Author Archives: Greg Camp

About Greg Camp

I was born a curmudgeon, and I have been getting crabbier ever since. Perhaps this log is my version of lighting a lamp and looking for an honest person. I am excessively qualified to be a starving artist, as my family, ex-wives, and creditors will be pleased to tell you. I am currently in a relationship--man and wife, even if there is no paperwork--for which I am grateful, and I have neither the intention nor the temptation to change this. I am also grateful to Apollo and the Muses and to Chiron for the worldly success that I have had.

Deep in the Heart of Dixie

Last Friday (9 May 2014), Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza ruled that Arkansas’s ban on marriage equality was unconstitutional. Are we going from

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to

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One can only hope. Given the judge’s rank, the ruling will be applied county by county at the choice of the license clerks until higher courts confirm or deny the finding. The attorney general of the state, Dustin McDaniel, will appeal. He claims he supports marriage equality, but is bound to defend state laws.

Those who have read this blog over the years know that I support equal rights. Gay or lesbian couples don’t threaten me. They don’t harm me. So why would I object to them marrying?

With that in mind, here’s the message that I sent to Attorney General McDaniel:

Please do not appeal Circuit Judge Piazza’a ruling that the state ban on marriage equality is unconstitutional. That ruling is plainly correct, given rulings from both the Supreme Court last year and many state rulings in the months to follow. Our ban also violates the Fourteenth Amendment and likely the Ninth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Don’t waste our tax dollars defending the indefensible.

I expect he won’t listen, but rights delayed do tend to become rights demanded and asserted. But over the last several years, this country has been recognizing rights more and more, so I remain hopeful.

That Chewing Sensation…

Life occasionally offers us delicious examples of comeuppances to our enemies. Recent events have provided two in quick succession:

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I hope you weren’t eating. But we need a reminder. This is Dianne Feinstein, U. S. senator from the State of California. Those of us who care about rights are well versed in her dedication to tyranny, but just in case some of my readers have missed the memo, here’s what she told 60 Minutes:

More recently, she’s taken time off from pushing gun control to criticize the actions of Edward Snowden, accusing him of treason. She has no problem with the NSA spying on American citizens.

But in the last few days, she’s swung around so fast that I’m surprised her hair isn’t on backward. It seems that the CIA had the nerve to spy on the Senate. And that’s too much for her highness. Has she become a born-again good citizen, ready to protect our rights? I doubt it. But it is pleasant to see her cooked in her own sauces.

This story recalls the tale of the frog and the scorpion. The scorpion asks the frog for a ride across a river, and though the frog is suspicious, he allows the scorpion on his back. The scorpion stings the frog in midstream, explaining that such an act is in its nature. The characteristic of spy agencies is that they spy. It’s the job of legislators to provide oversight, not carte blanche, but when someone like Feinstein falls down in her duty, she has only herself to blame when she is on the receiving end of violations.

She’s not alone, though, in experiencing a comeuppance. Blowhard British loudmouth, Piers Morgan–this fellow:

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is set to have his show, Piers Morgan Live, cancelled by CNN. Morgan developed a reputation for telling Americans how we should run our country and for shouting over his guests who didn’t meekly agree with his every comment. And lo! his ratings plummeted.

Now he’s welcome to express himself however he chooses, but at the same time, we’re not under any obligation to listen to him.

These two deserve each other:

With any luck, they can buy an island and inhabit it together, monitoring each other’s activities and explaining to each other how they are superior to the rest of us.

Barring that, we can enjoy seeing them wake up to the chomping sensation in their bums. Feinstein and Morgan, what you’re feeling is called life biting you in the arse. Since sitting will be difficult for you, how about joining us in standing up for our rights?

Adaptation

Bryan Fischer, former minister and current right-wing talkshow host, has concluded that he has the means of defeating Darwinism in four easy steps: first law, second law, fossils, and genes.

Isn’t that easy?

Well, not so much.

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1. First law

By this, he means the first law of thermodynamics. Said law states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed in a closed system. Recall that matter is superconcentrated energy, as Einstein’s famous equation tells us.

