A Few Bullet Points on American Gun Culture

I’m a gun owner. I hold a concealed pistol license in the state of Washington and I own a pistol and a rifle, which I have taken reasonable and prudent steps to keep locked up and safe when they are not in use. Although I have not taken a formal gun safety class, I have had firearms training and have taken steps to ensure that my family is also provided with training. My kids have enjoyed the carefully supervised events when they have been taken shooting by myself and other qualified adults.

I’ve had some thoughts stirring around for a while on the topic of America and the 2nd Amendment, but it wasn’t until today I pulled them together enough to start the process of writing a blog post.

Note 1: I’m going to do my level best to be polite and respectful to all parties, regardless of their political position on this subject, and I request that all commenters do the same. People crossing the line of civility may get a warning or I may just delete their comment, depending on the severity.

The Ground Rules

Today, on Facebook, one my friends posted this picture:

Who knows more about the Constitution?Figure 1: Constitutional law qualifications
(can’t find the original source for this, if you know please let me know?)

As you can imagine, this prompted (as do almost all gun control threads on the Internet) a barrage of comments. Sadly, these types of discussions tend to quickly be dominated by one of two vocal extremes:

  • The gun enthusiast (pejoratively known as the “gun nut” or “right-wing whackjob”), who often gives the impression that she won’t be happy until she can personally and privately own any weapon system ever made, up to and including ICBMs, aircraft carriers, Abrams tanks, and F-22 Raptors. She is typically, but not always, aligned with the more extremely conservative side of the political spectrum
  • The gun worrier (pejoratively known as the “gun grabber” or “bleeding-heart liberal”), who commonly and frequently opines that mankind will know nothing but a wretched existence devoid of any light, joy, or hope until every last physical instance of, drawing of, reference to, or even the mental concept a of weapon is wiped from existence. He is typically, but not always, aligned with the more extremely liberal side of the spectrum.

Note 2: if you fit into one of these two extremes, I will give you good advice: stop reading now, and move on. You won’t like what I have to say; I refuse to validate your unreasonably narrow and exclusionary viewpoint. I won’t let other people call you names should you choose to ignore my advice and comment, but I will redact your extremist attempts to redirect a civil conversation into your own flavor of lunacy. Be warned – my blog, my rules. You want to post your own screed? Go burn your own storage and bandwidth to do it.

Almost immediately, a good point was made: while Obama’s credentials are accurately stated, this picture attempts to make a point through blatant use of stereotypes. We know nothing about the gentleman in the red box – he might also be an Ivy League Constitutional scholar, or a distinguished judge, or even a talented and knowledgeable amateur scholar. We don’t know and we’re not told. This is the good old “guilt by association” propaganda ploy – if you like big scary guns, you’re probably ignorant just based on your appearance. Not a great way for liberals to make a point.

At the same time, conservatives are guilty of blatantly false propaganda too:


Figure 2: One of these things is not like the other
(found on
rashmanly.com)

Really? A democratically elected (twice, now, even!) federal executive, in a country with some of the most extensive checks and balances, who for at least half of his time in office has had to deal with a Congress (you know the branch of the government that actually makes the laws) controlled by his political opponents, is magically a dictator on par with some of the worst tyrants of recorded history? Because his biggest political acts have been to try to keep our country from plunging into a hyper-inflationary depression, to make sure poor people have access to medical care, and to try to maybe do something to reduce the number of innocent people killed by guns in this country every year? Remember, this is the President who pissed off many in his party because he didn’t bother to dismantle many of the incentives put in place by his predecessor.

Note 3: Don’t even think of heading to the “Democrats just want to take away guns and Republicans are protecting gun rights.” Remember the assault rifle ban that expired in 2004? The one that was enacted in 1994, which would have been during the (Democratic) Clinton administration? The one that was lobbied for by Ronald Reagan?

Finding Middle Ground

Okay, now that I’ve unilaterally declared extremes off the table, let’s dig into the meat of the original graphic – which is the fact that Obama has a background in Constitutional law, so unlike many politicians and political wonks, he might actually have a more than passing familiarity with some of the issues involved.

Obama is using executive orders to make changes within the framework of existing law, as well as working to introduce legislation to accomplish additional goals such as reintroducing the expired assault rifle ban. Some of these changes are likely to be polarizing, but outside of the echo chambers and spin factories, there’s actually a large amount of support for many of these proposals – and this according to a poll of 945 gun owners conducted last July by Republican party pollster Frank Luntz, before the events of Newton. After Newton, support for stricter laws on the sale of firearms has increased overall, including increased support for passing new laws although support for renewal of the assault rifle ban is still just shy of a majority. Yet somehow, any discussion of changes provokes an immediate, hostile response.

It’s also inevitable to see someone trot out the argument that since cars kill far more people, we need to regulate cars. Um, hello? We do. Car manufacturers have to regularly participate in studies and make changes to cars to reduce the deaths because of cars, and over the decades, it’s worked. We do the same thing for other forms of violence — we study it, and we make intelligent changes to reduce the impact. But the current climate and talking points (such as the historically inaccurate charge that gun control led to the Holocaust) have kept us in a virtual standstill on dealing with gun violence of any type.

Thanks to a careful and prolonged lobbyist and political spending campaign by the NRA and the gun manufacturers, we don’t even have credible research that would tell us why American gun deaths are so much higher than comparable nations. Let me be clear; the NRA does a lot of good, but they are a human institution and over the past couple of decades, they’ve transformed themselves from a simple society to promote scientific rifle shooting to a lobbyist organization. At times, I think this dichotomy can at times drive the NRA leadership out of sync with their members’ concerns and lead them to try to drive policy and dictate their members beliefs rather then represent them.

At this point, I think its obvious that some sort of changes need to be made. The USA has a gun homicide rate that is 4.5 times higher (or more) than other G-8 countries. When confronted with these facts, many people respond with talking points about how countries that have enacted gun control laws see a rise in crimes such as violent assault (Australia is a frequently featured talking point). However true these points may be, I can’t help but think that’s an invalid comparison. If I were to be the victim of a crime, I think I would rather be injured rather than outright killed. I would rather that my stuff got stolen than lose my wife or one of my kids. But overall, the crime rate in the US is dropping.

