Monday, August 19, 2013

Listen To Me (As Much As You Want)

Something's been bugging me.

This whole invasion of privacy thing seems to have raised its righteously indignant head again. After 9/11, we Americans didn't much care what our government did if it meant catching the terrorists who orchestrated and financed that horrific act, and preventing further attacks. Ethnic profiling, illegal imprisonment, torture and other civil rights violations – all those methods were fair game if it meant securing our nation and its citizens. Invasion of privacy was another method employed by our intelligence community.

Turns out this one was the kicker. Water-boarding, sleep deprivation, humiliation and incarceration without due process were, well, questionable. But don't you dare read my email! People were up in arms when it was revealed that our phones and online activity was being monitored with impunity. Pundits and novices alike railed and sputtered and pumped their self-righteous fists in the air and cited civil rights statutes that were being trampled upon. What right does our government have to spy on us? How dare they tap my phone, or read my email, or analyze my Internet activity. Yes, many patriotic, God fearing Americans were aghast at the notion of their privacy being violated willy-nilly. My question is: why?

Why should I or you or anybody else give a flip if some nameless, faceless technician in a windowless underground facility in Virginia is reading my email? I've got nothing to hide from the government. In fact, I'm more likely to have things I want to hide from my wife or my mother or my best friend than an intelligence analyst. The government doesn't care about me or my life, as exciting or intriguing as I may think it is. The NSA and the CIA doesn't care who's cheating on their taxes or their spouse. They don't care how much online porn someone's watching, or how many tweets they post, or how many friends they have on Facebook. What they do care about is suspicious activity that could suggest a future terrorist attack.

I'm pretty sure I've been profiled in my adult lifetime. I've been pulled aside at an airport in Europe and I was pulled over in the U.S. for no good reason. Was I offended? Mildy. Was I inconvenienced? You bet. Do I think profiling is wrong? Nope.

The attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, was so audacious and beyond the pale, no one thought it could happen. If the CIA had reported that it had somehow stopped an Al-Queda sleeper cell from crashing three commercial airliners into prominent U.S. targets like the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, we wouldn't have believed them. Conspiracy nuts and skeptics would've found some way to discredit the CIA's assertion and 99% of the country would've forgotten about the whole thing by breakfast the next morning. Moreover, the intelligence has continued to receive criticism – rightly so – for their inability to thwart the attack.

But the same people criticizing that lapse in intelligence gathering are now complaining about civil rights violations being perpetrated in the interests of national security. We can't have it both ways. Either an overzealous TSA agent is going to be given free reign to pull me aside and inconvenience me, or a shoe bomber is going to board my flight. Some underpaid analyst at the NSA may monitor my phone, email and Internet activity and discover how much I like Star Trek, but at least he'll also have a fighting chance of intercepting relevant communication between people who want to do our country harm. If Uncle Sam wants to read my email, have at it.

And here's the thing: we shouldn't even know the government is watching us that closely. It's none of our business how the CIA and NSA conduct their business. People like U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning and former CIA and NSA contractor Edward Snowden are not doing anyone a service by leaking sensitive material to the public. We don't need to know how intelligence is collected. And neither do those that would do us harm. Unlimited transparency may seem responsible and civic-minded, but when it comes to the war on terror, all it does is give our enemies a heads-up because —duh!– they watch the news and surf the web, too. (And don't even get me started on Amber Alerts that pop up on our televisions and phones and inform the child abductor that we know what kind of car he's driving so he can ditch it and the authorities.)

The audacity of terrorist attacks demands audacious countermeasures. Anyone who's got a problem with the government monitoring their communication has something more to hide than an illicit affair or a porn addiction, and the government needs to know what it is. The rest of us should quit whining and be grateful that there's an intelligence gathering apparatus in place that may one day save our lives. (Or, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) put it, everyone "should just calm down".) Frankly, I'd much rather have my phone tapped than be blown up.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Is It A Choice? Um, Does it Matter?

