Communion Of Dreams

Revenge? Justice?
December 30, 2008, 3:23 pm
Filed under: Civil Rights, Constitution, Government, MetaFilter, Religion, Society, Violence

This will not be an easy post to read. If you’re looking for something light and happy, move along.

So, when is something an act of revenge and torture? And when is it a simple act of justice?

A doctor can remove your hand to save you from death by gangrene, or a doctor can remove your hand as a state-sanctioned punishment. What is the difference?

I’m going to be very up-front about my bias here: my father was murdered, and were it up to me his killer would have been put to death just as soon as there was no reasonable doubt that he was guilty of the crime. That’s a simple hankering after revenge. I also think that there is a legitimate case to be made that it makes sense for the State to execute murderers, but that’s not what I want to talk about here. Rather I just mention this so you know where my bias is.

A man blinds a woman who has rejected his offer of marriage. Does it with acid. What punishment does he deserve? Can you envision being blinded with acid could be a legitimate, state-sanctioned punishment? Now wait, there’s more to the story:

Late last month, an Iranian court ordered that five drops of the same chemical be placed in each of her attacker’s eyes, acceding to Bahrami’s demand that he be punished according to a principle in Islamic jurisprudence that allows a victim to seek retribution for a crime. The sentence has not yet been carried out.

The implementation of corporal punishments allowed under Islamic law, including lashing, amputation and stoning, has often provoked controversy in Iran, where many people have decried such sentences as barbaric. This case is different.

Yes, it is different. The usual sentence under the law is for the offending person to pay “blood money” compensation to his victim. And in the society where women are not valued as much as men, this penalty can be a small amount – enough so that such acid attacks are on the rise. But there is one way in which men and women are equal under the law: she can demand retribution. In this case, literally an ‘eye for an eye’. From the same article:

“At an age at which I should be putting on a wedding dress, I am asking for someone’s eyes to be dripped with acid,” she said in a recent interview, as rain poured against the windows of her parents’ small apartment in a lower-middle-class neighborhood of Tehran. “I am doing that because I don’t want this to happen to any other women.”

Some officials also said the punishment would be a deterrent.

“If propaganda is carried out on how acid attackers are punished, it will prevent such crimes in the future,” Mahmoud Salarkia, deputy attorney general of Tehran, told reporters after the court issued its ruling.

OK, revenge? Justice?

I spent a good deal of time reading about this case, and the reactions that people have to it, over on MeFi. Here’s a good comment I want to share:

Cruelty isn’t justice.

There is no such thing as justice. Some wrongs, once perpetrated, can never be undone, balanced, or compensated for. Justice is a fiction we permit ourselves to aid in codifying society’s response to rule breakers. If we do too little, we live at the mercy of the most brutal among us. If we do too much, we become the most brutal among us. So we try to find a middle ground, and we call that justice, and try to forget that there is no magic formula for deterring violence or relieving the victims of cruelty. A cruel and brutal response to cruelty and brutality absolutely can and does continue the cycle. Unfortunately, a measured and merciful response to cruelty and brutality doesn’t necessarily break the cycle, either. So we aim for whatever measure of consistency best helps us sleep at night. And as always, your mileage will vary.

And here’s an excerpt from another:

Laws are a citizen’s primary education in justice, and Shari’ah is quite clear. Women living under Shari’ah are second-class citizens from the perspective of testimony, inheritance, marriage, and divorce. Two female witnesses are needed to convict one man, a woman inherits half of what her brother will receive, Muslim women may not marry non-Muslim men, but Muslim men may marry non-Muslim women, (plus polygamy is allowed but not polyandry,) and men may initiate a divorce but women may not.

Is it any surprise that men who grow up with such laws would sometimes choose to destroy the face of their beloved? Shari’ah law enforces a sexist double standard that disadvantages women, and so everyone treats them as disadvantaged. Such legal standards have a strong educative effect: they persuade citizens of their justice because they are backed by the tripartite authorities of tradition, the state’s allegedly justified violence, and God’s Word. Yet within that tradition, from the position of an authorized jurist, and with the backing of an alternative interpretation of Scripture, there are plenty of nuances and interpretive freedoms that would allow a jurist to steer Shari’ah towards more progressive ends.

