Charlie HebdoBeing born with thick skin is one of the blessings of life liberty and even the pursuit of happiness. Happy is the man or woman who is not threatened by nonsense.  

In this era of guns, bombs and sectarian hysteria, having a thick skin is like wearing a permanent Kevlar psychic vest. A thick skin protects you from the verbal, written and graphic slings and arrows of not only the offenses of others but of blowback of your own as well. Thick skin, having properties to deflect snark (psychological or theological) has this built-in cooling off property. Gives you time to think. You do not lash out first. You think. Unfortunately some do not like to think and this might be at the crux of our problems.

Thick skins are especially protective against ideas that push the envelope of civilized conventions. Among such ideas are those that flow from religious scriptures. At the best end of the spectrum, scriptures tend to bend the truth just enough to make the bending palatable, but at the opposite end call for a total rejection of reason, science and fraternity. Also affected at that extreme are two other historical ideals: liberty, equality.

“Liberty Equality Fraternity” is French for “stability”.

On a religious plane (one I admit I don’t fly): it’s well known that a religious person with a thick skin is on of the great blessings of God, especially in a pluralistic society. But a religious person with a thin skin is often tight with Satan, linked in a bond of hate —sectarian skin with the thickness of tissue paper causes fanatics —ones who will hurl themselves passionately into Satan’s bonfire while raking a Kalashnikov through the ranks of infidel cartoonists in the offices of a satirical magazine.

When in doubt, think, “thick skin”.

Thin-skinned members of sects tend to rant against those who offend God. And liberals often gloss over such declarations. But it’s not unreasonable to assume that what’s really offensive to any god worth his or her salt is the idea that God (The Almighty) would be offended by the predictable utterances of such flawed and clueless creatures as homo sapiens —who some say are under God’s wing.

S/He must be proud. .

There is one question religious fanatics will never ask themselves: why would God, being omniscient and already knowing what to expect, be offended? God probably got over that eons ago.

Religious offense (or any other psychological offense, verbal or graphic) is not only an affect from the outside, but is also an interior matter. Giving offense is not offense’s only voluntary aspect, taking offense is also responsible for trouble —both tango in violence’s spotlight.

The religious authorities of Jesus’ time thought Jesus offended God, but the truth was: Jesus offended them —them, their doctrines and authority. What Jesus suggested was that the real offenses against God were perpetrated by the faux-spiritual, the sanctimonious, the self-righteous.

Offensive ideas vary with the political and theological winds. It just seems more likely to me that God would take offense at the arrogance of anyone who assumes they know what offends God. Better to take the risk of offending those peddling crazy ideas than to let those ideas fester and erupt.

by Jim Culleny

Christmas for Corporations

December 20, 2014

It’s CPale Riderhristmas for corporations! A majority of congressional and executive elves have loaded Santa’s sack with bundles of compliance and servitude which he delivered pre-holiday, as if he couldn’t wait to please his masters. He popped in via megabank chimneys, and arrayed the goodies under gold-and-diamond-studded trees. There the green things stood wrapped in garlands of thousand dollar bills which, by corporate tradition, will be burned in a New Year bonfire upon which the poor and middle class will be spun on spits.

This holiday giveaway is, of course, the recent, congressionally-concocted legal permission for the same banks that gutted the economy in the run-up to 2008 to go ahead and do it again —and, again, dump the inevitable bail-outs into the laps of taxpayers. The bill, ghost written by Citibank, is called the CRomnibus bill by some, but Crummybus by those who’ll be hauling the freight of big banks when the S hits the F.

Santa, what a guy! It’s enough to make you want to barbecue Dasher or Dancer, or the fat little guy in red himself. But, the joke’s on us as it has been since the first Noel when angels did say to certain rich bankers in big beds where they lay fleecing their sheep.

Is it time for pitchforks yet?

