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...