I love Netflix. You find something you like, watch it, and then it suggests other things you might like. I call this "Netflix Crack" because it's so damn addictive. Christy and I recently watched a documentary called "For the Bible Tells Me So", director Daniel G. Karslake's examination of the ways in which ultra-conservative Christian organizations exploit scripture to justify the denial of human rights, specifically to the LGBT community.

Another film, "One Nation Under God", explored (neé exposed) the practices used by various groups to "cure" gays of their homosexuality. Likening homosexuality and lesbianism to alcoholism or drug addiction, these groups' untrained "counselors" sought to correct gay behavior through behavior modification, aversion therapy and counseling, among others. (One ministry asked hairdressers and manicurists in the community to volunteer their time to give lesbians makeovers. In a karmic twist, one of the hairdressers was flamboyantly gay but none of the counselors seemed to notice.)

Naturally, this is absurd. By the end of a very informative weekend, I'd watched 4 documentaries and learned much. For example, there are many ministries that offer this service; Exodus International is one of the largest. (Another far-reaching group, Love in Action, closed its doors in 2011, succumbing to pressure from protestors and the state of Tennessee.) Many of them feature as their spokespeople, "ex-gays" that have successfully completed their programs. I actually laughed out loud when I saw how un-cured these sad, self-delusional people were.

Their groundless premise is that homosexuality is a choice. One can choose to – or not to – be gay. During a Q&A on an episode of "Donahue", a normal-looking woman stood up in the audience and asked the guests, "Why do you feel the need to sleep with men?", to which one guest calmly replied, "Why do you feel the need to sleep with men?" Rousing applause.

For those still wondering if it's a choice, please watch the following educational video:

What struck me even more than the absurdity of these organizations and their so-called curative therapies was the people who created and continue to support them. They're some of the most hateful people in the United States. These are the Christians that picket gay pride rallies and parades with signs that read such godly proclamations as "GOD HATES FAGS!" and "JESUS KILLS FAGS!" and "DEATH TO HOMOS!" These are the people who want to dictate the Christian values that we, as a nation, should live by. These people want to be our moral compass.

Nowhere in the Bible does it state that it's a good Christian's duty to insult, beat, and kill homosexuals because there were no Greek or Hebrew words for "homosexual" or "sodomy" in the original Bible. Those words were added in the 1946 Revised Standard Version [RSV] of the Bible. ("Homosexual" wasn't even a word until Austrian-born novelist Karl-Maria Karbeny used the term in 1869.) They compare the "sin" of homosexuality as akin to murder, rape and pedophilia. I think it's curious that being gay isn't even one of the Ten Commandments. But murder is. So is adultery. And theft. And lying. But, presumably, these lying, cheating, sign-toting homophobic thieves feel it's their duty – their God-given right – to terrorize the LGBT community.

Most of all, these hateful soldiers in God's army seem to be scared. But what the hell are they scared of? Certainly not the wrath of God. If they were, they wouldn't be murdering gay people. Or cheating on their husbands and wives, and then lying about it. Or stealing from their employers. Maybe they're scared of their own perversion of His Word. Maybe they're scared of what they don't understand. It wouldn't be the first time that ignorance bred fear. Maybe they're scared of change. Their narrow ideal of family values is being challenged. Our society is marching forward and maybe they're scared of getting trampled under its feet.

Or maybe they're just desperate for someone to hate more than they hate themselves. And that is scary.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That

Healthy but empty
I've been wracking my brain for months, trying to think of something to post in here. And...I just can't seem to think of anything. Which is strange, because it's not like nothing's been going on in the world.

I thought about writing about the Fiscal Cliff. I've been watching a lot of "The West Wing" on Netflix lately and the storylines, though written ten years ago, are amazingly relevant now. I recently watched an episode that featured a venal Speaker of the House blocking President Bartlet's proposed budget at the eleventh hour, and the government shut down for 3 days. I thought about Crying-Man John Boehner and how he's been doing his level best to hold our real-life government hostage every chance he gets.