It’s absurd, isn’t it?  A provision in the recently passed government-funding CRomnibus bill was slipped into the 1,600-page, $1.1 trillion spending bill. It gave big banks permission to once again steal from the least among us. It did this by eliminating a regulation in the post crash 2008 Dodd-Frank law that prohibited banks from “…trading some of their most exotic financial instruments which had been covered by the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation). The rub was (and now is again) that, sure the FDIC insures your deposits against bank defaults, but when big bankers who do greedy, risky things to make billions are bailed out by government you wind up contributing chunks of that insurance money to the treasury in bail-outs to the crooks who risked it!

This is another example of an historical, political truth: laws are made by and for the rich. Any collateral effect that may be beneficial to anyone but the rich is just a necessary (and usually temporary) evil put in place to keep the crowd under control or to salve the tenuous guilt of lawmakers. This is especially true in so-called democracies. Although human decency occasionally creeps into the thinking of politicians and financial plutocrats it is eventually overridden by the impulse to greed, therefore: Dodd Frank and its corrective, H.R. 83, the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015, aka, CRomnibus. And greed and self-interest win again.

What’s important for average and poor Americans to realize is the evident fact that the United States is once again becoming the wild west of social, economic and legal inequity. The US is The place to be if, as a business, you want the freedom to pursue your self-interest regardless of its social, economic and environmental impact —as long as your self interest advances the interests the plutocracy.

Over the past few years, for instance, we’ve heard a lot about the Koch brothers because they are today (in terms of mythic American westerns) the swaggering ranchers who come in with cash and goons, kill off the buffalo, slaughter the natives, fence off a billion acres, control the water rights, the local paper, the sheriff, town council and judge, then make a showy appearance at the little church for Sunday prayer. What I want to know is where’s the Pale Rider when we need him? Oh, my God, Clint’s a Republican!

The Kochs are the elite, labor-crushing, corporatists who back ALEC —the American Legislative Exchange Council. But what the terms “exchange” and “legislation” in ALEC’s name refer to is the process in which corporations exchange with congress the text of bills they’ve written, along with greasy, good-faith “donations” (legal bribes, thanks to the Supreme Court). Congressional members, in turn, then enter that dictated text into legislation. In many cases corporate wording appears in legislation verbatim.

One example of how this works happened in Republican Governor Scott Walker’s Wisconsin. A Headline at The Huffington Post sums it up: Koch-tied Group Pushes New Union-Busting Bill in Wisconsin. In this case the ruse being foisted on voters is the euphemism “right to work” as if the choice really was about a right to work. What that term actually means in its intended effect is “the right to work for less”.

The gist of the bill written by ALEC and presented to Wisconsin’s GOP-controlled legislature has to do with busting public employee unions. But private sector unions are certainly affected as well. As the Huff Post article says, “Now out-of-state special interests and the Wisconsin GOP will use that drop in (public sector) membership to argue that private sector workers deserve the same “choice.” The poison pill for private sector unions is likely to be a model bill from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) with the Orwellian name of “right to work.”

Whether it’s reversing common sense legislation or busting unions, govbiz Santa is working day and night throughout the year, in the USA and globally, to bring the fattest possible gifts to his boys and girls whether they’ve been nice or not. And, even when they’re “nice”, they usually have their naughty not-so-hidden agenda operating underground.

So, if not Clint Eastwood who, Elizabeth Warren on a horse with serape and cigarillo?

How about you and me with all of the above —and pitchforks?

by Jim Culleny

Dirty Laundry

November 7, 2014




.dirty laundry
“You can’t sanitize your dirty laundry and then not offer up any real solutions. Humanity has an inherent need to protect itself and there are always more good and honest people willing to fight to make things right.”

I read than this morning. It’s the closing remark of an article at The Daily Kos about Arnold Abbot, a 90 year old man in Fort Lauderdale, Florida who’s been illegally feeding homeless people —gratis.

The law that makes Arnold Abbot a felon has been explained by Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler. Seiler says he has to take care of Fort Lauderdale business owners and residents. Since his city is a major tourist destination, the city’s economy depends on being attractive, and the city authorities say having homeless people visible on the streets doesn’t  help that.

“The parks have just been overrun and were inaccessible to locals and businesses,” Seiler said.

