Thursday, June 18, 2009

Iran Interior Ministry Letter

A disturbing letter from the Iran Interior Ministry may have surfaced, but until its authenticity is verified, it might not actually be official.

The letter's content is as follows:

Salaam Aleikum

Regarding your concerns for the 10th presidential elections and due to your orders for Mr Ahmadinejad to be elected President, in this sensitive time, all matters have been organized in such a way that the results of the election will be in line with the revolution and the Islamic system. The following result will be declared to the people and all planning should be put in force to prevent any possible action from the opposition, and all party leaders and election candidates are under intense surveillance.Therefore, for your information only, I am telling you the actual results as follows:

  • A total of 42,036,078 votes were cast.
  • Mirhoussein Mousavi: 19,075,623
  • Mehdi Karroubi: 13,387,104
  • Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: 5,968,417
  • Mohsen Resaee: 3,754,218
  • No valid vote: 38,716

Signed on behalf of the minister:


As an interesting note, the total on these numbers is 42,224,078—exceeding the total count given by exactly 188,000. This kind of a mathematical error would indicate problems with the count to begin with. However, as a letter which transmits the number 188,000 it might be perfect.

Mohammad Asgari, the IT network security supervisor for Iran’s interior ministry, was reported to have leaked results that showed the elections were rigged, and that Mousavi had won “almost 19 million votes” (direct quote), and that he should be president. Asgari was killed in Tehran 5 days after the election.

Sources within Iran are saying that it’s most certainly a fake: for example: almost all official documents begin not with Salaam Aleikum (“God’s peace be upon you”), but with Besmeh Taali (“In the name of the Most High”), a way of invoking God’s name without putting it at risk of being destroyed.The tone of the letter is also described as being informal in nature, which would be at odds with an official report. This is not to say that an official document of this nature could not exist; but there are enough questions being raised about this document’s authenticity that it will be difficult to assess. We want to believe, but is it safe to?

As this develops, more information will be forthcoming. Although Mousavi is not a friend of the United States, the people here in the US are more concerned with keeping the process of democracy going than we are with which leader wins the election. We support democracy in Iran!

NOTE: Special thanks to those on Twitter who have messaged me in private, as well as those who have relayed information through other channels. I’m adding a Twitter widget to the right.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Iran’s Political Turmoil

In a vote, where the will of the people is supposed to prevail, the system of voting is essential to the processes which keep the will of the people in power. Stealing, rigging, or otherwise cheating elections might get someone some temporary power, but in the end the people will have their voices heard.

In the past couple of days, the result of the elections in Iran has been enlightening. But of import is not what’s happening now—which will certainly resolve itself, for good or ill—but in the crackdown on freedoms of speech which occurred prior to the elections. They started by blocking Facebook, only to reinstate it within hours. Then they tried to block SMS messaging (which everyone who texts on their phone should be familiar with). They tried to block (or possibly jam) BBC Persia. People don’t like to be stifled; once they realize that they can be heard, they get a taste for free speech. It’s a bit like offering purified water: everything else is a pale comparison once you taste it.

Democracy itself is the reason for the Iranian turmoil. While we cannot possibly know what Iran is going through without being there, the pictures which have been leaked seem to paint a fairly clear picture of political unrest. The will of the people will be decided. These people appear ready for change. We shall see.

Politicians and activists were arrested. The Basij militia (loyal to the incumbent) fired into a crowd, striking one man in the neck. Protesters attacked a group of militia and set their motorcycles aflame. Eight protesters were killed on June 15th. Molotov cocktails burn in the streets. University dormitories have been raided. The press has been prohibited from leaving their offices, in particular the foreign press. And through it all, civil liberties are suspended or chilled.

This is starting to look more like a civil war than it is anything else. Let’s all pray that it doesn’t come to that.

UPDATE: Special thanks @ernestina@Twitter for the photos:

Protesters are turning out for peaceful protest in the tens of thousands!

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

Leaders in Iran BUSTED Photoshopping


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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Marriage, Government, and Privacy

It's another long one, folks.

Just so that we’re clear on one point: I’m a straight man. For me, the right thing is a man-woman relationship. But I also recognize the importance of the legal protections that marriage provides, and I’m against banning same-sex marriages on the grounds of one’s right to privacy. This isn’t to say that I’m pro-gay or anti-gay, but that I’m anti-interference on the part of the government. Government might be served with registering marriage in order to prevent harm, but sanctioning marriage on the part of the government encroaches on the civil liberty of privacy.

California passed Proposition 8, banning same-sex marriages after the Mormon Church pressured the population to vote in a given way (something I take personal issue with, as this activity was in direct violation of the laws which are intended to prevent churches, as powerful organizations which have an enormous amount of influence, from involvement in politics). Iowa and most of New England will have same-sex marriages within the year if they don’t have it already. With this specifically in mind, I’ve been giving thought to the issue.

While I was at first against the idea of controlling marriage, I didn’t know why. Over the course of many weeks, I’ve come to the conclusion that allowing or disallowing marriage by the government is against the founding ideas of democracy—it’s an invasion of privacy for government to do anything which seeks to limit or promote marriages (though preventing harm is another matter, which I’ll get into later).

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) of 1996 is ultimately to blame for the current controversy. In that act, marriage is defined as the legal union of one man and one woman, though it permits individual states to adopt their own stances. DOMA provides only the Federal Government’s stance. It ultimately circumvents the right for consenting adults to legally commit themselves to one another.