Like many Americans, I’m in favor of extending background checks and doing more to ensure that people with a history of violent mental illness and misdemeanor violence have reduced access to guns. Without comprehensive studies, I’m not convinced that renewing the assault rifle ban will actually help anything (are extended magazines actually useful in genuine self-defense scenarios, or would regular magazines do the trick?) But there’s a number of potential steps I’ve thought of that I’ve seen no discussion on:

  • I’m disturbed by the fact that when I take a free CPR or First Aid class, I have more stringent requirements than I do for my CPL. When I get CPR training I have to demonstrate that I am up-to date in my training and technique and recertify every year or two at the most; when I applied for my concealed pistol license, all I had to do was not currently be a felon and I get a five year license. Different states have different requirements; maybe it’s time to get a more consistent framework in place that requires more frequent check-ins and more frequent training?
  • While we’re talking about training, let’s hit another popular talking point: that armed private citizens are likely to stop mass shootings. While there are incidents of gun owners (typically store clerks) stopping an attempted robbery, the private citizens that have stopped instances of mass shootings all turn out to be private or off-duty security personnel who have substantially higher levels of firearms training than the average citizen (such as the Clackamas Mall shooting in Portland, OR).
  • One of the claimed benefits of having less restrictive firearms statutes is crime reduction. More armed citizens, it is said, equals lower crime. However, in order to have this kind of deterrent effect, don’t the criminals have to either know that people are carrying, or at least have a reasonable suspicion that people are carrying? Concealed carry would seem to be counter-productive; open carry would actually allow criminals to know what they’re about to get into. Is American culture ready for open carry? Again, this is an area we’d need more research on.
  • What about on-site gun safe inspections as part of the permit approval process? If one of the big concerns is people getting inappropriate access to guns, we should be making sure they’re being appropriate stored and locked away.

There’s a horrible patchwork of laws in place and there are some loopholes that should be closed, as long as we can do so without heading down the path of a guns registry. Come on, yes there are some screwballs who want to take all guns away, just as there are some screwballs who think that they should be able to own fully operable RPGs and tanks and fighter jets. Most of us are somewhere in the middle, although not in the same part of the middle, but we can’t even have a realistic, reasoned discussion on this because the people who benefit financially from the status quo make sure we can’t.

At this point in time, we can’t have a meaningful conversation on what the “well-regulated” clause in the 2nd Amendment is supposed to mean. All of our other liberties have been slowly and carefully re-interpreted over time – sometimes overly so, usually with corrections in the long run — as the times changed and as the nation changed and (yes) as we saw the fruits of some of the Founders’ mistakes. They were human; of course they made mistakes. They knew they would make mistakes and that we would have to adjust for situations they could never have foreseen. And yet, a strict reading of the 2nd Amendment is somehow off the table for even reasonable discussion? Why must we hew strictly to the Founding Fathers’ intentions in this one area when we willingly ignore them in other areas? (Check out what they had to say about professional politicians, lobbyists, and a two-party system.)

So, yes, sometimes it takes a Constitutional scholar to understand not only the original context of our Constitution, but also remember that the Founding Fathers always intended this Constitution to grow and live and adapt as our country did. It’s time for us to open the doors to a reasoned discussion on all areas of the 2nd Amendment, including the precise definition of which weapons it makes sense to allow citizens to have and what sorts of controls might be prudent to put in place to balance the right to self-defense with the reasonable safety of those around us.

On Patriotism

Patriotism is being committed to making things better for those around me no matter how good I personally have it. No government, political system, or economic theory is perfect; there will always be people who fall through the cracks. As a patriot, I have a responsibility to identify those cracks and work to mitigate them. Dedication to capitalism or socialism should not deaden me to the suffering of those who are not as fortunate as I am. In helping my fellow Americans, I am strengthening my country.

Patriotism is holding my elected officials, their political appointees, and the news media accountable for the choices and actions they take in my name. As a patriot, I have a responsibility to ensure that my representatives are conducting the business of government according to the values and principles they represented during election time. I need accurate and timely information on their performance and actions. I need to understand the difference between news and entertainment and know when each is appropriate.

Patriotism is acknowledging my country’s flaws with integrity and honesty instead of trying to cover them up or excuse them. When my government and policies fail – and being human institutions, they will fail – I will be tempted to downplay or minimize the impact of these failures. Instead, I must face these failures and their consequences forthrightly, make every reasonable effort to keep them from occurring again, and encourage my fellow Americans to do the same.

Patriotism is respecting the offices and institutions of my government even when expressing my disagreement with its policies and actions. Whether I am Democrat, Independent, Libertarian, Republican, some other party, or a member of none, I choose to discuss government and politics with civility and grace. I do not have to vilify political opponents in order to successfully engage their ideas and point out the failures of their actions. I can condemn bad choices and actions without hatred or unnecessary anger towards those who make them.

Patriotism is placing untainted personal ethics and morality ahead of my politics. I will not spread racism, classism, sexism, or other institutionalized forms of hatred. I have a responsibility to ensure that the voice of every American can be heard and that America provides as level of a playing field as possible. I have a personal stake in making America an ideal of compassionate, reasoned behavior to Americans and to the people of the world. I understand that my country will not be truly great if her citizens are not also great.

Patriotism is patient and compassionate. It is not jealous or blind. It does not covet or boast. Patriotism builds up and exhorts. It does not destroy or belittle. It does not promote lies or avoid the truth. Patriotism does not demand perfection, but asks you to always give your best.

May we all strive to be better patriots.

Poor Google? Not.

Since yesterday, the Net has been abuzz because of Google’s blog posting about their discovery they were being hacked by China. Almost every response I’ve seen has focused on the attempted hacking of the mailboxes of Chinese human rights activists.

That’s exactly where Google wants you to focus.

Let’s take a closer look at their blog post.

Paragraph 1:

In mid-December, we detected a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google.

Paragraph 2:

As part of our investigation we have discovered that at least twenty other large companies from a wide range of businesses–including the Internet, finance, technology, media and chemical sectors–have been similarly targeted.

Whoa. That’s some heavy-league stuff right there. Coordinated, targeted commercial espionage across a variety of vertical industries. Google first accuses China of stealing its intellectual property, then says that they weren’t the only ones. Mind you, industry experts – including the United States governmenthave been saying the same thing for years. Cries of ‘China hacked us!” happen relatively frequently in the IT security industry, enough so that it blends into the background noise after awhile.

My question is why, exactly, Google thought this wouldn’t happen to them? They’re a big fat juicy target on many levels. Gmail with thousands upon thousands of juicy mailboxes? Check! Search engine code and data that allows sophisticated monitoring and manipulation of Internet queries? Check! Cloud-based office documents that just might contain some competitive value? Check!

My second question is, why, exactly, is Google trying to shift the focus of the story from the IP theft (which by their own press report was successful) and cloak their actions in the “oh, noes, China tried to grab dissidents’ email” moral veil they’re using?

Paragraph 3:

Second, we have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Based on our investigation to date we believe their attack did not achieve that objective. Only two Gmail accounts appear to have been accessed, and that activity was limited to account information (such as the date the account was created) and subject line, rather than the content of emails themselves.

Two accounts, people, and the attempt wasn’t even fully successful. And the moral outrage shimmering from the screen in Paragraph 4, when Google says that “dozens” of accounts were accessed by third parties not through any sort of security flaw in Google, but rather through what is probably malware, is enough to knock you over.

Really, Google? You’re just now tumbling to the fact that people’s GMail accounts are getting hacked through malware?