The one place where women aren’t supposed to be unequal is in regards to their equality before Allah. Thus, in matters of retribution, they deserve the same protections that a man would receive. Unfortunately, so many of the other procedural inequalities don’t really allow that, which is why this seemingly barbarous punishment is the best way to achieve equal procedural consideration for women and men: the question before the court was equality or patriarchy, and it has chosen equality. Equality, in this case, means judicial blinding.

Without laws that are basically fair and equitable, how can we expect citizens to relate to each other as equals? And without equality, how can there be an end to the acid, for both victims and perpetrators?

There’s a lot to make you think – and think hard – in that thread, about what is the nature of justice and revenge. We make the assumption now that jail time is the appropriate form of punishment for almost all serious crimes, fines for lesser ones. But those forms of punishment do not hit all equally, nor do they really seem to work particularly well. Then add in the layer that in this situation, in this country, a woman getting equal treatment under the law is actually progress.

As I said, I have a bias. I am of the opinion that there are many crimes which when committed, place one outside the usual humane treatment of society (as an aside, that’s what the term “outlaw” actually used to mean – that you were outside the protection of the law, and could be attacked and even murdered without legal retribution.) If you do thus-and-such, you no longer deserve to be treated humanely. Murder, torture, maiming – these are such crimes, as far as I am concerned. I’d have no problems at all with the punishment of blinding by acid for what this man did.

But I’m not sure I’d want our society to function that way.

So, revenge? Justice?


Jim Downey

(Cross posted to UTI.)

Kill your TV.
December 29, 2008, 8:25 pm
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Politics, Religion, Society

Let’s see how many people I can piss off . . .

Saw a good thread over on Balloon Juice. In a nice rant about the stupidity of how the mainstream media is covering the effects of the financial collapse on Wall Street, John Cole made the comment “I may have to just shoot my tv.”

This particular sentiment was picked up in the discussion which followed. One of the best passages from that said, in part:

Fifteen years ago I was so broke I sold my tv to make rent. I didn’t have much of a withdrawl. I spent the next 10 years without a tv, and I began to notice very weird things. I noticed how a ton of people couldn’t describe an event or situation without referring to some TV show. I call it the Seinfeld Effect, because at that time so many people would try to describe some event in their life and they just couldn’t without saying ‘Omygod it’s just like that Seinfeld where George and Jerry do that thing with..blah blah blah’.

I don’t watch TV. We got out of the habit when caring for my Mother-in-Law, since regular programing would greatly confuse her Alzheimer’s-addled brain. Eventually, we just dropped our cable service altogether, and didn’t bother to reconnect it once she passed away. I don’t miss it in the slightest. I get my news online and from the radio, I watch movies (and a few select TV shows which enough people will recommend) via DVD/NetFlix. And I think that I think more clearly as a result. It’s a lot like giving up on religion.

Seriously – you stop believing stuff just because it is on the tube. You stop buying-into the whole cultural imperative to be on top of the latest fad, the latest product, the latest brainwashing. You start to think more for yourself, and to give less of yourself over to others.

This isn’t the first time I have given up on TV. While in grad school my TV died, and I really didn’t see the sense in buying a new one. For about four years I just didn’t watch TV. Then I learned the same lessons as I have this time. Except this time, I look back on the period between those two absences, when I did occasionally watch TV (though still a hell of a lot less than average), and I am convinced that I lost more of myself to being sucked into the TV than I ever thought possible at the time. It is only when you are outside of that trap that you see just how insidious it is.

So, the old adage is right: kill your television. Because it is killing your ability to think.

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to UTI.)

Convergence of interests.
December 28, 2008, 9:25 am
Filed under: Ballistics, Flu, Guns, Health, Pandemic, Preparedness, Society, Survival

Naturally enough, given the backstory and plot devices in Communion of Dreams, I have written here many times about the threat of pandemic flu.  And given my recent involvement in the Ballistics by the inch project, I have also written about ballistics fairly often.  But it is still a little weird to see the two things come together.

Say what?

