Saturday, May 08, 2010

Moral Indignation

I have occasionally offered the view that I am not impressed with moral indignation. Claiming some kind of moral high-ground on any topic of controversy usually is a way of insulating oneself from the messy reality that we are all compromised in some manner, fashion, or form related to moral judgments. Way back in the fall of 2001, in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York, one often heard "liberals" chided for some kind of failure to call what happened "evil", especially after George W. Bush used David Frum's "axis of evil" in a speech before Congress. For some reason still not completely understood by me, it was thought to be an act not only of moral but intellectual acumen, not to say public heroism, for the President of the United States to call an evil act . . . well, evil.

I am still puzzled by this. Thanks to Professor Michael Berube, I found a second part to the whole "agnotology" discussion at slacktivist. The first part offered as an example of the social phenomenon of ignorance the alleged Satanic ties of Proctor & Gamble. In this one, slacktivist discusses something anyone who is not a sociopath would find horrific - kitten-burning.
Every once in a while, I am sorry to say, some sick bastard sets fire to a kitten. This is something that happens. Like all crimes, it shouldn't happen, but it does. And like most crimes, it makes the paper. The effects of this appalling cruelty are not far-reaching, but the incidents are reported in the papers because the cruelty is so flagrant and acute that it seems newsworthy.

The response to such reports is horror and indignation, which is both natural and appropriate. But the expression of that horror and indignation also produces something strange.

A few years ago there was a particularly horrifying kitten-burning incident involving a barbecue grill and, astonishingly, a video camera. That sordid episode took place far from the place where I work, yet the paper's editorial board nonetheless felt compelled to editorialize on the subject. They were, happily, against it. Unambiguously so. It's one of the very few instances I recall when that timidly Broderian bunch took an unambiguous stance without their habitual on-the-other-hand qualifications.

I agreed with that stance, of course. Who doesn't? But despite agreeing with the side they took, I couldn't help but be amused by the editorial's inordinately proud pose of courageous truth-telling. The lowest common denominator of minimal morality was being held up as though it were a prophetic example of speaking truth to power.

That same posturing resurfaced in a big way earlier this year when the kitten-burners struck again, much closer to home. A group of disturbed and disturbing children doused a kitten with lighter fluid and set it on fire just a few miles from the paper's offices.

The paper covered the story, of course, and our readers ate it up.

People loved that story. It became one of the most-read and most-e-mailed stories on our Web site. Online readers left dozens of comments and we got letters to the editor on the subject for months afterward.

Those letters and comments were uniformly and universally opposed to kitten-burning. Opinon on that question was unanimous and vehement.

But here was the weird part: Most of the commenters and letter-writers didn't seem to notice that they were expressing a unanimous and noncontroversial sentiment. Their comments and letters were contentious and sort of aggressively defensive. Or maybe defensively aggressive. They were angry, and that anger didn't seem to be directed only at the kitten-burners, but also at some larger group of others whom they imagined must condone this sort of thing.

If you jumped into the comments thread and started reading at any random point in the middle, you'd get the impression that the comments immediately preceding must have offered a vigorous defense of kitten-burning. No such comments offering any such defense existed, and yet reader after reader seemed to be responding to or anticipating this phantom kitten-burning advocacy group.

One came away from that comment thread with the unsurprising but reassuring sense that the good people reading the paper's Web site did not approve of burning kittens alive. Kitten-burning, they all insisted, was just plain wrong.

But one also came away from reading that thread with the sense that people seemed to think this ultra-minimal moral stance made them exceptional and exceptionally righteous. Like the earlier editorial writers, they seemed to think they were exhibiting courage by taking a bold position on a matter of great controversy. Whatever comfort might be gleaned from the reaffirmation that most people were right about this non-issue issue was overshadowed by the discomfiting realization that so many people also seemed to want or need most others to be wrong.

It is this pose of moral superiority I find horrid. It takes very little moral imagination to call an evil act evil. Indeed, a child of eight or nine can understand pretty readily that burning kittens, or killing thousands of people is morally vicious. I have been chided by moral scolds of both sides of the ideological fence because I refuse to engage in that kind of thing.

