in Western Europe at the time, is reported to have had a very high infant mortality rate.
And when the deaths occurred, in what years and why,  matters in determining culpability.  Within living memory, things were entirely different.  Even outside of institutions, where death rates are often quite a bit higher,  it's just a fact that a lot more babies died then, than now.  Even in a relatively far wealthier country.

Sixty years ago, Britain's children were born into a dangerous world.
Every year, thousands died of infectious diseases like pneumonia, meningitis, tuberculosis, diphtheria, and polio.

Infant mortality - deaths of children before their first birthday - was around one in 20.

It took some startling medical discoveries and pioneering work from paediatricians and doctors to turn around an appalling situation.

The early 1930s were a time of frustration for many doctors who powerlessly witnessed the deaths of thousands of babies and young children.

"When I was a student and newly qualified, there was an enormous area where we knew we could do nothing," Dr Leslie Temple remembers.
"We made the most of what little we could do, but over the vast area of childhood illness, all we could do was hold their hands and hope."

Poverty, poor diet and bad living conditions lay at the root of much childhood illness. 

Harold Everley Jones was one of Britain's first paediatricians, and spent 40 years working with children. He qualified as a doctor in 1934.

"I stood in a house to which I was called and was amazed to see the wallpaper moving due to the bugs underneath. Many of these houses were little more better than hovels." he recalls.

Antibiotics like penicillin changed everything  It was only in 1939 that the world's first anti-bacterial drugs, Sulphonamides, became widely available. 
They greatly reduced childhood deaths from pneumonia. Shortly afterwards, in 1944, Penicillin, the original antibiotic, was used to wage war on meningitis.  The second antibiotic to be developed, Streptomycin in 1947, tackled the horrors of TB. In 1960, a vaccination to protect against Polio was introduced to British shores from the United States.

I would guess that what was true in Britain was probably at least as true in Ireland and likely worse.  Only, there has been too much guessing in this story, already.  If not imagination.  Since that imagination is going to be heavily relied on in this story, I still recommend both William Carlos Williams Doctor Stories, informed by his personal experience as a doctor in that period, and the sections of his memoir dealing with his medical practice.   I also depend, heavily, on my mother's accounts of working as a nurse and technician in hospitals from the late 1930s until after the introduction of penicillin,  which she said was like a miracle to medical professionals used to seeing people die of diseases and infections that people my age never even heard of.

Also widely unreported is that the Irish Government and Catholic officials have both called for and begun an inquiry into the institutions for unwed mothers, not all of which were Catholic.  It would be worse than a useless waste of time if any investigations concentrated on any particular case in the past because the neglect and deaths of children are hardly confined to any country, religious orientation, social group or identifiable institution.   While attitudes towards women who are pregnant while not married or while not married to the father have changed greatly, children still die in large numbers from neglect and other causes.

The periodic stories of children who die because social services in the United States are both disgustingly underfunded and understaffed, the staff, frequently, under educated and under-trained as well.  There are also inevitable problems that come from the habits and common received thinking of social workers, trained in a particular theory or ideology of their profession.  The "keep the family together" at all costs is an ideal for which the weakest and least articulate people involved will pay that cost.   When you are dealing with children, any ethic that doesn't place their safety and needs above such institutionalized theories will, secular, religious, etc. end up with them suffering and dying.

As the paper about infanticide in the guise of baby farming recommended in the post yesterday shows, not all horrors done to children happen in institutions and to large numbers in any particular location or at any particular time.  Until a society takes responsibility for all of the children in it, worse than has even been attributed to the institution in Tuam is done.  Look at the entirely secular United States where even the mass slaughter of children in schools can't change our gun laws, the thousands of children shot dead here, every year, buried in unknown and forgotten graves haven't moved us sufficiently.

Reading the blog blather, the comments at The Guardian and other papers on this story have left me even more pessimistic about the potential of unfiltered chatter to inform people.   Most of the people who seem to believe they have something to say about this obviously are either making it up or depending on people who are making it up.  The fact is, we don't know what happened, we may never know, though it's unlikely that any one "thing" "happened" to result in almost 800 babies dying at an institution that operated over four decades.   The temptation to reduce that to a factoid or two serves to obscure reality, not to crystallize it so we know and can use that.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Dolly Parton Down From Dover

She's so real that she can wear anything and still be real.

Ysaye Sonata for Solo Violin, Op. 27, #3 David Oistrakh


Sunday, June 8, 2014

I Get Catholic and Irish Bashing Hate Mail

Note: This was posted by error, yesterday, here is a revised version of that post.