Many insurance companies already protect unmarried couples who live together under a family-style policy—not because they have to, but because it’s just good business. Interestingly enough, this point may show that the ability to commit on the part of these individuals is somewhat more limited and less stable. Conversely, they are also under a great deal more pressure.

The issue of same-gender marriages is also an issue where heterosexual couples are concerned. The sanctity of marriage hasn’t been an issue in decades, because heterosexual couples will get married at the drop of a hat without caring whether or not religious groups approve. Those who choose cohabitation without marriage are afforded some rights, but if opposite-gender couples who oppose government intrusion through marriage speak out, they are painted in a much different light: they aren’t simply disaffected couples in the same way that same-sex couples are, they’re “living in sin” or “bucking the system” because they oppose the very thing that same-sex couple want: government sanctioning of what constitutes a family unit.

Originally, there was no position on marriage within the government. The reason for this is unclear, but one thing is for certain: marriage was essentially unregulated until the middle of the 1800’s, when the Mormons began practicing polygamy. Because this was essentially a point of morality, no government position could be afforded. It was an invasion of privacy, because people didn’t like the idea that a commitment could be to more than one partner (a concept that a lot of people today might still agree with on a personal level). Coupled with the tendency for polygamy-practicing Mormons to tend to have tight controls over the people they are married to (and keeping in mind the not-too-distant past with sixteen-year-old girls being forced to marry their uncles), having laws in place to limit marriage seems like a good idea, if only to prevent harm.

But the real harm is in having controls which are in place to prevent harm which has never been demonstrated, and which does not clearly delineate to homosexual relationships. To this, I say: “prove the harm, and I might reconsider.” Stating that harm is done is not the same as being able to prove that harm is the result.

Let’s switch gears for a moment. With the Supreme Court’s ruling that sex between consenting adults behind closed doors isn’t the business of the state, the issue of marriage seems to fall neatly into the same category of the state interfering with the individual rights of people who generally want nothing more than to have a legally-protected union with all of the protections that a marriage affords. Calling marriage by a different name is basically redefining the color “pink” to “a shade of light red” and then making a separation. It’s also asking for a reduction or increase in status at a later time, as homosexuals are a minority population. The problem here is, many churches don’t want gay couples to raise a child, especially gay men. Women should be the ones raising babies, according to the traditions of most of these organizations. The problem is, so many people are simply unequipped for being a parent that children get put up for adoption all the time. Let’s now look at a real-life example of someone I consider an uncle.

In 1995, a friend of my father’s (they were friends in high school and worked together for a few years—and no, my dad’s not gay to either his or my knowledge) actually qualified for adoption of a three-year-old girl in California. Being a single man, he had a lot of proving to do, and was ultimately allowed the right to raise this child. In 2000, he married his partner, only to have that marriage nullified later. With the nullification of the marriage, he once again had to prove that the child was in no danger, and that he was perfectly qualified as a parent. There was literally no other reason for the state to do this. Yet he continued his qualification, and the girl’s residence was not changed. Imagine the damage to the little girl’s psyche because she would have been uprooted from everything she had ever known. Imagine being separated from the only parent she had known—not because of a lack of care or love, but because the state decided that his sexual proclivities weren’t appropriate to being a family, based on religious pressures.

That young girl, now 17 (she turns 18 next year), has an active high-school life which includes a boyfriend, going to social activities, and she has really good grades: she’s qualified for a scholarship at Princeton University (a member of the Ivy League) in the field of mechanical engineering—and her grades are good enough that she won’t have to complete the last year of high school to get her diploma. She’s also sexually abstinent, because she doesn’t want to ruin her chances of completing college with an unplanned pregnancy. She’s also tolerant of all kinds of things, but she likewise believes that the government shouldn’t interfere in personal relationships. All of this, because of the values her two fathers taught her.

I’d say the issue of upbringing is one which should be handled on a case-by-case basis, and isn’t something that can be covered with a blanket statement. One can’t simply claim that all homosexuals are evil, deviant perverts who have the sole aim of converting the population to their collective wills. The truth of the matter is that my “uncle” has raised a beautiful and intelligent young lady, one who believes in the potential of humanity, and one who understands personal responsibility. She plans to be active in voting, because she’s seen how voter turnout can change the outcome of an election. Nothing could be more plain to someone who sees the pain that living an alternative lifestyle has wrought on her parents—one that they believe that they don’t have much choice in. They believe it to be a matter of biology, whereas most religious organizations seem to view it more as a matter of choice.

Family is therefore a nonissue, where upbringing is concerned. Perfectly healthy individuals can result from same-sex couples—and really, most of the same-sex relationships that do wind up long-term that I have personally witnessed seem to be far more healthy than their heterosexual counterparts. This isn’t to say that one is healthier than the other; rather, that one person’s experience (mine) is that the impact on the overall health of society where same-gender couples are concerned seems to be positive. I’m sure that empirical study could bear this out.

Tolerance, and not repression or oppression, are the key to making this into a “win”. By creating laws which make a sector of the population unable to take advantage of the privileges that others have, we inadvertently create a minority which can qualify for privileges based on that minority status. Affording the protections and equal status of a marriage to these people creates stability in our society, and reduces disaffectation—the key ingredient in most revolts. And keeping the government’s nose out of our private lives is always good when there’s nothing harmful occurring. Homosexuality isn’t harmful: it’s merely a genetic aberration: a mutation which causes people to be attracted to those who are physically alike to themselves. And if we allow it, we ultimately create the conditions for it to dwindle in the long-run, since forcing people into situations where they have children furthers the genetics (the Darwin factor). People who are against homosexuality might consider that aspect.