Moral indignation is fine for those who have it all figured out, whether they be youth or ideologues committed to this or that principle that rules their world. Pronouncing moral judgments upon this or that or another act is the easiest thing to do; it also helps us avoid the far more difficult, and far more important moral task of understanding why such an act is committed. When serial murderers and pedophiles are dehumanized by calling them "monsters" or "animals"; when terrorists are labeled "evildoers"; even when kitten-burners are labeled "sociopaths" - they are safely out of reach. We and they cannot possibly be related in a moral sense. Whatever drove these individuals to act in the ways they do has no relationship to the ways we live our lives; indeed, being morally vicious they can be considered intellectually unintelligible. Who cares why the priest molested the little boys and girls? Who cares why John Wayne Gacey or Jeffrey Dahmer killed all those people? That they did is sufficient to declare them evil, outside the circle of our empathic concern.

Slacktivist offers the following view on this theme:
Again, I whole-heartedly agree that kitten-burning is really, really bad. But the leap from "that's bad" to "I'm not that bad" is dangerous and corrosive. I like to call this Thornton Melon morality. Melon was the character played by Rodney Dangerfield in the movie Back to School, the wealthy owner of a chain of "Tall & Fat" clothing stores whose motto was "If you want to look thin, you hang out with fat people." That approach -- finding people we can compare-down to -- might make us feel a little better about ourselves, but it doesn't change who or what we really are. The Thornton Melon approach might make us look thin, but it won't help us become so. Melon morality is never anything more than an optical illusion.

This comparing-down is ultimately corrosive because it bases our sense of morality in pride rather than in love -- in the cardinal vice instead of the cardinal virtue. And to fuel that pride, we end up looking for ever-more extreme and exotically awful people to compare ourselves favorably against, people whose freakish cruelty makes our own mediocrity show more goodly and attract more eyes than that which hath no foil to set it off.

Melon morality is why if the kitten-burners didn't already exist, we would have to invent them.

The narcissistic aspect of this phenomenon should be clear; these evildoers exist solely to demonstrate our moral worth. Pronouncing moral judgments, whether its on kitten-burners or Satanists or abortion-providers or racists or whomever - it's a child's game and has nothing to do with serious moral inquiry. I can't even be bothered with calling such acts evil, not because I do not believe them to be so; on the contrary, they are prima facie evidence of the reality of radical evil for those who think such a thing nonexistent. Rather, I do not bother with such labeling because it has nothing to do with understanding how this or that evil event took place. Whether it's a mass murder, a serial child-rapist, or a terrorist attack, we get absolutely nowhere if we call such things "evil" and figure there is no more to be said, done, or thought.

What is far more important, and far more troubling, is investigating how human beings no different from us can engage in acts of radical evil, whether that is kitten-burning, serial murder, or genocide. To those who complained of the alleged silence of "the left" on the moral status of terrorist acts, I can only wonder how they could miss the equally vicious idea, bandied about by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, of "collateral damage" during the run-up to the Iraq war. Precisely because it is the embodiment of Arendt's notion of the banality of evil, creating bureaucratic phrases that hide horrors that such a phrase hides far more than it discloses. Of course Rumsfeld was talking about the unintended, but nevertheless forseeable, deaths of thousands during combat.

Precisely because pronouncing moral opprobrium upon acts that are morally evil is so easy, it should be avoided. Whether it's denouncing sociopathic adolescents or dictators, our intellectual and moral effort should aim toward understanding in order to prevent, rather than standing on some kind of pedestal, calling perpetrators of such acts evil, and rest on these as laurels.

May 8, 1993

You couldn't have asked for a better day. Sunny and warm, but little humidity, the azalea's in bloom. My mother has always commented on that. I got up early that day and went for a long walk, down Massachusetts Avenue to a little stretch of park that wound through a shallow, creek-created vale that, if you wanted to walk all the way, took you to Georgetown, right next to the University. I walked part way, then back out and back north on Mass Ave up to Wagshal's Delicatessan where I ordered a sandwich for an early lunch.

