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.