Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Pirate Bunny

     (a hare-razing tale)
by C.M. Joserlin, "Raven"
I'll tell you of the Pirate Bunny,
A fluffy tale, but never funny:
A mad hare with a lust for money.
          Ahoy, the Pirate Bunny!

The gold rings in his tattered ears
Marked all the ships he'd sunk in years
Of causing seven oceans' fears:
          The Dreaded Pirate Bunny!

Two buck teeth showed in fearsome grin
The merry lack of conscience in
A lepus deeply steeped in sin:
          Har-HARRH, the Pirate Bunny!

He had one pink and maddened eye.
His legends made the sailors cry:
"Do not surrender — better die
          Than face the Pirate Bunny!"  *

He'd haul your vessel to a stop,
Line up the crew and make them hop
Into the ocean with a plop!
          Yo-HO, the Pirate Bunny!

The stories flew from shore to shore,
And legends grew, how more and more
This bunny bathed in grue and gore:
          The Bloody Pirate Bunny!

The end is short, but not too sweet:
At last a massive Navy fleet
Cut off both the rabbit's feet:
          Unlucky Pirate Bunny!

Don't be too quick to count your eggs!
The Committee for Public Safety begs:
"Run from a rabbit with wooden legs,
          For it's the Pirate Bunny!"

                    Yo-HO!
_______________
* Anticipating by centuries the later "shock-and-awe-will-win-their-hearts-and-minds" campaigns of George W. Bush.

Tune: start with Sondheim's "Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd!" and adapt metre as needed....

This was a side-effect of one of Owen Alun's Bardic Madness challenges (draw three topics from a hat, pick two and write a piece combining them). I didn't draw "Pirates" and "Bunnies", but I saw them get left behind on the table by others, and they stuck in my mind for later.

Beware the Bailey!

by Linda M. Browne and Raven
(tune: Kipling's "Smuggler's Song")

Wicked is the rabbit white, and baneful is the brown,
No matter be it countryside or in a crowded town,
But worst of all that ever made a strong man jump and scream
Is rabbit that's the color of the Bailey's Bristol Cream!

          Five-and-twenty coneys hopping through the dark:
          Rabbits in the garden, rabbits in the park;
          Nibbling at the carrots, nibbling at your gown --
          Watch your feet, my darling, when the rabbits come to town!

Over-brave is he who would endure a rabbit's glare;
And foolish he who would a rabbit's barking choose to dare;
But reckless quite is he who might be such a simple chump
As to ignore the somber sound of rabbit's warning thump!

          Five-and-twenty coneys hopping through the dark:
          Rabbits in the garden, rabbits in the park;
          Nibbling at the carrots, nibbling at your gown --
          Watch your feet, my darling, when the rabbits come to town!

Coneys are carnivorous, a little-known fact,
For few are those who've lived to tell of lepical attack.
Oh, better let a rattler sink its venom in your veins
Than let a rabbit gnaw you from your toes up to your brains!

          Five-and-twenty coneys hopping through the dark:
          Rabbits in the garden, rabbits in the park;
          Nibbling at the carrots, nibbling at your gown --
          Watch your feet, my darling, when the rabbits come to town!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Stay Free, San Francisco!


http://tinyurl.com/stay-free-sf   (The above design is presented for the free use of those advancing body freedom, or human rights and freedom in general, with my blessings; I require neither permission, nor credit, nor royalties.)

Not that I get to set anyone else's terms, but here's why I think the two short words "Stay Free" are the main thing that need to keep being repeated now by crowds and signs protesting this issue in San Francisco:

  1. "SF" alliterates with the city name, stressing it's a local issue.
  2. These keep the message above the fog: it's about freedom.
  3. It's not about Biblical morality, despite the religious right.
  4. It's not about tourism dollars, despite any Chamber-of-Commerce clones.
  5. It's about the freedom of non-violent non-injurious non-interfering citizens to walk down the street minding their own business without being set upon violently and dragged off in chains at the orders of a Board gone rogue.
  6. To borrow Thomas Jefferson's argument, "The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to [wear twenty garments or no garment]. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."
  7. From which it follows: the Board's penalizing acts non-injurious to others did not use a legitimate power of government.

I thought about having the graphic show the woman wearing a black armband, like the protesters in Tinker v Des Moines (since the Supreme Court agrees that black armbands "inherently express" opinions, thus are protected by the First Amendment, unlike bare skin)... aaand I decided against that:

Someone wearing a black armband might be expressing a different topic of opinion, say, an opinion against war, but it's a sure bet anyone going bare in public is expressing an opinion in favor of the right to body freedom, no matter what else. That's as "inherent" an expression as any Supreme Court Justice or other judge could reasonably require.