But I don't know enough about our country's finances to speak intelligently about it, so that idea was out.

I was moved and thrilled as I watched President Obama's Inauguration ceremony. I was taken again at how grateful I am to be alive at this time in U.S. history. It was amazing that our country elected a black President with the middle name Hussein the first time. But a second term? Who'd'a thunk it? A female, Hispanic Associate Supreme Court Justice swore in Vice President Biden and a black man was sworn in for the second time in a row. I was also taken with how much more significant Barack Obama winning a second term was than the first. No matter how bad things seem to have gotten during his first four years, Americans still weren't willing to give up. And, apparently, a majority of Americans found Mitt Romney as creepy as I did (and still do).

But the whole election thing seemed played out, so I didn't try to write a big, flowery post about that.

The senseless massacre in Newtown shook the nation, but it almost seemed like sensationalism to write about that. I mean, what could I offer that (I dare say literally) every American wasn't already thinking and feeling? Could I rail about the gun control laws in this country? I, who recently spent an afternoon at a target range? Nope, can't go there. Safety in our schools? The role of violence on television and in movies on our youth? Nope, because I don't think any of that stuff has anything to do with anything. A nutjob kid finally blew a gasket and opened fire on a building full of innocent people. Period.

So that was a no-go.

Hurricane (neé Super Storm) Sandy? Although it's pretty much reached super-saturation in the news, people in the affected region are still suffering. A friend just recently got her Internet access restored. People are still homeless, still reeling from the loss of life and property. Sandy was actually more acutely fixed on my radar than Katrina, but I still didn't feel like I had anything worthwhile to say about it. I'm deeply saddened for what those people went through and my heart continues to go out to them, but it didn't seem right (or relevant) to try to generate blog hits by spewing a bunch of tired platitudes.

So, another shot...and another miss.

One thing that did get me was the controversy surrounding "Django Unchained". I guess I just continue to be naïve about the public's reaction to certain things. Christy (my girlfriend) and I went to see "Django" and absolutely loved it. We'd seen "The Hobbit" the day before, but "Django" is the one that stuck with us. Not because of it's subject matter, per se, but because it was just a cracking good movie. Spike Lee made a comment about how he had no intention of seeing "Django" because of how blacks and slavery were handled in the film. He went on to say that he wouldn't share an opinion on the film since he hadn't seen it...and then went on to share an opinion about it. I get frustrated when people criticize fiction because of alleged historical inaccuracies. It's entertainment, not education. Dan Brown got slammed for "The Da Vinci Code" and Tarantino's getting slammed for "Django". Let me be clear: I'm no Tarantino fan. I think he's a smug, goofy "wannabe". I put wannabe in quotes because he really isn't a wannabe. He's a be. He's tremendously talented and I've enjoyed every movie he's made. But he always strikes me as that guy who, no matter how successful or famous he gets, will always be on the outside looking in because he's never actually gonna be cool.

Okay. So maybe I had a little on my mind after all.

Still, my brain's not really in it. I started this blog with several things in mind that I wanted to vent about and, by golly, I've checked all those things off of my list. Ordinarily I'd say stay tuned — something will piss me off enough to compel me to write about it. But I think I've been so damn happy lately that that criteria may not be applicable any more. I could write about things that are making me so gleeful, but honestly, it'd be kinda boring. I'm sure I'll come up with something though. Soon.

So, yes, stay tuned...

Friday, November 9, 2012

Onward Christian Soldier

Most of us here in the U.S. know that Tuesday was a big night. Barack Obama was re-elected in a decisive victory over former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney as the 44th President of the United States. However, the fact that the Democrats came out on top isn't the topic of this post. What this post is about is the Republican response to their defeat. Specifically, Facebook Republicans. In deference to inoffensive Republicans everywhere (I'm sure there are some, somewhere), I'm giving Facebook Republicans their own category.

