The right to take money from rich people

I start by observing that the natural order of things is that each person cringes in a cave, waiting for starvation or an animal to kill him. I progress to the tribe, where the biggest, toughest bastard pounds your skull in if you don't do what he says or give him what he wants. In no natural setting is there anything like a 'right'.

The idea of a 'right' is a construction of society. At some point, the biggest, toughest bastard looked up and thought, "if I don't leave this guy some food, he's going to die and I'll have to do all the work myself." There was no 'right' to food. It was in the best interest of that chieftain to let him keep some.

As societies got more complicated, we figured out that it was really useful to let the lowlifes have 'ownership' of some stuff (I add apostrophes to 'ownership' because I think it was an illusion; the king could, and often did, come along and change the ownership to back himself). Turns out that having the continuity of 'ownership' allowed the worker to do some planning, including rearing more little workers. Kings like that.

All along, there was 'right' to ownership. It's a thing that some leader decided was a good idea and that it served his purposes. I know it's extreme but it is literally true that nobody ever gave one minute's thought to the idea of 'right' until, with some quibbles, the industrial era and the French Revolution.

At that point, the workers realized they outnumbered the kings. They realized that they were being screwed and so they invented 'rights'. The first right was the right be be killed if you were a rich asshole who said, "let them eat cake" (though I know that's actually fiction). What's true is that, in response to an idea of ownership that left most people poor, the workers killed everybody. In droves.

The cool thing about that is that they actually did define rights (no more permanent, really, than the right defined by kings, but a little more durable because they support the interests of many people) and acted on them. They encoded notions of property and obligation. (And that includes a thirty five hour work week, highly progressive taxation, and a whole lot of stuff rich people hate.) The reason that I come to this point is to make clear. Rights don't have anything to do with nature or morality or any external constant. Rights are things that are granted by the powerful to the weaker.

The genius of democracy is that it says, "We don't care if you a big, tough badass. Power resides in broad social agreement. The most brutal no longer gets to decide what's right. The populace does." Put another way, whoever could put together an army or a police force, defines the rights.

People with money and property tend to think that it is sacrosanct. That, ownership is a fundamental aspect of nature. Even cave people 'owned' their cave. Except that's not exactly right. They only kept their cave as long as the chief said they did. Since the French revolution, the decision is made by the populace with no more intrinsic restraint than a chieftain or king.

Choosing not to take money and property away from people in the country is actually a mere tradeoff of priorities. People want to conceive this as a moral issue where 'taking' is obviously wrong, but that is a fabrication of the modern age. The closest thing we have to positions based on some external moral principle are of the human species, followed by preservation of one's own society, followed by preservation of human life. After that, the competing moral positions are so varied that it's not worth discussing.

Are rich people right when they say they "earned it" so they deserve to keep it? Only if they are the only people voting. In many ways, we are all tenant farmers, working the land owned by the body politic. As with the real tenant farmers of yesteryear, they get to keep exactly what the landlord allows. If that's nothing, they have the right to go find someplace else – unless the chieftain, king or voters say you can't.

The Establishment Has Done It's Job

"Hands Up. Don't Shoot" remains the iconic phrase in this time as we realize that the police are violent enemies of justice. But now we watch the "liberal media" join the rest in pushing Ferguson down the memory hole. What was obvious before is now in question because, well, because we know that the situation was much worse than we realized. Doesn't that call everything into question?

The iconic phrase is now put to a "test". Really, now that Wilson has not been indicted on racism, wasn't this thing overblown?  Since Wilson has been proven not to be racist, don't you think that we should reconsider the other details. You need to be sure your slogans are accurate. We need to be fair to the police. And why don't we talk about whether Brown's hands were up. Maybe the report says they weren't, didn't it? Don't remember how this paragraph started? Can't put your finger on the exact issue any more? Then, as we would have said in my day, the establishment has done it's job.

To be clear: The report failed to indict Wilson of federal violations. That means that they did not feel they could prove crimes with the evidence available. It did not exonerate him. The only advance this report shows over the grand jury in Ferguson is that I believe that they would have indicted him if they could.