But you know, I do have to wonder: what kind of cognitive dissonance would the good judge face if nude San Franciscans started being arrested while wearing black armbands?

It seems to me he'd have to agree they were indeed "sending a message" with the armbands, and therefore were under the First Amendment's protection at the time....

So here's the quandary: would all that mighty Constitutional protection apply just because of the tiny strip of cloth, and none at all only to, or because of, the entire fully human being wearing it?

Is that how Judge Chen conceives "all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights"... except if I take your armband away, I've just alienated your freedom of speech?

Somehow I don't think that's what Thomas Jefferson was "inherently expressing"!

Yet... picture the interrogatory, as the Chief of Police has to explain to the Judge how the law was applied in practice — since that's the level this dispute has come down to.

Judge: ... and it was made very clear the Board could regulate conduct but not speech, therefore traditional forms of speech, of expressing opinion, would not and could not be prohibited. I thought that much was made very very clear, Chief?

Chief: Yes, your Honor, and that's the dividing line we followed, just the way you set it out for us. Everyone has skin, so that's not an opinion; but not everyone expresses an opinion, so it's the differences to look out for; yes, we paid close attention to that. And at first, when the nude protesters came out all wearing black armbands, we thought, okay, they figured out how to get by, and we weren't going to make any arrests.

Judge: Then... why did you?

Chief: Well, all the counter-protesters, the Scott Wiener supporters and anti-nudity folks, pulled out black armbands from their pockets and put them on too, chanting "It's a black day for San Francisco!" Now everyone had black armbands, and these didn't stand for any one opinion anymore. As you put it, they didn't "inherently express" any particular message. That meant they no longer had First Amendment protection, so we just started arresting people without regard to the armbands.

Judge: Chief... that's... remarkably sophistical reasoning. Did you yourself just come up with this on the fly?

Chief: Oh, no, the counter-protesters' armband consultant and supplier flew out from Washington DC for the event, and he was standing right beside me when I had to make the decision. His advice was very helpful, and (points to audience) you can see he's the most knowledgeable man in the field.

Judge: I do see. It's a privilege to have you in my courtroom, Justice Scalia. ... But Chief, then you proceeded to arrest protesters who were not only wearing armbands but carrying clearly printed signs, which at least specify the opinion they express....

Chief: Ah, yes, ah, your Honor, the Justice had also brought out a supply of signs for the occasion,... ah, for every occasion, from birthday to Thanksgiving to union protest to "will work for food",... and by the time those were all up in the air and waving around, there was no longer a sense of any one group having anything coherent to say. So it was pretty much the same situation as with the armbands.

Judge: According to the legal advice with which he then kindly provided you?

Chief: Well, I guess he's not going to be overturned. Is he, your Honor?

Judge: We have just been blessed with help in our fair city, haven't we?

...

Monday, February 18, 2013

Is Theban "runic"? and other quandaries

http://tinyurl.com/is-theban-runic   (Originally posted for discussion at Wikipedia's Talk:Theban alphabet)

What if you could see where the secondary sources went wrong? (a meta-discussion)

To avoid confusion and hurt feelings, I should state clearly what my objection is not. The Wikipedia article Theban alphabet is an entirely uncontroversial, well-edited presentation of what all the trusted, published, paid-for secondary sources have been saying for decades on the topic, entirely in accord with Wikipedia's policies.

A frequent problem in "occult" topics is that secondary sources may have echo-chambered each other for decades or even centuries, thus setting a claim in stone as far as Wikipedia is concerned — but its foundation may truly be sand.

Meanwhile, others might be able to cite specific evidence, say "No, look here and here for yourself, with your own eyes" — and settle the matter, among the reasonable. ... Except on Wikipedia, where that's rejected out-of-hand as "original research", so that the old misconception remains enthroned. Let's see if this is a case in point.

Is "the Runes of Honorius" a misnomer, because "Theban is not a runic alphabet"?

From the earliest to the current version of this article, we are told Theban is also the "Runes of Honorius" — but "is not, however, a runic alphabet." Well, that's confusing, isn't it? Is our runes runic or isn't they? (And is our children educated?) May I suggest one short simple path to the light, so you could if you like revise the article accordingly? (I have no wish to edit-war, so I won't edit it at all.)