Within moments of the decision, angry Republicans were posting hateful rants on Facebook. Bad losers are nothing new. What struck me was how many of them were self-professed Christians. One of my "friends" posted this on her Facebook Wall: "I had no idea I lived with so many uneducated people. (We) are considering MOVING out of this F*CKED up place." (It should be noted that many respondents to her post inquired as to where she planned on moving.) She claims to be a Christian. And what I thought was, if these are the kind of Christian values Romney and Ryan were fighting to protect and preserve, thank goodness they lost.

Christians were calling their friends "stupid", "dumb" and "uneducated" if they voted for President Obama. Ironically, most of the vitriolic rants I read were stupid and dumb and appeared to have been written by uneducated people. And this is a generalization, but it didn't surprise me a whole lot that so many of the rabid Romney ranters didn't seem that bright given the states that many of them hail from. It seems to me that the hypocrisy of so many so-called Christians was part of the reason that their candidate lost the election so badly.

Things have changed in the United States over the last several years. As Al Cardenas, the head of the American Conservative Union and a longtime GOP leader, stated on pro-Obama cable news channel MSNBC, the Republican Party " too old and too white and too male". I thought that was an interesting observation. When the demographics were sliced, diced and digested, President Obama simply appealed to a wider group of Americans. Hispanics are the fastest growing minority in this country and the Republicans didn't take that into consideration. It appeared that Romney's message was almost exclusively aimed at rich white men and, oddly, working class white men. Well, it's not 1980 any more. America of 2012 is more of a melting pot than ever before. Our leaders need to acknowledge and address that. And at least one leader is.

I was going to post the following before the election, but I didn't get around to it. I'm going to post it now, after the fact, so take it for what it's worth. If Mitt Romney had become the President of this country, I would've been mortified. I'd have been outraged, disappointed, scared, and just plain sad. But I would've supported him and given him my loyalty freely because I'm a patriot and that's what patriots do. I most certainly wouldn't have called my friends stupid or dumb or uneducated if they hadn't voted for Obama. I have plenty of friends who didn't vote for him, and they're all bright people. (They're wrong! But bright.)

This campaign seemed endless and was filled with half-truths, out-and-out lies and no small amount of drama. Election night was exciting, boring, frustrating, interesting and, ultimately, amazing. Romney gave a short, eloquent concession speech (albeit, about two hours later than he should've given it), and President Obama's acceptance speech was heartfelt and inspiring. After so much hand-wringing and angst, it was indeed a joy to emerge from the morass of campaign ads victorious.

Facebook Republicans that are out there licking their wounds need to revisit what being a patriot is all about. In this country, patriotism isn't about ethnicity or gender or economic standing or sexual preference. It's about being an American. And, right now, I'm proud to be one.

Monday, October 29, 2012


Hey everybody! Long time, no see. My blog has been idle for a couple of months now, but rest assured, my mind has not been.

Most of what I'm going to share here today isn't particularly revelatory; it ain't anything you haven't read or heard or thought of before. But it's been swirling around in my head for a while and I wanted to bang this out before the election.

What I've noticed over the last several months is the television ads the various candidates have run. The fact that they're confusing, contradictory and misleading is a given. What bothers me most is that the majority of the candidates seem to be running ads about their opponent. And these ads invariably pull out some sound-bite, half-truth or bald-faced falsehood, and play it off as truth in order to make their opponent look weak, dishonest or plain ol' stupid. Which leaves it up to us to waste copious amounts of time trying to figure what's true and what's not.

The people who run these campaigns seem to think this strategy is a good thing. Like we'll all just believe what we see in these commercials and will therefore be more likely to make an informed decision when it comes time to vote. Nothing could be further from the truth. I think these "attack-ads" and campaigns of misinformation make the candidates look cheap and petty. Instead of campaigning on their own merits, they resort to mudslinging to make themselves look good by comparison. It's the old "I'm not really good for much of anything but at least I didn't kill anybody" strategy. And I think it sucks. It seems to me the candidate's ad dollars would be better spent letting us know what they've done right rather than what their opponent has done wrong.