Before getting into the rationale of a law that makes a man a felon for feeding people, just stop a second and think: there is actually a law in Florida which says you will be arrested if you feed hungry people without making them pay for it. You may not choose to feed people on some streets in Florida if they are too destitute to feed themselves. You will actually be arrested for feeding hungry people on certain streets in Florida.

Imagine this: just yesterday Jesus offered a piece of bread and fish to some of the homeless in Fort Lauderdale and was summarily crucified on the beach by uniformed police who sat at his feet in the warm sand casting lots for his chef’s jacket. He was being so commercially destructive, you know.

Has it occurred to you that something seriously bent and immoral is going on, not only in Florida, but in the rest of the country? I’m not talking about illegal immigration or same sex marriage or gay sex or gun control or any of the red-meat “moral” issues certain factions lose sleep over. I’m talking about the degradation of a fundamental sense of decency toward others by those in our upper echelons (and their fearful constituents). The ones who run businesses and make laws such as the one making it a felony to feed hungry people on the street in sight of others —offending those who have plenty to eat, ruining their shopping experience, making tourists uncomfortable, screwing up business —the ones, as the quote says, who want to sanitize our dirty laundry “and then not offer up any real solutions.”

Well, what might be a real solution to homelessness and hunger?

Jobs for everyone might help. Imagine that, everybody working¸ bringing home the bacon. Or how about a minimum wage— everybody making, not a killing, but enough to maintain the dignity of having a place to live while bringing home the bacon. These are two simple and reasonable solutions but ones blocked or opposed by the party that voters (and non-voters —especially) just put in control of the United States House and Senate. The party that has made it their six-year-long priority not to find ways to create jobs, not to find ways to establish a decent floor to wages, but (as made clear by Republican Mitch McConnell)  to make Barack Obama a one-term president. The party that has spent the last six years throwing up red herrings in attempts to legislate against families, women, homosexuals, workers, the poor and the middle class in order to make Barack Obama a one-term president.

Does anyone see the irony in this latest election?

But the election is not the only irony, another is that this obviously anti-poor political party has just won a solid victory in a nation of so-called Christians. Christians who have feeding multitudethrown their Jesus under the bus in favor of the party of Caesar (a one-time CEO of an Imperialist Roman monopoly) who crucified Jesus for anti-monopolistic practices such as dignifying the poor by being their advocate not only in word, but at the same time offering them food (see above) and medical care (healing the lame and blind, etc.). And without pay, no less! In Fort Lauderdale Jesus would be trundled off like Arnold Abbot, bleeding heart that he was. But Fort Lauderdale is not alone. There are other, similar laws in Daytona Beach, Houston, and at least 30 other cities.

The problem for those who’d prefer to hide our dirty laundry —who want to discourage people from not looking for jobs that don’t exist by preventing Arnold Abbot from buying them lunch— is that you can’t sanitize your dirty laundry by jailing good people for being compassionate and generous. Unless, of  course, you want to lose your place in the queue to heaven by going against the example of your Lord.

Capitalism and Christianity (of the kind Jesus practiced —but as a Jew) just do not mix. Yet here we are in an overwhelmingly rich “Christian” nation arresting 90 year-old men for inviting Jesus in and clothing him and feeding him as we’ve been instructed to do by the very person 77% of us claim to worship.

I for one don’t buy it.

by Jim Culleny

A Question of Will

October 10, 2014

ISISWhat’s with ISIS?

ISIS it the latest demon to come down the pike: irrational, brutal and bloodthirsty, faux-pious, faux-devout; but it’s really nothing more than another instance of what we do to each other —another historical example of what we are, in part, about. There’s nothing new about these men in black except perhaps the modernity of their technological clout.

ISIS (which calls itself the Islamic State) is, in barbaric terms, similar to earlier religious entities. It’s not an expression of an unfathomable god but of the very plain and ordinary human will to dominance and power. God is just a rationale. But God often is just a rationale for the sort of fear-inducing brutality which (today) is ISIS, Death’s latest instrument, which now taints Islam.

