Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Ghosts Of Christmas Present

These gaily wrapped boxes
Stand guard 'neath the tree
Silent sentinels of joy
Some for you, some for me

Those, right near the corner
Seem to glitter much less
Colors and ribbons now dour
And darker, I confess

For my heart was not in it
As the paper I did fold
Knowing they were frozen
Truly never to grow old

Christmas presents they are
But present are not
The small hands whose presence
Would occupy that spot

Rending the paper
Flaying it away
To bubble and chuckle
On another Christmas Day

Life does go on
That can't be in doubt
But it's vitality is dimmed
By one less happy shout

So now and on forward
The day will be less pleasant
As our minds do ring hollow
For the ghosts of Christmas present.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

In The Shadow Of One Gunman

28 people are dead. One gunman, the gunman's mother, six staff members and twenty children from an elementary school in a quieter part of Connecticut, a town that many of us might drive through or past on our way to anywhere else in New England.

This event is nothing new, not even in recent memory. It joins a litany of such events that have happened in many parts of the nation, in many publicly accessible places, and to many types of people. Every time it has happened, every time the wailing of frightened victims has mixed with the flat crack of high-velocity projectiles and the attempts of some to stop or prevent greater carnage, a nation gasps, horrified, shakes it's head, mutters "never again," before casting its glance back down to rectangular screens, where they read stories of young, black men gunned down on street corners by white men who were "standing their ground."

Only now, there is a barely subsumed rage at work, a primal enmity that for most years floated below the surface of economic woes, Presidential elections, real estate crashes, foreign wars, falling buildings, celebrity breakups, and cable television, barely managing a ripple. It breaches the surface, shouldering aside all other thoughts and cares, resplendent in the bright of day, a stately leviathan whose mass is undeniable in its presence. All it took was the death of white suburban six- and seven-year-olds.

It may seem coarse to break that moment in Newtown, Connecticut down this way, and I, like many others, am tinged with a pain that will not seem to ebb, but it must be little consolation to the parents of all those massacred before or the families of those murdered on streets and in homes every day to share their grief with so many new families. The common denominator, here as with all that came before is simple: guns. Circumstances, time of day, place, mental health, upbringing... all these things may be different, but there is the commonality of readily and easily available weapons to those who perpetrated the crimes which so shocked us at the time. At some point, in some manner, people who have lost a connection -- or may never have had it -- with human society take these devices for dealing death and spray their unhappiness, their despondency, their rage, their phobias, their hatred over a broad swath of the rest of us. People, who rose that morning to another new day, do not live to see the sun set again.

One is left to ask: when were we going to act? What about the murder of Abraham Lincoln did not change our society? Or John F. Kennedy? Or Martin Luther King, Jr.? Or Medgar Evers? Or the attack on President Ronald Reagan? The rampage at Columbine? Virginia Tech? The attempted assassination of Gabrielle Giffords? The death of Trayvon Martin? What among these events did not say to us: "That is not our way. This is not acceptable."?

These deaths of innocent children are but the tip of a very long spear that America carries because the Founding Fathers could not conceive of weapons with torrential rates of fire and bullets designed to rend and tear and ruin. They wrote the Second Amendment at a time when the nation was young, ill-formed, nascent, vulnerable, and they wanted every American who wanted to, to be able to have a gun, with the express purpose of being able to raise state militias in the face of invasion by a foreign power. The War of 1812 was an example of the necessity: America was not yet strong enough to repel an invasion  and it was only through the judicious use of militia forces that battle could be tipped in America's favor.

While it may be that the Founders had the forethought to equip America with the ability to fight battles upon its own shores as the nation slowly rose in strength, they did not have the precognitive ability or personal will to place limitations on what the Second Amendment implied. Thus it was left, its language making perfect sense in the 18th or 19th Century, but inconceivable in the face of the 20th Century and the Tommy gun. And no doubt, it was this insurance that well-armed militias could be raised at a moment's notice that allowed The Civil War to be fought, as Southern militias rose from the fields to take on a U.S. Army welded to the Union. Even when that was over, General Ulysses Grant and Abraham Lincoln were loathe to take the arms of every Southerner, for their now deposed nation was so ravaged that hunting would be necessary to feed families.

The gun has gone from liberator to protector to terror. Now, the tip of the spear has wounded our nation's heart, by slaying 20 of our most innocent. We must hold a personal amount of shame, each one of us, that none of the earlier tragedies pushed us toward action, but to fail now, fail to let this pain slough off the shell of inaction that prevented us from seeing clearly, would be criminal. Whatever else must come from this, there must be a final recognition that the unfettered access to guns is not the solution to the further protection of a nation, but is too much a path of destruction. Abraham Lincoln noted it, that the chances were very small that our nation would be crushed by a trans-Atlantic foe, but that we would commit suicide as a nation. He said this, even as the United States was embroiled in a war whose outcome seemed none too certain.

The Second Amendment was tailored toward the protection of the nation as a whole; it was never meant to establish the right of personal protection beyond that ownership of arms for national protection. That is the construction of those who see guns, not in their proper context as weapons, but as dollar signs. An industry that feeds on war cannot live by war, and so it must sow its deadly seeds where peace was meant to reign. To do this, has required a vast and complex interlinking of factors: the disenfranchisement of minorities, the lowering of educational standards, an increase in poverty, the creation of the idea that young, black men are a "dangerous" group in and of themselves, the spreading of abject fear through outright lies and petty obfuscations, and so on. By the gun lobby wrapping itself in the Second Amendment, the American flag, branding themselves as patriots, co-opting the National Rifle Association to be their confidence men, and allying themselves with the Republican Party mainly, the arms industry has planted seeds of self-destruction that people like the shooter in Newtown were all too happy to reap.

If there is any silver lining to such a virulent tragedy, it is that perhaps now the public is finally galvanized to action. Combine that with the hard fought Presidential election, and perhaps in the air now wafts the scent of organization and action required for Americans to take back control of their country from the special interests and parties that seek to turn it into their own personal fiefdom. Maybe now, a healthy dose of common sense can be taken in by a deep inhalation of that scent. and finally, after the drowsy slumbers of past decades, we can awaken the United States of America to the threat in its midst.

If we do nothing -- again! -- then we set a steady course for the dissolution of our nation in a hail of bullets, a self-inflicted wound that will bleed away individual freedom and liberty here for all time. We stand in the shadow that gunman and it is time to come back into the light.

Friday, December 14, 2012

They Were No More

A big hand holds a little hand
As smaller legs pump to keep up
Walking to the bus stop
On the cool Autumn morn

The little yellow bus arrives
To the squeal of brakes
The squeak of doors
And the sounds of bubbling voices

Small legs pump up stairs
As backpack crumples jacket
Then at the top a turn, a smile
A wave and "Goodbye, Mommy!"

And then they were no more.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Conscience of the King

There are nights, no doubt, that President Obama has a hard time sleeping. The wearying weight of a nation and the world seem inconveniently thrust upon his shoulders. Hercules knew as great a burden, but held it for far less time and without the hounding of the press or an opposition party.

One is in the uncomfortable position as President of the United States, of being called upon to serve many masters and many needs. Over three hundred million Americans, of disparate backgrounds, look to him to run the country, and have widely varying degrees of opinion on his work. He is at times savior, at times pariah; sometimes a champion, many times a loser. He no doubt knows the dastardly truth: there is no success in being a President in our modern era. It will not be until fifty or more years hence that America fully realizes what it had in him, beyond his race.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Mitt Romney: The Man Who Would Not Be King

You may know this situation, from one side or the other: a child faces an adult. The adult asks the child questions. the child is evasive. The adult is insistent. The child lies. The child hides things. The child is evasive. No parent is truly fooled by a child who is seeking to hide their transgressions. It doesn't stop the child from trying; they have no idea that their parents probably played out the same tableaux when they were children.

In the Digital Information Age, there really is no hiding anything. Though the Internet has yet to absorb the sum total of human knowledge over the centuries, enough exists in great enough detail for the last fifty years that hiding what you have said and done, if you are a public figure, is nigh impossible. Every utterance on tape, every expostulation before the camera, every missive in newsprint, can now dog you wherever you go. The track of your career can be plumbed in great and gory detail, mined for every iota of potential inference as to your character or position, not just by those who seek to know more about you, but by those who wish to tear you down.

Mitt Romney is in the unfortunate position of having much of his life laid bare, and not just in his biography, but by all those he has interacted with throughout the years. In his business capacity, or as a Mormon leader, or as Governor of Massachusetts, or even trying to rescue the Salt Lake City Olympics, he has left a trail of evidence to be followed in now accessible records. Very few parts of his life are truly closed to prying eyes.

In his second go at becoming President, he has attacked the problem of disclosure by not -- not, that is, disclosing anything. Not answering questions. Not outlining detailed plans. Not releasing tax information. Limiting interviews, and in those few, remaining evasive. On top of this, he seems to have surrounded himself with a staff whose main function is to attack every fact with a thousand counter-charges, to muddy the waters as much as possible, or to distract through impudence and irreverence.

While one can point to any number of positions he holds -- or does not, as the wind blows -- as a reason to avoid voting for him, no specific set of facts is really necessary beyond the fact of his ability to lie with seeming impunity, even in the face of facts to the contrary, and his desire to keep so much of his life hidden from the citizenry, the very people he is attempting to cajole into voting for him.