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Our universe is a closed system, and Fischer claims that this means that the universe cannot have come into existence on its own. Of course, how the universe actually did come into existence isn’t specified, other than to say, God did it, which qualifies as passing the intellectual buck.

What he also doesn’t recognize is the possibility that the universe–or the collective multiverse–always existed. There is nothing illogical in an infinite series, despite how disturbing that notion has been in Western philosophy.

2. Second law

The principle here is that closed systems tend toward disorder. Put another way, the energy of a system, while not destroyed, becomes unavailable to do work. The early work on this was done by this fellow:

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one Rudolf Clausius, who gives the impression with his look that he might know something about disorder. But this law, along with the first, explains why perpetual motion machines are impossible. Energy available to do work runs down over time. Fischer claims that this invalidates the concept of evolution, but what he misses is that the law applies only to closed systems. The general entropy of the universe increases, but local regions can trend the opposite way. Our planet receives energy from the Sun, making us energy trust-fund babies.

3. Fossils

I like trilobites.

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For whatever reason, they’ve always struck me as an aesthetically pleasing creature. Unfortunately, they went extinct some 252 million years ago, but they had a good run.

Fischer claims that there are no transitional forms in the fossil record, thus the idea of gaps. This has been tossed about in the more than 150 years since Darwin’s publication, but it’s a lot of heat without light.

For one thing, every creature in existence is a transitional form from ancestors to descendents. While species may last for a long period, there is inevitable change over time, and the fossil record shows this.

And then there’s the fact that only a tiny percentage of individual creatures actually fossilize. It’s the equivalent of looking at a set of encyclopaedias and seeing C, F, P, T, U, V, and Z. The sequence is there, but a lot is missing. That doesn’t deny the sequence. It just shows that we’re missing intermediate steps. But the overall history is clear.

Of course, what Fischer doesn’t notice is that there are no trilobites in rock layers younger than 252 million years of age. It’s odd–for his beliefs, anyway–that a consistent chronology of Earth’s living organisms can be seen all over. If as his narrative insists, lots of species died off in a single global flood, we should see a jumble of fossils, instead of an orderly pattern.

4. Genes

Here, Fischer tells us that mutations never produce good results and that changes from one species to another haven’t been observed, anyway.

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The ones pictured are E. coli, a good reason for being careful about cooking meat. But evolution is also why the antibiotic, triclosan, is becoming worthless. It’s been used in soap for too long, and some nasty germs have adapted to it. That is because individual bacteria show different combinations of genes, and those differences arise through mutation. Many mutations are bad, and those cause the death of the organism. But some are beneficial.

There’s an irony, though, that somehow I think Fischer has missed. Are you familiar with the fish symbol for Christ?

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They’re ubiquitous here in the south. The Greek word, ichthus, meaning fish, just so happens to be the initials of the phrase, Jesus Christ, son of God, savior, also in Greek. And there’s the frequent references to fish in the Gospels, the story involving a lot of fisherman. As does today’s subject, Bryan Fischer, but let’s not go too far down that punny path.

The fish showed up a while ago as the original bumper ornament, existing peacefully in its natural environment. Later, a bit of speciation occurred when a cross appeared as an eye on some of these fish.

But then, due to selection pressures, new species came along:

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And predictably, whenever a niche is filled in nature, there will come along other species to compete for those resources:

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More than that, new environments are exploited by new species:

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Of course, the reality of nature is that if species that don’t adapt, particularly ones that can’t shed maladaptive behavior, end up like this:

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Dear Facebook: Fuck You

Facebook keeps blocking me for making friend requests. Of course, I know hardly anyone who is called my friend on that site, and the reality is that it exists for two purposes:

1. Keep fools occupied with baby pictures and cheesy inspirational sayings

2. Businesses trying to separate the former from their money.

I fit into category number two.

But who cares? There’s an easy way to reject a friend request. Reject it. Big deal. The truth is that Facebook was created by a college dropout screwup who had to buy himself a wife to have someone who would pay him any attention. The site needs to hire someone with actual social skills to form rational policies.

Until then:

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WTF Meets Huh?