Given the late video evidence it’s probable that God says things like this to ISIS:

“Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”

But in that case god (not Allah, but Yahweh) was not commanding ISIS, but was instead pumping up the Old Testament Israelite king, Saul. It may have been another time, but the divine MO was exactly the same: a convenient god, in service for the political ends at hand.  And Saul, being a shrewd and devout guy, did not shrink from God’s command. He

“…attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, near the eastern border of Egypt. He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword.” —Samuel 15.  

Saul may even have beheaded a few; but there was no social media then as we have now so we’ll never know. But if there had been it’s likely Saul would have used it to scare the loin-cloths off potential adversaries.

Nicholas Kristof , in the New York Time recently, suggested the current opinions of many about Islam do not take into account either the lives of non-violent Muslims nor the history of violence which has also been practiced by claimants of other religions.

Kristof notes that Christianity has encompassed the likes of “…the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and also the 13th century papal legate who in France ordered the massacre of 20,000 Cathar men, women and children for heresy, reportedly saying: Kill them all; God will know his own.” And Kristof went on to mention the Congo warlord who styled himself a Pentecostal pastor…” suggesting that all who claim to be sheltered by the umbrella of God are actually themselves the ones who rain death and fashion the lightning bolts they hurl at innocents.

And the beat goes religiously on: on one hand take the Hindu, Gandhi; on the other the fanatic Hindu who assassinated him. And while today’s Dalai Lama is venerated as a humanitarian, the fifth Dalai Lama ordered children to be slaughtered “like eggs smashed against rocks.”

In fact much of what has been passed off as religion has nothing to do with God, neither then nor now. What brings us to the brink of condemnation of all Muslims today is the historical proximity of a hoard of psychopaths who claim the inspiration of Allah. They threaten us here and now, but the so-called god-worshipping psychopaths of the past were no less threatening in their ruthlessness to those who lived in their time. Jews before the Inquisition or “infidels” under the knife of ISIS were and are caught in political cogs, not spiritual ones, because religion really is more about politics than it is about God.

In his The Evolution of God, Robert Wright discusses how in 2300 BC Mesopotamia “The melding of religious beliefs or concepts…(was) a common way to forge cultural unity in the wake of conquest, and often…what gets melded is the gods themselves.” What Wright is talking about are the effects of politics on religions; or more accurately how religions are expressions of political power. And Wright goes on to show how this was true not only in Mesopotamia, but in Israel, and later in Roman dominated Palestine and (I would argue) right up to the present moment.

Wright tracks the many gods of the Middle East and how with every invasion and conquest the gods of victors and vanquished grew more or less powerful. He tracks this political progression of gods from polytheism through monolatry to monotheism until, finally, Yahweh, one of the gods of Israel has defeated all other gods to become the one God. But in the meantime during those centuries of political upheaval and change everyone claimed their god as their protector and made sure their deeds, constructive or destructive, were sanctioned by their god. God is always the perfect, unarguable excuse because my god is always flawless, as the poem suggests:

…….All Gods may contradict themselves
…….without flaw, say men
…….(who always give their God
…….the benefit of a doubt
…….in any argument)

The political forces that make ISIS possible are not new. They have to do with the condition in which people live, their hopes, disappointments, the oppression they suffer, the inequities, their humiliations, grievances, angers, hates, you name it. Roll all of that into the politics of religion along with the global issues we ignore and fail to address and you have a festering planet with a certain future of chronic outbreaks of this or that ISIS no matter how many bombs, drones and troops at your disposal.

Hope is not a question of religion it’s a question of enlightened will.

by Jim Culleny

Related: Bill Maher

Police State

September 20, 2014

With Mute Assent

August 15, 2014

Ferguson 02

There’s are good and prudent reasons not to have armies policing citizens; they have to do with issues of function and mental attitude. A police force is established to protect citizens against lawbreakers, armies are created to fight wars. It’s all about training and mindset. A police force with a military state of mind will find an enemy because, like nature itself, we and our armies abhor vacuums.

