Body Count

June 15, 2016

AR-15More bodies have piled up due to the glut of lunatics on the American scene. Following the latest mass shooting (and in a feeble attempt to address the certain anti-Islamic hysteria that typically follows a mass shooting by Muslims) I did a simple search of mass gun deaths from 2008 to the present I came up with this:

50 dead Orlando- Muslim lunatic
14 dead San Bernardino- two Muslim lunatics
3 dead Colorado Springs- White lunatic
9 dead Roseburg Oregon- White lunatic
5 dead Chatanooga- Palestinian/Jordanian lunatic
9 dead Charleston- White lunatic
6 dead Isla Vista CA- White lunatic
3 dead Fort Hood- Muslim American lunatic
12 dead Washington- Black American Navy lunatic
5 dead Santa Monica American/Lebanese lunatic
27 dead Newtown- White lunatic
3 dead Brookfield WI- Black lunatic
6 dead Minneapolis- White lunatic
6 dead Oak Creek- White lunatic
12 dead-Aurora- White lunatic
7 dead Oakland- Korean Christian lunatic
8 dead Seal Beach- White lunatic
6 dead Tucson- White lunatic
8 dead Manchester CT- Black lunatic
3 dead Huntsville AL- White lunatic
13 dead Binghamton NY- Vietnamese lunatic
5 dead Dekalb- White lunatic
8 dead Omaha- White lunatic
32 dead Blacksburg VA- Korean lunatic

Total dead 260 (and that’s only back to 2008).

Now if you crunch those numbers of gun-dead corpses, in terms of melanin or faith you get this (note: it’s possible some of those white lunatics were also Christian lunatics):

108 dead by white lunatics
77 dead by certain and possible Muslim lunatics
23 dead by black lunatics
52 dead by miscellaneous other lunatics

or: 42% dead by white lunatics, 30% by certain and possible Muslim lunatics, 9% by black lunatics, 20% by miscellaneous other lunatics

The most common element here is not ethnicity or religion, but guns. So you might argue that the 260 dead are the responsibility of NRA lunatics. And, if you insist upon adding the 3000 (more or less) 9/11 dead by Muslim lunatics, you’d have to fairly add the tens-of-thousands dead by American lunatics going to war in Iraq chasing the wrong perpetrators.

Jim Culleny

Editor’s note: Should we be concerned about faith-based lunacy? Yes, but across the board. Lunatics love their religions; after all, in what other sphere of human thought and activity can you acceptably justify your personal hate as the will of God?

Nicholas Kristof, NYT 6/4/16

OF all the students preparing to go to college this fall, perhaps none have faced a more hazardous journey than a young woman named Sultana. One measure of the hazard is that I’m not disclosing her last name or hometown for fear that she might be shot.

Sultana lives in the Taliban heartland of southern Afghanistan, and when she was in the fifth grade a delegation visited her home to warn her father to pull her out of school, or else she would have acid flung in her face. Ever since, she has been largely confined to her high-walled family compound — in which she has secretly, and perilously, educated herself.

“I’m unstoppable,” Sultana laughs, and it’s true: She taught herself English from occasional newspapers or magazines that her brothers brought home, in conjunction with a Pashto-English dictionary that she pretty much inhaled. When her businessman father connected the house to the internet, she was able to vault over her compound walls.

“I surrounded myself with English, all day,” she told me by Skype. Today her English is fluent, as good as that of some Afghan interpreters I’ve used.

Once she had mastered English, Sultana says, she tackled algebra, then geometry and trigonometry, and finally calculus BC. She rises about 5 a.m. and proceeds to devour calculus videos from Khan Academy, work out equations, and even read about string theory.

Sultana, now 20, says she leaves her home only about five times a year — each time, she must wear a burqa and be escorted by a close male relative — but online she has been reading books on physics and taking courses on edX and Coursera. I can’t independently verify everything Sultana says, but her story generally checks out. After reading a book on astrophysics by Lawrence M. Krauss, a theoretical physicist at Arizona State University, she reached him by Skype, and he says he was blown away when this Afghan elementary school dropout began asking him penetrating questions about astrophysics.

“It was a surreal conversation,” Krauss said. “She asked very intelligent questions about dark matter.”

Krauss has become one of Sultana’s advocates, along with Emily Roberts, an undergraduate at the University of Iowa who signed up for a language program called Conversation Exchange and connected with Sultana.

 Sultana at her desk in a photo taken by her family.

By Skype, Emily and Sultana became fast friends, and soon they were chatting daily. Moved by Sultana’s seemingly unattainable dream of becoming a physics professor, Emily began exploring what it would take for Sultana to study in the United States.