“Living in sin” isn’t as much of a fear as it was in times past. With the demand for police to take care of the violent side of society, the threat of eternal damnation just doesn’t hold much in the way of fear to those who believe that God creates everything in nature (and “the devil made me do it” isn’t a valid claim any more). And for those who don’t believe in God, it means not having to worry about some religious nuts determining what you’re allowed to do or not, based on concepts which may be hundreds, if not thousands, of years out of date.

It’s a democracy, not a theocracy. Human beings control the fates of human beings in this system. And if human beings aren’t willing to exercise a little tolerance and extend the rule of law to protect all people regardless of political status, they will discover that they are someday a minority, and so ultimately their own protections may be removed (and be justified in doing so, even if that justification is unfounded).

It ultimately boils down to the right to privacy: the right of individuals to exercise their beliefs, so long as that exercise doesn’t harm others. It’s why the Supreme Court had to invalidate “sexual position” laws and resultingly made homosexuality legal in the United States between consenting adults. It’s also why we don’t have public security cameras in our public bathrooms, or in our homes (or even pointed into our living rooms, for that matter). Privacy is so fundamental to democracy that any encroachment should be viewed as an attack on democracy as a whole. The Mormon Church stuck its neck out and influenced a political decision (counter to the laws of a religious nonprofit, and therefore against the interests of law and order—flatly illegal activity, in other words), and in doing so eroded the right to individual privacy. When a religious group in Utah can influence the outcome in a vote in California, someone has to put a stop to it. And it erodes the religious group’s own rights, as well. In stopping them, we protect their rights as well as those of other religious groups.

The issue of a Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriages is really kind of necessary in order to overrule the Defense of Marriage Act, because getting Congress to repeal something like that will require not only… well, an Act of Congress, but also a load of support, and an overwhelming majority of people to accomplish enough comfort on the part of the elected officials, who won’t be re-elected if they continue to sell out the rights of individuals. They are in a tough spot, those elected blokes, because they’re not really allowed to vote their conscience, if their conscience is counter to the will of their constituents.

Politically, this hot-button issue seems to be focused only on same-sex marriage. I recommend that the issue be removed entirely, and that government encroachment on individual belief and therefore liberty be put to an end. This is at the core of the right to privacy, and therefore core to democracy.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Some Food for Thought…

Someone told me that violence never solved anything. If this was actually the case, then we cannot say that war pressured Heinrich Himmler to shoot Adolf Hitler in the head and claim it was suicide. We could not declare that democracy was a valid solution to the abuses of power which were perpetrated against people in the American colonies. We cannot recognize that slavery in the United States was solved, nor dispute that we are anything but individualists as a result. We could not say that the Japanese could have been repelled from their own violent attack on our country. We could not claim that tyranny was bad—we would have no freedom to do so.

Violence is an act of freedom. It is also an act of desperation. Violence is often used as the first solution, instead of the last. Violence (and the threat of it) is necessary so long as there are people who would use it against us. Violence, however regrettable, can have a positive outcome if it is used wisely and as a last resort.

But where we have the “War on…” paradigm, there can be no positive outcome.

The word “drugs” is an idea—one with power. If we ignore this power, then the War on Drugs is essentially lost. So long as we continue to propagandize the people of that war, painting them at their worst instead of as normal people who have a problem, we can never win. The only “win” in the War on Drugs is in adherence to the rules of war: are the people who use drugs our enemy? The dealers? The manufacturers? Pharmaceutical companies, which were responsible for a number of addictions because of poor labeling? Or how about the very people who declared war? Who is the enemy? There is no enemy declared; therefore, there is nobody to fight. The War on Drugs is nothing more than a propagandist pipe dream.

The word “crime” means a lot of different things to different people. On the one hand, it means something which is against the written laws of mankind. On another, there is a higher law, one which is based in the concepts of survival and benefit to our species. Often, the two are incongruous. One can commit an act which is technically within the written law, yet which is still a crime against humankind. And who do we label as criminals? Do we assume that the “bad guys” are in every corner, arrest everyone, and have them prove that they are not guilty of any crime? Or do we assume that everyone with a criminal history (such as jaywalking) is prone to do it again, and lock everyone away for life? Without a clear ability to label who the enemy is, a war cannot be fought. Just saying “criminals” doesn’t tell us whom to look for. It doesn’t say to look in the mirror.

The word “terror” is an emotional hot-button. An old adage says that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. The Bushes and Clintons refused to meet with the enemies of the United States. Again, we have nothing more than a faceless idea: “terrorist organizations.” But in our War on Terror, we have inadvertently become the terrorists—equal if not superior in all ways to the atrocities which were committed against us. Our own failure to listen to the demands of these people—these jihadist Muslims of one minor sect which continues to claim power in the Middle East in the same way that racism claims power in our own country—has caused these atrocities to be planned against us. Had we but listened, the enemy of our country says that the violence could have been avoided. The demands have never been publicized as a cogent work, so we can’t say if they are reasonable or not. If we believe them to be the ravings of a madman, then our War on Terror is still unjustified.