Of the many human inclinations, we (especially of western civilization) are creatures of accumulation. We cram empty spaces with stuff —our houses brim and overflow into landfills; we stuff empty minds with stuff —jam them with useless info while discarding wisdom to make room; we forever invent new stuff and always find new reasons to use it.

We invented the wheel and rolled over everything. We invented the light bulb and lit up the world. We invented vaccination and decimated disease. We invented the atom bomb and gave it an immediate tandem tryout in Japan to demonstrate it worked. We invented guns and (fulfilling the fiscal dreams of the NRA) the world became a collection of armed camps looking for a fight. And now, as the federal government unloads new and surplus military paraphernalia —guns, helmets, grenade launchers, armored personnel carriers, flak jackets, camo suits, boots— on local police forces, an ill wind smelling of teargas and gun power, is filling vacuums of our own making.

Almost inevitably, as a poem says:

cops with army stuff
use more army stuff,
find more reasons

with more reasons
sometimes kill

tasers, small tanks, flack vests
big  muscle guns, jackboots

toughen up
with  army stuff

turn up heat
see if gizmos work
go boom rattatat
zap hurt

The most recent vacuum into which our growing domestic army has been sucked is called Ferguson Missouri, a town in which a war-equipped police force took to the streets to compel both outraged citizens and an inconvenient media to shut up.. Citizens were outraged because another unarmed man, young and not coincidentally black, was gunned down in the street in broad daylight. But no one had to call the police because the police were already on the scene. In fact, the police did it.

The camouflaged Ferguson troops (who could nevertheless clearly be seen) geared up for the apocalypse with heavy armament, in Kevlar vests emblazoned “POLICE”, backed up with tank-like vehicles, faced off with an enemy armed only with signs and shouted exclamations such as: “Don’t shoot me!” Most of that enemy happened to be black because, incident after recent incident, unarmed young black men have been shot and killed by vigilantes and police: Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Ezell Ford and now, Ferguson’s Michael Brown. It should come as no surprise that things finally reached critical mass in at least one black community. Call Ferguson a tipping point.

What’s happening? What’s happening  is that our vaunted system, based upon the equal application of law, is being outed as one that is just not. Journalist Glenn Greenwald in his book, Liberty and Justice for Some, lays out the reality that has eclipsed an ideal never realized:

“From the nation’s beginnings, the law was to be the great equalizer in American life, the guarantor of a common set of rules for all. But over the past four decades, the principle of equality before the law has been effectively abolished. Instead, a two-tiered system of justice ensures that the country’s political and financial class is virtually immune from prosecution, licensed to act without restraint, while the politically powerless are imprisoned with greater ease and in greater numbers than in any other country in the world.”

Greenwald does not exaggerate. Our prison population stands now at more than 2.4 million or about 8% of the population —the highest in the world. 40% of these are black, although blacks are only just under 14% of the population. Anyone with an open mind who pays attention to the news knows this has more to do with the way justice is meted out in the US than it does with the inherent character of people of color.

In the aftermath of the economic collapse of 2008 virtually none of the crooks responsible: politicians, shyster bank executives, junk bond marketers, or CEOs of any failed (or too-big-to-fail) financial institution has seen the inside of a jail cell, but anyone stealing a loaf of bread from a convenience store has probably found their way there. Our legal system protects the rich and powerful and their police forces behind heaps of Benjamines stacked higher than the walls of the Department of Justice. In fact, justice is not served it’s dished out to each according to his financial means.

Looking at Ferguson, Missouri —it’s massed police, its clouds of tear gas, is guns, it’s combat gear, its blue-uniformed gun-men, its official belligerence, its killing of unarmed men — is not something that conjures up the American dream. Instead it conjures a glimpse of an American future that signals that the dream and its tortured democracy is dying before our eyes, with our mute ascent.

Jim Culleny


Same as it Ever Was

August 1, 2014

PlatoI read an essay recently by John Michael Greer in his blog, The Archdruid Report. It ends with this:

“(now) I’ll … return to the ordinary business of chronicling the decline and fall of industrial civilization.”