I don’t buy the moral outrage. I think the meat of the matter is back in paragraph 1. I believe that the rest of the outrage is a smokescreen to repaint Google into the moral high ground for their actions, when from the sidelines here it certainly looks like Google chose knowingly to play with fire and is now suddenly outraged that they, too, got burned.

Google, you have enough people willing to play along with your attempt to be the victim. I’m not one of them. You compromised human rights principles in 2006 and knowingly put your users into harm’s way. “Do no evil,” my ass.

A Modest Thought on “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell”

With the recent activity surrounding the hearing for Army Lieutenant Dan Choi, an Iraq War veteran and Arab linguist who is also openly gay, I had a thought occur to me and I wanted to share it with y’all.

In my (limited) experience with the military, there’s still quite a bit of public resistance to the idea of allowing gays to openly serve. There are many reasons that one may take this stance, ranging from deeply principled to deeply homophobic and covering all points in between. If the objection comes from deeply held religious or moral convictions, I choose to respectfully disagree with you, but I understand and value the fact that you do have your beliefs on this issue.

From my anecdotal experience, though, the people who are usually the loudest about this issue (“I ain’t lettin’ no queer next to me with a gun; I’ll shoot his ass first!” is a representative sample I’ve heard recently) tend to be strongly grounded in the “mindlessly homophobic” rationale. This isn’t just confined to the military, though. I have plenty of memories of the charming functional illiterates at my rural high school indignantly asking me if I was gay, harrassing me for my presumed homosexuality, and making not-so-subtle meant-to-be-overheard comments about my lack of “real manliness”. These were the people who would always get in your face and confront you on your disgusting life choices — as long (of course) as you weren’t big enough or mean enough to be perceived as capable of handling the violence they always threatened to dish out.

Let’s take a representative example of this kind of person — we’ll call him Bubba. (Don’t assume that it’s only guys who do this; I’ve heard plenty of women who do too. ) Down at the bottom of it all, though, these guys and gals have one common flawed assumption, deeply rooted in raging sense of entitlement:

If that person is gay, they want to have sex with me.

I think the appropriate response here is a quote from Megan Fox’s character of Mikaela:

Oh God, I can’t even tell you how much I’m not your “little bunny.”

In other words, Bubba has committed the logical fallacy of assuming that just because a gay man is sexually attracted to some men, they must like all men — including, necessarily, Bubba. In other words, the defining characteristic of a gay man’s sexuality, according to Bubba, is the orientation; once a man is gay, they automatically must like all men even if those men are otherwise unattractive. Bubba, sad to say, thinks that being gay overrides any sense of taste or choice or other form of preference.

Bubba is a dumbshit. Bubba is, however, all too common — I’ve heard plenty of people independently reproduce this exact line of reasoning.

My thought and theory is: that for the Bubbas of the world, the objection to knowingly associating with someone who is gay comes down to projection of their own inner characteristics: Bubba wants to nail pretty much every female, or in the event that he has some self-restraint, is deluded enough to think that every woman wants to have sex with him. Being a paragon of self-control and discernment, Bubba is naturally are unable to conceive of someone who could in theory be attracted to them but isn’t.

What Bubba objects to, I believe, is not the gay person’s lack of taste and self control, but his own. It’s the same as the liar who in turn is convinced that everyone lies to him and is unable to see a truthful response without looking for the “real” answer, or the person who continually cheats others in big and small ways and in turn expects everyone to cheat her.

Do I think that everyone who objects to military service for gays and lesbians falls into this trap? Not at all. I just tend to think that the more vocal someone is about it, the more likely they are to have this motivation simmering at the bottom of it all. People who suffer from this attitude tend to have the crudest, most violent responses to homosexuality; they tend to be the loudest slanderers, the meanest and most illogical protesters. They argue from a well-deserved fear, because if everyone was just like them, all the sick, dark scenarios they fantasize would of course happen.

God knows that my gay and lesbian friends and acquaintances are no saints. Some of them are people I don’t willingly spend time around — but then, there are plenty of straight people I don’t want to spend a lot of time around either. Frankly, I’ve found that brushing off determined advances from a guy who likes me is no better and no worse than those from a gal who likes me — orientation having less to do with it than does their fundamental ability to hear and accept, “Thanks, but I’m not interested.”

Mind you, typically the Bubbas of the world are at heart hypocrites, because almost all of them have absolutely no problems with lesbians. Oh, no. They’re in favor of lesbians. Mainly because, along with all their other stinking thinking, they are under the delusion that those lesbians still secretly want them — so they’ll be able to score with the lesbian and her girlfirend at the same time.  Because of this, it’s easy to spot a Bubba and identify his objection for what it really is.

Defend THIS

Iowa’s Supreme Court handed out a fairly shocking unanimous decision this morning striking down the definition of marriage as “one man, one woman”, upholding a 2007 Polk Country ruling

If you follow along my blog, you probably already know that I think this is a good thing, so I won’t comment extensively on it here. However, there’s one section in the article I linked to above that just reeks of so much stupidity that I have to respond:

Maggie Gallagher, president of the National Organization for Marriage, a New Jersey group, said “once again, the most undemocratic branch of government is being used to advance an agenda the majority of Americans reject.”

“Marriage means a husband and wife. That’s not discrimination, that’s common sense,” she said in a press release. “Even in states like Vermont, where they are pushing this issue through legislatures, gay marriage advocates are totally unwilling to let the people decide these issues directly.”

Really? Ms. Gallagher, did you really just stoop to the “30 billion flies eat shit” argument to justify your position? You lose.

Okay, to unpack that for anyone who didn’t follow that train of thought:

Ms. Gallagher is relying on the tactic of telling people “the government is ignoring your opinion.” By telling people this, she’s playing on a fundamental ignorance of the design and intent of the American government system, which is the tired old myth that America = democracy = the will of the people = only tolerating Christian values. Let’s see what our founding fathers had to say about that:

It is, that in a democracy, the people meet and exercise the government in person; in a republic, they assemble and administer it by their representatives and agents. A democracy, consequently, will be confined to a small spot. A republic may be extended over a large region.
Federalist No. 14

Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!
Benjamin Franklin

Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself.
John Adams

It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.
Patrick Henry

I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves, (A)nd if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.
Thomas Jefferson

I have always thought that all men should be free; but if any should be slaves, it should first be those who desire it for themselves, and secondly those who desire it for others. Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on them personally.
Abraham Lincoln

I could go on all day and find tons of quotes, but the key threads that I’m weaving here are these:

America is not and was never intended to be a pure democracy. Remember the phrase “the tyranny of the majority”? Basically, it’s great to be in a democracy if you’re part of the 51%. Not so much to be in the 49% Our democratic functions are not set up to allow citizens to directly decide upon laws and legislation and the handling of day-to-day governance; they are set up to elect responsible leaders who do that for us, and to give us mechanisms to take those leaders out of the picture when they fail to discharge their responsibilities. That’s the “democratic republic.” Remember the Pledge of Allegiance? “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands…”

By electing responsible leaders (including legislators and judges), we are in fact giving those leaders the mandate to act in the fashion they see as best. If we don’t like what they do with that mandate, then we’d better pay attention and give them feedback. You can’t leave the people out of the equation, but you can’t directly hand them the keys to the kingdom, either. That’s why we have checks and balances, including the judicial branch of government. It is their job to say, “No, these laws are causing harm and cannot be used, even though they are popularly supported.”  The exercise of democracy should never come at the expense of depriving others of their liberties. How long did popular opinion support and uphold slavery, and how much damage did that do to our country (and continue to do today)? How long was racism enshrined in our laws? Sexism? If you’re counting upon the will of the people to make the correct choice every time, you’ve got a pretty grim track record of results.