Most of us have heard talk of campaign reform at some point. My understanding is that it usually has to do with how funds are raised to finance campaigns. Well, I have a campaign reform suggestion of my own.

Self-promotion: Candidates may only run ads – tv and/or print – about themselves. They may not mention their opponent in any way, shape, or form. If an ad breaking this rule airs or appears in print, the campaign will be fined and will be required to print and/or air a retraction and/or apology.

Ad Cap: A set, limited number of television and print ads may appear during a campaign. If it is discovered that a candidate has run more than the allotted number of ads, the campaign will be fined and lose one advertising slot.

Truth in Advertising: All advertising will feature only truthful statements. An independent fact-checking committee will be formed to confirm the veracity of all claims made in advertising and if a falsehood is knowingly presented, the campaign will be fined and will be required to air or print a retraction.

Money Cap: A set amount of money shall be spent by both campaigns, and said amount will be far less than what candidates have been accustomed to. Once a campaign has raised the maximum amount of financing allowed, they will not be allowed to raise more. If it is determined that a candidate has raised more that the allotted amount, they will be fined double what the overage was.

This reform may or not ever happen, but I surely wish it would. I'm sick to death of having to slog through lies and innuendo in order to try to get to the truth of what the candidates stand for. This kind of campaigning may make the candidates feel better, but it doesn't serve the people at all. And isn't that what this all supposed to be about? Serving the people? It seems to me, most politicians spend far more time serving themselves.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Idiocy Bandwagon

Wow. I think I finally figured out why our country is such a mess right now. So many of our elected officials are idiots. I don't know why it took so long for me to draw that conclusion with so much proof swirling around.

First off, anyone who's visited here a few times probably knows that I'd have to weigh in on this. I've railed about civil rights, gay rights, human rights, right of way, what have you. But this is probably the biggest 'right' (so far). It should also be noted that I'm usually way left of right.

Of all the issues that have piqued the public curiosity, first and foremost the economy, I would've thought rape was fairly far down on the list because it's so obviously wrong, period-end-of-story. But Senate hopeful Congressman Todd Aiken (R-Mo.) brought it to the fore. Here's what numbnuts said:

"From what I understand from doctors, that's really rare," said Akin said of pregnancy caused by rape. "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume maybe that didn't work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist."

And this man is married? To a woman? By the way, according to studies, pregnancy from rape occurs about 5% of the time, the same frequency as pregnancy occurs from consensual sex.

Aiken's comments made it clear that he doesn't have clue one about women, biology, psychology or what's involved in winning an election against a female incumbent. (She could be Cruella Deville on crack and still beat him.) But before we get into his mind-bending faux pas, I want to state my views clearly and for the record. I believe rape has no qualifier. Just like one can't be almost pregnant, or sort of black, rape doesn't come in degrees. A person is either raped or not. There's no such thing as "legitimate" or "forcible" rape. Rape is rape. Rape is defined as sexual intercourse by one or more individuals with another party against their will. There's no legal or moral distinction between "date rape" and "anonymous rape". Rape has been classified as a "crime against humanity" and a "war crime" in certain circumstances. The way a woman dresses or behaves has no bearing on whether unwanted sex perpetrated upon her is "justified" or her fault. That's it. No gray area.

I guess one has to admire the Republican party for their sorta-kinda support of Aiken. Republican Vice Presidential wannabe Paul Ryan distanced himself from Aiken immediately and then was called to task when it was revealed that he and Aiken co-sponsored legislation that would allow abortion only in the case of "forcible rape". Forcible rape. I thought to myself, "As opposed to what?" Ryan also referred to rape as "another method of conception". Let the backpedaling begin, Mr. Ryan.