The story of the disposal of nearly 800 corpses of infants and toddlers in the old septic tank of the home for unwed mothers at Tuam in Galway, Ireland is bad enough to stand as a scandal of the Catholic Church without you falsely attributing the similar Butter Box Babies scandal at the "Ideal Maternity Home" in East Chester, Nova Scotia to the Catholic Church as well.   The two criminals in that case, William and Lila Young, were not Catholics, he was apparently some kind of a Seventh Day Adventist minister or something as well as a chiropractor, she was a midwife.  [Note: Thinking about this more, the scandal from Nova Scotia is not known to be like what happened in Tuam, it is more like the baby farming infanticide in the update, below.  So far as anyone has said there is no evidence that the babies who died in Tuam were intentionally starved to death.]

As I said the scandal in Tuam is bad enough but the stories are complicated by the fact that the site was also the home of one of the infamous British workhouses, under the British occupation.   While I can't find anything like complete records, for that work house,  I would imagine like most of them, it had an appallingly high infant and child mortality rate for longer than that and it likely had serious issues of where to bury the dead before the end of its use as a workhouse*.  Whether or not the reports of digging up human remains from the people whose houses occupy that site now are from when it was a home for unwed mothers or from the far longer period when it was a workhouse would be useful to know.   If accurately assigning blame were the object.

If you've read anything I've written on the topic you will known I've been on record as in favor of a more thorough and public exposure of the horrors of the British Workhouse and Poor Law for several years.   Workhouses were set up to be death houses with inadequate food and appalling conditions.  Entirely relevant to the present scandal in Tuam, extremely young children and infants who survived long enough were often taken from their mothers and families were routinely broken up on being condemned to the workhouse.  Under the British Poor Law being destitute made even infants outlaws sent to workhouses where the allowed daily ration of food had fewer calories than that provided for prisoners.

I am certainly not against looking at similar crimes against humanity committed by whatever institution is at fault.  I'm certainly no admirer of the Irish government in the period under question.  It was a system with entirely too much collaboration between the state and the church, both corrupted by it and both having a lot to answer for in history.  Though most of the countries in the world have a lot to answer for, as the Butter Box Babies scandal in Nova Scotia and many others like it in an entirely secular context.  Though it was common for the state to expect religious institutions to provide any provision of welfare at all.

For obvious reasons, this reminded me of the parts of William Carlos Williams memoir detailing his experiences as a young doctor working at the disease and vermin infested Nursery and Child's Hospital in Hell's Kitchen, about that same period.   With his description of the conditions it's no surprise that deadly epidemics, killing large numbers of babies were not unknown.  Neither were corruption and incompetence.  And this was in a state, in a country with far more economic resources than Ireland at the same time, a country without the heritage of the workhouses and poor law, which Ireland had imposed on it during the British occupation.  By today's standards, the infant mortality rates, especially for poor people,  were rather stunning, everywhere. It also reminded me of his horribly sad short story, Jean Beicke.  Child mortality was extremely high, especially before the discovery of antibiotics.   Among poor people it was not uncommon for babies to die of infection from the umbilical cord during the first days of life.

*  See this:


HC Deb 02 September 1880 vol 256 cc1053-4 1053

§MR. MOORE asked the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Whether his attention has been called to the statement in Dr. M'Cabe's recent Report on Belfast Workhouse, that within the six months from January to June 82 infants have died in that institution; and, if he would inform the 1054 House what per-centage of the whole number of infants this represents?

§MR. W. E. FORSTER Sir, I have seen the Report to which the hon. Member refers, and I am sorry to observe that the rate of infant mortality in Belfast Workhouse is very high. I believe it is true that there were about 82 deaths in six months. I have only this moment received an answer to an inquiry that I made as to the percentage of deaths to the whole number of infants who are in, or have passed through, the workhouse. I understand that it is believed to be about 80 per cent; but I am afraid that I cannot absolutely pledge myself to the accuracy of that statement. As I told the hon. Member yesterday, I will make further inquiry.

And also this interesting paper about the extremely high infant mortality rates in workhouses even before the far more horrific conditions that prevailed after the New Poor Law came into effect.   If I could, I would reproduce the graph of deaths in the work house during that period compared with deaths of infants from puerpural fever in Scotland during the period of 1929-1933, on page 39.  They were stunningly similar.

Also a revelation is the high number of new born children who died in the first two weeks of life due to infection.

Though, since there is no Catholic Church to bash I am skeptical that you'll see these as important, compared to the Tuam scandal.  Which, as I said, is bad enough without using the victims in an unrelated campaign of vilification of people alive today who had nothing to do with what happened then.   The Catholic Church owes the victims of its past and present wrongs a full and open confession of what was done and compensation to survivors.  It doesn't owe more in that line of shame than other institutions and governments that have a similar record, including the far more recent and ongoing cases of governments as impeccably anti-religious as your langauge. North Korea?  China?  Romania?