America was designed to be a refuge for all religious belief systems, not just a narrow stripe of fundamentalist Christianity. This includes religious systems that directly challenge basic beliefs of Christianity. It was never designed to be a system that promoted Christianity over all others, even though the majority of founders were Christians, espoused Christian ideals, and wanted to see this country continue to be based on a set of morals not completely incompatible with Christianity. When push came to shove, most of the founders espoused liberty and freedom *over* Christian principles as a guiding principle for the government. They reasoned, correctly, that Christianity could flourish in an environment where liberty was pursued, but the reverse was not true (as had been graphically demonstrated). That is, the proper place for Christian values is on the individual level and in our relationships with others, not hard-wiring our specific interpretations into our functions of government. Religion + bureaucracy + power = corruption of values and lessening of liberty.

Let me leave you with this final challenge if you’re still thinking that it’s your religious duty to enshrine your notion of marriage into the laws of our nation:

Show me a comprehensive case in Scripture for collective Christian political activism. Remember the specific accusations the Pharisees made against Jesus to Pontius Pilate and his answers to Pilate in return. Remember his response to the commercialism in the Temple, how his fiercest criticisms were reserved for those who used religion to gain and maintain power. And then take a look at the agenda and funding of groups like National Organization for Marriage and Focus on the Family who are leading this fight to preserve marriage (whatever that really means) and tell me how they’re not gaining power and money from their collective activism.

This is just the start

Despite the fact that I’m now counting the hours until the election is officially over — election season has been *so long* and so incredibly divisive from all angles — I’m aware of the fact (and even somewhat excited by the fact) that no matter how it turns out, it’ll be one for the history books. The hope, of course, is that it’s one for the history books for the right reasons.

However, there’s a very disturbing trend I’ve seen here and there, both online and in interactions with various people, and that trend is this: if we can just make it to election day and choose The Right Candidates, we’ll be fine. All the wrong-thinking people will be shown the error of their ways during the next four years, the economy will be fixed, energy problems will be solved, and the world will be saved.

This, my friends, is magical thinking, and it’s precisely the sort of thinking that has led us to this point in history. It is the manifestation of the human wish for easy, single-solution problems and for immediate fixes. It is the failure of courage to realize that we’re in this for the long haul; if we really want to make a difference, we can’t just get riled up for a couple of months, go vote, and then go home and wait for everything to just suddenly get better. It is the ability to ignore or excusing the problems and deficiencies in Your Guys while fixating on those of the Other Guys. It is a failure of accountability and responsibility, the unwillingness to take meaningful action when confronted by broken promises and campaign lies.

Let me be clear, even though many will say that I’m being a defeatist: no single election will save the world, let alone America. There are too many people out there focused clearly on their goals (good or bad) who are willing to expend the type of energy and effort every day that some people have lately discovered in this election process. If you’re one of those people and you’re ready to step back down to a comfortable life after election day — you’re ready to end the last few months of reading and research and activism and just get back to “normal” — then here is my advice to you:

Don’t vote.

No, seriously.

If you aren’t willing to sustain that level of energy and drive forward with it for at least the next four years — to check up on your elected officials and make sure that they’re doing the things they said they would, that they’re being the responsible leaders they claimed to be, that they’re working towards the ends that you put them in office to work for — then don’t vote to put them in office. In order to do the job you want them to do, they need your support not just to get into office, but to actually do the work. If you’re not going to be there to support them, that’s like pledging to a charity and never writing the check; it makes you feel good, but there’s no real impact to you.

America’s problems will not get fixed overnight. They will not get fixed during a single Presidential term. They will not magically go away. Now that you’re up off the sidelines, if you really want things to get better, you have to stay up and active. Your elected officials cannot and will not make the changes themselves; experience has shown us this time and time again, regardless of party or affiliation.

If you haven’t already, go vote. But when you vote, realize that this is just the start. You’re in this for the long haul. If you’re not prepared to make that commitment, you’re got some thinking to do.

The SAFETY Act. Not.

I wrote up a posting yesterday for my work blog about the recently proposed SAFETY Act, a lovely bit of proposed legislation from some Republican Representatives who basically are handing the Attorney General’s office an open license on the Internet. Rather than duplicate it here, I’ll just link you. And lest you think this is a sad, transparent attempt to drive more traffic to my work blog, I’ll point out that if there’s any traffic driving to be done it would be the other way around; my work blog gets far more daily readers.

Think Outside the System

I admit it: I don’t trust our political system. And from reading around the blogosphere, I’m not the only one. And somehow, Winston Churchill’s old mantra doesn’t help anymore; I can’t make the boogeyman go away by endlessly repeating, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried.”

That’s like going to a sporting event and cheering, “We suck less! We suck less!” It may be true, but it doesn’t do anything to help lift your spirits up.

Maybe the American political system has never been trustworthy. Maybe it’s always been this cesspool of high-minded rhetoric crossed with venal self-service, a stew of money and influence-peddling and scandal and control. The more I dig into our country’s history, the more I find that there never really was a time in our politics that could be objectively categorized as “the good old days.”

I’m not the only one; the blogosphere is full of people who will tell you all about what’s wrong with each part of our system. My challenge is — what are we going to do about it?

Thanks to the An Army of Davids effect (and whatever else you might think about Instapundit, his book is spot on the money), we don’t have to content ourselves with whittling away at the system any longer. Corporate money and “business as usual” politics have our two-party system sewn up tight. We can keep investing our energy to gain modest accomplishments or we can refuse to play the game the way it has always been played.

Don’t get me wrong; I think efforts like Porkbusters are incredibly important and need to continue, especially now that they’re having a visible effect. But when your opponent knows the battle ground better than you do, when he has had time to prepare it for the style of battle he prefers, it is suicide to march on the field in the manner he’s expecting. The voice of political reform is fighting a reactive battle, and you don’t win battles by giving away the initiative.

So what do I suggest? Glad you asked. How many of you have heard of One Red Paperclip? Using nothing more than an imaginative hook, a blog, and one red paperclip, Kyle MacDonald traded his way from a single bit of bent colored wire to a house. That’s right. A paperclip to an honest-to-goodness house. 14 trades, 365 days. One guy…plus a bunch of readers, and 13 or so people who said, “Hey, I can help that dream.”