It remains true that Darren Wilson shot and killed an innocent man on the streets. One who many perceived to be surrendering and who was far away from him at the time. It remains true that the grand jury in Ferguson was run by a corrupt prosecutor who guided them away from indictment.

It is certainly possible that Darren Wilson did not kill Michael Brown simply because he was black. It is absolutely true that Darren Wilson worked for and participated in a job where racist acts were committed daily. This wasn't a place with a few racists. He was an active, and deadly, part of a department that systematically abused black people.

You can be 100% certain that, were I to find myself working in a place that *ever* said things quoted in the report, *ever* targeted and abused people, especially by race, that there would be hell to pay. I would have been fired in a short time because I would no more tolerate that than allow them to dip me in shit every morning.

That's because I am not a racist. Darren Wilson is.


Considering history...

My Dad was a designer. I worked for him during the transition into phototypesetting. Back then, when you wanted a logotype, you hired a lettering designer. The main one we used back then was named Charlie.

I worked in the printing industry starting in '78. I was involved in a grand argument between technology and companies with computer typesetting products over the transition from raster type fonts to, as we called them then, outline type fonts. Obviously, outlines, mathematically based fonts won.

That was mainly because of Postscript. I had a Postscript interpreter than ran on a minicomputer in about '84/5, before the Laserwriter made Postscript a household name for graphic designers.

Because of that, I knew John Warnock and Chuck Geschke, the inventors of Postscript. Hanging with Warnock in his office one day, he gets all excited as he remembers to show me the thing he's been working on. It was the beginning of Adobe Illustrator.

In'93, I was a technica sales specialist for Scitex, a leader in computer systems for the graphic arts. I got to be directly involved in the transition from minicomputer-based production systems for the graphic arts to Macintosh-based ones.

Those Macintosh based ones were effective because of the Laserwriter, outline fonts and Postscript. Round and round it goes.

No point to be made, but it's fun to look back.

Let Them Go

This is chilling and pretty much exposes the ethical reality of the Daesh cutthroats. At the end of the day, it's all about young pussy.

"As the radicals see it, “a 15-year-old makes a good wife,” he said. “A 14-year-old male is less useful as a combatant.”"

That said, I don't really understand the uproar. This is not some pedophile snatching the girls from a mall. They had enough adult agency to get airplane tickets, passports and a taxi to the airport.

"Had the security services really been concerned about Aqsa Mahmood’s welfare, they would have moved heaven and earth to get her back in November 2013"

I don't see why anyone outside their families (for whom I have deep, deep sympathy) would move heaven or earth to stop them. They are people with bad motivations who are no longer hanging around the neighborhood. That's a good thing.

(I know, they were lovely, well-liked, well-motivated, blah, blah -- they left their families and broke their parents' hearts to support terrorists. They are bad people, end of story.)

To me, it seems that instead of preventing people from going, we should focus our efforts on preventing them from coming back. Welcoming back a fully effective terrorist is a danger to our society, not losing a few thousand assholes.

Let's use the Middle East as a dumping ground for psychopath girls who want to play house with terrorists, and for psychopath boys to go and play with guns. Just don't let them back.

Fifty Shades of WTF?

It is fascinating to try to figure out what's happening in the zeitgeist that causes us to have a national interest in bondage.

I start to think that people who really do bondage must be making up for a weak father, either trying to be like him and dominate or wanting him to have been more protective and in control. But, the only person I have known who actually did bondage had a perfectly good father.

I can understand a general interest in a new sexual practice. Maybe that's it. People are simply bored by the old in-and-out and this book finally came along with something new. But, everybody watches porn, so everybody has run into some bondage stuff on the internet. Maybe this movie provides a pretext.

It's worth note that that we had a national opportunity to endorse bondage in the nineties. Ronald Reagan's estranged daughter, Patti Davis, wrote a book in 1994 called Bondage. It was a best-seller. A more literary take on the topic, it was pretty good and, if whatever was in our current zeitgeist had happened back then, we could already be twenty years into America's bondage era.

You have to wonder how many women are going to get tied up and blindfolded for Valentines Day. It's kind of weird to think. Look in any direction this weekend, if the houses were transparent, you'd probably see a woman getting spanked - in the name of loooove.

