Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Conspiracy Theory

I grabbed the picture from Flickr and then clicked "blog it" because it's the easiest way to get the attribution right. The funny thing is that people coming to the blog will see just the photo with the title: "Where's the Birth Certificate?"

I've never seriously doubted that Barack Obama was born in the USA. I'm not sure why he seems so foreign to so many Americans, but it's precisely that sort of belief I've been ruminating about for the last week or so.

Election seasons here in the USA are long and with elections in November the political ads are everywhere. The way that some Americans conceive of the world, well they believe in conspiracy theories! There's quite a bit of distance between what I think and some of these theories, but I don't feel smug about that. When I try to put a narrative together about what's really going on, I fall into my own versions of conspiracy theories.

Ruminating along these lines I remembered a point that Phil Jones made in his writing about Netocracy that conspiracy theory might "play the role for NetoCracy that religion did under feudalism?"

I went searching for "netocracy" and saw a bunch of links of which quite a few turned out to be me pointing to Phil Jones. I blushed as there seemed something sycophanitc about them. Sycophancy is surely relevant to the whole idea of NetoCracy. The Wikipedia article on syncophancy helpfully provides 15 alternative phrases: toady, lickspittle, bootlicker, etc., none of the descriptions I'd like to think of myself in re Mr. Jones, whom I hold in high esteem.

It is odd that not many others than Jones say much about Netocracy. I suspect that one reason for that has to do with the question Phil asks about conspiracy theories playing an epistemological role. I think that's a question that comes to mind even if nobody hears Jones explicitly ask it. Conspiracy theories are discredited, something only "they" believe in, so that makes a high hurdle to talking in terms of netocracy. Anyhow, Jones posted a link to a paper on Netocracy he delivered at the Wittgenstein Symposium which is a short primer on the construct.

Jones writes:
Central to their [Bard and Söderqvist] thinking is that the ruling class will arise through their aptitude for managing, trading and filtering information streams, while the underclass have little control over the streams to which they are connected, and are effectively bamboozled into subservience.
I added the link to Amazon's page for Bard and Söderqvist book. Oh, in this election cycle I'm feeling bamboozled and think too many of my fellow Americans are too.

My family name is Powers, which is a common name in the USA. I was rather angry about the recent news that a shadowy privately held organization was given a contract by Pennsylvania to collect information on citizen groups and their information forwarded to corporations, corporation lobbyists and law enforcement officials. The person who made the contract is named James F. Powers the head of Pennsylvania Homeland Security. There's no relation so far as I know, but his family name probably did preclude my screaming for his head on a platter.

The cost of this contract makes it small potatoes really, but the contract raises all sorts of issues, so I'm happy there's be some sustained attention to it. Powers made himself very scarce after the controversy erupted but he testified before a panel of the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee looking into the matter yesterday.

The link to the story online doesn't include a picture of Powers, but the print edition did. He looks like he could be related to me ;-) One reason the whole affair made me so angry is that the exploitation of natural gas at depths of a mile or more is a very important issue facing Pennsylvanians now. ITRR the organization doing these reports is a shadowy group. The Governor released their product publicly. Working from those reporters were able to fill redacted parts of documents ITRR had released on their Web site. ITRR said that they redacted portions "to protect client privacy." Extrapolating from that Massey Energy and Koch Industries are probably clients of ITRR.

After testifying before the Senate panel Powers talked to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporters and told them:
"As a private citizen, I'm actually against drilling, but my responsibility as a public official is to support the rights of people legitimately doing business. I have to protect them," he said. "As long as they're legally conducting business with permits to drill, my responsibility is to protect them."
There are 872 wells in reporting data given to the state so far. I don't imagine there are too many Pennsylvanians who think they can to anything to stop further drilling. But there are plenty who wish that the drilling goes on nowhere near them. So when Powers says he "against drilling" he probably means "not in my backyard" which I totally relate to. Anyhow the political decisions are much more to do with "how" and under what restrictions drilling proceeds than it is a pro and con issue. Matters of policy entail quite a lot of nuance and detail and that's why citizen meetings are so necessary.

