Monday, November 15, 2010

1 per day

There's a simplicity movement afoot. Inundated with information and the ceaseless drumbeat of consumerism, a contingent is choosing to live with less and to reject the premise that our status as consumers defines us. For example, there is the 100 thing challenge, which I've seen on various blogs. Here's one example.

There's also this Transition movement, which started in the UK and has spread. From my shallow knowledge, it seems to start from the premise that we are headed for leaner times. It's like a progressive alternative to the survival shelter mindset. Like some more conservative folks, they think the current system of food and energy delivery will collapse and posit that, if we scale back our consumption now and begin to increase "resiliency" in our communities, we may be able to transition more smoothly into the post-oil guzzling world. Local sustainability is the goal. So instead of each person with the resources available building a bunker, members of the community come together to create/encourage initiatives like sustainable agriculture, basic repair and mechanical skill classes, and awareness projects.

In the spirit of living with less, I've determined to do with less myself. I'm going to give/throw away one item per day for an entire year. It will be really easy to start, but I imagine, at 100 or 200, it's going to start to get really tough. Now, I'm going to count things like individual articles of clothing, but I'll have to figure out how to handle books: maybe 5 or 10 books will equal one "thing." Hopefully, by doing this, I will be able to live with a bit less clutter, but also think about my relationship to all the things around me that I think are part of my identity.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Compassion for Prisoners

The accepted attitude toward prisoners seems to be disgust, disdain, even hatred. Compassion for prisoners is seen as contemptible, sinful, an affront to the law abiding and the victims of crimes. But prisoners deserve compassion and respect no less than any other person. I don't mean that a prisoner's crimes deserve respect. Rather, prisoners deserve the respect owed all human beings, the respect owed to siblings whose situation is far worse than ours for reasons impossible to fully grasp. Our compassion is compelled by empathy and the chance of redemption. For the sake of argument, I am assuming that all prisoners are actually guilty of the crimes for which they are imprisoned.

There but for the grace of "god" go I.
We all have evil impulses. We all are capable of crime. We all are capable of violence and deception. True, most of us manage to control the more destructive impulses, but, given a different set of circumstances, who can honestly say "I would never steal or rob or intentionally injure another"? I believe no one can. It is impossible to ever know under what set of circumstances a person commits a crime. Social, familial, chemical influences all may lead up to a fateful decision. Who can say that his or her moral high ground is anything but an accident of education, wealth, or opportunity? Also, every one of us has at some point done something regrettably, even criminally stupid. Maybe through inebriation, jealousy, ambition, shame, or recklessness. Many of us who have never been convicted of crimes have driven drunk, thrown a punch, taken a drug, or stolen money or goods. And even the unrepentant criminal is already in a hell of sorts. A person who does evil deeds may be crippled emotionally or mentally. So that guy in solitary serving 20 years for forcible rape is your brother. Do not foresake him because you loathe his crime. Love him and remember that he is lost and that, at his core, he is the same as you.

I once was lost . . .
Without compassion, we will treat prisoners as less valuable than we the free; as a debased class of not-quite humans. By doing so, we essentially turn our collective backs on them, and say "you may not be admitted into the fullness of society again." Thus, after serving their sentences, many onetime prisoners find themselves living at the fringes of society. Admittedly, a good number of former prisoners are retuning to high-crime areas and situations that encourage further anti-social behavior. But by treating prisoners as degenerate, useless, lowlife, we encourage anti-social behavior. We set up a good guys v. the convicts dichotomy, and the criminal understands that his family are the fellow lawbreakers. As long as there are laws to control undesirable behavior, there will be lawbreakers and these lawbreakers, by breaking a social contract, are put away from society. But we should not then confirm the criminal's hypothesis that he and society are at odds, that he and society just can't get along. Instead, we should work to redeem them, show them that the societal contract is one worth keeping.

I'm not saying that, with a smile and a handshake, a child molester will become a productive member of society. But unless we continue to reach out to that molester and figure out how to reform/redeem/rehabilitate him, we will be left in fear of evil, as if it is somehow external to us, and we will have lost the chance to redeem the evil within ourselves.

So the next time someone starts complaining about how we "coddle" prisoners by allowing them to exercise and watch television, remember that, even if we must put them out of our societal embrace, we need not deny their humanity or impose cruelty for its own sake. Jesus offered compassion and love to criminals. So did Buddha. You should too.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Two Unrelated Things

Behind drywall and stud reclines the Brahman,
Brown men in knit caps tend the lawn,
Wizened woman in yoga pants guards the lane,
In gleaming black carriage, the scion
discreetly is delivered to the commons.


I saw this on a church sign today:
"God doesn't believe in atheists. Therefore they don't exist.