It had been a crazy, busy couple days. Friends and family arriving in the nation's capital from all over, including a U-Haul trailer filled with furniture. Meeting and greeting everyone. Getting lost on a drive from National Airport to a hotel in Alexandria. All the while remembering that on Monday, May 10, I would be graduating with my Master of Theological Studies Degree from Wesley Theological Seminary.

At 1:30, all these friend and family gathered in Oxnam Memorial Chapel at Wesley, and, with the Rev. Dr. Kyung Lim Shin-Lee (Dean of Community Life) officiating, Lisa and I got married. A gathering in the quad followed immediately, then a reception in the Seminary refectory. When all was said and done, bouquets tossed, cake cut, some dancing, Lisa and I dodged a hail of birdseed (not always effectively) and headed to the Embassy Suites Hotel in Tenleytown for a quiet - too quiet, really - dinner and a night alone together.

Over the past seventeen years, we've lived a lot of places, are on our second dog, third cat, have two wonderful children, are preparing for her fourth appointment, and yet one constant remains as it always has - one another. I have neither wisdom nor insight to offer as a generalization about marriage. I can say with all honesty that, for all the ups and downs, twists and turns of married life, the simple fact is that Lisa and I have become so close over the years, we finish one another's sentences. We can get one another laughing without saying anything. We have little rituals that are ours alone. Our stories are ours, not separate ones. We have shared laughter and tears, to be sure, but the bond that links us is not simple, romantic love. No, it is something indefinable yet very real. We are not two individuals who share a space and time and separate memories. We are us, we two together sharing the same time and place and memories that hold the same meaning for us. We have grown together, gone from early adulthood to middle age together, and through it all have leaned on one another, occasionally yelled at one another, but never, ever, stopped loving and cherishing one another.

For some reason this anniversary seems far more special than many previous ones. Perhaps it is because we are on the verge of moving, a life-change that makes anyone look backward as much as forward. For whatever reason, I am grateful for the years, for the support I have always had from her, for the simple reality and grace that her presence in my life really is. I am a far better person as her husband than I would ever have been on my own or with anyone else. My hope for the future is really quite simple - that we remain, as we have been, that strange, marvelous thing that is a couple as a single reality greater than the sum of the two together.

Oh, and by the way. I love you, Lisa. Happy Anniversary, baby.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Intellectual Property And Human Rights

Yes, Jim, you were right. Your comment spawned a blog post . . . I'm getting predictable.

This past weekend, listening to BBC America, I heard about the death of an Indian economist (whose name I cannot remember; sadly, I cannot even find a reference to the story on Google!), part of whose work considered the impact of the protection of intellectual property on developing countries. The example offered was patent protection enjoyed by pharmaceutical companies, and how this creates not only barriers for the use of good drugs for impoverished people, but also encourages intellectual piracy. It is, in fact, not uncommon for pirated knock-offs to be offered in sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia in place of overpriced drugs to battle everything from childhood diarrhea to AIDS. In a recorded interview with the person in question, the example given was actually Lasik surgery. In the US, the average cost is $1600 for such a procedure; a large opthamalogical clinic in southern India actually performs the same procedure, roughly 10,000 times a year, at an average cost close to $10 a pop. Part of the difference is the socialization of delivery in India, as opposed to privatization in the US. This creates an atmosphere in which an entire set of assumptions from profitability to questions of medical necessity are radically reimagined.

The reason for recalling this imperfectly recalled radio story is the treatment of genetically-modified foods in the legal atmosphere of the United States. After developing the first GM food products, Monsanto ended up in court because it sought to patent them. At issue was the question of whether or not something that is alive can be treated as intellectual property. The Supreme Court ruled that, indeed, it can because it is the creation of a particular industry, a particular corporate entity; rather than just "corn" or "rice" or "millet", the Court accepted Monsanto's argument that GM foods were, in a sense, artificial.