Mitt Romney is a child. He is the child who has broken his mother's favorite lamp, hidden the pieces, and now stands before her, questions being hurled at him left and right, tossing off rejoinders, spewing evasions, and clasping his hands behind his back with fingers crossed, even as he denies all knowledge of the lamp and what happened to it, a slight smirk barely perceptible.

It does not matter what his tax plan is, though it would appear to be nothing different than that which got us into our financial mess. It does not matter what his immigration policy is, because it is whatever it needs to be depending on your heritage. It does not matter that he wishes to repeal the Affordable Care Act on Day One of his presidency, failing to realize that he can do no such thing. It does not matter his stance on same-sex marriage, because it will come and he will not be able to stop it.

No. None of that matters.

What matters is that the man is slick, he is evasive, he prevaricates at the drop of hat and is unrepentant about it. What matters is that the man is seeking the highest, most public office in the country, and he still tries to hide behind his privacy, as if people have no right to know who the real man is, that they should just elect him on adulation and "trust" him.

A President who chooses to keep secrets is then a slave to them. A President does have secrets to keep, national secrets, but those are things in the interest of the nation. To have personal secrets, which may or may not have value to someone with ill intent, or to be hiding some sort of malfeasance that might considerably darken his already dim character, or trying to paper over some financial embroilment that would reflect badly on him personally, is not the mark of a person we should trust with the keys to our military and our country. While we cannot hope to find perfect paragons of integrity running for President, we can expect those people who do run for the position to be completely open with us. If they cannot do that, they have no business sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office.

Mitt Romney is the man who wishes to be king, to be seated upon the throne before the adoring masses. He runs a campaign that is part inept circus sideshow and part homage to what he clearly feels is a fait accompli. He is busy taking his victory lap before the race is even run. A man with such a sense of entitlement, combined with his obvious detachment from the world he flits through, makes no sense as President of the United States, a position which has aged and torn down more than one man with its rigors. Mitt Romney has gone as far as devil-may-care conservatism can take him, and America is not looking for a king.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

We Vote For Them

The United States of America was founded on the idea that, given the opportunity, the citizenry of that nation could -- through elected representation -- govern itself in accordance with the doctrine of unity and mutual interest. So it was that an electoral system was devised to ensure that every person who was a United States citizen could vote and that their vote would count equally across all the States. A larger State could not necessarily monopolize the election of a President by turning out all its voters, and thus overriding the votes of smaller states. It presumed that anyone wishing to be elected President, would have to show each State that they carried that State's best interests -- and those of the nation as a whole -- to heart.

The idea of One Person, One Vote and all it implies, is pertinent now more than ever, with a modern Presidential election awash in 'soft money,' as rich benefactors with hidden agendas and secret motives look to manipulate public opinion by pouring money into so-called "social welfare" organizations and having them run advertising seeking to paint the current President in the most unflattering light possible in the name of "saving" America. "Saving America" is a code for saving the current system, whereby the wealthiest elite benefit at every turn by the sweat and tears of those "beneath" them without having to care about their welfare.

No matter what this tiny fraction of American society thinks it can accomplish by flooding the election with its money, at the end of the day, it can only buy so much. True, it may have bought patronage from some local and state legislators, in the form of means to suppress the turnout at the polls through execrable "voter identification" laws, though they are always subject to appeal to Federal power. It may have bought hours and hours of radio play and TV commercial time, reams of newspaper advertising, and blocks Internet traffic in which to pour half-truth, innuendo, and outright lies couched as fact, but people are under no obligation to listen, read, or pay attention to any of it. At the end of the day, the one thing they cannot do, under any circumstances -- is use the money directly to do the one thing that would have the greatest impact: buy actual votes.

For if we are to be serious about it, the only way to really influence an election to any great degree, is to pay people to vote for your candidate. But, of course, not only is that patently illegal, it is folly to believe that not one of those so bribed would be able to keep their mouth shut about it. As we have seen, with the era of social media, when a figure crosses a line that they did not see but we as Americans always knew was there, they are exposed to a virulent counter-reaction which leads to the loss of that they so rightfully believe is theirs. Were any scion of wealth to attempt the transparent and buy votes, it would spell the death-knell of corporate "free speech" in elections and bring a tidal wave of condemnation akin to the march of the villagers waving torches and pitchforks as they seek the destruction of the monster in their midst.

It comes down to this: we hold our own counsel and we hold our right to our vote. It is not a light burden, this decision. Many cannot bring themselves to do it. They sit on the sidelines, content to leave the decision to others, some convinced they can't take the chance on voting for the "wrong person," others refusing to "waste" a vote on the "lesser of two evils." It is actually harder to avoid voting than it is to simply accept that it is your responsibility, because to do so means that you do not believe in your fellow American. Now, for some, it easy for them to look at other Americans as impediments, free-loaders, or to dismiss their plight by fobbing off all the responsibility for it on them, as if each American operates as an independent island, connected by no bridge to any other, which is simply fallacious. We are the "United" States of America, and were so from the very beginning, when disparate groups of Colonists came together to fight for and support a worthy cause: their independence from a foreign power and gaining the right to govern themselves.

Our vote is not just a vote for ourselves; it is a vote for each and every other American. We may certainly decide that a candidate holds for us the key to our happiness, our personal wealth, our future, but that cannot be enough of a consideration. When we vote, we vote for our friends, our neighbors, our local business owners, our civil employees, our military personnel, and every American of every stripe. Our vote does not just influence us, but influences everything that happens to every other person, known or unknown to us. We may like what a candidate says or does -- and in the end, it is what they say and do, not what their proxies say about them, that should matter -- but we should keep in mind what effect those policies will have on people who are not us.

Voting is our responsibility and like so many such responsibilities, taking it seriously is paramount. The only vote truly wasted is the vote not cast. But before we so willingly commit that vote to permanence, let us take a moment to look beyond our own interests, at the broader spectrum that will be influenced by our vote. Let us ask ourselves if what is best for us is truly what is best for others. While we may not suffer the ill effects of a poor choice of candidate, so many others may. We are part of a larger collective, an integral whole, that owes its existence and gains its power from all of us. When we vote, we vote for us all... it pays for us to consider that before we step behind the curtain.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Revolution Declared, Revolution Unfinished

The day was July 2nd, though it is not the day we celebrate. On that day, a document was sent forth to be read everywhere, writ by the hand of Thomas Jefferson, that said that the thirteen British colonies in North America were no longer colonies, but states, and that those states were -- of a necessity viscerally felt -- no longer beholden to the British Empire. In the moment of this document becoming public, all hope of reconciliation with the mother country was consigned to futility, and the states were left to gamble what little they had, that they could, in fact, create the very nation they claimed they would.

We sit with two hundred thirty-six years of hindsight before us, and a checkered, quirky, sometimes nonsensical history behind us. We are at the latest of a series of crossroads, whose origin can be traced to that hot Summer in 1776 and the decisions made by the founders of our nation. Men all, slave-owners some, intellectuals most, these founders put down the blueprint for a nation in the words scrawled across that parchment. It was only a promissory note for a nation, but at least the thought was now on paper and public. It was not a guarantee of anything, only a hope that a nation could be built upon more human and reasonable principles.

Of course, the blueprint was flawed from the start, because these Founding Fathers, though intellectual and progressive for their day, were unwilling to challenge the conventions of their world. They allowed slaves and slavery to be written into the fabric of the nation, which lent a hollow sound to the phrase "all men are created equal." And in that, too, was the further hypocrisy of claiming inalienable rights, then denying those self-same rights to women.

Many of the Founding Fathers knew it was flawed, but they chose expedience and the desire for union over correcting all the wrongs of human society at that time and building a nation cleanly from the start. The native tribes of North America were left out. Slaves remained slaves. Women remained bound to men. In this, the foundation of the United States was shaky, and that weakness would cause crumbling that led time and time again to conflict that was wholly unnecessary. Even with a civil war, the foundation could not be shored up enough to keep the nation from facing the occasional shaking to its core. To this day and even in this century, we hear the creaking of floors, wrench at stuck and  squealing doors, and note the slant and slope of the window frames which keep so many shut.

They knew, these men, that what they started in July of 1776 would not spring fully formed from the earth, nor would it be a perfect union. They felt, rightly or wrongly, that it was more important to get the nation built, get it standing, and that it would be left to future generations to improve upon their workmanship. They were not afflicted with such hubris as to think they had, at a stroke, done so easily what thousands of generations of humans before had not been able to manage. Their belief was that if American citizens were given freedom and liberty, and the tools to maintain them, they could immeasurably improve what was begun.

So we stand here on another July 4th, Independence Day, and we are split. Some among us believe in America that is perfect as she stands, and see every attempt to change her as an affront to the founding. Some see a nation rife with hypocrisy and feel that we are deluding ourselves in thinking we are free. Many just want to live a normal life, and not be drawn into every battle over the meaning of being an American. Whatever your belief, whatever you may think, it is important to know this: this day we celebrate, is the birth date of an idea, a concept, not a full-fledged utopia. The revolution that began with this bold declaration, far from being over with the battle of Yorktown and the passage of the Constitution, would go on. It would go on at every point where people decided that our nation was not quite right yet, where some small matter or large injustice required adjustment.