Follow that little blue link to Runic alphabet and ponder the actual meaning of "runic". It isn't limited to the angular-shaped Norse/Germanic carved letters. And I quote:

The name runes contrasts with Latin or Greek letters. ... The name is from a root run- (Gothic runa), meaning "secret" or "whisper". ... The name rune itself, taken to mean "secret, something hidden", seems to indicate that knowledge of the runes was originally considered esoteric, or restricted to an elite.
Was Theban a secret alphabet? Then it was in this sense a "runic" alphabet.

Perhaps you think I'm playing modern word-games with you. No. Go read "Runes and Runic Magic in Old Germanic Religion" by Diego Ferioli at the New Antaios Journal (excerpt):

[W]hen Wulfila (4th c. AD) translated the Bible from Greek into Gothic, he rendered Greek μυστήριον (mystérion) "mystery", συμβούλιον (symboúlion) and βουλή (boulé), meaning "counsel", with Gothic runa.
Thus when Paul tells the Ephesians (3:4) of "the mystery of Christ," in the Gothic text that's "runai Xristaus." (The rune of Christ doesn't mean he was an angular carved Norse or Germanic character, does it? Outside some people's imaginations, that is.) Any more questions whether Theban was likewise "runic" — in the non-angular/carved sense?

"The Theban alphabet bears little resemblance to other alphabets...."

Superficial visual resemblance? Well, not much to the Latin alphabet, anyway. But what does that prove? Latin and Hebrew and Arabic and the old vertical Mongolian/Uighur script don't share superficial visual resemblances (they're written in three different directions, and two of them aren't even technically "alphabets" in their original form), yet in fact they're all related, descended from Phoenician script; sometimes you just have to look closer to discover the links. (And... if we do discover visual resemblances... what will that prove?)

Let's kick that poor dead "runic" equine some more: look at the Theban character w that does triple duty for U/V/W, sort of angular/carved-looking.... Now go look at the rune w (Wunjō) that does triple duty in Norse for U/V/W; oooh, does that mean Theban is at least partly a carved-runic alphabet after all? (Not really: cf. Nabatean waw (Waw), a very old and widespread Semitic character.) But now, d'you want to take another look at the Theban "L" l and the rune l (Laguz), flipping one or the other vertically? Or compare the Theban "F" f and "A" a to the corresponding runes f (Fehu) and a (Ansuz), flipping them horizontally? Or the Theban "E" e and rune a (Ehwaz), no flips at all?

For more kicks, consider the shapes, if not the values, of a few Georgian (Mkhedruli) letters, e.g.:


Is there a similar aesthetic at work? And if there is... so what? Given that the reputed script creators (Mesrop Mashtots of Armenia and Honorius of Thebes, whichever "Thebes" the latter denoted) came from the same religious culture (Eastern Christianity) and part of the world, some kinship would have been about as surprising between their scripts as between the superficially visually different Glagolitic and Cyrillic.

Which "Theban alphabet" are we discussing anyway?

The problem with making this "little resemblance" argument is using the nice big clean "Theban glyph" SVGs shown in the article, which frequently differ even from the original Theban letters shown in the old diagram at its upper right corner. (You can see for yourself the differences between old and new there on the page just by looking; it doesn't depend on anyone believing my assertion or "original research.") This is a modern script devised to help modern readers, by making the glyphs not so terribly alike (e.g. notice the closed top loop on the modern "B", compared to the old y-like character's open top which left A and B almost identical).

That's a perfectly honest and honorable reason to develop a new font; typographers compete all the time to accomplish more legible, useful, and beautiful scripts, and are justly celebrated when they achieve it. However, these are not usually then also presented elsewhere as being the original historical script.

If Wikipedia is showing readers a new version (which has letters made not to resemble each other too much) in order to demonstrate that the older version (not shown so big and clear) "bears little resemblance to other alphabets," isn't that manipulating the evidence?

In fact, given Wikipedia's influence as a reference source, isn't this quiet switcheroo unduly popularizing the modern script in place of the historical script? People can come here, copy the chart, and think they're learning the Olde Ways — not realizing they're learning to handwrite a computer font designed by someone who was dissatisfied with the original glyphs. When the product's not clearly labeled, I think at some level they're being cheated. And that makes this a stereotype of shoddy New Age marketing.

FYI, please note that the old script has not been universally abandoned, e.g.: http://wiccanone.org.uk/images/theban.jpg .

Oh, those "angular" runes weren't always!