For example as the drilling goes down a mile or so vertically to the ground surface the wells are then exploited by fracturing horizontal seams. So there's an issue depending on your point of view of "fair pooling" or "forced pooling" where if a sufficient number of your neighbors have sold their mineral rights and you retain them companies can still drill beneath your property. People in communities want to talk about things like this. And it's not surprising that companies would want to know who said what at such meetings, on the other hand it hardly seems the role of government to pay the tab for such surveillance and report production.

James F. Powers holds the rank of colonel. Powers's boss Robert French, director of Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency holds the rank of general. Both men in their civilian capacity were dressed in business suits when they testified. The point is that Powers has a great deal of experience, so his notion that his job is to protect drilling interests isn't a mistake.

Smedley Butler was a Major General in the US Marine Corps and one of the most revered officers ever. Butler went before a congressional committee (national) in 1934 and testified that a group of business leaders had contacted him to lead a military coup d'etat against then president Franklin Roosevelt. In 1935 he toured the country giving a speech War Is a Racket. A pamphlet of the same was also published and got wide circulation. Butler wrote:
"War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small 'inside' group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes."
Here are a couple of links from Phil Jones's wiki, the first NetoCracy and the second Conspiracy Theories The general outlines of conspiracy may not have changed that much since the 1930's but what has changed is the billions being created through commons based peer production. Military theorist John Robb wrote a piece recently entitled Cognitive Slaves. I chuckled when I read Robb say about himself: "an optimist (believe it or not)." The funny part is I do believe him. Whether or not Phil Jones would call himself an optimist, I don't know; I can't say I've seen him write that. Nonetheless, Phil is a very constructive fellow, I know that. And he sees some potential good in Netocracy.

Networks aren't all bad nor all good. To steer into the good and avoid the bad, it matters quite a lot the conspiracy theories one subscribes to. Despite his own personal views about gas drilling in Pennsylvania James Powers considered it his duty to report to lobbyist of energy companies; his duty is conceived as protecting their interests. Therefore the conspiracies he's concerned about are meetings like parents trying to get to the bottom of school administrators plans to open up drilling on school grounds. Two quite different conspiracy theories are operative in situations like that, but only one is named "conspiracy" by the state. Powers seems completely blind to the other one.

Things are going to hell in a hand basket here in the USA. I'm not alone in feeling a sense of doom about the up coming elections. But I don't think it altogether helpful to think in polarized left/right dichotomy when it comes to conspiracy theories simply because it seems to messy to try to cut them up that way. I sniff around at the Web site of The Smedley Butler Society and it's hard for me tell if it smells right or left. It seems to me that smelling a racket isn't something completely dependent on political persuasion. Left and right people are sensing conspiracies and there's more agreement about these theories that most of us seem to think.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Pennsylvania Beautiful

Yesterday I was angry about a brouhaha ongoing in the state where I live. A part of that anger had to do with the local impact and the rest the national implications of it. Anyhow I was mad. I need to correct a few things in yesterday's post.

The first is the date; it was actually posted in the early morning of Sept. 16 not Sept 12.

Second, I need to be clear that I do not impute the integrity of Jan Jarrett and Penn Future.

I wrote a letter to the Governor of the state, but was sensible enough to put that aside for a while before sending it, knowing that in my anger the email would sound stupid. I also sent an email to Jan Jarrett president & CEO of Penn Future. The truth of the matter is I don't know an awful lot about the organization. Here's their thumbnail description of themselves:
An organization of citizens committed to a vision of the future that places the conservation of our natural resources at the center of a vibrant economy.
In the USA there are many organizations something like Penn Future. They are not affiliated with political parties and don't endorse candidates but do the hard work of trying to figure out sound public policy and then work to get policy enacted.