Why can’t we do something like this, starting today, and completely transform the political landscape between now and Election Day? We may not have time for any serious changes between now and November 2006…but then again, we might. And we’ve got over two years until November 2008. That’s an eternity on the Internet.

I’ll go first. I’m the last person you’d want to be President of the United States; I don’t even really *want* to be President. I have trouble balancing my checkbook. I didn’t finish college. My military career was short and unexceptional, to the point of eliciting wonder that I made it out with a General discharge. I’m out of shape and something of a slob, although my wife says I clean up well. I’m not the most diplomatic of persons. And yet I think I’d be a better President or Congressman than most of the candidates we have to pick from today. Why is that?

  1. I have no obligations to a political party. I’m not bought and sold.
  2. I’m a natural-born citizen and will be 35 in 2007.
  3. When I screw up, I’ll admit it. No one’s perfect, and I won’t pretend to be.
  4. I don’t think I’m all that and a bag of chips. I have no family money to live up to, or some prestigious college reputation following me around.
  5. I don’t want the fame or care about getting re-elected. Holding office should be a vocation, a sacred trust. Anyone who actually wants to get to the White House should be subject to a battery of psychiatric exams.
  6. I’m not afraid to have people dislike me. The corollary is that I’m not afraid to tell you what I think:
    • Abortion: I would fight against any further weakening of Roe vs. Wade. On the other hand, I think that abortion advocates dramatically underplay the lingering psychological and emotional effects that abortion can have on a woman. I don’t agree that abortion is first and foremost about a woman’s right to control her body, because what she does with her body can have serious implications on the guy she slept with years down the road. There is a serious disconnect between the woman’s right to choose and the man’s responsibility to provide for his offspring, and it ain’t right to put all of the power on the woman. That said, taking away the option of legal abortions isn’t going to make the problem any better; it’s just going to increase all sorts of problems. This isn’t an instant-fix problem, and it’s going to take years of re-teaching the American public how to take responsibility for their own actions before we can come anywhere close to consensus.
    • Gay marriage: I’m in favor of it. Well, sort of. What I’m really in favor of is scrapping our current marriage system entirely and setting up a civil partnership, much like current business partnerships. Depending on which state you’re in, it can be harder to get out of a business partnership than it is a marriage. It certainly takes more effort to get into a business partnership, which I think is a good thing. Things like healthccare benefits, inheritence, etc. following the civil partnership. Leave the religious aspects to each church to decide; they’re quite capable of deciding whom to bestow the scacrament of marriage on. Again, this is a situation that will only be solved over the course of years, through careful, prudent, and reasoned legislation. The current atmosphere of marches and litigation aren’t doing the cause of gay marriage any good at all. Oh, and “defending marriage” is a crock of shit. If Aaron and Bob get married and stay together for the rest of their lives, that’s more respectful of the institution of marriage than when Alice and Bob get married, divorced, and leave a broken home.
    • Iraq and the War on Terror: Our intervention in Kuwait went to our heads, and if we’d steamrollered right on into Iraq back then and taken Hussein down, the world would be a different place today. Now, though, I don’t agree we should have gone into Iraq on the information we had. But we did, and now we have a moral obligation to help fix the resulting mess. I honestly don’t know at this moment what the best course of action is, but withdrawing the troops would be a craven, despicable act of moral turpitude. Like it or not, we’ve embedded ourselves into the power politics in the region, and running away will only allow that vacuum to be filled by something bigger and meaner — to an end we’ll all regret. Simple human nature, folks. We probably shouldn’t try to do it unilaterally, but at the same time, the U.N. is in no position to be tossing around stones. Based on their current track record and history of corruption, we’d be criminals to hand everything over to them.
    • Freedom of the press: If the press is going to consciously stake the moral high ground of the watchdog of democracy, then it needs to bear responsibility for those actions. Leaking classified documents is treason, pure and simple, as is trafficking in classified documents.
    • Education: the state of education in our nation is frightening. Public schools aren’t doing the trick, so why the hell is everyone so frightened of school vouchers? People don’t want to keep paying rising taxes for a system that is broken. Let’s not hold our kids — and our nation’s future — hostage while we screw around trying to figure out what the problem is. I don’t care about esoteric theories of market competition — I want our kids to be able to read and write and do math and be able to locate Europe on a world map before they get their high school degree. Hell, I want them to be able to do that before they leave 4th grade. The real problem? The TV. Parents, get off your asses and get involved with what your kids are doing for school. Go volunteer in their classrooms. Read their textbooks. Go to PTA and school board meetings. Figure out who the bad teachers are and get rid of them. You, parents, are responsible for your childrens’ education, and the school system is there to support you — not the other way around.
    • Social Security: I have no clue. I suspect that if we could trim a healthy portion of fat out of the federal budget, things might look a bit different — but I’m not an economist. Federally run programs don’t perform nearly as well as private ventures, given the necessary levels of oversight and checks and balances, but on the other hand they’re not as risky (because of that same oversight). And the simple fact is that most people won’t save unless they have to. I’m not sure the government should be in the job of doing their saving for them…but I’m sure we can’t ignore such people when reality catches up to them.
    • Tax code: needs a complete rewrite. The only people profiting from this mess are the lawyers and accountants. Now, lawyers have a right to make a living the same as the next guy, but let’s face it — even lawyers are scared of our tax code. It is damned near impossible for a person of average intelligence and education to figure out with any degree of certainty what their tax burden is — and don’t think that both political parties aren’t using that to their advantage. If you, Joe Citizen, can’t figure it out, you can’t tell when you’re being lied to about how much money the government has.
    • Separation of church and state: The more involved with politics a religious organization gets, the more in danger of losing its tax-exempt status it should get. Period. No exceptions.

Thanks to the miracle of Google, that should ensure I never come close to getting elected to any position, even dog-catcher. But I’m the red paperclip. Somewhere out there, lots of people are better-qualified than I am. So please, link this post in your blogs and journals, and let’s find those people — the people who have the skills we need to be good leaders and who stand a real chance of getting elected.

Bringing home the pork in Washington State

The Club for Growth is asking bloggers to track the pork brought home by all 435 House Representatives. “Self,” I said to myself, “this is a worthy cause.” I nodded sagely and considered that it has been a while since I’ve done any real political blogging.

So, here’s the deal: they want at least one blog in each of the 435 districts of the U.S. House of Representatives to track the recent voting record of their local representative on 19 anti-pork amendments proposed by Congressman Jeff Flake (R-AZ). They provide the data, we’re supposed to blog about it. I’m in Washington’s 2nd District, represented by Rick Larsen (D).

Overall, Washington representatives did a horrible job on supporting these anti-pork amendments. Our elected representatives went to the taxpayer trough and dug in: out of the 171 (9×19) possible votes, our representatives only supported anti-pork for a total of seven votes. That’s not 7 out of 19 issues, that’s seven individual votes. That’s disgusting.