Runes were straight-edged and sharp-angled when carved into wood or stone, yes, that was a feature of the medium, along with avoiding horizontal lines to keep from cutting along the grain of the wood and thereby splitting it. But the same letters were also used for writing with ink-and-quill for extensive documents, and there was no such straight-and-angular limitation then: e.g. see the Codex Runicus (ca. 1300), and note that the runes are rounded rather than angled. You surely know that English writing continued to use Thorn (Þ þ) and Eth (Ð ð) long after the Conquest, still visibly curved in their manuscript form, and they can now be found in many standard English publishing computer fonts, as well as in the HTML entitles Þ þ Ð ð -- still curved, not straight.

As Theban is an ink-and-quill, manuscript-lettering alphabet, naturally it doesn't look like wood-carved glyphs; but calling it "not runic" for that reason would require calling the runic manuscript Codex Runicus "not runic", which seems just a bit senseless to me.

Baseless claim that unicamerality suggests origin as cipher

The article states: "Theban letters only exist in a single case. This suggests an origin for Theban as a cipher calqued on Latin,...." — This is a non sequitur: the first statement in no way suggests, implies, or supports the second. Earlier above, we saw a few examples of Georgian letters; well, Georgian is unicase; should we likewise deduce that Georgian originated as a cipher calqued on Latin? And Hebrew, and Arabic, and Tamil, and Hangul? Those are unicase too! And the Ge'ez script used to write Ethiopian-regional languages, that's unicase as well... so is it also a cipher calqued on Latin, rather than (as everyone had thought) based on ancient South Arabian consonant-glyphs but attaching vowel-signs to create a syllabary? Well, gee, that might explain yet another odd similarity in letter-shapes to Theban!

Truly amazing how there are no scripts anywhere in the world with glyphs bearing resemblance to the Theban letters... until you actually open your eyes and look for them... right?

And is it clear now that the above-quoted suggestion about unicase scripts originating as ciphers (like other claims in the article) has no basis to be made by Wikipedia to its trusting readers?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Tale Best Untold

(This was originally posted to Propnomicon.)

Barry John: "The public may never know the terror that lurks in the shadowy depths."

If they're lucky, and if their guardians stay true to the grim task ahead.

It's the terrible truths that must be suppressed, after all, not the merely nasty myths.

One can endure and recover from being made to perceive and even believe a horrible lie. One can awaken or be awakened from such a nightmare. Truth can be a remedy to such a falsehood.

"Oh, that was just a movie, those were just actors with makeup, everyone's alive and making other films now, here are their latest projects, see?"

Yet other tales must never be told in the first place, because they cannot be taken back, retracted, recanted, disproved. Once seen, they cannot be unseen nor waved away by other evidence.

Their deepest horror is simply that they are not at all fictional; they have only thus far been not known... but once learned, they cannot be forgotten, to the learner's dismay and misery. There is no Lethe in this lifetime.

I could tell people why I shake, tremble, and am brought to tears — not of fear, my friends, but of rage, shame, and a desire to tear down the pillars of society, to scream at innocent parents to grab their children and run for safety, and to tear a friendly mask away that no-one has dared look behind for some two thousand years — but they would not want to hear me. What would it gain them? The same anguish I have, no more. Certainly no hope of social esteem. One would be thought mad if one spoke of it in public. So I do my best to tamp this knowledge down. I see, I know, it flickers at the back of my mind, I say nothing, I turn away. Thus I keep my own mask on, watching the older and darker mask being maintained.

The thing is, you seekers after darkness here probably know all the clues already, so there's nothing left to doubt. All it takes is putting the pieces together:

  • Item: inevitably, children cry and scream and wet themselves in fear of a happy friendly figure at a happy time despite their parents' best reassurances; this is always explained as irrationality on the part of children.
    (One reader insists: "But children are always afraid of strangers!" Well, no, not all children, not always, not of all strangers, and certainly not to this extreme degree. If they were, it would be remarkable. They are more afraid of this figure than of others — yet supposedly he is not a stranger, or at least children's parents are not introducing him as one.)
  • Item: this happy time dates back to the week-long Roman gift-giving festival Saturnalia in late December, dedicated to the red-cloaked god Saturn: "The potential cruelty of Saturn was enhanced by his identification with Cronus, known for devouring his own children. He was thus equated with the Carthaginian god Ba'al Hammon, to whom children were supposedly sacrificed."
  • Item: in Plato's Meno dialogue, Socrates demonstrates his theory of anamnesis (knowledge remembered from prior lives) by posing geometrical puzzles to an untaught slave boy who can solve them.
  • Item: Carthaginian children were taken on festival days to meet their people's beloved god; they were told the gifts their god would give them in heaven; they were told wishes and prayers to relay to the god from their parents, priests, kings, all their people; then they were led up the aisle to their god's great altar and sacrificed... not quickly by a throat-cutting with one of those little daggers, oh no, but by burning in a brazier.
    (It is always worth remembering that the constant companion of the generous gift-giver to the "nice" children is the giver of coal pieces to the "naughty" children, and what message beyond a reminder of burning is conveyed by a gift of coal?)
  • Item: if Socrates was right, at some level, some kids today remember this; that's why they cry and scream and wet themselves when they reprise the experience at the line for Santa in the Christmas mall. They just can't explain.