It goes on even now.

What this day should mean to us, is a re-dedication to the cause that so emboldened the Founding Fathers, the cause of Freedom, Liberty, and Justice For All. We should recognize that what was begun with the reading of those words, "When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another..." has never truly ended, nor can it. Though the flags are in their cases, the canons silent, the muskets propped up in the chimney corner, and the uniforms packed away, the American Revolution rolls on. Every American who looks at their nation, appreciates all that it gives them in the way of law and liberty, but knows there is more work to be done, especially where such law and liberty are not equitably apportioned to every single one of us. It remains the work of the sons and daughters of the American Revolution, and all who have joined them from shores far and wide, to continue the fight, and never surrender.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Take Your Child To Work

Grasp their hand tightly
As you enter the milling throng
Shunted into shiny metal boxes
Bereft of space and distance
Shuttled to the nondescript
Space that pays your bills
Show them the grandeur
Of your eight-by-eight ranch
Wrangle them into a chair
That fills precious volume
Let them see the sheaves
Of unkempt paper
Let them see the marks
Of hundreds of emails
Give them a tour of that
Lonely space within you
And burn it into their soft minds
To shun this life as they would
The thief or pirate
For here, too, life is stolen
Like so many coins
Deposited in a bank
The earns no interest
Let them know this is
Not what they want
Not what you wanted
When you, too, were
Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed
And the world was full of
Endless possibility
Show them it all
That they might know the signs
Steering clear of the shoals
That would consign them
To the depths of despair

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Dead Without Redress

One person kills another. Or many others. Numbers are unimportant. What is important, is the taking of the life or lives. The act of killing is the lowering of the threshold of empathy and compassion and humanity, to the point where instinct derives its own twisted and vicious pleasure from the taking of life. For the average person, to take a life is a horror seldom mitigated, even where there is clear justification. For the soldier, who is the target of the enmity of their foe, to kill is to live another day and to ensure the survival of others in their care. For law enforcement, it is always the last resort.

Or, at least we would like to think so.

Loose among us are those who, for lack of a better referent, have subsumed killing as some type of "sport." They have defined their world such that, to kill another person, or group of people, is no more or less troubling than filing a tax return or stubbing a toe. The perceived or actual "injustices" they experience lead them to take out their rage on the objects of their envy, their spite, their hatred, in an orgasm of death that slakes their thirst for vengeance and leaves us fearful. We are fearful, because there is no sign, no tattoo, no marker that tells us who they are amongst the milling crowd.

And so, one person kills another. We hold our breath in anticipation. We wait. Wait. Wait.

Wait for justice.

We are told vociferously by many of our flag-waving brethren that we are a nation of law, and yet, too often a body is lain beneath cold soil and a murderer is untouched by the sword of justice. The admonition against killing another living, breathing person is as old as human code of behavior, found in many and varied cultures throughout our world. Thou shall not kill. That Christian Commandment leaves no margin for hesitation or error. To take the life of another is wrong, allowable in only the most extreme of circumstances. Human law is built to make that clear -- we don not settle our differences through murder, lest we pay the penalty for it.

Yet, it does not seem to work that way.

A man kills a child. Forget that George Zimmerman is a Hispanic man and Trayvon Martin was a black boy for a moment and ask yourself: stripped of race, stripped of publicity, stripped of racism, stripped of hyperbole and hypocrisy, was this right? Can it be considered acceptable in human society for a man, a self-appointed "guardian" of his neighborhood, to gun down a boy, through the provocation of his mere presence? Does that not sound ridiculous? The boy, unarmed, walking to his current residence, suddenly set upon by a strange man, perhaps even forced by circumstance to confront the man because he feared attack, is shot dead in the grass by that man, armed against all advice and counsel, violating the admonition to let the police handle it... and now layer their respective races and cultures upon that scenario and one wonders just what the law is waiting for!

If George Zimmerman were any kind of average person, the horror of the event, seeing the boy lying there dead, the gun hot in his hand, the report from the shot echoing from the surrounding buildings, the peering eyes from behind curtains, would have triggered some form of remorse at the taking of a life. The import of the event would have wound its way to the deeper recesses of his mind, would have triggered panic and guilt and remorse and the nagging dread that comes from knowing you have deprived a mother and father of their son by your own hand.

It did not.

Now he plays the victim, as if somehow Trayvon's presence or actions were enough to force him to pull that trigger. There is no shame. There is no guilt. There is not even an attempt at apology for his actions. No, there is only ringing silence, a long and growing absence of the actions a man troubled by what he did might take to assuage his guilty feelings, and the muddling around of a justice system that was built to handle events just such as this. While the roots of grass seek purchase in the soil that covers the late and lamented young boy, George Zimmerman sits and takes breath upon breath, in hiding from the actions that mark him as another symptom of the casual, anti-social bigotry that remains firmly rooted in our nation.

They who kill must stand in judgment before the law and justice must be allowed to take the day, no matter the circumstances. Where the court of law will not do its duty, the court of public opinion will take the lead, and the justice of an enraged and fearful citizenry will not be constrained by the letter of law or human decency. The clock is ticking, the torches are lit, and the low murmur of the mob grows as crickets on a Summer evening. Justice must be done.

Monday, April 9, 2012

It Is Not My Privilege

By the unfortunate accident of birth and genetics, I am ensconced atop the human social pyramid. As a white male, I am leavened with privilege to a degree I find uncomfortable and embarrassing. It puts me at odds with the world I want to see surrounding me, a world where the color of your skin is just that and nothing more, where the god or gods you worship, or those you don't, do not mark you as different, where your gender, from birth or through change, does not categorize you, where age is worshiped, and not resisted.

In short, I want a world where you are defined by who you are and not what you are.

It's hard to see the inequities of the world from my perch and realize that I cannot simply right them. Harder still, to know that I can never truly understand the unremitting stream of persecution, bigotry, and hatred so many are subject to day after day. Worse even than that, the knowledge that I cannot offer true solace to those who suffer, so detached am I from their plight.

I may not understand their pain, but I do know pain and suffering in my own degree, and I do know that a human life is reduced and degraded by the suffering of pain. If the pains of my life are relatively mild by comparison to those who suffer for their race or religion or sexual orientation or gender, I know intrinsically that if I cannot endure so easily the slights of my life, how can these people be so forced to endure what must be excruciating suffering? To know that there are people around them, who look at them with fear, loathing, and violence in their hearts... to fear that one day, they will be the victim of hideous and horrible crime, simply because of who they are. Who should have to carry that burden in this day-and-age?

To my fellow white brethren, I say this: you may feel no direct connections to the events that have transpired over human history to force these people into their daily bondage, but you and I bear the guilt nonetheless. Somewhere in our deeper past, our line intersects the lines of those who perpetrated the crimes that may not bear our name, but definitely bear the stain of our history as white people. Your hand may not have held the lash. Your hand may not have turned the knob on the gas chamber. Your hand may not have set the fire at the stake. But you and I descend from those hands that did those deeds in the name of sanctity and piety and superiority of race and religion and gender. Go back far enough, and we are connected to them, as surely as the furthest leaf from the ground on a thousand-year-old  redwood tree is connected to the deepest root beneath the earth.

If you cannot empathize, cannot sympathize, cannot see the plight of those groups who have spent the better part of thousands of generations under the heel of their tormentors, then it is time to remove the blinders privilege has placed over your eyes. For while that oppression may not be as overt as it was in darker times, it is still extant, especially where we dismiss or downplay the anger and frustration of those who have been oppressed. We cannot expect them to simply "play by the rules" when we continue to keep them at arms length, even though there is no reason to. To react in horror when they dare to contradict us or denigrate us is the acme of our privilege; we have no business denying their pain and anger simply because it offends us. If anything, that should be the signal that we need to stop dictating conditions and start listening to their stories.

A world based on true equality starts, not simply with raising up those who have been relegated for so long to the gutters, but in stepping down ourselves from the pedestals we have lived on for so long. True equality starts when we eschew the security our white race and our male gender hand us, and allow ourselves to be cast into the milieu that we held ourselves above for so long. It needs to start now, because to maintain the convenient fiction that it has always been thus, so it shall always be so, is the last conceit of the privileged before the gates are flung open, the walls are knocked down, and all is wreathed in flames. Let us not allow human society to burn, such that all that remains are charred ashes to be buried under the sediments of time.

Friday, April 6, 2012

If Not War, Then What Would You Call It?

It should come as no surprise that Reince Priebus -- Chairman of the Republican National Committee -- is fully unaware of the onslaught of attempts by Republican legislators in state legislatures and in Congress to limit and/or strip away the rights of women to make their own choices about what they do with their body. It turns out that in his eyes, the whole thing is a fabrication:

“If Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars and every mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that the Republicans have a war on caterpillars then we would have problems with caterpillars.”

So... There you have it. The constant barrage of laws and policies designed to strip away already existing rights, marginalize others, and basically take women's complete liberty and freedom away from them is something the Democrats came up with.

Let's just see...