I imagine the writer thought this a pretty biting riposte to the atheists, but I disagree with it as logic, rhetoric, and theology.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


I'm a delinquent poster among delinquent posters. I actually have a post written in long hand that I've been meaning to post for a couple months now. In the mean time, I will simply say: the police state is coming in America. It will be a corporate-consumer model. Debtors' prison will be prominent, as will familial debt (i.e., your sister owes Target $20,000, and she is in jail for failing to pay, making the debt yours). The more we watch, the more we buy, the more we build our own prisons.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Politician as Brand

According to the NY Times, a politician recently said: "The latest episodes 'are indicative of a culture that embraces the politics-as-usual mentality that the American people are sick and tired of.' I love how they try to manipulate our perception of events while acting like they're working as our spokespeople and agents.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Should I Do It?

My present job is a 2-year contract that expires next August. I work for an appellate court, and I like it, but I'm ready for some more trench-level action. I wouldn't have guessed I'd be at this point so soon, but I am considering going solo instead of trying to find a compatible employer.

The plus side is that I get to call all the shots.
The minus side is that I have to call all the shots.

My biggest worry is whether I'll be able to generate enough revenue to make a living. I'm attracted to the legal aspect of being solo, but unenthusiastic about running a small business on which my family's well being depends.

Thoughts? Advice?

UPDATE: I am leaning away from this option now. I am not anxious to do the administrative work that would be a huge part of a solo practice. I would like some trial training. And if I do 8.5 more years of public service work, my federal loans will be forgiven. Of course, if the job market continues this way, I may go solo out of necessity.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Green Vomit Day

I drove into work today and noticed a suspicious number of people wearing green. I then drove by a couple of awnings set up on the side of the road, their occupants standing beside coolers. City Hall is flying the Irish flag. Ah! It must be St. Patrick's Day. That was at 11:30. It's now 1:30, and as I sit in my office, I hear hoots, whistles and screams from drunken semi-adults down the hill where a bunch of crappy bars and the parade route coincide. I don't really understand this holiday. Its sole purpose for non-Hibernians appears to be drinking. I can't imagine the parade is going to be any good (and I wonder if it's anti-gay like the NYC parade). What I want to ask the noontime revelers is:

Is there something stopping you from mainlining beer through a funnel, pounding car bombs, and blasting air horns the other 364 days of the year? On the other hand, what is it, aside from a the drunken Irish stereotype, about this day that makes you think it's okay to spend all weekend painting the town in green bodily fluids?

Of course, many of the dissolute youth out there probably spend every weekend painting the inside of frathouses with bodily fluids, and this is the one day they won't be arrested for doing it in public (though I am sure arrests will be high today). Whatever the reasons, St. Patrick's day, normally a shitshow, is especially shitty in a college town.

Maybe I just don't want to hear all that "whoohoo"ing while I am sitting here at my desk analyzing the law (and writing blog posts).

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

When I Get to the Promised Land, I'm Gonna Shake the Eye's Hand

Two thoughts in ascending length order:

1. People often bemoan "political correctness." It's changing our language. It's forcing people to use "they" as a singular pronoun. One change has been underappreciated. "Fireman" has become the much awesomer "firefighter." (Shockingly, spellcheck is dubious of "awesomer." Pish, it's perfectly cromulent.)

2. Earlier today, I was discussing music with a friend. We have similar, but not identical tastes. For instance, we disagree as to which bands we think are truly great. The discussion centered around Modest Mouse's "The Moon and Antarctica" (which I think is a meditation on mortality and religion). He didn't hate it, but didn't hear the greatness in it that I (and many others) do.

He suggested that their approach was to take a fairly simple song and build it up in layers. This may be true. I hadn't thought about it. I mostly was cognizant of the album's beauty and nuanced lyrics. I'm a fairly articulate person, but in trying to explain why I thought they were great, I was left fumbling, grasping. They're brilliant. Stunning. These are conclusions, not reasons, but they're nearly all I've got. They're inventive. Okay. But I can't really say how they're more inventive than, say Nickelback. I know they are, but . . . I can say that they have unconventional song structures (true?). They often switch up the rhythm and volume in a song. They create a rich, full sound through excellent production. Their songs are dramatic and often involve a high peak or crescendo. But all these things are doubtless true of bands I think are crap. So maybe I can praise them in a seemingly sensible way, but really, I'm at a loss.

So how do we talk about art in a useful way? We can talk formalistically, of emotional impact, of lyrics and melody (in music), of creativity, and of skill. But none of these is wholly satisfying. All approaches fail to make effable the ineffable. Two musicians could render the same song: one may make me weep and tremble and the other leave me indifferent, despite their playing the same notes. Art is a way we connect with each other on a spiritual level. So, perhaps, the reason I can't truly get at why I love one band over another is that no one can describe God. No one can appreciate him/her/it in all her/its/his aspects. To repeat an adage that is the punchline of a movie recommended to me by another friend (and frequent commenter here), there's no accounting for taste.