These are all paradigms which have been started with a noble purpose. But without the full support (forced compliance?), involvement (conscription?), and moral superiority (propaganda?) of the population, there can never be a win. These are terrible things, it’s true, but we shouldn’t ever give up our freedoms in order to be safe. If we want safety, we have it within our power to take back our streets. We must go to war, and have the government’s authority to do so. This means a violent solution if no compromise is possible. Such was the provision of Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, and even Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. These people understood the cost of war. They also understood the price of apathy.

If we are unwilling to do what is necessary, perhaps we are unwilling to solve the problems which our society faces. So long as we have someone who believes that they can control others with impunity, we will always have problems. The problem is in believing that there are no consequences, or that the consequences are unimportant. There are no “little things,” because it’s all relative to what’s important to someone. Consider these “little things” which people continue to call important:

  • Cancer, which is a metabolic aberration at the cellular level.
  • Smoke, long-term inhalation of which can contribute to cancer.
  • Fire, which produces smoke.
  • Paper and dried leaves, which can keep a fire going.
  • Cigarettes, which are essentially little pieces of paper wrapped around dried leaves.

Each of these is such a little thing by itself, but it all adds up to things which can have a significant impact. This is just food for thought, and I hope at least one politician reads this and can take to heart how things may need to change.

Friday, June 5, 2009

On Being a Badass

This is gonna be long. Apologies to those who are short on time.

Going through YouTube recently, I came across a video of a man who was being arrested. The officers refused to notify him of any particular charge, other than suggesting that he resisted arrest (which, actually, probably wouldn’t stand up in court, being that the original arrest was not an informed arrest either). The man being arrested tried to be reasonable at first, and then he played the “crazy religious nut” card (he may even have been serious, I don’t know enough about the situation to say). And the officers then tased him, immediately after which he got up and ran away—much to the officers’ surprise.

This seemed like a blatant violation of rights, because the officers wouldn’t tell him what reason they had for arresting him. But in fact, no actual rights were violated. It still seemed wrong to me. The use of the Taser didn’t seem well-justified. Tasers are potentially lethal weapons. They would have done better to shoot the man in the leg with a sidearm—the chances of lethality are about the same, actually. But the fact that it didn’t do much to the guy seems to imply that the unwritten “no harm, no foul” law of the universe. I’m sure that religious zealots will point out that his prayer to Eloheim for protection had something to do with it. I’ve seen such reactions without prayer. The prayer was incidental at best.

But then we have the “Don’t Taze Me, Bro” guy in Florida, and numerous other incidents where the use of a Taser was accomplished and not well-justified. A Taser is not a “control device”; it is not a “restraint device”; and it is not a “medical device:”: it is a “certified non-lethal weapon” which has a history of lethal results. I’ll write a blog entry on that alone. The point of this is to show that even police can sometimes have bad judgment, and are prone to stress and illogical thinking. Without getting into too much depth, this leads police to be on a kind of power trip, and one which does more harm than good to society. Enough depth. For now, let me get to my real point: firearms and how I’m something of a badass, apparently, because of the way that I don’t like guns.

I want to preface the following by saying that I do have a great deal of respect for police. Stress levels are high, and this can sometimes cloud judgment and clear thought. Being a cop is a tough job, and while you’re in the uniform people don’t tend to respond positively to you. There’s a reason for that, and it’s not generally personal. I understand why some cops do what they do; but power trips shouldn’t go unchecked—not even if the result is good. Cops on power trips don’t necessarily need to go to court, but if police departments aren’t willing to check their own officers where this is concerned, then the only recourse is civil action. Leaving things unchecked, or presenting a “unified front” where an officer may have been wrong can only be detrimental to the rule of law. If the rule of law doesn’t apply to police, then police are the most dangerous gang in existence. Some gangs already treat them this way.

Put another way: it’s tough to be a cop, and it’s tough to follow the law because of how complex laws are. But if police are above the laws they enforce, and cannot withstand the microscope of public scrutiny, then their utility cannot be justifiable. Simply whining about how hard the job is makes you a whiner; it doesn’t justify your actions any more than whining about being abused excuses a criminal from the crimes they commit. Nobody should be above the law, least of all those who enforce it. And I mean least of all.

Officers in lots of places seem to be on a power trip, and often seek to remove any kind of empowerment on the part of those they’re interacting with. In some cases, this disempowerment makes their jobs easier, particularly where dealing with someone who is clearly being irrational themselves. But where it doesn’t work, how about trying logic and reason? A little actual critical reasoning might go a long way to preventing repeat crimes, and it might actually serve to create a little respect for the badge, instead of engendering disdain for the power trips that many of the people who wear badges embody. The embodiment of a power trip is not where the enforcement of law should be. Humility and accountability should be the rule, not the exception.

We had a police officer come to our place a while back, and I’m sure I didn’t make a great impression, but it was because I was actually pretty pissed off at the way things were handled. One officer asked if she could come in, and I refused entry on the grounds that I don’t allow firearms of any kind in the house, citing numerous incidents where local officers had not used their firearms in ways I considered justifiable. I told them that either they had to leave their sidearm with another officer, or find someone who wasn’t carrying. They asked if they needed to get a warrant. I informed them that even with a warrant, I had the right to request that no firearms enter my home unless they had a compelling reason. They didn’t. Therefore, a warrant would not be a solution to this issue.

My lawyer was so proud when I told her. Seriously.