Update:  This paper, Bastardy and Baby Farming in Victorian England  by Dorothy L. Haller,  is worth reading because it documents the casual, commercial industry in infanticide that sprang up due to the New Poor Law.   How horrific it was can be seen in just two of the cases discussed.

The response to a proposed registration of those engaged in the trade of baby farming [you can safely read that "infanticide"] was met with outraged reaction from both the establishment and what were, I'd imagine, considered the official radical opposition.

In July 1870 the Brixton horrors perpetrated by Mrs. Waters filled the newspapers. In a matter of a few weeks, she had drugged and starved approximately 16 infants to death, wrapped their emaciated bodies in old rags and newspapers, and dumped them on deserted streets. Nine infants in precarious condition were removed from her home and taken to the Lambeth Workhouse; the majority died from thrush and fluid on the brain shortly thereafter.  This and the story of Mrs. Harnett in Greenwich, who, for a fee, took a newborn from the lying-in house of Mr. Stevens and fed it watered down sour milk, arrowroot and corn flour until it succumbed from starvation 18 days later,  led to the formation of the Infant Life Protection Society (hereafter called the ILPS) by Curgenven, Hart, and their associates. Through their dedicated efforts, and those of Mr. Charley and Mr. Robinson (MPs), The Infant Life Protection Bill 1871 -- aimed at protecting the lives of bastard children-was drawn up.

The Bill contained a clause which required the registration and supervision of nurses in the manufacturing districts who cared for children on a daily basis, and, much to the ILPS' amazement, it enraged members of the suffrage movement. Lydia Becker, editor of the Women's Suffrage Journal and leader of the Manchester branch of the National Society of Women's Suffrage, blasted the clause. Her journal reeked of the laissez-faire attitudes of the day, "officialism, police interference, and espionage," would oppress the ratepayers and infringe on the rights of the individual. She also objected to the entire registration and supervision process being handled entirely by men. 

Adversaries in the House of Commons saw it as an infringement on the rights of parents, stating, "The responsibility for the child in infancy as in later life, lies with them [parents], and we emphatically deny that the State has any right to dictate to them the way it shall be fulfilled."  In lieu of reform, the ILPS were forced to settle for yet another commission to investigate baby farming.

The commission's investigation included the testimony of Sergeant Relf, investigator in the Brixton case, which revealed facts in the case of Mary Hall, a lying-in house owner. Neighbors reported a steady stream of young pregnant women entering her home, but infants were never heard crying or seen leaving the premises. Those infants that lived long enough were farmed out, those that did not were buried in the backyard or dumped on some dark street. Neighbors reported seeing Mr. Hall feeding small bloody lumps (believed to be aborted fetuses) to his cats. When Mrs. Hall was finally arrested, she had 800 pounds in her possession; evidence of just how lucrative her murderous business was. The Metropolitan Police Superintendent testified to the difficulty of apprehending and prosecuting baby farmers. On July 10, 1871, the Select Committee on the Protection of Infant Life recommended the registration of all births and deaths, compulsory registration and supervision of lying-in houses and baby farms, all of which were included in the Infant Life Protection Act of 1872.

Dorothy Haller ended her paper this way:

At the close of the Victorian era, Curgenven and members of the Harveian Society, supporters in the House of Commons and in the House of Lords had tenaciously battled for the protection of infant life and a more equitable law regarding the financial security of illegitimate children for almost 40 years. The Victorians heightened sense of social conscience in the latter half of the 19th century certainly recognized the need for reform, but their laissez faire attitudes toward social and economic matters caused the wheels of change to turn slowly. An appeal made before The Society for the Prevention of the Cruelty to Animals in 1881, is indicative of how slowly. Their appeal for the organization of a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children took 8 years (1889) to come to fruition, 65 years after the establishment of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Obviously, the expectation of people who read with anger and horror about the bodies found at the site of the former institution for unwed mothers at Tuam are naive about how callously infants and children were treated in Victorian Britain, those institutions certainly reproduced in places under British occupation.  The New Poor Law ended only after the Second World War in Britain but its cultural impact is likely still here, now.  I would like to do more research into how the infants and children of the destitute fared in the United States during the same period but I haven't been able to get to it.  I would imagine it would vary quite dramatically from place to place but I doubt that Catholic institutions would be dependably worse than others.