Different groups have particular perspectives and often those perspectives don't always match my own. The Sierra Club is a well-known national environmental group with local chapters all over the USA. I agree with the mission of the Sierra Club, but I linked to the Wikipedia article because there's always going to be talk about one stance or another. Organizations can do good without everyone agreeing about everything, and sometime the disagreements are important.

Penn Future works on environmental issues. There are other groups who work on different issues for example improving education. There is a difference between citizen groups and professional groups with citizen groups often taking into account a more diverse views. Sometimes civil society groups can be downright annoying to me, but they play an essential part in public policy here.

The long and short of all this: my email to Jarrett was offensive because I implied impropriety on her part. I re-read what I wrote at this blog yesterday and I don't read what I said here as impugning her integrity. Still, I want to be clear that I never intended to do that, and nobody should take anything I say about her or Penn Future as an attack on them. The work they do is vitally important and I appreciate it.

I won't go into the contents of Jarrett's email replies except to note that she was outraged by the State contract with ITRR, as I was.

The third issue has to do with ITRR (Institute of Terrorism Research and Response). I referred to it online as an Israeli Company. After I posted I went to the newspaper I read at home, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette online and read this story. I suspect there will be further information coming out, but the PG reporters did a good job figuring out about ITRR and my take "Israeli Company" is wrong. First of all ITRR is a not-for-profit corporation. The co-director of ITRR is Michael Perelman who is also principle of Perelman Security Group, which seems to be a for-profit company. The paper writes:
Mr. Perelman was a member of the York police department for 20 years. His business partner is Aaron Richman, a former Israeli police officer.
The business and the non-profit aspects of ITRR raise red flags, but I have no evidence that there is anything illegal involved. While ITRR claims offices in Israel and the US, ITRR is not a "company" but a not-for-profit corporation here in the USA and registered in Pennsylavnia. I have no idea how it is registered in Israel, nor whether the Perelman Group is licensed as a corporation in Israel as well as the USA.

I went to FlickrCC a site to search for pictures at Flickr with Creative Commons Licenses. I was looking for a photo that showed something of what it looks like here in Pennsylvania. Photo Credit: Nicholas T found at Flickr here published with a CC 2.0 License. Nicholas T has hundreds of wonderful photos taken in the state posted.

I love Pennsylvania. There are many very beautiful places on Earth, but I live here and am often bowled over by the beauty of the landscape. There are also many deep scars on the environment visible. Many of the scars are from the legacy of coal mining. In the late 1960's and 1970's efforts began in earnest to reclaim some scarred lands and polluted waterways from coal mining damage.

There are too many interconnected policies to describe important to this effort and there still is much to do. Nonetheless part of the reclamation is tied to present day mining. I may not have it exactly right, but one of the conditions for present coal mining is companies must post a bond for the reclamation of the land before mining can proceed. I've lived mostly in Pennsylvania since 1970 and the reclamation efforts have made a big difference.

The issue of Marcellus Formation gas exploitation involves mitigating permanent destruction of the local environment. In a way what I hope is Pennsylvania can avoid some of the mistakes of the past extraction industries. There a long history of gas wells in Pennsylvania. The deep well drilling presently being done is something new. The regulations for this kind of drilling are not yet on the books. So right now regulation is loose and already the visible costs to the commons are adding up quickly.

It's very hard to get people to agree in politics. Regardless of politics most of us here in Pennsylvania love the land and want clean water.

Passion is a rather unruly emotion. It seems so potent that surely shared passion can bring people together. Alas, it doesn't really seem to work that way. Our feelings are so peculiar and we have to map them onto the various ways we see the world. Sometimes passionate anger overwhelms our capacity for empathy. I think it is empathy more than passion upon which mutually beneficial politics can happen.

But, hey, I'm not the only hot head in the world. I still am angry about the subversion of the political process by state actors in the name of "national security" and the whole can of worms.