While I understand the distinction between the legal argument and other forms of discourses, in this particular case, I find it (no pun intended) hard to swallow. With patent protection, the potential benefits of some kinds of GM food products become extremely limited. Only those agricultural concerns that have enough capital to purchase them can make use of them. Since the alleged benefits of GM foods include their utilization in marginal production areas and by impoverished farmers in the developing world, slapping a patent on a product and demanding higher prices for it creates a barrier that prevents their use that way.

Of course, as I heard on yet another radio chat show (I think it was NPR's Talk of the Nation Science Friday, but again the great Google has failed me . . .), the promised deliver of all sorts of benefits from genetic modification of various crops just hasn't materialized. Even the much-hyped pest-control plants really don't work all that well. So, we have high-priced seeds for plants whose marginal return is negligible. While there are only a few sources for mass produced commercial seed - ADM and Monsanto come to mind as I see their signs in the corn fields here about - one is left with the impression that much of the alleged cost is nothing more than a way of artificially boosting prices by oligopolistic entities.

Faced as the world was just a couple years ago with overpriced rice crops that created the odd situation where warehouses full of the stuff were quite literally rotting because the price put them out of reach of buyers created a dual hazard. While those who purchase rice couldn't afford it, the producers were also impoverished because no one bought the rice at the inflated prices. Such a situation also encourages theft and piracy on a massive scale; those with few scruples obviously see an opportunity and will exploit it.

It seems to me that access to affordable basic food stuffs - grain and dairy, basic meats and fruits and vegetables - is a human right. With the industrialization of agriculture, we face the absurd situation where that most basic ingredient of life, food, becomes so commodified that artificial shortages, political and market manipulations, and legal technicalities interfere with its efficient and even necessary distribution. Yet, there is a claim the producers have upon consumers - to earn enough to keep producing!

It seems to me that discussions of agriculture (at least in this country) are so burdened with unreality - how may times do we hear about small family farms? - that it becomes almost impossible to talk about how to balance their needs of producers and consumers. Including discussions of the industrialization of agriculture, the legal impediments to production and distribution that exist, and the failure of so many of the claimed promises of genetic modification might be a start, I suppose. Keeping in mind, however, that we are talking about food, the very stuff of life, might also help us focus on priorities.

I don't have answers to the complications here. I'm just kind of offering these observations as a conversation starter . . .

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Researched Ignorance

Continuing the whole agnotology theme, I want to mention the fetish on the right for all the books by people like Ann Coulter (whom Alan refers to as "She Who Must Not Be Named"), Bill O'Reilly, Dinesh D'Souza, Jonah Goldberg, and others. Quite apart from the practice of buying up whole warehouses of the books to artificially boost sales numbers, one often hears the claim of "careful research" and the number of footnotes (or, in the case of Coulter, their confusion with endnotes, but whatever) as a sign that such books are far more than simple ideological pamphlets.

For some reason, the mere existence of footnotes seems to exist as some kind of sign that any claims allegedly bolstered by the claimed research cited are beyond question or reproach. I find this a fascinating example of agnotology-in-action. Ignorant of the reasons for citing a source - beyond simple issues of plagiarism and intellectual honesty - the right has adopted the practice of pretend scholarly research in the service of ideological ends. The results can be quite funny, as for instance the fate of Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism is certainly the most laughed-at by the internet Left. Dredging up decades-old smears against FDR, Goldberg's incoherent book offers readers the opportunity to see ignorance paraded around as carefully researched argument.

It was Coulter's defense of one of her books - "It has footnotes!" - that got me thinking about this particular subject. She seemed to think the presence of citation was sufficient as an argument supporting the intellectual legitimacy of her work. With Goldberg's book, this particular schtick has reached a kind of zenith/nadir. Anyone with a modicum of historical knowledge recognized immediately what Goldberg was up to. Even a casual perusal of the book in question - not to mention its tortured journey to publication - should have cost Goldberg not just credibility, but his employment as a commentator on political affairs.