I was doing a little checking on the Bbti site stats this morning, since we created the site a month ago (didn’t go public with it until two days later).  To date we’ve had just under (by about 2,000) a third of a million hits to that site.  In looking at where the site had been mentioned (referring links), I noticed that early this month it had been posted in a thread over at PANDEMIC FLU INFORMATION FORUM.


Sure, it makes sense.  As I have argued here, being prepared for a pandemic may well mean being armed.  And in making some intelligent decisions about firearm ownership, particularly for those who are not already firearms owners, having a resource like Bbti can be very helpful.  This was one of the primary reasons we came up with the project, after all.  Still, it was a little odd to see the site mentioned and discussed in the context of pandemic flu for me this morning.

Now if I could just get them to mention Communion of Dreams . . .

Jim Downey

First contact.
December 27, 2008, 11:05 am
Filed under: Art, National Geographic, Science, Science Fiction, tech

No, not that kind.  Rather, first contact of a technological kind:

“First Contact With Inner Earth”: Drillers Strike Magma

A drilling crew recently cracked through rock layers deep beneath Hawaii and accidentally became the first humans known to have drilled into magma—the melted form of rock that sometimes erupts to the surface as lava—in its natural environment, scientists announced this week.

“This is an unprecedented discovery,” said Bruce Marsh, a volcanologist from Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, who will be studying the find.

* * *

The drilling was being conducted for an existing geothermal power plant built to harvest heat from the world’s most active volcanic zone, Kilauea volcano, which has been spewing lava continuously since 1983.

Don Thomas, a geochemist from the University of Hawaii’s Center of the Study of Active Volcanoes, said it was just a matter of time until some drilling operation there struck hot magma.

OK, not exactly a borehole pressure mine (gods, I love that game), but still very very cool. Or hot, to be literal. 1,900 degrees Fahrenheit.

I’ve had an idea about using such a source for doing cast stone sculpture – pouring molten magma into heat-resistant forms – I wonder if they’d be interested in having an artist in residence?

Jim Downey

Mincemeat mice play puppets all the time.
December 24, 2008, 1:52 pm
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Health, Hospice, NPR, Predictions, Preparedness, Science, Sleep, Survival

No, I don’t know what it means.

It was one of those things I woke up thinking in the middle of the night, a week or so ago. So I wrote it down.

Why did I wake up in the middle of the night, thinking such a thing?  Good question.  It was about 3:00, the usual time I would wake and go check on Martha Sr the last couple of years of her life.  And even though it’s been almost a year since her death, I still wake about that time fairly often.  I try and get back to sleep, and usually succeed.  Because I know sleep is important to my recovery.

I’ve mentioned several times the steps I am taking to get my health under control, and why.  For the last six weeks now my blood pressure has been stable in the 145/85 range.   Still high, and next month when I see my doctor we may need to tweak my dosages again, but about 90/40 points better than it was three months ago.  The meds I’m taking, a beta blocker and a calcium channel blocker, are doing their jobs and helping me detox from my cortisol and norepinephrine overloads, but I’m not past it all yet.  My waking at night, even occasional bouts of insomnia, are evidence of that.

And researchers have added another level of understanding to just how dangerous this sleep disruption is:

Morning Edition December 24, 2008 · The human heart requires a certain amount of sleep every night to stay healthy, and that link between sleep and heart health is stronger than researchers suspected, according to a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

* * *

When they put it all together, the researchers got a surprising result. Among these healthy, middle-aged volunteers, those who averaged five or fewer hours of sleep had a much bigger incidence of silent heart disease.

“Twenty-seven percent of them developed coronary artery calcification over the five years of follow-up,” Lauderdale says. “Whereas among the persons who slept seven hours or more, on average, only 6 percent developed coronary artery calcification.”

In other words, the sleep-deprived people had 4.5 times the risk of heart disease — and that’s after researchers subtracted out the effects of other known coronary risk factors, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and smoking.

It remains to be seen why too-little sleep is linked to clogged coronaries. Maybe it has something to do with stress hormones. Lauderdale says other studies have shown that depriving people of sleep raises their levels of cortisol, one stress hormone.

I don’t yet have any indication of serious heart disease.  The preliminary checks from visiting the doctor over the last few months haven’t turned anything up, but she has been mostly concerned with getting my blood pressure under control.  We’ll be doing a more complete exam in the new year, now that this other issue is less of an immediate concern.