Pennsylvania GOP Senate candidate Tom Smith also distanced himself from Aiken but stepped in his own pile when he affirmed that abortion should be illegal across the board, even for rape victims. Then he planted his other foot when he said pregnancy by rape is comparable to getting pregnant out of wedlock, as his daughter had done.

Apparently Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tx.) believes that women are more interested in important issues like economic prosperity and jobs. Rape and abortion rights? Bah! And lest we forget Mike "Chick-fil-A Day" Huckabee, who rallied Baptist clergy to remind us that "(...)Congressman Akin represents the mainstream of our values. He is the mainstream of our values." Um, not mine.

Then there's the political action committee Republican National Coalition for Life which endorses GOP candidates who advocate a strict no-abortion platform and are "unconditionally pro-life". So far, 40 House and Senate candidates have been endorsed by the group and, with months until the election, that number could go up. Akin-defender Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) made the list, though he admitted he'd never personally known a rape victim, pregnant or not. But way to support the cause, Steve!

On the other side of the road, former Republican Florida Governor Charlie Crist supports, and has even joined in, the backlash against Aiken's comments. And, of course, the Republican party has vilified him as being "self-serving and overly ambitious". Toe the party line, bully for you. Step on it, and you're screwed.

Like so many other powerful terms in the English language, the word "rape" has been usurped by the public consciousness and used in ways that diminish it. Sports: "Omigod, he was safe! He was so raped." Business: "Dude, your bonus sucked! You were so raped!" Environment: "People, this land has been raped." (Yes, even green-minded people are guilty of misusing 'rape' to further their agenda.)

But in the context of humanity and civil rights, rape has but one meaning. There's no "well, let's look at the circumstances" issue here. Men can be raped too, but for the purposes of this blog post, I'm talking about women. Women can only be raped one way. I don't have enough room in this blog to explain to the likes of Todd Aiken and Paul Ryan – and those who blindly and ignorantly support them – what that means. It just shocks and disturbs me that men – MEN, young and old – who were lawfully elected to public office are so dense that they could take the stance that they have. And it shocks and disappoints me that there are women out there – regardless of religious or political affiliation – that either support these neanderthals or are seemingly indifferent to the ramifications of these views. (Apologies to neanderthals.)

Aiken is an idiot. That's obvious. Ryan is a somewhat smarter idiot because he's done everything he can to distance himself from Aiken and the "forcible rape" legislation that they co-wrote. Smith and Huckabee are just plain scary. And Kay Bailey Hutchison? You're a woman. How is any of this okay with you? And my female Facebook friends – how are you okay with this?

There's been an uproar ever since Aiken's comments went viral. What frightens me is that there's nearly as much support as there is outrage for the things he said. He claims he "misspoke", but people continue to support his allegedly misstated point of view. What does that say about us as a nation of humans? We Americans, as a philosophy, are still convinced that we're somehow superior to pretty much everyone in pretty much every way. Our economy is in the crapper and we're no longer a true super power. As inconvenient as those things are, they're recoverable. But what about our moral fiber?

I'll speak out to the Republicans because they're the ones who have freely put their heads on the chopping block (the smartest dumb thing they've done in a long time). Have any of you thought about the individual as opposed to your political rhetoric? Do any of you know a rape victim who had to struggle with not only her attack, but the far-reaching physical and emotional consequences? I haven't. I've known women who have been raped, but as far as I know none of them got pregnant as a result. I can't think of any circumstance that would allow me to feel comfortable or righteous enough to tell them what to do with their unborn baby if they were pregnant. Like abortion in general, I think it's too personal a decision to be left up to a mostly male government whose goals are increasingly self-serving.

If a woman is raped, she should be allowed to have a legal abortion. Congressman Aiken and Vice Presidential hopeful Ryan, I ask you: What is forcible rape? And what isn't? And how are women supposed to live with your interpretation?