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Promised Land

The man had a dream, a dream he did not live to see. This day, April 4th, 1968, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was laid low by an assassin's bullet. The man who had worked tirelessly to raise people of color up and out of the mud that white America continually forced them to wallow in, the light and fire of a people's righteous indignation, the scion of non-violent protest in the name of justice, was taken from us by the bigotry and racism he fought. No power on Earth could shield him from the determination of hatred to see him struck down.

The night before he died, he uttered the stirring and prophetic words that have since become iconic:

"Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!"

One believes The Promised Land that Dr. King saw was that which he outlined in perhaps his most famous speech: a land in which people of all races and creeds could live in harmony. He had a vision of the future that -- to him -- was as palpable as the pressure of the collar of his shirt or the weight of a Bible in his hand. Somehow, some day, he knew it would come to pass. He was also sure he would probably not live to see it.

That this man saw the future so clearly is testament to the vision that some human beings, harnessing the native power of cerebral intellect, can will into existence in their own minds, laying aside the dark fears, incongruities, and instincts built up over millions of years in more primitive parts of the brain. Not given to fear or to hate or to prejudice, he extrapolated forward and saw the world that would come to pass, and saw his role in bringing that world into sharper focus. Fortified by the words of The Bible, girded for battle in a cloak on nonviolence, the man would will that world into existence, if he could. He laid out that vision, in the hope that others would recognize it, clutch it to their chests, incorporate it, make it their own, and help propel humanity forward.

It is sad to say that we seem no closer to The Promised Land now than we were that day in Memphis. The election of President Obama, which might have been seen in another light as a true representation of our progress, only served to highlight how much work still remains. His election awakened the ghosts of April 4th, and let them loose to vex us once more. Our nation is now locked in a desperate struggle against the forces of intolerance and bigotry once more, and these enemies of all that is human are even more entrenched and brazen. The hangman's noose has been replaced by the 9-mm automatic. The poll tax has been replaced by voter identification requirements. Slavery has been replaced by the prison cell. Now, more than ever, it is imperative to pick up the baton that fell on that horrible day. It is time to show that Dr. King's faith in humanity was not misplaced. It is time for us -- each and every one -- to lead the way to The Promised Land.

Monday, April 2, 2012

If It Means What It Says

It becomes increasingly clear, that there are forces within the United States who are bent on the reversion of our nation to a state of puritanical and parochial existence, such that none may have the inherent, inalienable rights one is born with, save at their whim. At every juncture, at every turn, they seek to tear at the fabric of open, honest liberty with medieval precision, purveying fear, giving in to greed, and fed by self-righteous fury at those who would dare speak against them, as if they come wreathed in unquestionable Solomonic wisdom. They warp the meaning of the hallowed documents that form our nation, to build up their own "patriotic" facade, even as they make  shambles of them, all in the name of American "exceptionalism."

There is nothing exceptional in hypocrisy and being holier-than-thou.

Even now, states across our country seek to limit the rights of women, seek to deny the LGBT community their rights as citizens, and seek to place the imprimatur of Christianity on a nation founded on the precept of division of Church and State. They stand against anything that works toward the benefit of the whole nation, where they would be asked to sacrifice something of theirs to provide for others, a very Christian notion in and of itself. They look down upon anyone who does not work, and then look down upon them again when they do. They are prepared to take what everyone has worked so hard for and flush it away in an orgy of self-congratulatory fiscal prudence.

It is madness.

Our nation is caught up in a torrent of bigotry, racism, sexism, narcissism, homophobia, ignorance, and blind hatred the likes of which could be seen during the Dark Ages. A nation founded on individual freedom and liberty, steeped in the expansive leanings of The Enlightenment, built to give its citizens full power and faith in their government, is being wrecked, internally, by covetous, pandering, fear mongers who are determined to drag the bulk of the citizenry before their version of God and pass sentence, denying us our legal rights and trampling on the precepts of democracy in the process, all in a vainglorious attempt to prove their piety.

This iteration of our nation is nothing that Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Hamilton, Washington, or any of the Founders would recognize as a product of their handiwork. The trappings would seem familiar, but the atmosphere in the halls of Congress would lead them to believe that bedlam had replaced discourse, and that the "united" in "United States" was being paid lip service in the name of partisanship and self-righteousness. Even among the many, varied, and sometimes divisive opinions held by the Founding Fathers, consensus could be reached for the good of the whole nation, or it would not even exist.

If the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States mean what they say, that we are a nation conceived in liberty, that the general welfare is paramount, and that the rights of the individual are inviolate save where the greater good of all citizens is involved, then the current wave of right-wing attacks on individual liberty and freedom goes contrary to what this nation is supposed to be. We recognize that each of us has the right to be who we are, and make decisions for ourselves, save where there are larger considerations. Our nation cannot become slave to narrow-minded thinking, to muddled intellect, to religious fervor, to absolutism, like so many other nations have. Our flexibility, our diversity, our strength of purpose, are our greatest assets; where we fail as a nation is in denying them.

No woman should be told what she can and cannot do with her body by another person. No two people -- where the government says it holds the right to so legislate -- should be told they cannot seal eternal love for one another in matrimony. No black person should have to walk down the street in fear that they will die for no greater offense than to have been born with their skin. No immigrant to this nation -- here legally or not -- should be treated as less than a human being solely for the desire to provide a life for their family. No person, of any stripe, should be told that because of who they are, they may not take full advantage of all the rights and privileges of American citizenship. No American citizen should be denied the right to vote, merely because they cannot produce an ID card.

If the words that were written in support of our nation mean what they do, then it is time to stop the witch hunt, time to bring down the prejudices, time to rectify the injustices suffered by so many in our nation, as opposed to furthering and deepening them. America cannot support and defend the cussedness of intemperate and backward thinking any longer. For the nation to grow, we must move forward, ever forward, not remain mired in the past. Stagnation leads to death, and so noble an experiment as America was conceived to be, should not be killed by the very people who benefit from its existence. The hypocrisy must end. Our nation must rise to become the nation it was always meant to be.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Clothes Minded

It was a hoodie. A simple piece of clothing, really; nothing more than a sweatshirt with some pockets on the front and a hood to keep the head warm and dry. A utilitarian piece of clothing, cheap, durable, ubiquitous...


Trayvon Martin found out. George Zimmerman took that as a sign, beyond Trayvon's mere blackness, that he was "suspicious." Because on a cool, rainy Florida evening, who in their right mind would be wearing such a piece of clothing? A black kid, in a hoodie, in a predominantly-white neighborhood... had to mean trouble. And it did...

For Trayvon.

It was a hijab. The simple cloth adornment some Muslim women wear out of respect for their faith. A covering for the hair and head, a symbol of modesty, a utilitarian piece of clothing.


Shaima Alawadi found out. Mother of five, from Iraq originally, moved to the United States in 1995. Someone didn't like her. Someone left a note, telling her to go home, that she was a "terrorist." She took it as a prank. A Muslim woman, in a hijab, in a Navy town like San Diego... had to mean trouble. And it did...

For Shaima.

The clothes no longer "make" the person -- they mark them. They mark them for death at the hands of narrow-minded, spiteful, hate-filled, bigoted, ignorant savages masquerading as decent Americans. They walk among us, carrying their hate like a badge, as if it is the acme of patriotism to denigrate and defile people for what they wear and who they are. They walk among us, fondling knives and hidden pistols, waiting for the day that they can cleanse America of "evil." They pretend to love their country, even as they shred the very fabric of it by denying others their right to freedom and liberty and justice.

These clothes, they did not arrive from the manufacturer or the clothing store or the weaver with some hint of malevolence woven into the fabric nor sewn into every seam. These are not the raiment of the wicked, the costumes of the malevolent, the uniforms of the nefarious -- they are clothes, simple clothes, clothes that may or may not represent more than they are. They are imbued with connotation not by the wearer, but the observer, and the prejudices, misconceptions, and stereotypes that person carries around in the secret compartments of their mind. Festering in the manifold creases and canyons of the most powerful computing engine extant, lie thoughts and ideas contrary to the very evolutionary system that brought it into existence, a system that rewards diversity for its ability to overcome changes in the environment, and condemns rank conformity to the fossil record.

These haters, these self-righteous, self-important miscreants, lie in wait for the unwary person of color or non-Christian or woman, like living landmines, set to go off when the pressure is just enough. No warning. No chance. And then they are dead, killed for being who they are, and we are left to wonder what offense there really was in being black... or Muslim... or Latino... or trans-gendered... or homosexual...

Humanity is what our species is. Human beings are what we are. Human, is what we should be. To be human means to recognize that being one of many, our differences make us no more or less a human being than the next. To be human, we must understand and tolerate and celebrate the differences, because they are what allowed our species to grow and thrive. Diversity is our strength. Where we seek to deny it, where we seek to contain it, where we seek to eradicate it, we rot out the trunk of the human tree, until the next good wind topples it. We must stem the rot. To pretend it does not exist, to ignore its very palpable presence, to leave it to others, is to hear the creaking in the wind, a wind whipped up by the souls of the innocent who died for wearing a piece of clothing. Even now, humanity shudders under the breath of their dying moans.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Shot For The Crime Of Being Black

Trayvon Martin died by the hand of George Zimmerman. This is not in dispute. Zimmerman claimed self defense, which is a tacit admission that he killed the boy.