Who'd expect, after all the real live human children sacrificed to Ba'al Hammon, that his modern counterpart Santa is thought of as a kind innocent figure, who loves children?

Just like Cthulhu, as the old song says:

... Whether boiled or baked or fried,
With some french fries on the side,

[Cthulhu/Santa] loves the little children of the world!
_______________

ObMythos: For lack of space in the original Propnomicon comment, I omitted one little footnote about Santa/Saturn's Carthaginian counterpart Ba'al Hammon:

He was also identified with Dagon.

Not Lovecraft's Ponapean or Innsmouthean Dagon, perhaps, but the Middle-Eastern original that inspired him.

Consider the possibility that HPL's fantasy of degenerate New Englanders reviving a sacrificial Dagon cult was his satire on a horrid reality too enormous to bear direct and literal comment: an entire nation, an entire Western culture, sustaining for centuries the symbolism of a child-sacrificial Dagon/Ba'al-Hammon/Saturn cult, under the pretense of it being a benign Christian custom. No-one (save briefly the Puritans) dares speak out against it; it's too well socially entrenched, and will be fiercely defended.

No little "fishy" or "lizard" pendants here, though; the cult's denoted by happy jolly kitschy red-cheeked white-bearded laughing fat old men's faces in white-fur-trimmed red conical caps, all molded in plastic, posted everywhere, over every retail store and your neighbors' front doors.

What? Not yours too? Why, you heretic, you heathen! Repent, convert, or die!

_______________

And as usual, humanity blindly refuses to ask obvious questions, e.g.:

  1. How do natural materials like polar-bear fur, that come in white, get dyed that signature red? With what?
  2. On what diet does this infamous morbid obesity persist?
  3. How does he continue to reside at the North Pole long after the ice-cap has melted to open ocean?

    [That last, alone, should have alerted Dagon's foes.]
_______________

The Bloody-Robed Elder God  [excerpt]:

    "Kringle!"

    Henry Armitage's voice blew across the windswept rooftop of the Manhattan Macy's building on this late December midnight, down the red carpet incongruously placed from the stairway-top access door to the ornamented throne even more incongruously placed by the roof's edge.

    The obscenely jolly and roly-poly red-clad figure seated there belched loudly, and casually brushed the terrified toddler from atop its crimson knees to let him huddle sobbing alone next to the throne. Beside and beneath its smiling rosy lips, its white beard constricted into cords, dreadlocks, and finally tentacles, pulling right and left like a curtain to reveal its true mouth below, vertical and fanged, gnashing the words: "Come forward; a larger meal would please me more."

    Armitage hadn't waited for the invitation. Bearing the sign of the Unconquered Sun in his fist, he marched down the carpet, denouncing: "Dagon! Ba'al Hammon! Saturn! Devourer of Children! You have had your last meal in this place! You have no more allies here! Go!"

    The thing on the throne tilted its head at the sound of an echoing boom from over the other edge of the roof, and its belly... no, it is better not to describe how its belly moved. But its voice could be said to have expressed some form of humor: "No more allies? But here come my allies now, even sooner than expected."

    Quickly, all around them, came the pitter-patter of little hooves... and antlers... and skulls... and other body parts....

    As the thing on the throne looked about in puzzlement and growing shock, another man (darkly clad in fedora and mackintosh, leaving only his nosetip illuminated by his cigarette) emerged from the rooftop shadows to exchange greetings with the thing's challenger:

    "Hello, Armitage."

    "Hello, Pearson." *

    "Nitro?"

    "Dynamite. Stabler."

    "Took them all out pretty fast."

    "They shouldn't have let me join in all their silly games."

_______________

(* Hommage á William Jones, The Strange Cases of Rudolph Pearson, Chaosium, 2008.)
_______________

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Unmarked State: Signifying Nothing?