When the officer without a firearm came in (forty-five minutes later; I stayed by the door and kept it open the entire time to ensure that they didn’t think I was trying to actually hide anything), they saw my swords, and they saw a bow-and-quiver (no arrows) mounted on the wall near the door. The quiver, I bought through a catalog as decoration (it’s a Legolas-like quiver). The bow is a traditional kind: no pulleys, just a big hunk of wood with a white leather string on it, and it belonged to my great grandfather, who claimed a Native American (of the Chippewa tribe, I think he said) had taught him how to make it (it looks to me more like a European style, but… meh, it was his story about his friend, and I’m positive he believed it). It’s non-functional: the wood was uncared-for during a garage stay of over twenty years, and though I have been trying to work linseed oil into it, the wood just isn’t up to use (having split in four places from drying out). While admiring the bow (which he hadn’t had permission to touch), this officer asked me why I didn’t like guns. I didn’t have a good answer: I just don’t like them. But I’ve been thinking about it for months, now. More on that later. I answered him: “I just don’t. They annoy me.”

The officer’s next question really bugged me, though: “So, what do you have against the Second Amendment?” I have to say, I’m hard to offend, but that assumptive leap in logic really seemed out of the blue, and uncalled for. I believe that I have the choice to say what’s right for me. I do not believe that my own comfort should be forced on others.

Thus, I’m pro-Second Amendment. I think the right to keep and bear arms is an important check and balance against the tyranny of government which continues to threaten us (and which has never really abated in the history of governments, though somewhat mitigated in our own form—not ideal, but the closest to the mark). Firearms are intended to convey the threat of violent uprising to the government, so that the government’s aim is to satisfy the public’s best interests. At least, this was what was conveyed by those who wrote and signed the US Constitution—our Founding Fathers—in many a quotation thrown around today (especially Andrew Jackson’s “tree of liberty” quote). Even so, I won’t be a party to violence for as long as I have a choice in the matter that doesn’t make me choose my own survival as the only other option.

Even with President Obama’s apparent benevolence, there are other elements I just don’t—and probably never will—fully trust. That trust is gone: unearned, unless they find a way to earn it back (and I have to say, though I fully support Obama’s stated aims during his campaign, I’m still watching to see if the government as a whole is capable of earning my trust back).

I can’t place faith in a government that claims to serve the people, and then sells out consumer protections to the highest corporate bidder. This is the very definition of fascism: the merging of corporate and government interests. This nation wasn’t intended to be a fascist republic; it’s a republic, certainly: but operated under the principles of democracy. And those principles say that what hurts public interests is bad for the government—in spite of how well it lines a politician’s pockets. And merely redefining public interests to justify one’s actions is just low. As in: below the belt. Simply changing the definition might make something technically legal, but it doesn’t fool the public: not really. They still know it’s wrong. And so should those in power. They apparently don’t get that they need outside input, and neither does the public. If the public got that, more people would be needed to answer phones for the US Congress, in both the House and the Senate.

Many within the government really want to strip weapons from the public (including President Obama), on the basis that disarming the population makes that population safer. I couldn’t disagree more. More on that disagreement below. On to what I actually explained to the officer:

When one has a firearm, one tends to justify its use after the fact of using it. If you carry a firearm as a matter of habit or duty, I believe that you will ultimately use it. I’ve lived in the worst parts of the US (in the worst parts of many major cities noted for their high violent crime rates), and I’ve seen all kinds of things I didn’t want to see, and that I would rather not have to remember. I’ve had friends who were into crime. I had these people as friends, because I don’t want them as enemies, as they tend to have a difficult time with the concept of neutrality. If I’m not with them, then I’m against them. I’m not allowed indifference. These friends just can’t afford to work like that.

My home as a safe haven meant that I didn’t let them have guns in my home, either. They didn’t always respect our arrangement. But the whole time I was required to deal with living in a criminally-oriented situation, in a bad neighborhood, or whatever the case was, I never once put my hands on any kind of weapon in defense of my home. Why? Because I stay out of others’ business affairs. I’m a friend, not a business associate. What ill they do, that’s their business. And so long as their trouble doesn’t knock on my door, I have to accept that this arrangement works. Likewise, I keep to myself and try not to bother other people. They generally don’t think I have much of value (especially when they see exposed electronics and old TV-style CRT monitors, which implies that the stuff running is too old to be of any real worth). When I explained this to the cop, he retorted with a dismissal: “So, you think you’re a badass because you can defend your home without a gun?”

I still roll my eyes at that. Say what? When did I say “defend”? What part of what I said painted me as a badass? Yeah, that’s me: the badass who doesn’t want firearms in his home because he finds them morally offensive. The badass who preaches peace and harmony and goes to great lengths to try to promote the idea of them. The badass who tells an officer to uphold the law in a way that the particular officer finds uncomfortable. Is there a badass to be had in that? I mean, I’m not Kwai-Chang Kane: I don’t really know a significant amount about Kung Fu or whatever. The truth is, he was just itching for a reason to try to arrest me, and justify that warrant anyway. I didn’t give it to him, badly as he wanted it.