What is in dispute, thanks to a new body of evidence, including 911 calls and eyewitness testimony, is that there is a case for self defense at all.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Power For The People

If there was ever a time when the change should have happened, it was 1973. What change, you ask? A change in our view of foreign oil.

America backed Israel in its fight for survival amid Arab neighbors who were -- at that time -- all too glad to contemplate wiping it from the map. Our support put us at odds with those nations, who were members of the oil cartel OPEC. OPEC proceeded to squeeze oil supplies and prices, resulting in shortages, long line at filling stations, and empty gas pumps. Despite our continued output of domestic sources, our insatiable desire for oil could not be quenched at the time from our own sources alone. It had not been that way for a long time.

The crisis was a warning, which would be echoed again in 1979 when the overthrow of the Shah of Iran led to tightening oil supplies and more price spikes. As long as we were dependent on foreign oil sources for any significant fraction of our needs, the United States would be imperiled. And now, with tensions throughout the Middle East, the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran, inefficient and expensive tar sand oil being shoved at us, and the aftermath of a horrific oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, we still do not seem to be learning our lesson.

It's this simple: oil is finite.

It exists in only so many places on Earth, there is only so much of it, and no more is being created. Hundreds of millions of acres of deciduous forests being roamed by lumbering dinosaur behemoths are no longer being buried under volcanic ash and sediment from oceans, lakes, and rivers, compressed and boiled in the pressure cooker that is the Earth's crust. The easiest sources of oil are now long gone; we have to extend our depth and range to places foreboding and inhospitable, at the risk of further environmental damage, in order to squeeze out and sop up what precious little is left beneath our feet. We have no idea how much there is left, and what little is left is now being squabbled over constantly, as nations that covet the precious black liquid vie with other nations for the limited supply, and the nations controlling the supply are in positions to blackmail those other nations. It is a ghastly feast of carrion birds on a 50 million-plus year-old carcass, that is slowly being picked clean.

So, as you see, four dollar per gallon gas, or five, or six, or twenty... that is not the true enemy, here. No, we are hoist upon our own petard, victims of our own selfish greed. Almost 39 years have passed since we were warned in no uncertain terms that our dependence on outside sources of oil would be our undoing. We have fought wars, toppled governments, made deals, build gas-swallowing vehicles, and lived a life as if 1973 never happened. In the process, we have taken the natural climatological system of the Earth, and have begun to modify its operation, introducing back into it carbon dioxide that had managed to stay long buried as hydrocarbons deep beneath the crust.

No, high gas prices are a symptom, not a cause. We are the cause. We created this nightmare for ourselves through our shortsightedness. The worst part: it didn't have to reach this point.

Solar power technology was born in the 1950s. It came into its own in the 1960s, as a means to power spacecraft that didn't require them to carry along heavy and expensive fuels. By the 1970s, the technology was reaching commercial viability...

But we were not ready to give up on that light, sweet crude!

Imagine this: based on standard calculations, the Earth's surface receives roughly 3.2 million exajoules per year of solar radiation. Do not be frightened by the units, but suffice it to say, that number is enormous, though tiny compared to the Sun's total radiation output. For comparison, in the year 2005, our global energy consumption was a paltry 463 exajoules per year. A little math shows us that the Sun poured down on the surface of our planet approximately 6900 time the energy we consumed in one year!!!

So, just think about it for a moment, like we did not in 1973: even owing to imperfect conversion and less than 100% efficiency, if we had begun placing solar panels on every roof, of every type of building, in every corner of the country, we could have reached a state by this year, where a tiny fraction of energy would come from any fossil fuel: oil, coal, natural gas, etc. Electric cars would not be a environmentalist-inspired novelty -- they would dominate the roads! No home would have to worry about not having enough heating oil for a rough Winter, or having the gas or electric cut off because they could not pay the bill! Power outages due to storms would be severely reduced in scope. Air condition could be run at whatever temperature you wanted! The air would be cleaner!

But no.

Our nation's heritage has been littered with men and women with grand vision, showing us the way to the future, only to have the path diverted by a citizenry unwilling to deviate from the status quo. Though many may whine about the price of gas or home heating oil, though we may complain about the noise and pollution caused by internal combustion, though our heart aches at the wars we send our young people off to die in over in oil rich regions of the world, we are, in the main, unwilling to take the simplest steps to end these things. Conservatism is the cancer that eats away at our nation, convincing us the past was so grand and warning us against a future they cannot see or control. It fills our heads with a malaise, infuses our bodies with an inertia from which we cannot seem to shake ourselves. The last time we seem to have roused from our conservative torpor, we sent men to the Moon.

Then we ran out of gas.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

You Disappoint Me Some Days, America

You disappoint me when:

  • You go on and on about the rights of the individual and personal responsibility, even as you are denying people their civil rights and failing to hold people accountable for their malfeasance.
  • You get angry at how government is taking away your free speech, when you can pretty much well rant about it and no cop shows up at your door to arrest you.
  • You rail about the size of government, but when someone goes to cut the government program that benefits you, you decide that some government is OK just the way it is.
  • You worry about national debt during a recession, when people are being tossed out of their homes, left without food or shelter, all because a bunch of rich people tried to get richer at their expense.
  • You accept the lies in the media and from political parties as truth.
  • You fail to challenge your legislators to explain themselves when they take positions contrary to the public good.
  • You demand to be treated with decency and dignity, even as you turn your back on the disadvantaged and label them as "undesirable" and "worthless."
  • You make a big stink about the price of gas, while driving a vehicle that consumes it at a rate that is unsustainable.
  • You scream about Socialism in our country, and then proceed to take advantage of all the services that are brought about our social contract with the government.
  • You flail about in a frenzy over taxes, but when someone suggests raising taxes on people who have the most money to make the pay a fairer share, you don't support it.
  • You complain incessantly about how government doesn't listen to you... and then you elect the same people to Congress to represent you.
  • You moan about the state of America, but will not lift a finger to do anything about it, and get furious when anyone else tries.
  • You remain silent on the death of a black boy who was bothering no one.
You are a mass of contradictions, America. We laud achievement in public, but in our schools, the bright kids are bullied and put down by their more ignorant peers. We stand firmly on the bedrock of the rights of the individual, but treat some of our own as if they are less deserving of those rights simple because of who they are. We go on talking about freedom, complaining about how our rights are being infringed, even as our government tortures people in the name of national security. White Americans act as if having to share the nation with non-Whites is some sort of indignity. We praise hard work, and then denigrate the worker when they want a fair wage for it.

You better start asking yourself, America: who are we really? Are we the nation of high ideals and civil liberty and democracy? Or are we the nation of get-what-you-can, keep-your-hands-off-my-stuff, my-rights-are-more-important-than-yours? Are we worthy of the sacrifice of our ancestors in shaping this nation, or do we shame their memory by trampling all over their sacrifice? Is it liberty and justice for all, or just for those with money and influence?

You disappoint me some days, America, but in you I see aged wisdom, youthful indiscretion, backward thinking, forward vision, solidarity, isolationism, democracy, closet totalitarianism, charity, sloth, greed, and hard work, stirred together. At some point, the contents of our nation much match the contents of the character we choose our nation to portray. At some point, we must become the nation we have always thought we were. If not now, we may not get too many more chances.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Shot In The Dark

His name was Trayvon Martin... was, because the 17-year-old black boy is dead of a gunshot wound.

It was not a drive-by shooting.

It was not a drug deal gone bad.

It was not a "gang-banger" scuffle.

He was shot and killed on his way back to his father's home, in a gated, predominantly-white community in Sanford, Florida, carrying a bag of candy and an iced tea. No weapon. No drugs. No nothing. Just candy and a drink.

He was shot by a member of the neighborhood watch, one 26-year-old white man, George Zimmerman, after Zimmerman had reported a "suspicious person" to the police and was told not to intervene.

Mr. Zimmerman claims "self-defense."

Mr. Zimmerman has been released from police custody. He has not been charged.

It does not take the tremendous powers of deductive reasoning of a Sherlock Holmes to uncover the fundamental truth behind this incident: it need never have happened.

As days come and go, more facts will come to light, perhaps more concrete data will be made available for public consumption, but on the face of it, it does not take much logic to put the simplest parts of this narrative together into a coherent picture. A white man, seeing a young black man, "determined" him to be "suspicious," and took matters into his own hands after being told not to by the authorities.

Mr. Zimmerman was carrying a licensed weapon. He was in a car. He was a white man in a predominantly-white neighborhood. In every respect, in every fashion, he had every advantage on his side.

Trayvon Martin had a drink and some candy.

Hardly a fair fight.

Mr. Zimmerman could have obeyed the police admonition to not get involved. He chose not to. He could have simply driven up to the boy and asked him where he was going, and left it at that. He chose not to. He could have refrained from handling his weapon. He chose not to. He could have stayed in his car until the police arrived. He chose not to.

What choice did Trayvon Martin have? Here was some white guy in a car, following him. All he was doing was walking back to his father's house; what was this guy's problem? Can't somebody walk back to their house?

If you are black, the answer to that question is: no.

On any city street, in just about any part of the nation, if you are a black person, there is an assumption by others, mainly white, that you are up to no good. Your mere presence "suggests" it... well, that, and the color of your skin. Is it any wonder that the majority of those in American prisons are young, black men? What chance does a black man have, when he has a strike against him that he does not deserve?