(This follows-up my previous blog entry, The Importance of Self-Ownership.)

The Free Speech Movement's late Mario Savio had said on the steps of Sproul Hall at UC-Berkeley in December 1964:
[W]e're a bunch of "raw materials" that don't mean to be — have any process upon us. Don't mean to be made into any product. Don't mean... Don't mean to end up being bought by some clients of the University, be they the government, be they industry, be they organized labor, be they anyone! We're human beings!

There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part! You can't even passively take part! And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels... upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop! And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!”
(But if someone insists you're just "raw materials" after all — mere chattels, movable property — for whatever industrial-scale schemes they have in mind, then how are you to deny it, when you sure look packaged for shipment to processing? Unless you prove it by taking off the wrapper to show there really is a free and fully human person underneath it?)
US District Judge Edward M. Chen, UC-Berkeley AB '75 JD '79, may have passed near that spot on campus from time to time. I wonder whether he ever heard of the Free Speech Movement. His recent ruling on Hightower v San Francisco [PDF] (re the "Anti-Nudity Law") doesn't mention it.

And there are some concerns Free Speech advocates might have with the reasoning:


1. Dissing the Unmarked State
(Gagging the Sound of Silence)
And the sign said
the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
and tenement halls,
and whispered in the sounds of silence.

— Paul Simon, The Sound of Silence (1964)

A1 (The Law of Calling):
Calling twice from a state is indistinguishable from calling once. To make a distinction twice has the same effect as making it once. For example, saying "Let there be light" and then saying "Let there be light" again, is the same as saying it once.
A2 (The Law of Crossing):
After crossing from the unmarked to the marked state, crossing again ("recrossing") starting from the marked state returns one to the unmarked state. Hence recrossing annuls crossing.”
— Georg Spencer-Brown, Laws of Form (1969)
Comment by Raven: the result of actively leaving a marked state is the same state as before entering the marked state — if and only if one ignores the history of changing states. A once-hopeful emigrant who returns to his birthplace is now in the same physical location as he started, but perhaps a different emotional state from his contentedly never-moved neighbor. A divorcée is as single as a virgin débutante or spinster, but the difference in experience is profound. The act of annulment makes a statement in itself about the marked state — as does the act of divorce about marriage, the act of cancellation about a contract, the act of repeal about a law, the act of overturning about a ruling, these are all value statements! — even though the effect in the present moment is merely to return to the unmarked state, the status quo ante. And judges should already know this; they deal with it often enough. It is also worth remembering that "unmarked" is as much a state as "marked", "off" is as real a switch setting as "on", zero as much a number as one, and "no" is as legitimate an answer as "yes" — rapists may not know this, but judges should. So if armbands are a "marked state" and nudity is an "unmarked state"... why must one be more inherently a "statement" than the other? (Armbands can be purely decorative; nudity can be explosively controversial; judges should know this too.)
Judge Chen wrote: "Nudity is not inherently expressive."

Bob Egelko of the San Francisco Chronicle translated: "Nudity isn't speech. ... Chen noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that... nudity itself is not a statement of anything."

By this reasoning, would someone have no First Amendment right to protest with a blank picket sign? Could he be arrested for doing so? Because unprotected while thereby "stating nothing"? (But would he indeed be "stating nothing"?)

When protesters under oppressive governments appeared in public with gags on their mouths as part of their protests, were they "stating nothing" because of that silence... or was that in itself the loudest possible statement they could have made? Could they be arrested here, because their conduct (absent audible expression) would be unprotected by the First Amendment?

We have seen religious-right-wingers argue that the First Amendment only defends freedom of (affirmative) religion, not freedom from religion — this is a claim to negate any protection from aggressive and invasive efforts to convert nonbelievers. It is distressing to see the same argument applied to freedom of speech. Can it really be true that the freedom of speech applies only to those who choose to literally speak out loud in audible words, and not those who choose otherwise? That there is no "freedom not to speak"?* That due to Tinker v Des Moines, one has the freedom to put on an armband or T-shirt... but now no longer the freedom to take it all off? Perhaps even pointedly and with emphasis?
_________
* Even sworn witnesses in court, under legal compulsion to speak, can appeal to the Fifth Amendment on this point.


2. Ignoring the Antonym, Antonin?
(Our Uniforms' Message Was Clear; It's Your Nudity We Can't Hear)
I AM FREE.
— painted on FEMEN protester's nude body.