So, apparently, my badass self (being a fat, almost-middle-aged man with minor but chronic health problems) walked the officer around his home, showing him the insides of drawers and a laundry hamper next to the window, so that they wouldn’t have to get a warrant and actually rip my house apart because some brainless addict used my window as a dump zone during a chase. It pissed me off (their claiming a need to intrude into my home and check through closed drawers, etc., though I was clearly not involved), but they did actually find the drugs where the addict was seen tossing them (they were on the window ledge outside the window), and to their credit, the cops have left me alone after that. I just didn’t appreciate the attitude or the invasion of my privacy, that’s all. I said so. And they left. I haven’t had them back over. Water under the bridge? No. It still pisses me off.

I mean, really: I’m such a badass. Yep, yep, yep. People cower in fear at my demands for peace, right? Suuuure.

I was trying to cooperate and maintain the principles my children have seen demonstrated in numerous situations; instead, I got treated as though I was doing something wrong and trying to hide something. My crime: living in the path that some druggie chose during a who-knows-how-long foot chase through several neighborhoods, and having convictions which do not permit firearms under my roof. Could it have ever occurred to that officer that I’m actually not into drugs, and that I don’t make a habit out of police visits because of attitudes like his? And people wonder why cops aren’t well-liked. It’s power trips like that which make me not trust their firearms in the first place. The lady cop outside had enough respect to ask questions about my beliefs, instead of simply making assumptions. The assumptions were offensive. She told me she was complaining to the other officer’s superior on my behalf, because he was intentionally baiting me—and that, apparently, was something of a violation of internal policies of conduct. It was the first I’d heard of that particular department trying to check and balance. That woman has my gratitude. I’ve never had a more positive experience with a police officer. More like her, and my own faith in law enforcement would definitely be on the mend.

I hate being put on the defensive. With cops like these, who needs a criminal element? I feel more threatened by having those kinds of officers than I do living in a high-crime neighborhood.

I do have to say, though: thinking about why I don’t like guns did bring me to kind of a philosophical point about lots of things. That was productive. Plus, they didn’t technically violate my rights, even if they violated my sensibilities. These were generally-good cops, faced with too many unknowns to be comfortable. And they handled it with about as much grace as they could muster. The one lady cop was about as graceful as it gets. I wrote a letter of thanks and commendation to her department, explaining the situation. I’m pretty sure it went nowhere, but I have to say, she impressed the hell outta me. I found out later that she’s no longer a cop, and that she took a job as a private bodyguard for some executive’s family. If she’s reading this, ever, she’ll know whom she is. If she remembers who I am, she has my thanks, and that of my family. I just wish I had the money to rate hiring someone like her, because that’s the kind of positive influence I want my kids to see.

And she was hot, too, but that’s not the point. (NOTE: I’m checking over my shoulder at this point for my lady’s eyes. She nods, commends me on being honest, and continues about her own projects.)

The one unarmed cop was the worm in the apple. There was a second cop who entered, but he didn’t speak to me more than professional requirements dictated (and I’m actually glad for that, since I was in an increasingly-irrational mood). If they’d pressed me for another hour or two, I’m sure I might have verbally snapped at them, started telling the officer I had a problem with him, and told them to either get a warrant or another officer. As it was, the visit seemed like six hours. It was, in reality, 18 minutes. When you’re pissed off and not used to it, that’s an eternity of self-control.

Enough about my being a badass and pissed off about poorly-justified power and control. On to some reasons I don’t like guns (outlined as notes for—believe it or not—brevity):