There's a paradox: anger can motivate, but empathy is what works. That's something I'll have to keep trying to puzzle out.

For those who can watch videos there's a cool RSA Animate video of Jeremy Rifkin speaking about empathy. RSA Animate's YouTube channel is here. RSA is of course the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. I'm thinking the mere mention may make the 27th Comrade slightly ill, but shouting out to him as I think picking anyone of the animated lectures and waiting for it to download may be worthwhile. The David Harvey Crisis of Capitalism RSA Animate got attention and efforts to answer Harvey's Marxist critique. The animation of these talks is very clever.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Blog Conversations

I feel bad not having responded to recent blog comments.

Dave Winer and Jay Rosen have a Podcast called Rebooting the News. On a recent episode Winer made the observation that blogs aren't conversations, rather blogs are publishing. He's got a point, but comments still mean a lot to me.

First of all regarding computer talk, I'm about the last person who ought to be writing about it as I know so little.

A friend who commented uses a Mac. As he's an artist and illustrator that choice makes so much sense for him. Not that he mentioned it, but there is a subtext perhaps to his comment regarding free and open source software. Linux is not pirate software and in fact there are various business models for making money related to the operating system.

I don't know enough about Linux to be a fanboy. I love OSX from what little I've played around on it; heck I love XP. There seems to me much that's interesting about the Linux operating system, but I'm looking at what I've written below and it doesn't seem interesting, so I'll delete it. What I really want to say to my friend Pingting is I love that you create wonderful art using a Mac.

Daisy wrote:
"This is a very, very serious political moment right now. Fascism is the bull at the gate..."
The 27th Comrade in Uganda sees the seriousness of the present here in the USA too. How to respond to Daisy in particular gives me a mental block. Fascism is the word I think but out of habit do not say.

I don't know how to respond.

Today's top story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette made me so agitated and angry I could barely sit still. Local radio station WDUQ offers additional reporting on the story. The gist of the story is that the Director of State Homeland Security Col. James F. Powers--no relation--contracted with an Israeli company ITRR to
"inform state police and homeland security about 'credible threats to critical infrastructure' around the state, meaning potential attempts by terrorist to destroy roads, bridges, buildings, power facilities or other important facilities."
What the company actually did was to disseminate "wrongful and improper reports" about "environmental groups, tax protesters, people at gay and lesbian rallies and even supporters of more funding for education."

We all know how dangerous people at gay and lesbian rallies are and those dastardly people concerned about education can be--rolls eyes. The part that's made me so angry has to do with the politics of the exploitation of Marcellus Shale Gas which is a huge political issue right now. ITRR was providing "wrongful and improper" reports to Gas companies. Our lame-duck Governor says he's embarrassed but will not discipline Col. Powers over the matter.

Jan Jarrett, President & CEO of PennFuture a civil society group which advocates on behalf of the environment said that she is satisfied with Governor Rendell's apology over the matter.

Her satisfaction sticks in my craw. The recently appointed State Department of Environmental Protection head is John Hanger and he was former head of PennFuture. The organization is lobbying in favor of passage of a severance tax on deep natural gas drilling by October 1st. I'm supportive of this effort. I'm less sure of my support for various options floating around the Legislature for what to do with the money, mostly because reporting on it has been weak.

National elections are coming in November and the Tea Party is well represented by candidates for the highest offices--yes Daisy I know it's not just a Southern thing! So I see the bind that Jarret is in: Governor Rendell is more or less aligned with PennFuture's position, and the organization has the ear of his administration. But on the other hand that the Governor has offered an apology to Jarrett means that "wrong and improper" reports have been disseminated concerning the thousands of PennFuture supporters to gas companies, who oppose this legislation. The Governor is clear that he intends to take no action to redress this horrendous violation of state power. Jan Jarrett may be satisfied with an empty apology, I am not.