Apparently, there was a confrontation. The details are sketchy. Several people called police to report hearing the fight... and then the gunshot. Who started it and why is still unclear, but no doubt the white man with the gun -- in contravention of civil authority -- decided to confront the "suspicious" black boy. And the result of that was clear: Trayvon Martin died.

For now, Mr. Zimmerman goes free, but that freedom from restraint by the law does not leave him free from guilt, because this young black man's blood is on his hands. And this stain, this blot, will not be so easily washed away, because there must be a reckoning for this. Justice may be blind, but it is not deaf, and it will not suffer the anguished and outraged cries of a black community hounded and harassed still by those who choose to see them only as a blight on society, nor will it be allowed to ignore the millions of voices of decent Americans of all stripes, raised in anger, at this senseless and brutal killing.

We demand justice for Trayvon Martin and we demand it now!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Woman's Day Is Never Done

On this day, International Women's Day, we should take a moment to appreciate one salient point: no one would be here save for a woman.

Somewhere along the way, when evolution and natural selection anointed sexual reproduction as the surest pathway to success for mammals, it gave the female of the species the power to continue the species. It placed in her -- what we humans call 'woman' (and in that, let me not denigrate the trans-gendered, for it can be any person with a womb) -- the responsibility of the continued existence of all of us.

Given that the continued existence of our species is tied to that part which holds the power of gestation, it escapes any decent person as to why bearing a womb marks a person for second-class status in our modern society. How can it be that we have not sufficiently shed our Medievalism, so as to see women as true partners and equals, and not simply as assembly lines and incubators? What true righteousness can be claimed by some that they would see a woman held down, subjected to procedures against her will, and forced to retain that which she cannot bear? Does the woman who stands before you bear so little resemblance to the mother who bore you, that you see her as no better than a slave?

What we see now, in America and throughout the world, is a gender slowly wakening from thousands of years of subservience, to greet each new sunrise as free and equal, while others seek to continue to force them back down. A struggle for freedom long building, now fully engaged, is taking place before our eyes, and too many still look away, perhaps embarrassed, perhaps shamed, perhaps intolerant, perhaps willfully ignorant, but all similarly part of it.

This day, save for a mutual declaration, is no different for many a woman, who must work to feed and clothe and house a family, must hold together her family through vicissitudes of life both great and small, must suffer the denigration at the hands of -- and the demonization by -- the men who wield power in the world, and continue to forge ahead in a world filled with obstacles placed to keep her subservient to ways that belong more in the pages of dusty history than in the halls of a modern and  pluralistic society.

Let us then see this day, not as celebration, but re-dedication. Let us work to rip the blinders from the eyes of justice, let us shine pure light on the blessings of liberty, let us seek out and set down those who would turn living, breathing woman into chattel. Let us remember that our human society is predicated on, and owes its existence to, the stalwart strength of those who bear the burden of filling in our future with new life. Let us not see her, our human mother, as below or beneath, but above us, allowing us to bask in her radiance and breathing life into us. Let us stand as one and break the patriarchal fetters that bind her to that existence, and give her leave to weave the tapestry of humanity as she will, without constraint, without dominance. If we are what we say we are, then we have nothing to fear from equality, for it simply the restoration of that which was always true.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

King Of Pain

Andrew Breitbart is dead.

The scion of and propulsive force behind conservative media hypocrisy in the name of Liberal-bashing, has taken his last vituperative breath. Girded to do battle against the Democrats in the 2012 Presidential election, his sword has fallen from his hand, and, momentarily, a still and eerie hush falls over the battlefield.

Before progressives everywhere rise en masse, waving their social AK-47s over their heads, filling the airwaves with defamatory rounds, we should take a moment to mourn for the man's family, especially his wife and children. At 43, the man was far too young, by modern standards, to have come to his demise so readily. It must be a shock of monumental proportions to a wife who has lost her husband and to four children who will now grow up only knowing of their father vicariously.

His defamatory style and bombastic degradation of his "enemies" made him a man to be reviled by the Left and lauded by the Right. His avowed goal was the complete and utter destruction of any progressive organization, person, or cause, by whatever means could be cobbled together. Truth worked best, but fabrication and obfuscation were not off the table as tools of his media-driven attack. Where someone or some group would not gladly provide a perfect foil, he would manipulate circumstances to fit his needs. His undeserving attacks on ACORN, his unrepentant denigration of Shirley Sherrod, his unwarranted attacks on the late Edward Kennedy, his tabloid-style take-down of Representative Anthony Weiner... nothing was beyond the pale, where it advanced the conservative cause.

If any good can be said to have come from his brief life, it is that the level of duplicity and malfeasance he employed can be said to have lit a bonfire under decent Americans of every stripe, galvanizing many, such as myself, to rise up in defense of the people and programs he saw as an "attack" on the heart of America. Far from crippling or even denting progressive and Liberal causes, he may have inadvertently given them new life and new strength through the outrage of Americans who were not so easily cowed or conned.

While it would certainly be understandable if we took this opportunity to drag him through the muck he so fondly stirred up, it serves no purpose other than to enlarge him to a stature he does not deserve. Instead, let us remember him as the polarizing figure he was, let us be glad he vexes us no more, and let us move on to ensure that the movements he so detested live on far longer than his demoniacal rhetoric. The greatest revenge will be in reducing him to a little-mentioned footnote in the history of the American political wars of the 21st Century.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Quiet Ones

Another rampage at a public school. More children dead. A child with unknown motives in custody. A community, and a nation, asking "Why?" The incessant and familiar refrain: "He was quiet."

And as the old saw goes: it's always the quiet ones.

Why? Why was he "quiet?" Quiet compared to what? Was he mute? Did he not raise his hand in class? Did he not talk about his home life, or school, or girls, or football? One girl said: "He didn't speak up for himself much." Why would he have to?

We know what went on here, even if we don't know. Here was a boy who felt he had to deal with whatever was troubling him by exacting revenge in the most violent fashion. He had a purpose, he had a plan, and we may never know either with certainty, but we do know what he did, and his innocence is assured by the Constitution but his guilt is written in blood on a cafeteria floor.

What happened? We know. We know in our hearts, in our minds, in the distant and dim recesses of our memory. We remember high school. We remember cliques. We remember who was popular and who wasn't. We remember being picked on. We remember the unremitting degradation at the hands of and through the words of others. We remember going home to find solace, only to be cast into more turmoil of an even more personal nature. We remember going to a room, closing a door, trying to shut it all out, wishing the pain and humiliation would magically abate, blown away as dust in the gale.

We have felt the pain, the sorrow, the lamentation of another day in those "hallowed" halls, wherein torment lies. We have been witness to it, perpetrator of it, or victim, but we know it. The artificial social environment that is the American high school is a well-oiled machine, grinding up and spitting out children on the doorstep of adulthood, with the same rigorous machinations for children now as existed back when we, too, ambulated among the lockers and classrooms. Names, faces, and sneakers may change, but there is always the undercurrent of "Us" versus "Them" that clings to every surface, that adheres to every nascent Freshman soul, and permeates the atmosphere like a sickly and awkward fog. The subdivisions are artificial, highly dubious, and maintained with a Machiavellian tenacity that survives the generations, not unlike the spore of a virulent plague.

The meaning of Chardon, Ohio is as clear to us as day, but as impenetrable to the popularity-obsessed culture in which we reside as the blackest, Moon-less night. We know in our heads what happened, but our minds will not accept the reality of the situation, preferring pat answers and off-the-cuff observations to truth. We refuse to acknowledge that far from the responsibility of the young man who did the killing, each and every one of us had a hand in this moment, where we could not act or where we tacitly supported those concepts that led to a moment of panic and ultimately, death. We have built the society that glorifies blood, that pampers the popular, that places looks above smarts, and that continues to perpetuate stereotypes that have no business being part of our culture. We give implicit approval to a society that speaks volumes on its problems, but is silent on solutions.

This boy will face his punishment and serve his sentence, both within and without. He will be condemned by our nation, as much as he was condemned to a life that led to these circumstances by that self-same nation, where the well-known problems of our society are left to run riot while we tune in our favorite show on the television, the one where the problems are always solved, or at least, mitigated. We pull down the blinds and peer at our screens, content to live in our world vicariously, while outside the door, poverty, malnutrition, poor education, and the many ills of society wander loose, to collect the souls of the unwanted and the unloved. This moment, like Columbine before it, is the warning; let us pray it does not take another such moment to rouse us from our insularity. Our youth cannot afford the cost.

Friday, February 24, 2012

What Right Is This That Men Make But Do Not Honor?

Let us start from first principles, and accept the premise that -- as was put in the Declaration of Independence -- we are all equal and endowed with unalienable rights. Let us also say that any American citizen, nay, any human being, can be said to claim such rights implicitly.

If we have posited such, and we accept such, and this fundamental ideal is the basis upon which a nation was founded and forged, what business have any of us to declaim against it?

To be fair, we have every right, by the Constitution of the United States, to say what we will in regards to individual liberty and freedom. Any opinion may be expressed; any thought may be, though not must be, shared in regards to it.