  • Firearms allow one to distance themselves from the destruction and possibly death that they are inflicting.
    • This lessens the impact of death, and makes it easier to dole out.
    • It creates the opportunity to convince yourself that what has been done is less than what it is. And this, to me, is the primary mistake that firearms are.
  • They’re just too damn noisy.
    • Nothing says “I’m giving away my position to an enemy” like the rat-tat-tat of automatic fire.
      • If they already know where you are, that’s another thing altogether: do what is needed to survive. But survival is not the issue, here: my personal like or dislike of guns is the issue.
  • A firearm’s only purpose is destruction. It can only fulfill its purpose with that end.
    • Destructive potential is not always dispensed in a predictable, orderly way.
    • Violence is the result of a person’s destructive potential, and this can only be amplified by a firearm.
    • Guns may not operate themselves, but the capacity for destruction is amplified by their inclusion in any activity or environment (yes, even underwater).
  • Silencers are rarely silent in real life: the “zip” of bullets on TV as they come out of a silencer is not only unrealistic in itself, they never include the sound of the weapon’s mechanisms racking as the recoil from firing the shot occurs. It’s loud, people: someone in the next room will hear you.
    • Nobody shows realistic gun operation on TV or in movies (as a general rule, with one or two notable exceptions). This glorifies the use of firearms, makes them sexy and powerful. Generally, not to the right kinds of people.
    • The people who tend to want to own a gun are the same as those who want to go on a power trip. Not in every case, but the rule does hold in a generalized way. A lot of it has to do with the ways that guns’ relationships to injury and death are portrayed in popular media.
    • Silencers are only one example. Virtually any other kind can be demonstrated, as well.
    • Censorship with regard to blood and death is harmful, in that the horrors of injury and death are woefully misrepresented as being gloriously clean. There’s nothing glorious about it: it’s horrific. It should be represented as such, rather than being sanitized and therefore glorified.
  • Irresponsible gun ownership causes tens of thousands of deaths per year.
    • There’s not a legal requirement to go to a gun safety course when one buys a firearm. As such, legal firearms can be more dangerous to those who own them than to those they are intended to protect against.
    • Responsible gun ownership is not taught on public television. One has to pay cash for it. The aim of budget-making lawmakers is therefore not in protecting the public, but in ensuring that the wealthy can be safe.
      • Imagine the kind of production which could be made if Congress dropped $50 million into a four-hour educational course which was free to the public.
  • Illegal firearms bought and sold on the black market are unaffected by any kind of law. This is because criminals don’t obey laws, by definition. As such, laws to control gun ownership cannot prevent ownership by someone who is truly determined to do harm. Such laws only makes it more difficult to legally obtain firearms, and make illegal channels more attractive.
    • Restrictions on what kinds of weapons might be legally bought or sold limit only those who are willing to obey the law, and empower those who are willing to break the law.
      • Controls over the flow of guns to the black market are impossible to enforce, because even police fall victim to theft of their firearms. Guess where these stolen pistols and rifles wind up?
      • Theft is against the law. If criminals who steal guns are unwilling to follow that law, and the object they steal is used for ending life, what makes a legislator believe that stricter penalties are a deterrent? The answer is not more restrictions, but more intelligent solutions to the actual issues.
    • Notable tragedies have occurred, and continue to occur, because there’s no way to legally control the black market. Education, and not propaganda, is the only real solution for something like this.
    • The gun industry has no accountability (and don’t need it) for the use of their product; only in whether or not their product is of good quality. However, there is little oversight on the control of their distribution channels, which are vulnerable. This lack of taking responsibility makes me loathe the very existence of firearms.
    • The fact that guns are created at all causes the black market issue; not whether the person owning it is legal or not. Legality has little bearing on ownership. Because guns are created, they are automatically dangerous.
  • I hate guns because of Chuck Norris. Okay, and every other martial artist who isn’t typically portrayed using a weapon.
    • You don’t have to reload a sword or a fist.
    • It’s harder to take someone’s hands away than it is any weapon. Weapons which are taken away can be used against the person who brought them in.
    • Damaging a hand takes it out of commission; damaging a weapon only makes it more dangerous to those in close proximity to it.
    • With the correct training, a hand is also far more lethal and far less random than a firearm, but the “safety” on that kind of a weapon is far more effective, and far more obvious when it’s disengaged.
      • My one and only Chuck Norris joke (one I’m sure even he might appreciate):
        • Chuck Norris is the safety mechanism for his fists.
  • I’d hazard a guess and say that less than 1% of all firearm use in the world is for the production of food. It should be closer to 99%.
    • Were it closer to 99%, I would say that my ownership of a gun for that purpose would outweigh my distaste for them. As things stand now, I won’t even go deer hunting during the bow hunt for fear of being shot by some idiot with a rifle (yes, it has actually happened, though not to me).

These are not all of the reasons, but it’s a good beginning. I firmly believe that if gun ownership was actually required by law, fewer criminals would want them.

Some final notes: the only way to make firearms less of a problem is to increase access to them for law-abiding citizens. This seems backwards, but it has worked in practice in the past. Also, creating “weapon-free zones” ensures that those who abide by this rule are disarmed if someone who doesn’t abide by the rule happens to want to take power over them. Ensuring that people don’t get hurt means increasing access to things like concealed weapons permits. When criminals can’t tell who is or isn’t carrying, they are less likely to want to take a risk to their own lives. I will never carry a firearm. Ever—regardless of legality, I don’t like them. But I think more people should consider carrying one. Such considerations make for the beginnings to well-informed decisions.

Psychology, and not restrictive legality, is where the solution can be found.

Ain’t that just badass?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

How Being Pissed Off Can Change the World

(or: Anarchy and its inextricable relationship to democracy, capitalism, and socialism)

I’ve been writing a screenplay about space bikers. And they’re inspiring me to do some real research on anarchism, which challenges me to study my first philosophical love: democracy.

When people think of anarchism, they look to the likes of Emma Goldman and Noam Chomsky to give them some ideas and foundations. The problem is, Emma Goldman’s a great speaker but has problems with some of her conclusions (of the “great, flying leaps in logic” variety), and Noam Chomsky’s focus on socialism can’t truly be called anarchic: and this makes both of them less than ideal choices when we’re really looking at the core of anarchism, which is individual freedom and liberties.

This is how the concept of anarchism came about: Many people want less government; some want no government. But if you ask a lot of self-styled anarchists, they recognize the need for government among the majority of the population – a position which is actually counter to the core belief of anarchy (being that governments are evil because they promote violence). And when we look at so-called “hardcore” anarchists, many of them actually believe not in anarchy, but democracy.

Noam Chomsky wrote a line in 1970 that anarchists need to be a certain kind of socialist. I add to that: an anarchist must also be a certain kind of capitalist, a certain kind of fascist, a certain kind of purist—and a kind of realist, too. Anarchy is about survival of the fittest. It’s about social Darwinism. And I utterly disagree with it in many ways. But it does have some good points. Points which I won’t extol here. If you want to know the positive side, ask an anarchist.

Society needs rules. We need to know what is expected of us, in order to understand how we affect others. We need to know how we affect others, because this gives us a predictable future, where we can know whether or not we will survive, and how well. Anyone who doesn’t care about survival ought to be shot (and this is a joke, folks: please don’t go out and shoot someone for mouthing off about not caring whether they live or die!). The rules of society also need to be simple—one thing that they most certainly are not, at the moment. Perhaps this is one of the true aims of the anarchism movement; and perhaps anarchism is just a lame excuse to say “your rules don’t apply to me: nah, nah, na-nah, nah” (a position I’m sure we could test all day with results that confirm application of a good many rules to any individual).