The trouble with me is I'm not so good with conversations, I rant. I've been ranting about Newsweek Magazine to my father for years now. He finally let his subscription lapse, just at the time the magazine was sold. Newsweek International editor, Fareed Zakaria wrote an important piece for September 11th, which I didn't get to see in print, What America Has Lost: It is clear we overreacted to 9/11. This business in Pennsylvania is just a tiny piece of a overwhelming juggernaut. Here's another piece, The Surge in Defense Spending: What Did The Pentagon Do With That Extra Trillion Dollars?. Even as bad as the US media is, and it's plenty bad, there's no shortage of evidence that we're seriously lost as a nation.

My dad watches TV so in the background I hear political ads and they fill me with rage. But I know that my rage does more harm than good; people just think I'm nuts. I hear you Daisy, but not so clear as to what I ought to do with the bull at the gate.

I stepped outside for a moment and heard a coyote howl. I've been hearing coyotes for a couple of years around here, but hadn't seen one until this Sunday. The coyote was walking along the road along the field in front of the house. A friend told me they're in the corn fields because turkeys are feeding there, "Every day is Thanksgiving for the coyote." Once the corn is cut my friend assures me the coyotes will hide once again. I'm fond of coyotes because of the beautiful oeuvre of Native American coyote stories. The trouble is coyotes are known to kill cats.

The picture is of our cat Sam who is no longer alive. Pingting gave me a photo scanner and I tested it out with that photo of Sam. He was a cat of great distinction. One of the current resident cats here is Barney a black "tux" cat. When I'm outside Barney will call to me and make his way over for a pat. When Sam was around and our paths would cross he would glare at me as if to say, "Don't bug me when I'm working." Here's a Youtube of Little Village performing a song with just that title.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Rambling about My New Computer

My Internet connection has been down almost all day. I called my Internet service provider, and after jumping through those hoops talked with Kevin and then Jackson oh and one other. They all had East Asian accents and I think I might have understood them better if they'd introduced themselves with their real names. How strange it is to have to adopt a name for work. The end result after going through resetting the modem was that “an Internet outage is suspected.” It's still out and unsettling how much this affects my mood. (The Internet has returned after more than 24 hours down.)

When my old computer died in an electrical storm I borrowed a little Dell Mini 9 (similar to the new model 10) which was running a version of Linux tweaked for Dell. One of the tweaks was to connect it to Yahoo services. I was used to using the Chrome browser so I basically ignored the set up with Yahoo. I figured the loan would be temporary, but in the end it took me a couple of months to get a new computer. The new computer I got is running Lucid Lynx the new version of Ubuntu Linux.

There were somethings I don't much like about the Dell netbook. Among them is the keyboard, particularly the small right hand shift key. My biggest problem is one inadvertently closing windows. But there are many things I like very much and chief among those was its portability.

With visitors here this summer, I bought a modem and wireless router. Part of my thinking was to keep my computers unplugged from the phone lines too. Wireless has turned out great. With the little netbook I can share photographs and messages directly with my father in the living room. Also using Readability I can share articles online whereas before I would print them out for my father to read. Readability is a free tool that renders Web pages looking something like pages in an e-reader.

My friend graciously offered to sell me the Mini and I quickly accepted. Now that it's mine I installed Lucid Lynx Netbook Remix on it this weekend. I'm not very tech savvy and was startled that the install went smoothly. I've discovered that the influx of newbies often grates on the nerves of old Linux hands. I wasn't online when newsgroups were invaded by the hordes of newbies discovering them via AOL, but that culture clash lasted long enough that I got at least a flavor of it. As a Linux newbie by way of Ubuntu the clash tastes about the same. I'm always in awe that people take the time to help people out on forums, so I appreciate the Linux aficionados who do. One post I read asks users to consider not what Linux will do for you, but what you can do for Linux.

What it anything I can do is probably a ways off in the future. I've vaguely imagined that I might be of some help to friends in Uganda who might use Linux. Various flavors of the operating system have real advantages for particular situations. A good example is using Linux on old computers, or low power computers like netbooks and low power computers, like my new one. And of course there's the issue of malware and Linux being less susceptible than Microsoft Windows machines. But none of my friends in Uganda have actually expressed any interest in Linux.