I’m not at all happy that my rep is one of the several 0/19 reps from this state. I’ll be forwarding this URL to his contact email address…and I’ll be posting a followup with any response that I receive. If you live in this district, please add your voice to mine in the comment section. If you’re a Washington resident, find your rep in the table below and follow the link I’ve added to their contact information. Let them know what you think of their voting record!

Huge thanks to The Club for Growth for providing the data in the table below. I did some prettifying — coloring the vote results really makes them stand out. The vote columns represent the House vote number.

District Lawmaker (Party) Total 190 191 192 204 205 277 278 279 280 298 299 302 303 304 334 335 336 337 338
1 Jay Inslee (D) 1 No No No No No No No No No No No No No Yes No No No No No
2 Richard R. Larsen (D) 0 No No No No No No No No No No No No No No No No No No No
3 Brian Baird (D) 0 No No No No No No No No No No No No No No No No No No No
4 Richard Hastings (R) 1 No No No No No No Other No No No No No No No No No Yes No No
5 Cathy McMorris (R) 2 Other Yes Yes No No No No No No No No No No No No No No No No
6 Norman D. Dicks (D) 0 No No No No No No No No No No No No No No No No No No No
7 Jim McDermott (D) 0 No No No No Other No No No No No No No No No No No No No No
8 Dave Reichert (R) 0 No No No No No No No No No No No No No No No No No No No
9 Adam Smith (D) 3 Yes Yes Yes No No No No No No No No No No No No No No No No

Note: my participation in this activity does not indicate an endorsement of The Club for Growth or their recommended candidates.

Updated: I’ve been doing some research trying to find out what each of these particular earmarks was and which state(s) it benefitted, as well as what bill it was attached to. So far, I’ve gotten to The U.S. Congress Votes Database (provided by the Washington Post) and can find the invidual votes, but find little information on linking those votes back to the particular amendments or earmarks they relate to. Anyone out there got more info?

Updated again: That’s what I get for posting at oh-dark hundred. The specific vote information is listed at the bottom of the all 435 House Representatives page I originally linked to! Just keep scrolling.

An interersting twist…

…but one that is not entirely unexpected.


It seems that the Boston Globe is announcing a change in their domestic partner benefits coverage for gay employees. Specifically, they will no longer be extending coverage for unammried gay domestic partners as of January 1, 2007. From a recent story in the Boston Herald:

Benefits for domestic partners were originally offered to gay employees because they couldn’t legally marry, said Ilene Robinson Sunshine, a lawyer at Sullivan & Worcester.


Now that gay marriage is legal in Massachusetts companies that offer benefits to gay employees’ partners risk hearing cries of discrimination from unmarried straight couples.


I am curious to find out how the GBLT community is reacting to this news. I, myself, think it’s an entirely logical position to take, and not from the “mitigating legal risk” viewpoint. I find the timing interesting — is it just that gay marriage has weathered all current legal challenges, so legal departments are starting to feel confident in making policy changes that assume it’s going to be around for a while?

Stupidity keeps me safer

With a week left until we fly away for the holidays, Steph is beginning the final process of ramping up for travel: finding and cleaning the luggage, making checklists, and all the other steps that she needs to be sure that she feels we’re ready to leave the house. Since this is the first time we’ll be flying as a family (first time on a plane for the kids), this process is starting earlier than it normally does.


We’d been planning on going to the Department of Licensing and getting picture ID for the kids, but Washington has this new process where instead of creating your ID on the spot (thanks to printers and laminators), they print the digital picture directly onto a plastic card. They don’t have the equipment to do this in each DoL office; instead, you get a temporary black and white paper copy, and they mail the completed color plastic card to your address of record within 2 weeks. This is supposed to be more secure.


We didn’t really stop to think about the lead time involved, so we didn’t get their ID done in time. Steph didn’t really want to go through the airport security checkpoints with temp IDs, so she called to find out what we should bring for ID for the kids.


TSA will accept picture ID for kids if they have to, but they really want parents to bring their kids’ birth certificates.


How in any way, shape, or form is this more secure than a state-issued (or federal, if you’re in the Armed Forces) picture ID? Doesn’t TSA have any clue how easy it is to forge a birth certificate? Granted, the state DoL is probably going to require that birth certificate as well, but there at least they’re attempting to perform some checking by sending the completed ID card to the claimed address. Let’s not even go into the stupidity of requiring parents to travel — always a stressful time — with their original copies of birth certificates, thus making loss or damage more likely. Thanks, guys — I see you’ve got my back.


This is the fundamental issue with ID in this country at this time — it all comes back to whether we can safely place our trust in a fundamentally unverifiable set of credentials. Every important credential comes back to our birth certificate — and there’s no central way to verify them and match them to a given person in any sort of timely fashion. In the face of this fact, ID checks are a worthless security measure against terrorists, who can and will forge their documentation chain back to the birth certificates.

Support us…or else

If you haven’t yet heard about the brewing conflict between the IRS and the congregation of All Saints Church in Pasadena, California, go now to this article by Robert Freedland and read.


Since Bush has been such a staunch supporter of Christian churches, I expect him to immediately call off the IRS any day now.


Oddly enough, I just got back from the 95th Annual Convention of the Diocese of Olympia (where Steph and I were alternates for our congregation; one of the last resolutions we passed was to support and stand in solidarity with All Saints.

To the Religious Right: WTF, over?

You get pissed off about sex in video games because of the children.

You get pissed off about homosexuality because of the children.

You get pissed off about all sorts of things because of the children.

And yet you support a war, and the leadership which is waging it, in which our troops are encouraged to use incendiary weapons in urban areas and melt the skin off of children (warning, graphic link, probably not work-safe).

Is it somehow okay because they’re not our children, or because they’re not white children, or because they’re not rich children?

Man, I hope Jesus isn’t going to be pissed off at you because of the children. You know, those little children he suffered to come unto Him.

Nineteen

I still remember a time in politics, back when I was a lad, when the conservatives were the people who thought that you created the fewest number of laws you could get away with and the liberals
were the ones who thought that if something was a good idea it needed
to be enshrined in law. Sounds like the opening of a science fiction
story, doesn’t it? It doesn’t bear any resemblance to the politics of
today’s America.

Now, I don’t always agree with everything Media Girl says — far from it! — but she’s spot on the money with her musings about the modern conservatism.
What has happened to the Republican Party over the last twenty-odd
years is frankly quite frightening. What I as a Christian find most
frightening is the rise of the “Moral Majority”, the Religious Right —
the people whose careers in church and religious ministry appear to be
aimed not at feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and clothing the
naked, but rather at forging and wielding a political power bloc that
wants to proscribeall the things one cannot do if one wants to be a
good Christian and good American (with the assumption that the two are
inseparable).

It seems to me, from all those Sunday School lessons and Bible
studies of years past, that I can remember hearing about some other
active group of religious leaders who merged religious and political
power towards the goal of describing exactly how good people should
live their lives: the Pharisees.