Part of the reason for the spreading of this particular non-intellectual contagion is the ignorance of the use of footnotes. That they serve to show that a writer has done his or her homework is less important than the fact they serve as a way to evaluate the arguments presented and allegedly bolstered by the works cited. Using footnotes serves the reader as a way to ask questions, including that most important one - has the author used the source correctly? Footnotes don't exist to stop critique. They exist as the beginning of serious critique.

This simple, undergraduate reality seems lost on all those right-wing authors who seem to think the claim of "research" and the presence of citations is enough to show that a work is intellectually honest. I'm not sure why it is this reality has escaped them - again, I don't really understand the social dynamics of this phenomenon - but I offer this as part of the problem we face with the flood of books that continue to pour out from right-wing publishers.


This follow-up piece at Crooked Timber, concerning agnotology, metastasizes in to something ungainly, approaching unreality, as the comment-thread nears 200. I do so love it when straw arguments are presented, by the way, as Quiggin's example, "GM foods are evil", is offered as a test case of left-agnotology. As far as I can recollect, this comment sums up mainstream criticism of genetically modified foods:
Among my friends, there was once a pretty wide streak of shared concern that genetically modified plants might well turn out to be toxic or contributing to long-term health problems in ways we couldn’t predict in advance. And that was a sensible concern, given the manufacturers’ demonstrated disinterest in public well-being beyond their balance sheets. These days, though, that’s very much receded in favor of the issues like property rights.

While there are those who pronounce moral approbation upon GM-foods, for the most part, this continues to be a legitimate criticism. After all, eating something that heretofore did not exist as a food source, containing certain genetic properties not found in nature, and untested because it is unethical to use human subjects in such tests, is a legitimate concern. On the whole, the notion that the whole thing can be summed up, "GM foods are evil" creates an argument that is easily refutable, therefore dismissible.

The various back-and-forths throughout the comments can be summed up as "I know you are but what am I?". This muddies the waters far too much; the potential of "agnotology" to explain certain social phenomena we are experiencing. That human beings not only do not know stuff, but that his process is an active one, with all sorts of feedback loops and reinforcing mechanisms. Whether or not this is a phenomenon limited to the right or not is immaterial. Our current public discourse is rife with right-wing ignorance parading as open-mindedness; it undermines the credibility of scientific inquiry and research; it enables charges of elitism to stand without evidence.

Rather than trade barbs over various "examples", the discussion might have been far more helpful had it concentrated not only on current examples, but considered the ways the cultivation of ignorance is as much a habit, both personal and social, as the cultivation of knowledge. I also think a consideration of traditional, Enlightenment-based notions of the social and moral benefits of an ever-increasing knowledge base is actually disproved by the reality of the active, social pursuit of ignorance.

These are important issues that confront us everyday. Delving in to the good or bad faith of commenters who address hypotheticals is fun in a graduate-seminar kind of way, but unenlightening to me. Thus, the "ugh".

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Christian Theology And The Question Of Power

When attempting to address the realm of politics in all its variegated forms, immediately we are confronted with power. Politics is the arena where power is sought, battled over, won, lost. The classic definition of power, as I learned it as a wee undergrad oh so many years ago, is thus: A has power over B to the extent that A can get B to do something B would not otherwise do. Even more than the question of "authority", the question of power confronts us when we are seeking understanding of politics.

The state has power over me to the extent that it sets limits to the conduct of my personal affairs. Yet, for this limitation, I have the power of a voice in how far those limits are set, to insist they either be made stronger or weaker, and to elect people to public office who will support my positions on those questions. Furthermore, in exchange for the power to circumscribe my own personal sphere of freedom, the state creates an environment conducive to the exercise of those freedoms not surrendered, or those explicitly allowed. Thus, the traditional "contract" theory can be understood, quite apart from any metaphysical mumbo-jumbo about "the state of nature" and all the other encumbrances it carries, as describing a really existing state of affairs.