With Emily’s help, Sultana has been accepted by a community college in Iowa, with a commitment by Arizona State University to take her as a transfer student a year later. Emily started a website to raise money for Sultana’s university education.

Sultana reminds us that the greatest untapped resource around the globe isn’t gold or oil, but the female half of the population. Virginia Woolf wrote that if Shakespeare had had an equally talented sister, she never would have been able to flower — and Sultana is Shakespeare’s sister. Yet it’s also clear that internet connections can sometimes be a game changer.

Sultana’s family is wary of her passion for education but surrenders to her determination. “My mom said a lot of mouths will be open, a single girl going to the Christian world,” she said. “But I will die if they stop me.”

Unfortunately, the United States isn’t helping. Last month, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul rejected her application for a student visa. That happens all the time: Brilliant young men and women are accepted by American universities and then denied visas because, under U.S. law, they are seen as immigration risks.

(As a Muslim, Sultana would also be barred by Donald Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims. I asked her what she thought of Trump, and all she would say, with quiet dignity, was: “He thinks all Muslims are bad. It’s painful.”)

Michelle Obama has pushed an impressive campaign called Let Girls Learn, yet her husband’s administration has never seemed as enthusiastic, and America routinely denies visas that would actually let girls learn. The United States spends billions of dollars fighting terrorism by blowing things up; I wish we understood that sometimes the most effective weapon against terrorists isn’t a drone but a girl with a book.

The Taliban understand this: That’s why their fighters shot Malala Yousafzai in the head. If only we were as cleareyed as the Taliban about the power of girls’ education to transform societies.

Sultana now spends her days working on calculus equations, listening to Bon Jovi and doing household chores while listening to the BBC or self-help audiobooks. It also turns out that she is a longtime Times reader and gets my email newsletter. She’s now working her way through more serious reading: Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason.”

Sultana has set up another appointment for a visa, for June 13. It won’t be Sultana who is tested but American policy itself. I’ll let you know what happens.

On Bullshit

May 20, 2016

On Bullshit
Some time ago a friend sent me a little book on the nature of bullshit, which is something much discussed but which I’d never seen or heard thoroughly analyzed until the book, titledOn Bullshit, was unexpectedly delivered to my door in a little white truck branded USPS. This was a year or so before one of the greatest bullshitters of modern times made his successful hostile takeover of one of two major political parties of the United States of America due largely to his superb skill in the art of bullshit.

The author of On Bullshit is Harry G. Frankfurt, professor emeritus of philosophy at Princeton University. Dr. Frankfurt’s major areas of interest include moral philosophyphilosophy of mind and action, and 17th century rationalism. So we can see that the good doctor is a solid member of the academic community and we can understand how On Bullshit may have naturally developed from those interests.

Dr. Frankfurt’s book is not a silly satire intended to evoke derisive laughter at the expense of those who practice it, but is a thoughtful and implicitly funny examination of a rhetorical tool employed by homo-sapiens since the time Cain explained to God his part in the homicide of his brother Abel. It’s implicitly funny because the idea of bullshit being the subject of a scholarly send-off is funny. It’s like learning your uncle’s often told fish story had been awarded a Pulitzer.

It’s safe to say there’s never been a bullshit famine on the planet. It’s like kudzu, that invasive vine of Southeast Asia and our own deep south that eventually covers everything. The utility of bullshit, especially in certain professions like politics is probably the reason for its prevalence, but there is another. In a novel cited by Dr. Frankfurt a character says, “One of the first things my father taught me was, ‘Never lie when you can bullshit your way through,’” which goes to that other reason. Bullshit is often tolerated and is usually not considered as morally reprehensible as an outright lie (although lies too are coming into wider acceptance). As Frankfurt observes this is probably not because bullshit is morally superior to lying but that “the consequences of its being used are less severe for the bullshitter than for the liar.” The interesting thing about this, Frankfurt notes, is that the idea of “bullshitting your way through” (which is too often winked at) involves a “program of producing bullshit”. Whereas a liar is constrained by the truth (a liar must believe a truth in order to produce a true lie –no pun intended) —a bullshitter has more freedom. A bullshitter’s focus is panoramic (I love that), the author says. It’s not particular.

Now, for the purpose of this column (which is to present Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican candidate for president of the United States, as one of the hands-down most masterful and successful political bullshitters of modern times) Frankfurt gets to what I think is the foundation of Donald Trump’s political rhetoric: a bullshitter, he says, “does not limit himself to inserting a certain falsehood at a specific point, and is thus not constrained by the truths surrounding that point or intersecting it.”  He goes on to say, as if elaborating on a particular Trump speech, that this lack of constraint is more expansive than a lie, with spacious opportunities for improvisation, color and imaginative play, suggesting a certain artistic bent as in the familiar term, “bullshit artist” (Trump as artist) and art as well as its intent (unlike analytical discourse) is often oblique.