However... while we might rant and rail about specific formulations and values of said unalienable rights, we are not given leave to strip those rights from others, merely upon our say-so or the say-so of others. That they are proclaimed "unalienable" means they are not forfeit, not subject to the vagaries of human foible. Though one or all among us might proclaim them limited, their very essence proclaims them beyond the pale.

So, if we take the Founding Fathers at their word, those rights are ours and so on in perpetuity. Those rights may be regulated, where some of us would presume that our rights are superior and therefore should attempt to subject all of us to their whim, but to strip them as to leave none intact is a barbarity that turns citizens into slaves.

As such, the attempts of some legislative bodies in our nation to take the unalienable right to the control and disposition of one's own body -- specifically where one is a woman or of the female gender -- and remove their freedom of action is tyrannical. It is anathema to the spirit and law of the nation. It is a reckless and ruinous attempt to bend the will of women into a subservience that only in the last one hundred years they have managed to dig themselves out of.

The same can be said of the attempt to place those who identify as homosexuals from enjoying the same level of rights and privilege as all other Americans. Where we define things as matters of the State, and where the State is tasked with ensuring that such things are distributed equally to all, how can it be that we deny some the same rights as others? At every level, we have known this to be wrong: with blacks, with native tribes, with women, with immigrants. How can we claim that now another group is deserving of such shoddy treatment in the face of such factual and historical knowledge?

If one wishes to not avail themselves of certain medical procedures, or live their life in a certain circumspect fashion, owing to their personal feelings or beliefs, then they should -- and do -- have the freedom to do so. But as belief is the province of the individual, so is the right of self-determination, and one's beliefs do not automatically supersede those of others, despite what those beliefs might impute. The right of the individual, where such a right does not trample upon the self-same rights of all individuals, is paramount.

Of course, where we come to governance, the rights of the individual must be balanced against the rights of our society as a whole. Where this is true, liberality is preferable to close-fisted adherence. The litmus test must be the effect of the thing on society as a whole, where such effect is broad and direct. More often than not, outside the realm of those who commit crimes, the effect of the thing lays upon the individual's doorstep, not out own. It is disingenuous to claim that the thing affects those who have no direct tie to it, save in a tenuous and ephemeral fashion.

Ultimately, enough things find confluence in our society, that we are all affected, to a degree, and that is where government is tasked to ensure such effects are not deleterious. The government must, in this process, ensure that at no point is the effect so disproportionate to the measures designed to deal with it, that it can be said to remove our unalienable rights. We will be asked to tacitly support some things we do not, ourselves, see as necessary or desirable, but that should be done so only where the greater good will be directly influenced, not where such are in the realm of caprice. The ultimate goal of our unity is the resolution and equality of all things across society.

The diversity of belief, opinion, and action is out greatest strength, where we do not choose to impose it unnecessarily on everyone. Our unalienable rights start and end with us. Where you choose to tread upon those rights in others, you no longer deserve them yourself, and it is oafish hypocrisy to claim otherwise. All people are not subject to your whim, where they have the right, paid for in blood, to be free. It is time to end the continual perfidy that comes of intolerance for the beliefs of others and learn to live within the bounds of the human community as it is.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ashes To Ashes, Stardust To Stardust

Today is the holy Catholic day of Ash Wednesday, marking the opening of Lent, a hearkening back to Jesus' 40-day fast in the desert before beginning his formal ministry. The streets of many nations will be filled with people with a cross drawn in ash upon their forehead as a sign of repentance. It marks an attempt for many Christians to reconnect with the actual teachings of their Savior.

Sadly, it doesn't work in most cases.

Even the most devout, once Easter has passed, suddenly forget the life and death of Jesus Christ, his words and his wisdom. They slip off the cloak of piety and slip on the armor of judgment, of pitilessness, of self-righteousness. They attempt to force the world to conform to their uninspired and often insipid interpretation of The Bible, the words of their Savior to become dust upon the ground. That dust, however, is not devoid of meaning. The dust and dirt that cover our Earth was a gift from the universe, mixed, recombined, forged, broken, and reconstituted millions of times, starting with the beginning of creation itself.

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Realistic Female 'Privilege' Checklist

I was compelled to create a post on my Tumblr account, due to an on-going brouhaha involving moderation of the 'politics' tag on that site, and the misogynistic and socially offensive rantings and ramblings of the editor in question (who was subsequently removed from his editorial post). Part of his defense of his irretrievably unconscionable behavior was rooted in his denial of the idea of male privilege and his mistaken impression that the whole root cause of feminism was to drag men down into the mud and stomp them into it. When works of false and ignorant premises, one invariably opens themselves up to attack.

One place he pointed to, was a web site called 'Feminist Critics' -- which I shall not deign to link to -- and an article there on "female privilege," which was just an outrageous collection of non-interrelated and male-centered screeds on how "good women have it" in comparison to men, and how male privilege is just a figment of feminism's imagination. It so enraged me, that I proceeded to pound out what I consider a more accurate representation of "female privilege" as it exists in the modern world, and part of which I now reproduce here:

As a woman, you have the privilege of...
  1. Being told by men that you do not have a right to do what you like with your own body.
  2. Being told by men that they only find you attractive when you dress sexy.
  3. Being told by men that if you dress sexy, you're being "slutty."
  4. Being told by men that they want to have sex with you.
  5. Being told by men that if you have too much sex, you're being "slutty."
  6. Being told by men that if you don't want to have sex with them, you're being "frigid."
  7. Being drugged or manhandled by men who want to have sex with you when you don't.
  8. Being raped by men, whose sexual needs override your consent.
  9. Being told by men that if you were raped, you were asking for it, because of what you said, how you were dressed, what you drank, where you went, etc.
  10. Being told by men that if you get pregnant by being raped, you should "make the best of it."
  11. Being told by men that your position in life is to carry a fetus to term, even though you don't want it, can't afford it, and they won't lift a finger to help or support you.
  12. Being told by men that marrying them and raising a family with them is what you're "meant to do."
  13. Being told by men that the black eyes, bruises, and broken bones you got from them beating you is "your own fault."
  14. Being told by men that if you try to leave them, they will take away your children and you will never see them again.
  15. Being told by men that they've "moved on" and "found someone new" who is "more exciting," a.k.a. "slutty."
  16. Being told by men that you are not smart enough.
  17. Being told by men you're not good enough.
  18. Being told by men that you're not strong enough.
  19. Being told by men that you are too emotional.
  20. Being told by men that you are too cold.
  21. Being told by men to make them a sandwich.
If I were a woman, and I had to navigate that world on a daily basis, you can bet your ass I might harbor just a small amount of enmity toward men. Women have spent millennia getting the short end of the stick... ask Eve. And maybe, just maybe, women are tired of taking crap from men. BTW, I know I'm being all cis here, and I apologize to my trans friends, but the bottom line is: if you're a woman in this world, born that way, built that way, or otherwise, you can look forward to a long life of being told you are subservient to men, that that is the way "God intended it," and you should just shut up and accept it. I'm here to say that's wrong, that male privilege bullshit talking, and this is one man who doesn't buy it. You're a person, not a possession. You have rights. You have feelings. And no man has the right to tell you that you owe them anything.

Any man who denies his privilege is obviously so colored by it, that he cannot be rationally expected to understand it, so it is up to other men not as tinged by it, to explain. Because one cannot look at what's going on in our nation and claim that there is no male privilege at work, when the majority of anti-choice organizations are run or advocated for by men, when the bulk of the legislators who are bringing forth and supporting anti-choice and anti-woman legislation are men, when the vast majority of Congressional members are men, when there has been no woman President, when women are a scarcity in boardrooms and at the heads of corporations, and where women, on average, still earn far less than male counterparts for the same level of work.

It is easy for a man to dismiss the complaints of women; those in a position of power, for no other reason than they are of one gender -- or one race or one religion, similarly -- have exactly that which they are unwilling to share. To a man, it may seem far-fetched that a woman would want or should have power, and that man will find it easy to construct a specious and fallacious argument structure to reinforce their view. It is a facet of an on-going issue humanity has, whereby fact takes a back seat to belief. Men believe they are meant to be in control, to dominate, to rule, and would rather fight among themselves for the privilege, than allow women an equal opportunity.

As I have noted before, men wrote their dominance of humanity into society of their own accord, not because it was necessary or required. Misogyny is an extension of the primitive hunter/fighter mentality that drove primitive human society. It is a self-reinforcing construct, held in place by the male domination of society. That is privilege at its most basic -- I have the power, therefore I was meant to have it. If the heroes of The Bible are mainly men, it is because men were in the positions of power, men wrote the words, and men determined which gospels would be included, meaning the female voice was conspicuously absent by design. If most nations in the world have been run by patriarchal forces, that is because those forces already held sway. If the governments at the local, State, and Federal levels in the United States are dominated by men, that is by design, as it was men who dominated society and initiated the creation of the nation.