The issue of power, however, confronts us with the possibility of its abuse, even in the circumstances described above. Whether it is the usurpation of powers not allotted to government under expressly enumerated limitations or the so-called "tyranny of the majority", we are continually faced with the necessity of resetting the balance among the various actors in the political realm. Part of the reason for the initiation and continuance of this particular way of ordering political life rests on the intuitive understanding, borne out by five thousand years of recorded history, that there is nothing more dangerous, more seductive, than power. It must be faced directly, continually, in order to force limits upon it.

I take as my starting point for understanding a Christian view of power, specifically Divine power, the cross of Jesus as the revelation of God's understanding of Divine power. Right there, God showed a sinful, broken world that power exists in surrender rather than victory. The empty tomb of Easter morning is proof that the surrender of coercive power is infinitely, eternally more constructive than its exertion.

So, we come up against the most obvious conflict - how do we Christians confront the demand for a discussion in terms of power, when we insist on its surrender as the basis for real authority? Since tied up with the passion narrative, theologically speaking, is a redefinition of Divine judgment as Divine gracious condescension, we also must face squarely that, even when beset by earthly powers, the Church must live not only in to and out of that grace, but must be continually in prayer for those powers. Sometimes for their transformation, sometimes for their replacement, but always in prayer that, even in their broken misunderstanding of power they may yet have the winds of the Spirit blow upon them. So, before, during, and after any understanding comes a constant prayerful love.

Living as a witness to the possibilities of surrender, the Church most firmly witnesses to our political arena by being the Church. By living out our faithful understanding of grace, of clothing the naked, visiting the prisoner, feeding the hungry, we witness to the on-going reality that transcends contingent historical political arrangements. In so doing, it not only pronounces a judgment upon them, it also offers a gracious alternative; "this is the way a community of persons living in the crucified and risen Christ understand issues of power; we give up."

What's The Word I'm Looking For? (UPDATE)

This post at Crooked Timber offers yet another example in the on-going discussion of "epistemic closure", with Quiggin offering the word "agnotology" to describe the phenomenon of the right existing in a weird, fact-free Universe of their own making.

Considering my own exposure to such groups on the right-wing internet, I would offer "agnophilia" - lover of no knowledge - as the proper term. These folks aren't just ignorant; they revel in their ignorance, refusing to consider counter-evidence, preferring their biases and arguments not suffer any interference with reality or fact.

UPDATE: Scott McLemee reports on a new anthology entitled (sob, my preferred word is wrong) Agnotolgy:The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance. Check out his review.

That Pesky Constitution

Why do conservatives hate the United States Constitution so much? Every time some part of it interferes with what they really want, they make up all sorts of arguments about how it screws up the country. Whether it's the right to privacy, abortion rights, censoring pornography, even going back a generation to civil rights for minorities and women, the whine is always the same. Who cares what the constitution says?

With the arrest of a suspect in the failed Time Square bombing we are, once again, facing a complaint about the Miranda warnings. One has to wonder. Prisons in the US are filled to overflowing, literally, with people who were read their Miranda rights. Do they not get that?

Probably not.

Monday, May 03, 2010

The President Drops The "F"-Bomb

And the world continues to turn . . .

Trust 'Em As Far As We Can Throw 'Em

On the one hand, Sarah Palin says we need to trust the oil companies. On the other hand, they do stuff like this.
Alabama Attorney General Troy King said tonight that he has told representatives of BP Plc. that they should stop circulating settlement agreements among coastal Alabamians.

The agreements, King said, essentially require that people give up the right to sue in exchange for payment of up to $5,000.

Personally, if a rep from BP came knocking on my door and asked me to surrender my right to sue for a measly five grand, I'd sick my guinea pigs on him. Since conservatives are all about personal responsibility, and insist corporations, being persons under the law, should be treated the same as individuals, I wonder how many conservatives are going to insist that BP do the right thing and face the consequences of their actions.

If there is even one, I'll be surprised.