The truth be told Ubuntu in its current release is very easy for a simple folk like me. I did have a problem getting Skype to work on my new computer. Something that came out of that problem was finding that most things are easily discoverable within the operating system itself. The thing to do is look. It's not surprising that computers running Linux are thought a good choice for old folks who don't ask much of their computers except email and the Internet and Ubuntu works without much of any user adjustment. I'm old and I don't ask much more than that, but I also have a habit of breaking things through careless curiosity.

One feature of Linux of which I was afraid was using typed commands. I've run across a few reasons to do so, as well as articles that provide a lists of commands just to show newbies around. LinuxCommand.org is a good example of the many wonderful Linux education sites. At one point in the terminal I was prompted: “John's password.” It's such a simple thing but in the context of a dialog, the prompt made me think: “This computer has a voice!” Its voice is curt and efficient, or pleasant and willing depending on ones point of view. And to me the “sound” of it was the latter.

I'm very happy with the System76 Meerkat Ion computer I bought. But had I been confident about installing an operating system I would probably have bought a Zotac Mag a very similar computer for a lot less money, but is shipped without an operating system. One market for these NetTop computers is for home theater set ups, something I know nothing about. At Amazon the Acer Aspire is comparable and comes with Windows 7 installed. It's amusing to see reviewers say that the first thing they did with the Acer Aspire was to ditch Windows7 and install Linux.

My sister may want a computer and I am thinking the Zotac Mag may be a good choice. But I suspect that she'd lean towards the Acer with Windows7 because Linux sounds so scary. Linus Torvalds, the guy who got the whole Linux juggernaut started, said that Linux has become so bloated that it's "huge and scary." That kind of "scary" is different from what my sister might feel and I certainly felt deciding to go Ubuntu while knowing that I'm a computer ignoramus. At least part of the "bloat" comes from making it not scary for the likes of me.

What I've learned over the last few weeks is Ubuntu Linux is not scary. I've also found that a Nettop with an Atom processor and Nvidia chipset is a very capable machine. Sure folks who are into gaming won't find it adequate, but for a general-purpose home machine, it really rocks.

Photo: scanned souvenir--left over--ride ticket from The Big Knob Grange Fair, a favorite community tradition.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010


The "Restoring Honor" rally was deliberately paired with the Great March of the Civil Rights movement. In both a vision of Christianity are evoked.

Robert Patterson wrote about Saturday's "Restoring Honor"rally:
What is happening today at the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of Dr. King’s I Have A Dream Speech is nothing short of pornography. Public pornography based on a collection of lies.

But we have a public that has lost the ability to discern the truth for itself.

This is how it starts.

And if you know anything about history, you already know how it finishes.

But alas, most people don’t even know that.

But they will. Sadly.
Patterson used a photograph: Hitler arrives at Nuremberg for rally 1933. He notes about the photo, "another very popular orator." Patterson sees Glenn Beck as a demagogue. No doubt Beck does manipulate popular prejudices. The really scary part is how his television and public appearances exposes our popular prejudices.

Pictures of the Klan or Hitler draw analogy to past events. The general drift of American politics is quite frightening, but these sorts of analogies to the past can obscure a clear view of the present.

Right wing terrorism is no stranger to American history, indeed it's a thread running through it. The explicit threat of vigilante violence give the Tea Party potency.

Patterson's sees Beck's "Restoring Honor" as a milestone along the way to a Fascist dictatorship. Patterson is far better read on matters of war than I, in particular Patterson has given a great deal of attention to 4th Generation Warfare (4GW). Predicting the future is always a stab in the dark. When I try to imagine a coming dictatorship in the USA a figurehead like Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin is difficult to imagine. Indeed a "populist" figure doesn't really seem in the cards. More credibly is a military coupe d'etat, or a perhaps the election of a military officer.