It seems to me that Jesus spent an awful lot of time talking about
how they needed to pay more attention to their own lives and hearts and
less time trying to tell people how to live, less time pretending to be
the very model of a modern Jewish Orthodox.

It seems to me that Jesus didn’t spend much time at all talking
about how his followers were supposed to focus their eyes on gaining or
wielding political power.

It seems to me, in fact, that many people tried to get Jesus to
endorse one political position or another — usually the independence
of the nation of Israel from hated Rome — and failed to do so. I think
I remember something about “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” and it
applying to money and taxes, but I could be wrong there; everyone knows
that we Episcopalians don’t like to talk about money, as that might
lead to tithing.

It seems to me that Jesus had a well-defined description of the sort
of reception his followers could expect to receive if they were really
following Him. Again, my memory might not be perfect, but I don’t
recall anything that implied that His followers would be flocking to
the polls to make the Beatitudes the law of the land.

In fact, the more I’ve re-read the New Testament, the more I see an
explicit example of separation of Church and politics. Time and again
various groups tried to hijack Jesus’s popularity for political ends;
time and again, He refused to endorse the platform.

“What would Jesus do?” was a popular rallying cry for Evangelicals a
few years back. Somehow, I don’t think helping Texas become the
nineteenth state in the Union to pass an anti-gay marriage amendment
would be one of the things Jesus would do. He wouldn’t be one of the
folks holding clipboards and soliciting signatures; He wouldn’t be
calling around urging you to vote for Proposition 2. He’d have better
things to do with his time, like feeding the hungry, healing the sick,
and clothing the naked. He’d be the one sitting in the hospital waiting
room comforting the man who was kept out of the room in which his
partner of multiple decades lay dying, unable to go in and visit with
his loved one because he wasn’t family by any legal definition. Jesus
would be the one cleaning the cuts and bruises of the high school kid
who just got beat up by the jocks (all from good Christian families)
for being a fag. He’d be holding these people close, crying with them,
ministering to their hurts and changing their lives for the better one
by one.

The only people Jesus consistently spoke against were those who
presumed to know the mind of God and who dared to stand in His place
and usurp His voice. All the rest of us sinners, He came to love and
redeem. He wasn’t here to advance an agenda or to make a “Christian
nation”. He was a fisher of men, wherever they might be found. He
called them to a new type of life, one in which kings and governors and
secular powers faded to unimportance beside the call to mission and
ministry.

So yes, my fellow Christians, let’s do what Jesus would do. Let us
keep our churches from becoming institutions that grab for secular
power. Let us refrain from using the law to terrorize each other. Let
us worry more about how to help the outsider than about how to protect
ourselves. Let us preserve our values by putting them into practice.

Here’s why I don’t like politics

Remember back to the Gonzales nomination?


Well, at the time, a bunch of bloggers — around 500 or so — put up a banner on their site protesting the Gonzales nomination. I was one of those bloggers. After the dust had cleared, a bunch of the bloggers started talking via email and decided to keep a loose affiliation together — the Indie 500 — to attempt to coordinate and share information to help get news and articles spread more quickly through the blogosphere. It was a great idea.


Unfortunately, I’ve since been watching the mailing list with a slowly growing sense that I really don’t belong with this group. There are a few participants who seem to delight in going for the throat of any opponent who gets in their sights. Namecalling, personal attacks, Photoshop photo edits — stuff I’d expect out of fraternities. What’s worse, though, is that nobody seems to call anyone else on it and say, “I don’t think that’s the right way to get the point across. I think you are doing more harm to us collectively than any good you may achieve.”


So maybe this isn’t the crowd for me. I dunno. I happen to think that this continuing trend of demonizing our political opponents is more evil than anything else that is happening to us today — and hate seems to be the only truly bi-partisan value in this country of mine. As I’ve commented before, polarization seems to be the order of the day and it shows us all to be idiots. I want no part of contributing to it and I want no part of endorsing it. I am adult enough to disagree with someone on major issues without needing to personally despise them. I am educated enough to handle the fact that thinking adults can make decisions I don’t agree with without somehow becoming instantly stupid, uninformed, lazy, or apathetic. I value my integrity enough to stand up for principled behavior wherever I see it, in whomever I see it.


I don’t need tags of Red State, Blue State, conservative, liberal, or other pigeonholes to direct my thinking and tell me who the enemy is, thank you very much. I don’t believe I have nearly as many enemies as people seem to be trying so hard to get me to think I do. People who live in Iowa aren’t my enemy. People who vote Republican aren’t my enemy. People who want to legalize gay marriage aren’t my enemy. People who are dissatisfied with the current administration aren’t my enemy.


People who try to get me to stop seeing other people as individuals — who try to get me to hate others because of their political affiliation — they are my enemy. And they are yours.


I believe that all people are made equal by God regardless of race, creed, color, orientation, gender, or place of birth. Doesn’t that — shouldn’t that — include the place they happen to live, the color of their state, and their political beliefs?


If you expect others to respect your beliefs and the life you have chosen, you must return that respect no matter how much you disagree with their beliefs and choices. When I was in the Navy, they told us we didn’t have to like the officer in order to salute; at the very least, we saluted the insignia on the collar and all it represented. I don’t have to like you or agree with your choices to respect and honor your right to make them. But when I deem you to be my inferior, I repudiate with my every action the high-minded words that flow from my mouth.


I don’t really care who started the fight. This blue/red liberal/conservative he-said/she-said shit, my friends and readers, has got to stop. Because as long as we indulge in it, we cede our country, ouselves, every gift God has given us, and every fine thing we have made, to those who would abuse them. We willingly place ourselves into slavery to evil.


All over a color.

Call to action: broadcast flags

Not much time — less than 48 hours — to fight the latest incursion of the Broadcast Flag.

What’s the problem? (quoted from the EFF website)
The Broadcast Flag was Hollywood’s plan to point its remote control at your digital TV.

The courts struck down the original FCC proposal. The lobbyists have turned to Congress. House Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton says he won’t have a new flag spoiling his Digital Television Transition bill.

The bad news: some of the subcommittee members working on the bill disagree and have spoken in favor of including a Flag amendment into law.

What is the Broadcast Flag? (quoted from the Chicago Sun-Times)
The Broadcast Flag is a signal embedded in HDTV broadcasts that would have dictated what you could and couldn’t do with that HD episode of “Two and a Half Men.” The flag can tell your digital TV receiver not to allow you to record this show, or tell it to destroy the recording after a set amount of time or a certain number of viewings. If the show was recorded in the living room, don’t allow the user to watch it in the bedroom. Don’t let the show be burned onto a DVD so it can be viewed on a laptop … and make sure the viewers won’t have any alternatives when the time comes to sell this show into syndication or as a boxed set. Start a small house fire if you have to!

What do I do?
Go to the EFF online contact form and contact your representatives if they’re on the committee.