On "The Slenderman" Assault

One of the things I've learned in the last 30 years is that the medium might not actually be the message but different mediums have very real and decisive differences in effect.  Pretending that electronic media, TV and radio and movies, doesn't have a vastly greater potential effect than print or word of mouth, untransmitted, is irresponsible and dangerous.    Yet our judicial system has taken the easy way out by pretending that, for the most part, those real differences, demonstrated most compellingly by the use of despots and dictators to enslave, harm and murder enormous numbers of people in the 20th century, are not there, regulating media that have proven their vastly enhanced potency and potential  danger are essentially the same thing as a two or four page newspaper put out with an 18th century press and distributed by stage coach.   I believe that, in the period in which right-wing judges have abandoned the suppression of smut in favor of total "free speech-free press" libertarianism,  we have seen one part of the judiciary, the far right, use what was once a liberal ploy to its own ends, using it to attack and likely damage if not destroy government by, of and, most important of all FOR THE PEOPLE using a vocabulary given it by the ACLU and the financially invested champions of unrestricted, unfettered media.

But the internet was supposed to take care of that, it was supposed to make Every Man a reporter, editor, publisher, it was supposed to insure that all ideas are presented so that the right ideas, the best ideas, the most idealistic of ideas wins the struggle in which, by some magical thinking, the ideas that are optimally beneficial will inevitably defeat the worst ideas, the lies, slanders and salacious libels, the calls for hatred and violence, even the calls for committing genocide.

That idea is most stunningly uninformed.  It willfully ignores the history of the past century of electronic, mass media and its use by both industry and governments.  It is willfully blind to the fact that, if anything, mass communication can use the worst in us, the laziest in us, the most addicted to the easy sensations of the unthinking excitement of a lynch mob the pleasure of in-crowd enhancement of its identity by asserting its superiority to other groups, social, ethnic, racial, gender,  etc.

This post began in reading the online discussion of the story about the nearly successful murder of a 12-year-old girl by two other 12-year-old girls inspired by some idiotic scary online story, "The Slenderman" that has, as they say, gone viral, among a cult of online devotee to this malevolent make believe figure.   Slenderman seems exactly like the kind of "person" who would appeal to and inspire the actions of those already twisted by the unnamed sickness that such "viruses" can cause, as can the very real figures such as those Adam Lanza is reported to have found inspiring.   Among the online chatter I've seen about this some of the "thinking" about it is obviously an attempt to protect the imaginary "Slenderman" from blame in his role in inspiring the diseased thinking of 12-year-olds, who are reportedly going to be tried as adults.  Our libertarian society seems to be accepting a world in which children who have been led to sick fantasies by people older than they are, have fewer protections of their real status AS CHILDREN than an imaginary man.   Even the victim has been implicated in her own attack by questions as to whether or not she was involved in some childhood cult of Slenderman fans, perhaps attacked because she wanted out.

I don't see how this can continue.  The increasing effects of mass communication to twist socieites and governments can't be swept under the Constitutional rug forever.   Eventually people will gain the language to think about and discuss the horrors that those produce, the language to contradict the current language of speech-press libertarianism.  That is inevitable, because, if anything, the internet has shown it has the power to magnify those horrors.   Eventually this reality will change peoples' thinking and it will be used politically.  
Either liberals can keep carrying water for the commercial interests that have put the anti-liberal, libertarian lies about the great good of unrestrained, unrestricted electronic mass media in their minds or they can change that and control the outcome to both maintain the really important speech freedom, that which can enhance the common good.  Or it can, once again, allow the right, which has no interest in enhancing the common good, to manipulate things as they did in a line of rulings from Buckley v Valeo to Citizens United and onward.   Liberals have no right to be irresponsible in this issue, taking the lazy and easy route of free speech, free press absolutism.

Taxes On The Farmer Feed Us All Ry Cooder

There is nothing like having to go out in your garden to work on a day when the temperatures are in the high 80s F (may as well be in the 150s F for a New Englander) having no choice but to get the work done right now, to make you think about how hard real farmers have had it, both in the period before power equipment and now that power equipment is both an economic necessity, an enormous expense and a burden and a worry all in itself.  And even more so migrant farm workers and hired and tenant farm workers.  It's not all sitting in an air conditioned cab with TV and air conditioning.

Rick Allen shared this song with me and it is so good I'm paying it forward to everyone, with thanks to Ry Cooder for his contribution to it.

We worked through Spring and Winter, through Summer and through Fall
But the mortgage worked the hardest and the  steadiest of us all
It worked on nights and Sundays, it worked each holiday
Settled down among us and it never went away

Luckily, my parents, especially my mother, took care of the worry about losing the farm to the bank by putting it under conservation easement and a family trust.  As long as we can pay the taxes we don't have to worry about keeping it and by the conservation agreement, it can't be developed.   Every time I hear about families that split up and break up and farms lost over inheritance squabbles I am grateful to them for having removed that possibility from happening to us and the farm.

Now, I've got to get out to the garden.