On the Demise of Radio Shack

Radio Shack is not gone because America doesn't need resistors and capacitors any more. The management of Radio  lost their way and it was their outlook that went bad. When they started blister packing their parts, it was all over. There are plenty of things they could have done to adapt and survice.

Arduino has been around plenty long enough for them to have joined up with it. Also, the whole smart home movement. In addition to Arduino and Raspberry Pi, they should have had X10 stuff all over their stores in the nineties, then Insteon and all kinds of bluetooth components and now Intel Edison. 

They could have been selling 3D printers for years now. When they were robust, they sold stuff that cost real money and only a few people used it (you don't think that everyone was a radio engineer in the fifties, do you).

No, Radio Shack lost faith in their customers and their idea. They thought that their mission was technology and sold all kinds of iPhone accessories. Their mission really was to be the center of the Maker Movement. Imagine how cool it would have been if, instead of seeing all kinds of glossy point of purchase stuff in their stores, they had a greasy haired hippy working a Cube 3D printer, the place smelling of hot plastic. Someplace else in the store, were kits for making an auto winder for your window blinds out of an Edison and every other kind of home network and hobby computing widget. Big parties and events during MakerFaire. Style themselves like a comic book nerdland or gaming store for people that like to make things.

They could have done this, ...

Some suggest that they didn't react quickly enough to market changes. Not so. They need to be dead because they lost their spirit long ago. It's tragic because it is lost to us forever.

Boycotting Israel. Anti-Semitism, Not Quite, but Close

I am no fan of Israeli policies toward Palestinian people. I want to love Israel but, I think the settlement policy is a travesty. I am very concerned that the civil rights of Palestinian people are more limited than they should be. Israel is turning to the right in almost every way and I do not like that. With other countries that do similar things, I have thought, "They should be coerced. We must do all we can to stop this injustice. Boycott!" That is, I am sympathetic to the impulse to seek greater justice.

As a Jew by choice, it's far from obvious that I am Jewish and, so, I do not suffer antisemitism. My children do. Their Mother does. My more obviously Jewish friends all have stories. And, all Jews have relatives who have died or been brutalized by antisemites. Antisemitism is real. And, it is again on the rise.

Israel was founded mainly to provide a piece of land where Jews could be sure to survive. A place where they would not and could not ever be subject to the depredations of evil, bigoted people. For most Jews, a significant part of their sense of self and safety comes from the knowledge that Israel is there, that, when the black boots come, they could send their children to Israel where they would be safe.

Before I had children, I might have said, "People, the Holocaust is decades in the past. These are modern times. Hitler can never rise from the dead." But, having spent my adult life in, around and then becoming one of the Jews, I see that this is a completely wrong thing. You never get over genocide. A thousand years from now, Jews will be worried when some Senator makes a coded accusation – and it will happen. Jews are a distinct and distinguishable culture. Antisemitism is real.

Israel is not just a country that happens to have Jews in it. It is an essential component of Jewish psychology. It's safety. Of the healing of the wounds of genocide. It is true that being anti-Israel is not the same as being anti-Jew. It is also true that being anti-my-child is not the same as being anti-me. However, in both cases, it feels like it is. Which is to say, whatever is intended, an attack on Israel is an attack on Jewish well-being. At the thought of Israel being harmed or driven out of existence, Jews feel attacked and unsafe.

Boycott proponents claim that this is not an antisemitic thing. They are, justifiably upset by the problems of Palestinians and want to change the situation. Yet, they are also upset by the plight of workers in China. By the plight of gay people in Russia. By the dozens of countries that are listed on the Amnesty International website. Yet, for some reason, I've not run into anyone agitating for boycotts or other punishments for these places.

But, I believe them. I have dialog with some people who advocate boycott of Israel. They are not interested in this problem because Jews are involved. But, they also would not be interested in this problem if Jews were not involved. How can you otherwise explain the fact that this, of all the civil rights violations in the world, is the one that gets focus.

I suppose that most people would say that we can't do everything all at once and I agree. The choice of Israel as the one to work on today, however, puts on into common cause with Hamas, Iran, and many other vicious antisemites. Though I accept the assertion that choosing the plight of Palestinians as the first goal, instead of others, is not motivated by antisemitism, working toward the same goal as Hamas makes it close.

