Only way to get there is to keep on goin'.

About that “torture” discussion…

I resisted an obvious — I hope it’s obvious — temptation to comment on the recent torture report, not because I wasn’t sure what to say, but because I was pretty sure what to say.

Playing into this is the bullshit that went into justifying our invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. And before that, our collective self-delusions following 9/11. I wrote at tedious length about each, and to no apparent end, other than to alienate a few acquaintances. 1

Fortunately for me (now I don’t have to write it) and fortunately for you (you don’t have to read my prose), David Simon has written what I would call, in this circumstance, a perfectly balanced, calm, and rational analysis of the matter.

If you’re not familiar with Simon’s prose, and his beliefs, consider his opening line.

Here’s the sad fucking truth:

The man is a national treasure. Go read him.

  1. I can’t politely say “bad rubbish,” but “good riddance” may not be far off the mark.  ↩

Yeah, what would he do?

The Vatican, in delicate terms, reports that Francis 1 will not meet with with the Dalai Lama. The decision to turn down such a meeting is not presented as Francis’ own choice; it has been announced (decided?) on his behalf, perhaps even without serious or meaningful input from the man himself. 1

So. Why would the Vatican want not to offend the Chinese? 2 What is there about China which would prompt the Vatican to defer to Chinese political considerations?

Well, for one thing, there are around one hundred million Catholics in China currently, and virtually all of them cut off from Rome: some twenty million or so adhere to an alternate sort of Catholic Church run by “official” leaders; the rest apparently are willing but unable to connect with Rome. That is a hundred million whom the Vatican might wish to gather into what is an uncertain flock. 3

Also, and perhaps even more importantly, China has become a dominant player in global economics, and can only get bigger. That’s economics, as in wealth. Money. Resources.

Rome cannot help being concerned about the economics. Consider. It’s an organization which, for the best part of two millennia, has been gathering and stock-piling wealth: currency, real estate, art treasures; you name it, and if it’s anything to do with money, the Catholic Church is a big player.

But if the church is so big, why would it worry? Wouldn’t its very wealth guarantee its continued success and safety?

No. Even with Mafia muscle, the Church is no match for the ambition of a world super-power. If the Chinese decide they want to take, take over, over-run, or run away with something — an island or a bank, for instance — the only thing likely to give them pause is the military power of the USA.

So. While Rome does try not to antagonize Washington, no one expects the US will react overtly should an offense be noted.

With Beijing, the situation is different.

Francis, therefore, will not antagonize anyone by meeting with any of the Nobel winners assembled just down the street from his place.

All that’s left is that quirky old question. WWJD? 4


I wondered at first how there could be one hundred million Catholics in China. Now it appears that was way off. The acknowledged figure is somewhere closer to ten million. One-tenth as many. It doesn’t change the basic question, however, though it probably makes the Church of Rome look even worse.


  1. I can imagine Francis, or someone like him — assuming he is anything like what I’d hoped for since John 23 — agreeing, or even arranging, to have this presentation decided by Vatican officials, and not by himself.  ↩
  2. There’s no question that this — taking care not to offend the Chinese — was the reason for snubbing the Dalai Lama.  ↩
  3. The Church in Latin America, not so long ago the pride of Rome, is lately in decline, as seems to be true in Africa and Southeast Asia as well.  ↩
  4. Nothing in the records, so far as I know, to suggest a parallel situation back then. Can’t help suspecting though, that had some other high-principled leader, one with affection for ordinary folk, asked Francis’ precursor for a meet, it would have happened. And any real or suspected opposition from the Procurator of Judea would only have increased the odds of a meeting. ↩

Crime and punishment

Why do we punish criminals? That is, what is the purpose of penalizing those who break the rules which we accept as limitations on our actions?1

So far, I’ve been able to categorize, or at least to put into lists, various reasons for the penalties we exact. What I’ve come up with is this.

Penalties are decreed/enforced for three groups:

The first group is the guilty party, the criminal. Penalties are intended to

  1. punsh him for his action (or inaction)
  2. discourage him from further violations

The second group is society at large. Penalties are intended to

  1. satisfy collective outrage
  2. discourage others from similar violations

The third group is the victim. Penalties are intended to

  1. repay the victim for his loss
  2. impose retribution on the guilty

Which of those are the more important, which the less? Have I omitted any which ought to be included, or included any which do not belong?

These questions are more or less rhetorical, but feel free to answer them if you wish. This is still a rough draft of an idea; usually I wait until an idea is fully formed, or its presentation has been edited and revised a few times, before throwing it out in public.

So this is an on-going exercise. Experiment. There are (I hope) obvious connections to a few earlier posts. I want to develop a clear statement of my own beliefs about the way things are, and possibly to suggest how they might be made better.