In fact, our good doctor says, what a bullshitter misrepresents is not fact nor what he takes to be fact. What he intends to obscure is his enterprise. What he misrepresents is what he’s up to. Frankfurt states that the truth value of what a man like Trump states “is of no central interest to him” and that his motive is unconcerned with how things really are. The truth is simply inconsequential to a bullshit artist.

The crux of On Bullshit may be found in its observation that a bullshitter, “…does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.” And when things made up come up against reality and you have to, let’s say, “be presidential” it requires new BS and so we see Trump lately moon-walking, shuffling backward, but without the grace of Michael Jackson, as in this. or this, or this, etc.

As I’ve listened to Trump speeches over the past few months (overworking my brain biceps to the point of wearing ice pack hats) I’ve come away amazed not only at how few actual ideas they contain, but how he plows along stringing long streams of thoughtless word-beads as if fashioning a colorful noose of nada to strangle the minds of listeners to the point of narcolepsy. In fact I’d been completely stupefied until I pulled Harry Frankfurt’s little book from a stack, read it again and realized that fate (through the generosity of my philosopher friend) had conspired to shed some light on the profound absurdity of the triumph of Trump.

Wrapping up, I’d like to offer one more of Harry Frankfurt’s observations because it suggests the danger that men like Trump, in positions of power, pose to us all. He says the bullshitter “…does not reject the authority of truth as the liar does … he pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.”

by Jim Culleny

A Day in the Life

May 6, 2016

What a fabulous piece of art this is.


April 8, 2016

Oil Sands Mine

Bullshit and Self-Love

March 18, 2016

Trump's my guy

Let me begin with the basics of my argument:

In spite of your legitimate anger at being sold out by our political system, if you support Trump, be ashamed. If you support Trump and you go to church, stop wasting your time, stay home, church-going is not doing you or the rest of us any good …besides, you’re clearly missing the point. If you support Trump and wave a flag, stop wasting your time, save your waving arm, it’s not doing your nation or your character any favors.

As you should know by now, in such dangerous times it would be especially odd and foolhardy to think someone like Trump will lead to salvation. Trump is not out to save anyone but himself. It’s his nature. It’s readily apparent that for Trump all things point to Trump. He’s been having a life-long love affair with his name for God’s sake! All Trump-talk is of superiority: Trump’s. And you don’t have to pry Trump’s lines apart to learn what he’s about, he crows about it every time he gets a whiff of a camera or a mike. Vows of his incestuous self-love fly out spontaneously and thoughtlessly, so don’t go claiming ignorance if he gets his political way.Trump’s rhetoric is a tsunami of narcissist goop which he plasters in thirty-foot letters on the facades of as many skyscrapers as he can and rattles off in “speeches” which he repeats over and over again to see how much of saying-nothing he can get away with —plenty, it seems.  

Watch and listen to the abundance of nothing that fill the ego purges Trump and his propaganda partner, Mainstream Media, must think of as “poll-bait” or “ratings” (respectively) —you know: the laying it on the line, the saying what he thinks— although what Trump thinks is enough to give you night sweats and heaves. And because Trump is proudly anti-political, self-absorbed and amoral, he’s actually made clear how corrupt our buck-begotten politics is. But what’s even worse is that despite his crude, brute, ignorant transparency, Donald Trump is king of the GOP heap, which should be a signal as clear as an air-raid horn that there’s sure be constitutional shrapnel whizzing in our future.

Yes, despite his often expressed anti-constitutional and moral obscenities, Trump has many zealous followers, which is a sign darker than The Donald himself. But what’s a narcissist without sycophants, even understandably angry ones?

Conservative columnist David Brooks agrees. While acknowledging the reasons angry voters have become Trumpkins, Brooks says, “Trump is epically unprepared to be president. He has no realistic policies, no advisers, no capacity to learn. His vast narcissism makes him a closed fortress. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know and he’s uninterested in finding out.

But Trump was never a politician, he’s a celebrity and in the United States being a celebrity is one of the greatest achievements.  Being famous and/or rich is what it’s all about in our shining Trumpville on a hill. We admire and respect anyone who’s achieved the status of lounging upon a thick bed of Benjamins. But being both rich and a celebrity is, wow, jackpot! It entitles one to be a contender for the presidency of the United States of America no matter how vacant your suit might be, how much hate you spew, or how many lies you can jam into a media-subsidized prime-time rant. And Trump’s no chump when it comes to any of those.

In fact, this week, according to Brooks, Politico reporters Daniel Lippman, Darren Samuelsohn and Isaac Arnsdorf fact-checked 4.6 hours of Trump speeches and press conferences (and) found more than five dozen untrue statements or one every five minutes.