I was raised by fundamentalists, and while I saved myself from that nonsense–with the help of the writings of Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan, and Stephen Jay Gould–I still remember how such people think. That being said, this is bizarre, even for them:

Without the label, would you have realized that Wounded on the Battlefield was an anti-masturbation public service announcement from the Mormons?

But more than that, what kind of army are we seeing? I get the Yugoslavian SKS. It’s a good carbine, though it’s ten-round magazine is passé these days. But what is the story with the guy shooting a Marlin 60? It’s a good firearm, too, but it’s a .22 Long Rifle shooter.

O.K., so perhaps I don’t understand fundamentalists as much as I thought. I almost said that I’m not that much in touch with them, but the puns will have to wait till this article is over.

Let the puns begin.

Getting Out of Condition White

One of my places to get out into the open air and take a constitutional is Lake Fayetteville on the north end of the town of the same name in Arkansas. Some fellow on Youtube provides a tour of the soft trail:

and for rainy days like today, there’s a paved path. But in addition to staying in shape, the trails offer another opportunity–namely to get out of Condition White.

“What do I mean by that?” you ask. Well, you ask if you don’t know Saint Jeff of the Corps (Jeff Cooper, if you really don’t know). To review, he identified four conditions of awareness:

Condition White: Oblivious. Your response to being attacked is, “How can this be happening to me?” In fact, very little of the world around you enters into your attention without forcing its way in.

Condition Yellow: Relaxed alert. Nothing is threatening you at the moment, but you’re aware that something could come along at any time. You’re aware of your environment and what’s going on in it.

Condition Orange: Specific alert. Something is wrong. You’ve spotted a specific danger and have a plan for how to respond to it, while not losing track of the rest of the world around you. At this point, if possible and sensible, you should put distance between yourself and the danger.

Condition Red: Fight. You are fighting for your life, perhaps based on the plan you had in Orange, but be aware that few if any plans survive contact with the enemy.

We Trekkers understand the concept here.

At any rate, a lot of people talking about self-defense discuss these conditions, but what I don’t see is much on how to get over the Condition White that most people spend their lives in. The point of this article is to fill that gap.

1. Lose the gadgets.

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The world is an interesting place. If you can’t enjoy it without being absorbed into technology (another Star Trek reference), this article and blog isn’t for you. But cell phones, iPods, and other such foolishness take your attention away from what’s going on around you. With ear buds, you can’t hear what’s coming up behind or to the sides. If you’re sending messages (not texting, as there’s no such word), you might as well be safe at home under your covers. At the very least, look up and around from the toys now and then and again.

2. Clear your baffles.

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The baffles are the deaf spot for the sonar behind a submarine. Fighter pilots call it the six, as in check six. The idea here is that you can’t see behind you, so turn around periodically to see what’s back there. Prey animals have eyes on the sides of their heads to make this happen naturally, while predator species have forward-mounted eyes to provide stereoscopic vision and have to check astern. As the image of the poker hand should remind you, James Butler Hickok died when he sat with his back turned to the entrance to the saloon. Don’t make that error. Sometimes the path or the terrain gives you the chance to see a lot of where you came from. Use that. Use it also if there’s a long view ahead.

3. Keep your eyes open and your head up.

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The ground immediately around you may be interesting, but that’s not the sum of your environment. Look at the scenery. Trees have low branches that want to grab you. A copperhead may be crossing the path, or an armadillo could be rooting about on the hillside. I’ve seen both, and they were beautiful, showing that many things are simply a pleasure to notice. Deer fade into the background when you’re not looking.

4. Don’t fixate.

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You aren’t looking for anything in particular. You are just looking. You can appreciate the attractive person who just passed by, but don’t be a boor, and don’t forget that using a distraction is a smart tactic for an attacker. And there are interesting things all over to see.

5. Don’t fret.

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Your attention will wander. That’s fine, so long as you bring it back and keep bringing it back. At first, someone will pop into existence near you where no one was a moment before, but the more you practice paying attention, the farther out things will appear suddenly, and distance is your friend.

And that’s the idea. It’s not hard in concept, but it does take attending to what you’re doing. And it does get easier.

Or you can be surprised.

What to Do

In discussions about gun violence on news sites and gun control blogs, I’m often asked what my solution to the problem is.