And ye shall all be freed from slavery,
And so ye shall be free in everything;
And as the sign that ye are truly free,
Ye shall be naked in your rites, both men
And women also....
Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches, 1899.
But I presume the Supreme Court was only coyly pretending to be culturally illiterate, just playing ignorant of the affirmative "statement" that is historically communicated and accepted in our culture: nudity represents freedom.
(This is, of course, the diametrically opposite implication from "raw material" recruits or "cannon fodder" or "property of the government [or other regimental organization]"... which, oddly enough, people put on uniform clothing to convey, an "inherent expression" I doubt even the current Supreme Court has ever had trouble perceiving)
What does Liberty itself look like? A woman with her breasts uncovered — as in the 1916 US "standing Liberty" quarter, and Delacroix's 1830 painting "Liberty Leading the People" (just recently defaced by a fanatic and repaired).

The nudist protesters are consistent with a very long symbolic tradition here.
(One of the most famous examples in English, or indeed all of Western, culture was not a symbolic statement of freedom at all, but quite operative... for Lady Godiva [Godgyfu, "God's gift"] freed Coventry from her husband Leofric's onerous taxed thralldom by her unclothed ride. "Truly Count Leofric liberating the city of Coventry from the aforesaid servitude confirmed his charter thus made by affixing his seal." — Flores Historiarum 34, Vol. I, p. 576.)
Every conscious member in our society, from tiny children to elderly Supreme Court Justices, knows that clothing (such as a uniform) communicates social roles including dominance and submission, "property" and "owners":

Prisoners and prison guards, enlistees and officers, workers and executives, patients and orderlies and nurses and doctors, maids and monarchs, pastors and popes or patriarchs — even bailiffs and judges, Your Honor! — state, express, admit, declare, announce, proclaim, or even collectively celebrate their status, membership, honors, shames, mastery, subordination, or other social roles: "We belong."

So how can it be that the antonym, the erasure, the annulment of all these markings, is not a message just as clearly communicated?

"I disclaim all such roles, I am neither property nor owner of others, I am a free human being."

Bona na croin, as the Irish Gaelic saying has it, [I'll wear] neither collar nor crown.

(Ancient Irish warriors were famed for running fearlessly naked into battle; that sent a message!)


3. Turn, Turn, Turn
(Oh, WE Never Did THAT! Ignore The Records Behind That Curtain)
But that's how it always begins. Very small.
— Egg Shen, Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
The irony is that up until 150 years ago governments in this nation let human beings be forced to disrobe at slave markets, because they were property, by law. Property had to obey other people's orders about wearing clothing. Free human beings don't. That's the difference remaining: the free choice of the individual. And that's what's being tested now in San Francisco: are people free to choose? Or literally put in chains?

Once again, those in power assert that others must follow their orders about what to wear. At least, thank goodness, so far this time it is not silly fashion accessories like yellow stars or pink triangles — but once the principle of force over freedom is re-established, it could as easily be those as anything else; why not? That's the temptation of power.

Today I'll make only reasonable demands; next year, perhaps on April 1st, I might get bored or drunk and make silly demands (you must wear clown hats and red noses?); and eventually the ability to go past silly to cruel (burqas on pain of stoning? chastity belts? concrete overcoats?) may be just too clear and finally too hard to resist.

Oh but no, power-hungry leaders never go that far, do they? (Have we forgotten Jim Jones, former chairman of the SF Housing Authority Commission, once praised by George Moscone, Harvey Milk, and Willie Brown?) And their enforcers never just keep following orders that far, do they?

Yes, please tell us that, friend. Tell everyone. Tell our dead family members. We'd all love to believe you.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Importance of Self-Ownership

First they ignore you;
then they laugh at you;
then they fight you;
then you win.
— M. K. Gandhi.

Of all the rights and freedoms that could ever be discussed in a constitution or anywhere else, it ought to be obvious that the first, most basic, underlying right has to be your right to yourself — to self-ownership — to possess and control your own body, rather than any other entity having that right.

Because otherwise you're just a slave, and all "your" other rights are at the disposal of your owner.

This thought came to mind as the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, at the urging of a new member (Scott Wiener, a transplant from Pennsylvania and New Jersey), decided to take away San Franciscans' control of their own bodies from them — for the public good, of course* — and on February 1 started arresting citizens who insisted on still retaining control of their own bodies.

This was billed the "Anti-Nudity Law."

Among those arrested, coincidentally, was Scott Wiener's rival candidate for District 8 Supervisor (who had been a 2008 candidate for Mayor), as he was distributing campaign literature; but Wiener's faction had insisted to federal district Judge Edward Chen, when the rule was being contested, that there was nothing "political" about it. Oh yeah?