It is not enough that women fight for their right to join men equally in power, for to overcome thousands of generations of patriarchy through sheer will and determination means thousands more generations before it can come to pass. If women are to reach the equal footing they deserve, and is long overdue them, then it is up to we men who understand our privilege and its ill effects on society, to stand up to our brethren, and make them aware that the current state of affairs will no longer be tolerated. We must stand beside our sisters and we must take the power away from the patriarchy that maintains its death-grip on human society. We must break ranks with those men who hold power for power's sake. We must drive the money changers from the temple, to restore order to a more natural state of human equality in every dimension. We must reject our privilege, for to do less only perpetuates a system that has been unfair for far too long.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

My Daughters, My Wives, My Mothers, My Sisters, My Lovers, My Friends

I grew up in a house of women; my grandmother, my mother, my sister, and I lived together for over a decade, and whether that sensitized me to the plight of women, I do not know nor cannot say with any surety. I remember tears, hugs, fights, laundry, long hours, and plenty of time in the solitude of my room, absorbing the happenings of the world, trying to he the "man" of the house. I saw the pain, I knew the travails, unspoken though they were most of the time, and it could not help make an impact on me.

Now I sit here, decades later, steeped in the tenets of humanity and feminism, father to a daughter, husband to a wife, brother-in-law to a sister-in-law, watching as self-righteous, self-satisfied, self-proclaimed "arbiters of morality" tear at the fabric of our society by demeaning, degrading, and deploring women and women's rights. My mortal soul writhes in agony within, knowing that these men -- and they are men across the board -- would suffer women horrors that womankind has not had to know in decades, all in a bid to reassert their "rightful" place as dominators of the social contract.

Nowhere is this most cowardly, most reprehensible, most misogynistic bent seen than in Virginia, where Governor Bob McDonnell, a man of undoubtedly low and amoral character, is ready to sign a bill that would give State sanction to the forcible penetration of a woman's vagina by a doctor for an unnecessary ultrasound prior to an abortion. Yes, that is correct: forcible penetration. As if that were not enough, he is also aligning behind a "personhood" amendment, declaring fertilized eggs people. But back to the first indignity -- in order to pander to Christian anti-choice fanatics and make himself a choice candidate to become a Vice Presidential candidate, this man is will to place his name on a bill that will require the forcible penetration of women.

The amount of bile that rises in my throat, the disgust that wracks my innards, the Vesuvius-like rage that boils behind my eyes for this man and all those who supported this bill, cannot be truly placed in words. It tempts my vow of anti-violence to a degree that nothing has in some time. The people behind this violation of human decency and the civil rights of women must be excoriated in their ignorance and religious fervor, for no person of right mind would consider this a reasonable thing to do. This is akin to the Salem Witch trials, where innocent women were killed for the merest suspicion of witchcraft. It is as if the State government of Virginia is wont to re-write, annotate, and expand on The Malleus Maleficarum, "The Hammer of Witches," as if the modern woman's desire to have control of her own body bears the taint of dark magics. Virginia is busy plunging itself into the 15th Century.

I am torn up inside, knowing that people such as these exist, people who would hide behind religious zeal and the march of "morality," people who would proclaim themselves "decent" and "Christian" people, even as they seek to torture and defile those who do not willingly follow their command. It stinks of the thumbscrews, of the stake, of the manacled form wreathed in flames for the "mercy" of her soul. This is the 21st Century, and ideas such as these have no place in a society predicated on freedom and individual liberty.

I ask these people these simple questions: Could you do this to your mother? Could you do this to your sister? Could you do this to your wife? Could you do this to your lover? Could you look a woman for whom you have the greatest love and admiration, and take a cold steel tube, and jam it up inside her, with a clear conscience? Could you see her lying there, in suffering and torment, and proceed to torment her further? Is it far easier to detach yourself from the heinous nature of the crime against a woman's body, to know it will not be you who has to do it? Would you so easily bestow on others the garish and lurid mantel of purveyor of pain, forcing them to deal with the consequences to their soul, while you sit in the comforting walls of your home, oblivious?

These women, these women I do not know, have not met, may never know, are my wives. They are my daughters. They are my mothers. They are my sisters. They are my lovers. I would not stand idly by and watch them suffer under such ignominious conditions for your "morality." I will not allow my daughter to be raised in a world that values her only as a brood mare, that sees her body as a plaything of the State. I will not allow you to strip these women of their dignity, where there is the least little thing I can do about it. I will write words, shout them from rooftops, I will organize, I will agitate, and I will not stop until I see every one of you who put your festering and fetid stamp on this, brought down and boiled in a stew of your own iniquity. This is not America. This is not justice. This is not liberty. This is the heavy hand of the State, and this is what was fought against to raise up a nation conceived in liberty and justice for all. These women will have their justice and their liberty, and you will not be able to stop it.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Strongest Sex

This year has seen a full-on assault on women and the female gender by men in positions of power or attempting to obtain positions of power. Without pouring over the sordid details, it should be noted that women's health care, contraception, abortion, education, and social standing has been under constant fire with the turning of the year, and misogyny has risen to cast a cloud over our society as never before. This whole movement toward rolling back the status of women to some point in 1950s, on the way to trying to push their rights and privileges back to some point before the 1920s, is unconscionable in the 21st Century. How can we be at this point again?

It boils down to a simple fact: men have dominated human society for millions of years, based solely on the perceived notion that they are the stronger of the binary genders, a notion conceived and reinforced through the application of wholly artificial standards and practices developed to stack the deck in their favor. In the distant mists of the human past, when survival was not assured and no mean feat, men perhaps thought that their hunting and fighting skills made them the natural leaders of humanity. A few million years later, it's easy to see why this idea is wrong...

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Normal Isn't

The idea of "normal" is a statistical affectation. It is an attempt to take a large assemblage of disparate items and find some significant middle to them, that ties them all together into a neat package that can be leveraged to make "value" judgments. It is an imaginary line that runs through each and every grouping imaginable, placed there by outside agency, a wholly artificial yardstick against which each and every thing in the group is measured.

From statistics, the idea of normal has progressed into the realm of human society. When you have a group of numbers representing data points in a continuum, you can use those to find a middle, an average, a norm. Then you can place every number in relation to the norm, leading to "above average" and "below average," and "normal," where something varies very little from the mean. And if that works for numbers, why not people? It starts with physical, measurable characteristics: height, weight, percentage of body fat, age, etc. Gradually, it expands to more ephemeral and esoteric regions: intelligence, beauty, wealth, and the like. Soon, we speak of people only in terms of their relative "value," and just how far from "normal" they stand.

This process of measuring and charting and cataloging humanity can be shown to be the determining factor behind the basest of human interactions: spite, envy, bigotry, racism, snark, superiority, hypocrisy, lack of empathy, judgmentalism. Where some artificial "norm" exists, and where we choose to compare others to it, we set up the conditions for placing people in category we find desirable or undesirable. We reduce human beings to numbers, names, categories, and so on; we place ourselves above others through wholly artificial and self-serving measures. We act as if this is how it is supposed to be.

Over seven billion people inhabit the Earth and the genetic variation between them may be unbelievably small, but it leads to a rich and varied species that has come to dominate the planet like no other. If that seven billion can be reduced to any number, it is one -- one species. The individual variations that appear in each and every one of us are part of a pre-programmed inheritance billions of years old, that drives even a singular species such as ours to display as much diversity as possible, to allow for a greater chance at survival. No measure of such variation can lead to anything that resembles a "normal" human being; we must pursue a varied, divergent, and expanding course in order for humanity to survive.

There is no fractionating humanity. Like the picture that is made up of millions of dots, humanity is a species made up of billions of variations. The drive to create conformity, to place everyone in their box, to hold up some as paragons to be aspired to, is to go contrary to everything that gives our species its strength. Unity of purpose and breadth of vision are far greater reinforcements for our advancement as species, than attempts to anchor us to artificial measures that hold no basis in our evolution. Appreciation of our differences makes us human; anything else makes us mere animals.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Turning Bones To Dust

The streets of Homs in Syria are slowly becoming caked in the blood of people whose only offense is that they prefer freedom to tyranny, as the tyrant shows his love for "his" people by showering them with a fusillade of rockets and mortars. Not unlike Libya in the recent past, a people seek to throw off the yolk of oppression, and are willing to fight if that is their only recourse. But there is fighting for freedom and then there is being an animal penned for the slaughter, and right now freedom lasts only as long as the whistling shriek of the shells.

The Syrian government refuses all calls to remove itself from power. Any deals brokered to do so are quickly cast aside or forgotten. The Arab League seems powerless to act. Certain members of the United Nations obstinately refuse to acknowledge the dying shrieks that ring forth amid the shuddering blasts that fill the town. Condemnation is rife, but action is nigh invisible. No sanctions, no blockade, can shield a populace from the hellish fury of a dictator bent on retaining power.

It is perhaps incumbent upon the United States to once more be forced to take the lead, as it is ever so. Surely, there will be nattering in many corners by some, who will first chastise us for doing nothing then chastise us again for taking action. But, do we dare stand idly by and let innocents suffer? No one has ever handed us a badge, but many have looked to us in the past to take up the mantle of protector of freedom and defender of liberty. There can be only be hand-wringing in engaging in another conflict, but there can be no peace while blood is spilled in the name of tyranny.

What to do? We must come to a decision soon. Where we wish to keep the sword, we do so with the tacit knowledge that we will be called upon to wield it. We must be unwilling, we must be reticent, lest we become enamored of our power, but the time comes when other considerations must be laid aside and the greater good must step to the fore. We cannot allow people to die where we can do something to stop it. Let it be that we take action now, and when it is done, take that same energy of destruction and turn it to energy of construction. A people cry out; how can we not answer?