  1. Don’t yet quibble with the terminology. I’m trying to generate a rational analysis here. This is simply a starting point.  ↩

Though experiment: your image

Stage 1

Imagine a picture of yourself, one you’ve seen or one which might be taken tomorrow. But make it a specific sort of picture — flattering, candid, goofy, elegant, whatever you like.

Now then, suppose someone tells you that picture is going to be published on the front page of your daily paper, is going to be published

  1. IF you pay a certain amount, or
  2. UNLESS you pay a certain amount.

Okay, you see the gimmick.

Stage 2-A

Imagine the best possible picture of yourself. Would you pay to have it published? How much?

Stage 2-B

Imagine the worst possible picture of yourself. Would you pay to prevent its publication? How much?

This is not a public poll. Consider it a tentative look at changes in our ideas of self and privacy. You’ll probably see where this is going if you check a post I wrote early last year.

More tomorrow, or sometime soon.

If it’s a person, it can go to jail

Corporations are people. Contradict with legalese — or even with common sense — to no avail. A corporation is a person, just as surely as money is speech.

That person — the corporation — has all the rights and perquisites of you and me; more, no doubt, which we might appreciate if we were privy to and could hope to understand the fine print in laws and findings and rulings. But we can’t, you and I, can’t quite figure out what it all means. That guy over there, the corperson, it knows. It knows, because it paid good money to insure its will would be incorporated into those laws and findings, etc.

But I digress, almost. My purpose was to point out one very real, and to me, absolutely fascinating difference between us and that corperson over there.

Suppose you were convicted of a serious felony. You swindled an old lady out of home and money, left her destitute, begging in the street for food. A compassionate jury would find you guilty; an upright judge would require that you repay what you stole and spend five to eight years in prison as well.

Now then, what happens if that other person, that corperson we’re looking at, the one over there with the crafty smile, what happens if it swindles old ladies? Or burns down a small town with a renegade tank car full of oil? Or kills a few hundred people who were unlucky enough to live where a chemical plant would be built? Or simply ruins a few hundred miles of coastline when one of its oil wells blows up?

You know what happens. What happened. Public outrage and legal action. Eventually, corperson was found guilty in court and ordered to pay a bazillion and a half dollars in fines.


Corperson does not have to do any hard time, does not have to do any time at all. Not even a couple weekends in county jail or a month at that minimum security rest home in the hills. Corperson agrees to pay the fine, and walks. And begins a week later filing petitions and appeals, and requests for delay of payment, and investigations to prove the victims’ complicity in their own misfortune.

Ignore, for a moment, the remote chance that the entire 1.5 bazillion will actually be paid out, and that it will come from the personal wealth of corperson rather than at the expense of customers, employees, and — should things get that bad — stock holders.

I suspect that such fines would be categorized by corperson’s accountant as a legitimate business expense, and therefore a tax exemption. Which means that you and I, unsophisticated tax payers, would have to pay just a bit more. Which adds you and me to the list of stooges actually footing the bill.

My question is, why not put corperson in the slammer?

Can’t be done, you say.

Can be done, I say.

Confiscate assets. Shut down plants. Cancel contracts. Disconnect utilities. Cordon offices. Lock down storage facilities.

Corperson need not file for bankruptcy. It can resume business as soon as that seven-year sentence has been served. Going to be hard, perhaps, getting back into the swing of things. Picking up where it left off, recapturing market share, reassuring stockholders. But hey, that’s what flesh and blood people have to do. No reason I can see not to make artificial people do the same.

But then, I still can’t see how a corporation is a person in the first place.

Road to Riches


Well, that’s a bit over the top.

Give us a little push, please?

That sounds better.

What we’re asking for is a couple minutes of your time to help advance a guaranteed absolutely fool-proof never-fail sure-to-make-us-all-rich plan.

Sounds too good to be true?

Of course it is.

Still, it might turn a dollar or two. And provide a few moments of amusement along the way.

What we’d like you to do is sign up for Quirky, and then vote in favor of Mysquitoasis. That’s what we’re calling the design for a two-person mosquito-proof outfit for the back yard or picnics or the beach or a sporting event.

Quirky is an on-line gadget developer. If enough folks vote yes on Mysquitoasis in the next seven days — before June 22 — the idea will go to a panel of experts who could approve it for real-life development.

And if that happens, we will get a small percentage of any profit on the idea, and people who vote for it may get a teensy percentage of any profit. With no risk to anyone if the whole thing goes belly-up in the market.

Worth a shot, no? You can sign up at Quirky, using an e-mail address or a FaceBook connection. Take a look at the Mysquitoasis design/plan, vote for it, then sit back and wait for money to come rolling in.

Or not. Nothing guaranteed but a few moments of good cheer.