I realize that BP could potentially be destroyed, financially, should litigation move forward. I also realize this is an accident, not a deliberate act on their part. Yet, they know, because they are British Petroleum, the necessity of redundant safety measures required in other legal jurisdictions where they drill. Since the Bush-Cheney gang said that all that safety stuff should be "voluntary", BP volunteered not to install it. This is why voluntary, rather than legally mandatory, regulation is necessary (as if we needed more object lessons). People are dead, and the whole country is facing an environmental disaster. Sorry to say, but I don't trust any corporate entity to act in any way that poses a threat to its basic function - to make money. This most definitely includes endangering the lives and health of its employees.

So, no, Mrs. Palin, I guess I won't trust the oil companies. They have screwed the Gulf Coast. Now, they are trying to screw the residents who live there, bribing them with quick and easy cash. It might just be time to consider how it is we allow foreign companies to operate in ways that are potentially hazardous to our national environment. You know, all that sovereignty stuff might come in handy about now.

Minnesota Gubenatorial Candidate Doesn't Know Constitution

From TPM:
With the backing of Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty, the Minnesota Republican party just nominated for Governor Tom Emmer who says no federal laws should apply in Minnesota unless 2/3 of both houses of the state legislature approve the law in advance.

Ah, if only there weren't that pesky 14th Amendment to contend with. Since the Supreme Court has held that Amendment applies both rights and limits to all the states, this kind of talk just proves how far down Stupid Street some Republicans have traveled. I can't wait to read a defense of this.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Why I Don't Like The Arizona Anti-Immigration Law Or Right-Wing Blather About It

I have stated many times that I am usually reticent to discuss my attitude toward laws enacted in other states. That is their business; good or bad, what possible relevance does my position have, living here in Illinois?

I feel compelled, however, after all the talk, all the nonsense to say what should be obvious. I do not like the law. I am confident, however, it will be tossed out by the courts, so I don't get too fussed about it.

You know what really disgusts me about the whole thing?

Human beings aren't "illegal". Human beings aren't "aliens".

It's really that simple. All the talk about "illegal aliens" - just those two words strung together modifying one another as they do - just sickens me. That there are those who call themselves Christians who bleat those two words without the slightest grasp of how dehumanizing they are is even more sickening.

It would be nice if we could have a substantive debate about immigration reform; right now, however, with the Republicans in hock to the kooks on the right, and the Democrats in their usual disarray, all I can think is we shall have a repeat of 2007, when it was tried and failed miserably.

RIP Charlie Gillett

One of the highlights of my Saturday trips home from DJing has been BBC's "A World of Music", hosted by Charlie Gillett. Soft-spoken, incredibly knowledgeable, the sounds he managed to find were always exciting, and even stuff that was forty and fifty years old, just because it was unknown, sounded fresh and new. So, I was saddened to hear last night that Gillett (pronounced GILL-ett, not jill-ETT) passed away last month. They have yet to replace him for what is probably the excellent reason that there is no one to take his place.

Whether it was traditional Bulgarian music updated for a recording session, finger-style guitar players from western Africa (Mali and Senegal in particular produced wonderful finger-style guitar, some of the best recordings done back in the mid-1960's, usually in France), or pop music from Israel, Vietnam, or even Bollywood, Gillett had it, played it, and conveyed his love for it to his listeners.

Last night, they replayed a show from last September in which Gillett featured music that been huge hits in America and Britain and Europe, but originated in either Caribbean nations or in Africa. Included in the playlist is this marvelously funky number from 1972. The band is from Cameroon, a country with a special place in my own heart (my sister was a Peace Corps volunteer there in the very early 1980's). "Soul Makossa" combines their love of American soul/funk and traditional Cameroonian dance in its title. The rhythm is infectious, that bass line just slides around, slick and funky as anything by Earth, Wind, & Fire or Ohio Players. This is a remix for dance clubs.

While I am sure there is a backlog of shows that will be able to fill the time slot (i:30 am Central Time), until a new host is found, new sounds coming on the scene, plus the wonderful variety of sounds out there will have to wait.

Virtual Tin Cup

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