The protesters who were arrested got a lot of mockery and insults from the brave, brave Internet lurkers and newspaper commenters for having had the personal courage to take the legal, financial, and physical risks involved in confronting an unjust law to defend a basic human right. Not least, the mockery went, the protesters were too ugly to go nude.

For those who just don't get it; who think the nudists' rights depend on their neighbors' approval, that is, it would be okay if these were beautiful starlets or female models or Playboy bunnies, just not drab ordinary-looking "95% male" nudists....

Does your freedom of speech or religion depend on whether other people agree with you, i.e. think your opinion or faith is pretty?

If they disagree ("Oh that ugly crucifix!"), do you lose your right to speak your own mind or wear your own religious symbol?

That's the "heckler's veto" — but the Supreme Court has never upheld such a veto.

The SF nudists' point is that they own their own bodies — so they, not others, should be the ones to decide what they themselves wear... no matter hecklers' opinions.

You want that freedom for yourself, do you not?

Or would you want an anti-Wiener empowered to order you stripped, made to walk the city nude, and arrested if you put on clothing? One power goes with the other.

If government can order you to be Catholic, it can order you to be Protestant — that was the whole English religious-war experience that led to our "freedom of religion" rule in the first place.

If the government can order you to be clothed, it can order you to be naked — same problem, same reason to have "freedom of skin."

As Thomas Jefferson wrote:
"The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."
Another person's nudity (or clothing!) does not pick anyone's pocket nor break anyone's leg. It does no injury. It is "victimless." The legitimate powers of government do not extend here.
______________________

But, you (or the city attorneys or Judge Chen) may say, all that still doesn't make nudity a political statement.

Oh, so you don't get the "political" connection to owning your own body?

Maybe you didn't see Obama's re-inauguration Master of Ceremonies stress the history of the Liberty statue on the Capitol Dome being completed overhead, just 150 years earlier, at Lincoln's orders — during the Civil War, while the political question was still very much to be resolved whether black human beings owned their own bodies?

Still, right now, to this very day, there are people dying in this world from atrocities because governments do not regard them as having any rights over their own bodies.

Victims of human trafficking and slavery, e.g. sex-slavery, child-slavery, child-soldiers. Women denied life-saving medicine and surgery (e.g. abortion) at the whim or dogma of men, even when death comes so quick the fetus cannot survive. Girls killed for attending school to learn to read or have careers, rather than be lifelong illiterates forever dependent and subservient to husbands. Rape victims executed for being raped, or forced to marry their rapists without hope of divorce, or to bear their rapists' children no matter the risk of death. Non-Muslims (particularly women) forced to submit to Sharia law provisions like the foregoing. Women, adolescent, pubescent, prepubescent girls, even infants, forced screaming against their will into savage un-anesthetized genital mutilation e.g. amputation of the clitoris. Beatings, whippings, and "honor killings" — for offenses like having purportedly talked with a man or boy. How can I bear to go on?

The Ukrainian topless women's protester group FEMEN goes around the world to draw attention to these horrible shameful problems, painting on their own bodies "My body, my rules" and "Women's rights are human rights" and other short messages — which the news cameras do not ignore, only because the signs are living flesh.

For this they have been kicked in the face, gouged, torn, and beaten bloody by armed and armored police in full view of news cameras before being dragged off, thrown hard against concrete and into vans, and at least in one case (Belorussia) taken into the wilderness, beaten more, then left there to walk back to "civilization."

Yet they keep coming back to protest again, for the same causes, and for gay marriage, and against the Euro-organized prostitution around major sports events (sex slaves and trafficking, remember?), and always for the human rights of others besides themselves....

Now if their "bare" expression were not political and very effectively so, why would it be met with such violence? (The police aren't storming the fashion/passion magazines, whose photos are even more widely seen....)

So sure, have contempt of nudist activists getting arrested for the cause of having rights over one's own body.

Meanwhile what have you ever done for the sake of those people dying of atrocities?

_____________________
* As one of Scott Wiener's conservative supporters paraphrased Paul Harvey:
"The need to control the lives of others — manifested in the arrogance of the ɘviƨƨɘяgoяq statists who believe that they can engineer the perfect society by removing our freedoms, our liberties, our choices, our responsibilities and nudging us into their desired direction through power grabs and regulatory codes — can only originate from evil."
(See more about this topic at The Unmarked State: Signifying Nothing?)