Conformity to the rules is the norm. This doesn’t mean that it’s abnormal to break a rule once in a while. It also doesn’t mean that non-conformists can’t conform to something. If they reject everything, then they’re not non-conformists, they’re just unthinking rebels. Non-conformists can’t uniformly reject everything, or they’re conforming to a stereotype about non-conformists (don’t you love this logic?). But to lack rules altogether (or to reject them) means that there is no society, no music, no culture, and no communication—including speech. Without some rules, things like this blog wouldn’t work.

Rules shouldn’t have to be rigid boundaries all the time. In most cases, rules are merely an observation of the way that things work. They’re one way of doing things. Many people make the mistake of thinking that because something is a rule, that’s the only way it can work. In some cases, this is true; but it’s nowhere near a majority of cases in human experience. If it can work a different way, is it really harmful?

I reject the idea of socialism in general because of the fact that most people like freedom. Socialism putz all of the cards (and trust) in one basket (the basket of government). It places the ultimate responsibility on the government, and therefore it invests trust and power over these systems, on which people rely for their lives, in the government. Having had a dose of socialized medicine in both Europe and Canada, I can honestly say that not only am I against socialized medicine, but that Michael Moore is full of it.

(NOTE: Moore actually did cop—ON CAMERA—to making up the details to justify his position on socialized medicine, rather than doing a fair and balanced journalistic piece with “Sicko”. He justified this by saying: “It’s just the way research is done.” Not! Yes, folks: yellow journalism is alive and well! Moore is no more a journalist than Bush was a democratic leader. Any attribution is in name only. And that’s my opinion only: I’m entitled to it. I also have misgivings about his other works, which although convincing, are packed with half-truths, assumptions, and unfounded conjecture if people want to actually look at the REAL evidence.)

Socialism doesn’t create a better system, it creates one in which people complain that foreigners take all their best benefits (especially if a tourist gets hurt while on vacation). It creates a system which still gives people the short end of things if they don’t pay their taxes. And socialized medicine does not pay all of the bills: many people still have to supplement for things considered “elective surgery,” such as a nose job to repair a deviated septum and help that mouth-breather down the street not appear sick all the time. Plenty of us have had our fill of socialized medicine in the US: just ask those who are on the Medicaid system what they think.

Capitalism actually makes a great deal of sense, when tempered with a good ethic of sharing and interdependence. The idea of balancing resources is also highly appealing, because it implies that an unlimited amount of wealth is just waiting to be found and tapped. The ethic of helping your neighbor needs to be alive and well, for capitalism to actually work as a philosophy. Which means that one needs a certain amount of dissatisfaction in order to allow for motivation to excel in this system. It requires a small amount of greed, as opposed to the large amount which tends to be the norm today. And it requires a large amount of privatized charity. That’s the part that most people don’t get: helping their neighbor benefits them in ways which are profitable, yet not monetarily beneficial. Not all profit is financial.

Democracy is another philosophy that people who are self-styled anarchists are actually practicing in its purest form: an Athenian democracy is a democracy where everyone individually has a say, and where the direction of the majority of the group as a whole is considered the most correct. I’m a big believer in democracy. It’s not perfect (nothing is), but it’s one of the keys which makes life work the best for everyone involved. It preserves the freedom to choose. If people were just willing to put the principles of democracy into personal practice, they would quickly find the world turning into the type of place which breeds the values we all claim to hold dear. Like freedom.

All sentient beings crave freedom (as a group, though there are bound to be exceptions). But humankind (and I can say this with authority, being that I’m human) tends not to really want freedom with all of its responsibilities; rather, humans want nothing more than to be comfortable and free from the world. This is in contrast to freedom, which is to say being free in the world.

The “Big Picture” of freedom is taking utter responsibility for your own actions, and accepting the consequences in a world where the popular choice is to accept laws we don’t necessarily agree with. The concept of fighting for change is often expressed, but without action this expression is little more than complaining—and it’s annoying after a while. It is acceptance of the status quo of the culture. And if you truly disagree, you are motivated to support change, not the status quo. But if you are not motivated enough to actually enact that change, do you really want it?

Change of any kind requires dissatisfaction. If you aren’t dissatisfied, you’re not going to want to change. People don’t like being dissatisfied. They also don’t tend to like change. And where the tendency toward “a better way” means something different, it’s easy to fall into the trap of too much change. Like anything healthy, there’s a balance which must be found: a balancing point at which harmonious interchange occurs. Whether you’re anarchist, fascist, Marxist, Zionist, or any other kind of “-ist”, the only way change occurs is by getting angry enough about something that you decide to take action. Nothing happens when people fail to take action. I don’t remember who to attribute the quote to, but I think whoever it was, they said it best:

“The only thing necessary for evil to prevail is that good men do nothing.”

Action is necessary if change is what you really need. And if you think about that action just a little, you can avoid violence, but never conflict: conflict is created any time you don’t completely agree with someone (and it’s impossible to agree with everyone, since opposing ideas are what make us individuals). And conflict’s inevitability means that people who understand things like debate and critical thinking have a leg up in the world.

Change doesn’t really take brains: it only takes motivation enough to act. This is how being pissed off can change the world. Negative feelings can bring about a positive consequence.