I add, as a postscript, the observation that no boycott advocate I've seen or heard has an actual solution to the Palestinian problem. No path or process that would make both Israelis and Palestinians safe. I have not heard any that felt like it was OK to create a blockade against the Palestinians for shooting rockets at the Israelis. That is, in addition to the curious fact that Israel, not China, not Russia, not Ecuador, not any of the other counties deserve boycott, the proponents of Israel boycott have no real goal. They want to punish Israel but, have no idea how to cause the Palestinians to cooperate, to admit that Israel has a right to exist, to stop their side of the hostilities.

Airlines Screwing Us by Suing Jetlagged

Airlines appear to have a main goal of making our lives worse and worse. Service, fees, cramped seats, they are greedy, awful companies.

Now a guy has made a site that lets you search for flights by *layover* city. Often, it is cheaper to buy a ticket to somewhere you don't want to go and get off at the layover city that is your real destination.


I gave some money to fund his legal fees. I hope you will, too.

UPDATE: Facebook has apparently killed this guy's web page. His real site is here:  . (3/20/15)

UPDATE2: And here is a link to the GoFundMe page: . I gave him some money. You should, too. (3/20/15)


A very significant change occurred in my thinking a few years ago. During the meeting of the World Trade Organization in Chicago, my daughter went to Grant Park, the main public space in downtown Chicago. She sent me pictures of *thousands* of armored police troops. It was out of the question for protest to be effective. A demonstration could be crushed like a bug in a minute.

I was young during the civil disobedience era that was the civil rights movement and, separately, caused America to get out of Vietnam. People got hurt, but it was possible for people to confront the government. The police had the advantage but, public opinion kept a rough parity. Police were allowed to use nightsticks but not guns. Abusing a protester was dangerous for the police.

These are two points on a continuum that illustrate the transition from a world where the transition from quaint old visions of limited intrusion and municipal power have transitioned from enough to make society work to enough to keep society under control.

Now we have new things that were reasonable when they started but are starting to show their teeth. EasyPass toll paying systems do not need to keep track of every time you pass a sensor, but they do. Automobiles don't need to record everything you do, but they do. Cellphone monitoring. Website super cookies. Cable tv reporting viewing habits. Facebook granting access to your friends list every time you use it to login.

If these things are on the more reasonable side of a transition resembles the changes in police policy over the last forty years, it is hard to imagine that we have a comfortable future ahead of us. The police, at least, are (slightly) constrained by the Constitution and law. Much of the potential in our future is at the hands of corporations that are constrained by neither.

Facebook can kick you out any time it wants. It can cut off what is probably the main way you communicate with most of the people you know. This is a disturbing possibility made real by the changes in technology. When Facebook was just for college students, nobody could have seen that it would be the intermediary that would connect you to your old auntie who you never get to otherwise see.

Those overlords need resisting. They are just getting started and the future they have in mind is not pretty.

Fighting Words for the Holidays

The problem is that I don't want a Merry Christmas. That has nothing to do with me. I'd be happy that you are saying something nice to me, except I know that Christians are on a campaign to make it so that saying anything other than Merry Christmas is offensive.

They are trying to force commercial organizations to standardize on Merry Christmas despite the fact that the business owners, the clerks and the customers are often of different faith.

Fox News and the Christian right wing who comprise the public voice of Christianity have turned "Merry Christmas" into a phrase of oppression. By declaring a war on Christmas and taking the offense by trying to drive out the phrase Happy Holidays, they have made Merry Christmas offensive to me.

Wishing me a Merry Christmas is like wishing that I have an easy, short labor when I deliver a baby. I'm a man. It's stupid to say that to me and it's stupid to wish me a Merry Christmas. I am Jewish.

When you lament that your seasons greeting is now a point of conflct, look to Fox News and the right-wing Christians that you have allowed to be your voice in this culture. They turned Happy Holidays into a fight. Wish me a Merry Christmas at your own risk. Say Happy Holidays and I will return your generosity with gratitude.