That’s not to say that I expect that we’ll find anything.  But neither would it surprise me if we did, given what else I know about what the stresses I’ve placed my body under over the last five years.  I’ve been my own puppet, dancing at all hours.

Maybe that’s what it means.

Jim Downey

The world at 40.
December 24, 2008, 1:18 pm
Filed under: Apollo program, Art, Astronomy, General Musings, NASA, NPR, Science, Space

The rocket blasted off with a huge spread of flame and hurled the men into space. They became the first earthlings to watch their home planet grow smaller and smaller and smaller, until it was floating far away and tiny in the darkness.

From this morning’s NPR coverage of the Apollo 8 mission to orbit the Moon 40 years ago. Most of the world remembers it best thanks to Earthrise, the iconic image from the mission, which gave us all a new perspective of our fragile little home.

It’s a good story. As I said elsewhere in a discussion of my memories from the event, I expect there will be few other such moments in my life.

Jim Downey

I wonder if the coffee was any good.
December 23, 2008, 6:17 pm
Filed under: Humor, Marketing, Society, Violence, YouTube

Another brief post – been busy all day – but had to share this delightful YouTube post:

It’s a series of short advertisements that Jim Henson did which are surprisingly violent but also pretty damned funny.

Yes, I have a twisted sense of humor.

Jim Downey

“blah blah Ginger…”
December 23, 2008, 12:24 pm
Filed under: Comics, Humor

Now, this is why we have powerful computers and the internet:  Far Side Reenactments.

Jim Downey

(Via MeFi.)

Watch out,
December 22, 2008, 11:37 am
Filed under: Art, Humor, PZ Myers, Society

Dr. Horrible – there’s a new league of Superheros around!

Wow – that’s just awesome. So, what would your Superhero name be? I’ve already been GalleryMan, but I suppose I would need to come up with something new now. Hmm…

Jim Downey

Via PZ. Cross posted to UTI

Just write the $^@&!(# check.
December 22, 2008, 11:09 am
Filed under: Art, Emergency, Failure, Government, Politics, Predictions, Society

So, last time I borrowed money from a bank, for a Federally-guaranteed Small Business Loan, it was a bit of a nightmare.  They wanted to know everything down to my shoe size, with a fair amount of documentation to support the claim that I wear an 11 wide.  And, needless to say, they wanted to know exactly what I was going to do with the $50,000 I wanted to borrow – complete with a detailed business plan, revenue forecasts, et cetera.  Given that I wanted to borrow the money, I didn’t find this too onerous; rather it seemed to be a reasonable expectation, if a tad tedious.

But don’t expect that street to run both ways.

Where’d the bailout money go? Shhhh, it’s a secret

WASHINGTON – It’s something any bank would demand to know before handing out a loan: Where’s the money going?

But after receiving billions in aid from U.S. taxpayers, the nation’s largest banks say they can’t track exactly how they’re spending the money or they simply refuse to discuss it.

“We’ve lent some of it. We’ve not lent some of it. We’ve not given any accounting of, ‘Here’s how we’re doing it,'” said Thomas Kelly, a spokesman for JPMorgan Chase, which received $25 billion in emergency bailout money. “We have not disclosed that to the public. We’re declining to.”

The Associated Press contacted 21 banks that received at least $1 billion in government money and asked four questions: How much has been spent? What was it spent on? How much is being held in savings, and what’s the plan for the rest?

None of the banks provided specific answers.

Well, no, of course they didn’t. It might lead to somewhat awkward revelations, such as this:

AP study finds $1.6B went to bailed-out bank execs

Banks that are getting taxpayer bailouts awarded their top executives nearly $1.6 billion in salaries, bonuses, and other benefits last year, an Associated Press analysis reveals.

The rewards came even at banks where poor results last year foretold the economic crisis that sent them to Washington for a government rescue. Some trimmed their executive compensation due to lagging bank performance, but still forked over multimillion-dollar executive pay packages.

Benefits included cash bonuses, stock options, personal use of company jets and chauffeurs, home security, country club memberships and professional money management, the AP review of federal securities documents found.

Your tax dollars at work.

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to UTI and dKos.)