“His remarks represent an extraordinary mix of inaccurate claims about domestic and foreign policy and personal and professional boasts that rarely measure up when checked against primary sources,” Brooks wrote. “He is a childish man running for a job that requires maturity.”

Brooks ends by saying that sometimes political victors do not deserve our respect. George Wallace won elections, but to endorse those outcomes would be a moral failure.

And so it is with Trump. But so it is with those who follow and support such a man. When you lose your mind to anger, fear and hate to the extent that you put your faith in a nasty, egotist (a faux-messiah) you become as much an enemy to decent life as your perceived enemies. You become your own enemy by giving yourself up to the bull of a master bullshitter. Bullshit and self-love are all that hold The Donald together, but it’s not enough to hold a country together. To keep a pluralistic nation like the United States from descending into ruthless order or chaos you need a lot less “I” and a lot more “we”.

So, good luck in your anger management strategies unless they involve voting for Donald Trump —don’t expect any respect for that. It’s a strategy that hasn’t played out well in history.

by Jim Culleny


Deja vu

January 10, 2016

I am the one percentAs I continue reading John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath I continue to be startled by the parallels to the present moment in the United States. With just slight alterations —a word here and there, a phrase— Steinbeck’s narrative could be easily be inserted in a paragraph in an article in any current media venue today, without missing a beat.

Steinbeck was writing of the great migration west of 1930s dustbowl farmers during the period of the great depression and the economic disparities that drove some to starvation while others prospered. What he portrays is a society starkly divided between rich and poor which is not unlike that in which we live where most wealth floats to the top 1% while the rest spiral down more deeply into poverty, non-living wages and homelessness. Then as now it was all about jobs. The conditions causing joblessness may not have been the same then as now but the motivation of elites like the Koch brothers, big bankers, corporate and hedge fund managers, etc. to drive wages down stems from the same profound greed. And the method used to drive wages down was, then as now, to pit the poor against the poor *(or, in 2016, to pit the diminishing middle class against the poorer). This is now done on both a national and global scale, of course, pitting foreign workers against domestic workers through trade pacts such as NAFTA and the current TPP, but the method portrayed by Steinbeck is precisely the same:

“And the migrants streamed in on the highways,” Steinbeck wrote, “When there was work for a man, ten men fought for it—fought with a low wage. If that fella’ll work for thirty cents, I’ll work for twenty-five…If he’ll take twenty-five, I’ll do it for twenty…No, me, I’m hungry. I’ll work for fifteen. I’ll work for food. Me, I’ll work for a little piece of meat.”

It was like that, and still is. At a time when the stock market remains high and corporate profits soar into the millions and billions while wages remain stagnant, or fall, it’s as if we’re caught in an echo of past events, a cruel déjà vu engineered by politicians and lobbyists (especially of one party) and owners of private interests fattening themselves on the misery and angst of others.

Steinbeck again:

“And this was good, for wages went down and prices stayed up. The great owners were glad and they sent out more handbills (read: pushed more trade agreements) to bring more people in. And wages went down and prices stayed up. And pretty soon now we’ll have serfs again.”

And then as now there was consolidation —acquisitions and mergers to get an even bigger piece of the pie:

“And…the great owners and the companies invented a new method (they) bought a cannery. And … cut the price of fruit below the cost of raising it. And as cannery owner he paid himself a low price for the fruit and kept the price of canned goods up and took his profit. And the little farmers who owned no canneries lost their farms, and they were taken by the great owners, the banks, and the companies who also owned the canneries. As time went on, there were fewer farms. The little farmers moved into town for a while and exhausted their credit, exhausted their friends, their relatives (and fell into homelessness). And the roads were crowded with men ravenous for work, murderous for work.”

And, as if predicting the anger that elevates bigots and egomaniacs like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz to the position of saviors, Steinbeck goes on to give us our current circumstances as a sequel of America Past:

And for the companies and the banks it worked: “The fields (profits) were fruitful, and starving men moved on the roads, Steinbeck wrote. “Their granaries (portfolios) were full (while) the children of the poor grew up rachitic, and the pustules of pellagra swelled on their sides. The great companies did not know that the line between hunger (or extreme inequity) and anger is a thin line. And money that might have gone to wages went for gas, for guns, for agents and spies, (for lobbyists, for media companies)… On the highways the people moved like ants and searched for work, for food. And the anger began to ferment.”

And that anger, coupled with ignorance and hate, is not only splitting apart one of our two major political parties, but may well split apart the nation and turn us in a direction starkly away from the ideals set down in our constitution as demagogues, like lice, prospered.


*Parenthetical remarks, mine.


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