Ominously, the essay ends there after Greer has run through what he suggests are three effective ways to deal with the”…the decidedly mixed bag that human existence hands us.” The Greeks, he says, tackled this mixed bag head-on in three of their schools of philosophy: Epicurean, Stoic and Platonic.

According to Greer, students of the philosopher Epicurus, Epicureans, start with the premise that life is better than death. Most of us would agree (some more grudgingly than others) while many —those who find their backs chronically against the wall— concur most heroically and press on with life anyway.  But there are those who have an absolutist, otherworldly bent and simply do not value earthly lives, their own or others, so highly—suicide bombers, for instance, or fundamentalists longing for the “end days” and Armageddon. Epicureans do not long for end days and, by and large, most of the rest of us if given the option prefer to stay alive with as little TV-style blood-letting as possible.

The Epicureans of Greek philosophy focus on the pleasures life offers (but, as is typical in Greek philosophy, with moderation). This is expressed, Greer says, in the “…calm realism you…often seen in people who’ve been through hard times and come out the other side in one piece.” We in the contemporary First World, unlike people wrung dry in the great depression, find this view hard to adopt because we’ve been through “…an age of extravagance and excess.” We expect pleasure to be almost infinite. To help comprehend this, think wall-sized TVs with ultra-bass surround-sound, cars that parallel park on their own and landfills of waste the size of tiny Himalayas that dot our landscape: pleasure without moderation.

Another Greek view, which comes at life’s dark side from another angle, is called Stoic. Stoics realize that, good or bad, whatever happens, we’re here now so what are we going to do about it? We each must choose a response. Stoicism is an approach that recognizes the value of change and action (often at the risk of life) to rectify those aspects of life that are unjust, dangerous, absurd, etc. —not because this life has no value, but because it does and the risks involved in change are worth it, not only for ourselves but for others.

Digging heels in against change would not be the Stoic’s way according to Greer. By this standard, there are probably few Stoics in the Tea-Party, the US House of Representatives, on Wall Street, in  extreme religious sects, or among white supremacists where progress is often anathema. Among these groups change is seen as a cramping of decadent me-first life-styles, an assault upon the word of God or a slap in the face of belief in traditional racial or male superiority.

Finally, Greer gives us the Platonists. Plato imagined something beyond perception: a reality behind the perceived, a view which shares something of the magical thinking we find in religion and politics today. Aristocles, nicknamed Plato, taught that this reality is independent of human whim and wish.

Star-gazing astrophysicist, Sir Arthur Eddington, may have been loosely channeling Plato when he said, “Something unknown is doing we don’t know what,”  which is suggestive of what Chinese poet Lao Tzu wrote twenty-six centuries earlier: “Heaven conforms to the Way (Tao). The Tao conforms to its own nature.”

I’m not a Platonist in a magical thinking sense, but may be in a scientific one, which is to say, if scientific method hypothesizes an invisible reality (such as “dark matter”) I’m more inclined to accept it than if it’s a claim of “revealed” truth. Why? Because science, in an attempt to understand that which changes (which is everything we experience), follows a rigorous experimental method designed to get past static “revelation”. The difference between this and a religious approach is that when science hits the wall it says, we don’t know but will continue trying. I like science’s structural humility.

Scientists, when they hit the wall of the unknown, are, like all of us, left only with something like astrophysicist, Eddington’s “something unknown is…” remark.  Being a curious species, it’s frustrating not to know; and being a species which names, we must name it:  God, Tao, The Unknown or Something.

In our time philosophies and religions are at war. Maybe, as the Talking Heads sang, this is “the same as it ever was”.  However, the singular difference is that the stakes are much more profound because our technology is magnificently more powerful and our willful ignorance more catastrophic.

When we have Senators and congressmen who assume the attitudes of priests and shamans while enjoying fortunes built by scientific method we have the symptoms of societal schizophrenia with all of schizophrenia’s delusions writ large. When we ignore the harm we’re doing to the planet and each other for the sake of our religious or ideological beliefs, dismissing the damage with ironically hopeful visions of a biblical apocalypse, we make more certain that we’ll have one —which may or may not be the same as it ever was but is profoundly more unacceptable.

Jim Culleny


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