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The incident at Newtown, Connecticut brings particular poignancy to this question.

First, let’s put this problem into perspective. The current U.S. population is somewhat over 318,000,000, according to the Census. Adding in non-resident visitors and uncounted aliens and rounding for ease of calculation, I’m calling it 320,000,000. Of that number, roughly 30,000 die per annum from gunshot, of which deaths two-thirds are suicides. That works out to 4.7 / 100,000, a rate that we hadn’t seen since the early 1960s.

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The chart here shows data from 1976 on.

This means that your chances of dying by gunfire in America in raw numbers are one in about 10,600. If you don’t shoot yourself, your chances improve to one in 32,000. The numbers vary from city to city, but in our centers of population, murder victims tend in large percentages to be people with criminal records themselves, so if you’re not a criminal, your odds get even better.

But certainly, 30,000 is too many. The answer to this problem in the eyes of some is gun control, but as regular readers know, that is something that I regard as a violation of the rights of good people. Is there another answer?

Submitted for your consideration are my suggestions for reducing violence of all types, including firearms violence, in this country:

1. End the War on Drugs.

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We’ve had a number of efforts at prohibition of substances, going all the way back to attempts at drying up the nation in the nineteenth century, but our current efforts at banning classes of entertaining drugs other than tobacco and alcohol got going for serious in the 1970s. In the forty years since, we’ve wasted a trillion dollars, and half of all federal prisoners are in for drug crimes.

As we saw in the 1920s during the Prohibition of alcohol, we are seeing again: Banning a substance only encourages criminal smuggling, gang warfare, collateral damage, and the ruining of lives of many who merely possess the forbidden fruit. Addiction should be treated as an illness, not a crime, and all recreational substances should be regulated in the manner that our two legal drugs, tobacco and alcohol, are. All who were convicted for mere possession should be immediately released and pardoned to remove the stigma of a criminal record.

2. Incarcerate violent offenders for longer terms.

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Once drugs cease to be a criminal matter, we will solve the problem of overcrowded prisons. This will create room for violent offenders. Criminals who use a firearm in the commission of a crime can have extra time added to their sentences.

3. Improve schools.

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As a teacher, I’ve gone on at length here about education reform. To sum up, we need to spend more money to pay teachers what they’re worth, to reduce class sizes, to repair and upgrade facilities, and to offer a wider selection of classes. The goal here is to provide all students with a chance to succeed. It seems obvious, but the more educated a population is, the less crime that population commits.

4. Improve access to mental health services–with the caveat that privacy must be protected.

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In these incidents of mass shootings, some shooters are seeking revenge against those whom they perceive as having wronged them, but the typical case is a young, white, male, loner with mental health problems. Unfortunately, such individuals don’t often see themselves as needing treatment. I suspect that part of their reluctance involves a fear of being reported, so making privacy a guarantee is important. Of course, young men who head down the road to becoming a mass shooter reach a point of no return. That leads me to the next two points.

5. Stop making these shooters stars.

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As author and space scientist, David Brin, argues, we should treat these mass shooters in the same manner as the Ephesians wished to treat the arsonist who burned down the Temple of Artemis. His name was to be erased and never recalled again. This, of course, will require the voluntary cooperation of news organizations, since we cannot do right by violating rights. But as long as America has a love affair with wacko killers, those nutcases will have motivation.

6. Address bullying.

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Here in America, the intellectual loner is not a popular type. But a core value of our nation is that we all should be free to express our own individuality. That is one of the key messages that should be taught until the concept is absorbed. We can be ourselves without demeaning others. At the least, it should be clear that attacking others will not be tolerated.

But there’s more. We’ve created a culture in schools where someone who acts in self-defense is treated the same way as the person who started the fight. One solution to this is to teach martial arts–Krav Maga, for example, since it’s free of the religious overtones of Eastern systems–and make it clear that human beings, even students, have the right to stop physical violence used against them.

These are my answers to the problem, realistically assessed, of violence in our society. We will not eliminate all of it. Violence is in human nature, and Americans are more violent as a culture than other societies, but we can go a long way along reducing it. And we can do so without violating our rights.