The Tea Party seems to follow the 4GW model, and the rich interests who sponsor so much of their activities can hardly be unaware of 4GW. The broader strategy of the right and the modern Republican Party in the USA appears to be to use violence and threats of violence, to increase divisions between groups, and to undermine economic activity, all in an effort to destroy the moral bonds of society. There seems an almost religious faith among the powerful in what Naomi Klein has dubbed Disaster Capitalism, a faith that at least something good for someone grows out of disaster.

The trouble is more than one can play, indeed is the lesson brought forth by the successful attacks on 9/11. One view of success in an environment of empowered networks of 4G-warriors is to become more horrid than the others. A military leader especially one who's served in the chaos of Iraq and Afghanistan seems far more likely a dictator of the USA than Beck or Palin.

I've written before about how I was desperate to make sense of my brother's murder at the hand of a group of adolescents. I'm more or less resigned now that it's impossible to really make sense of a senseless act. But along my way to make some sense of David's death I read about the Southern culture of honor. We moved South in the summer before I entered fourth grade. It was the summer of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom where The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" address. Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally was on the same date, August 28.

Part of being a kid in a new place was learning about the particular ways that Southerners think of honor. I thought of "honor" as a boy as pretty much being good; that is, not to lie, be polite, pitch in and help even when you don't feel like it, and stuff like that. What I found over and over in the South was "honor" often meant a readiness to use violence against any perceived slight against one's reputation.

Among the books I read in the weeks after my brother's death was Culture of Honor: The Psychology of Violence in the South. I tend to read social science research with some skepticism, but the connection between a view of honor as protecting against disgrace by violence instead of a view of honor as doing good, did seem to fit the circumstances of my brother's murder. At least it made much more sense to me than the book I read that had "evil spawn" in the title. From what I can tell from the accounts of his murder is that when my brother was confronted at his front door by the gun wielding youth's he responded something to the effect: "F$ck off!" Being "dissed" lead to a hail of bullets in his back.

Southern history and culture are nuanced topics and I'm by no means expert. Honor and chivalry are closely related notions where violence is paired with deference. In a more general way the construct of culture of honor is a complicated subject in anthropology and sociology. In talking with friends in Africa or who have experience in Africa the differences in temperament between herder and farmer cultures seems easy to point to in a not academic way. It seems almost impossible to connect "honor" to "honor killings," for example stoning a woman who was raped. And yet, the logic that violence "saves" never really seems so foreign to us, it's prevalent across cultures in great diversity.

Many of my online friends in Africa are quite religious, but by no means all. There's a club in Free Thought Club in Kampala and the blog Freethought Kampala. Obviously the diverse cultures in Uganda and their history is not American history. Seeing discussions of ideas there also being discussed here seems to provide some perspective.

In October of last year an anti-homosexuality bill was introduced and debated in Uganda. There was a great hue and cry in the American blogosphere about it. But the very first I heard about the bill was from a friend in Kampala who sent along a link to a report by the Reverend Kapya Kaoma, The U.S. Christian Right and the Attack on Gays in Africa.

I heard about the Bahati bill in Uganda from a patriotic Ugandan sending me a report written by an Evangelical Christian priest from Zambia studying in the USA. When I read Kapya Kaoma's report my reaction was he has a better grip on American politics than I!

What's at stake with the rise of the far-right in USA politics is of great significance to me as an American and important for others around the globe too. There's much that is quite specific to USA culture and history to understand "honor" in the Tea Party context, nonetheless, honor is an idea across cultures with many permutations. Honor seems a key construct.

The sincerity of the Tea Party folks is obvious. "Restoring honor" is clearly a purpose on the moral plane. The connection between honor and violence needs addressing. Regardless of ones own religion or non-religion it doesn't seem possible to understand without a view towards global Christianity.

Photo credit: A cool page at the Kansas State Historical Society Web site.