A perfect chance for Democrats to rise above partisan politics

John Kerry may have exposed the identity of an undercover CIA agent during open testimony in Congress. Ace of Spades says “This will be the first and last time you ever hear about this. If it can’t be used against Bush, then revealing the name of a covert CIA agent just doesn’t matter.”

I’d like to think he’s wrong, but I don’t have much faith in either party these days, so unfortunately, I doubt he is. I’d love to be wrong.

I’d like to challenge my fellow members of the Indy 500 weblogs
to cover this with the same sound and fury that you covered the Valerie
Plame affair. This is a great opportunity to gain credibility by
showing we care about principles, not parties, and that we’re just as
willing to hold “our” guys accountable as we are the “opposition.”

Update:
This post from Michelle Malkin links to sources that show four previous media citations of the agent’s name. Sloppy reporting on the AP’s part, and we need to turn up the heat on them for once again mis-representing the facts. But this doesn’t change the fact that Senators Kerry and Lugar were not paying attention and need to be held accountable for their mistake, in light of the incredible shit-storm that was raised previously.

Fair is fair.

It’s My Party

Neither Stephanie nor I are pretty when we cry.


If you’re drawing a blank on why the above line makes sense in a post titled “It’s My Party,” you’ve obviously never seen the movie of the same name starring Eric Roberts and Gregory Harrison. This movie is not everyone’s cup of tea — the story is about Nick (Eric Roberts), has just been diagnosed with Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy (PML), a condition that attacks the brain and quickly destroys the victim’s sight, memory, and other brain function. Brandon (Gregory Harrison) is Nick’s ex-partner, who broke up with him a year before when he could no longer face living with a boyfriend with AIDS. The movie centers around a two-day period where Nick holds a farewell party for his friends and family. Having seen AIDS claim the lives of too many friends, Nick is determined to say farewell to his loved ones before the PML reduces him to a vegetative state for another few days of life.


Lots of controversial issues in this movie: homosexuality, right to die, assisted suicide, religious beliefs, estranged relationships, and parents who think that life would have turned out differently for their son if only they’d done something differently. Yet the script does a deft job of weaving through these issues to present us with a picture of a man who, while frightened by the thought of dying, is more frightened of being unable to let those close to him know how much he loves them when he goes. There is a lot of tension surrounding Nick, but he moves through it all with a direct yet compassionate sense of humor, cutting the tangles of jealousy and bitterness while helping people to come to acceptance of their loss. The final scene with Nick and Brandon is one of the simplest and most touching goodbyes I ever hope to see.


Some might be tempted to dismiss this movie as another film that proves Hollywood is out of touch with the lives of the majority of America. It is, after all, just a movie about a dying gay guy (yes, I have in fact heard someone describe this movie in just those terms). To them, I would ask what they were afraid of, if they are scared to see “a dying gay guy” facing his end with as much dignity and love as this movie shows. This is not a movie to watch in order to wage a philosophical or religious battle. This is a movie to watch to be reminded how deeply you care for those in your life, how much pain they would feel if you were gone and how much you would feel if they were gone. It is a movie that urges us — compells us — to reach out to others; it directs us to be peacemakers and bridge-builders rather than cling to our hurts and wounds.


There are a lot of people in my life that I love. I don’t think I tell them that enough. I hope that if I ever faced this situation, my party would be as full of people who loved me as Nick’s party. I hope that I would be as full of wisdom, humor, discernment, and ruthlessness as Nick was — able to help people let go of the grudges and disputes. I hope I would have made such an obvious difference in the world around me.

A collection of thoughts and links

It was a good weekend. Between a wedding, church, and a long-overdue visit from one set of the kids’ godparents (who decided to take our family out to the theaters to see The Pacifier), got lots of non-computer stuff done for the first time in many, many weekends. I didn’t even read my blogs, let alone post to mine.


Without further ado, a grab-bag of stuff that jumped out at me as I was catching up tonight with three days’ worth of blogs:


 



  • The death of the Pope. He’s been a strong leader for the Catholic church, but there have been some spectacular failures on his watch as well. I’ve been uneasy at all the glowing media coverage I’ve seen of his death; looks like I wasn’t the only one.

    • Patrick Nielsen Hayden shows us a couple of thought-provoking posts by Ken MacLeod (A canticle for Wojtyla) and Jeanne D’Arc (John Paul and Tom Friedman)

    • Christopher Hutchens of Slate offers a more critical look at John Paul II’s legacy

    • Mark A. R. Kleiman admonishes those who would nay-say the Pope to wait for a more opportune time. I disagree; it was practice of Roman emperors to have someone walk along with them to remind them that they were human and mortal even as they were being cheered and praised by the crowds. I think it more honest and healthy to remember a man fairly and without glossing over his faults and failures than it is. John Paul did great things during his years on Earth, but he was a man; as Catholic tradition teaches us, he also was a sinner, redeemed by the grace of Jesus Christ. Let us remember his good by honoring how far it took him from the times when he did wrong or allowed it to be done in his name; the contrast makes his accomplishments all the more astounding, as it does for us all, and gives us inspiration to rise above our own failings.

  • Canada is taking it on the chin in the blogosphere and deservedly so. Their political leaders have apparently forgotten that politics are politics, even in the middle of secret hearings on corruption, and that bans are made to be broken.

  • Two interesting non-political links from Ken Wheaton:

 


Enjoy!

Lingering doubts

If I’d had any doubts about whether the right thing happened in the Terri Schiavo case, they are rapidly disintegrating. Teresa Nielsen Hayden recently posted a fragment from the Guardian Ad Litem’s report in which it comes to the light that the parents admit they would not have honored Terri’s stated wishes to not be kept alive even had they been aware of them.

Even more damning, though, Meredith Tarr posts this wonderful news in the comments. A fine grasp of ethics is now on display, as the many people who donated money to help keep Terri alive will now get spammed and bombarded with junk mail as their thank-you.

That’s class.

When not to press your case

[Editor: This post was originally posted last night, but for
some reason wasn’t reliably showing up in the outgoing feeds. Those of
you who have already seen it, I apologize to both of you.]

Pat Sajak, known to many as the host of TV’s The Wheel of Fortune, has a blog. It’s a damn fine one, too. He recently wrote a very good piece on why he no longer argues with Liberals. Read it now; he makes a very valid point.

Okay, now that you’ve read it, I’d like to point out that he doesn’t
take his argument far enough. Pat has his finger square on one of the
major problems we face as a nation today even while continuing to
indulge in the very behavior to a lesser degree. It’s called polarization,
or very simply, “us vs. them.” I don’t know who started it — and I
honestly do not care — but the American political process today is
filthy with the practice of polarization. Everything gets cast in terms
of black and white; you are either for us or against us; if you’re not
part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. The Republicans are
all conservatives; the Democrats are all liberals. All conservatives
want mandated school prayer and evolution thrown out of the classrooms;
all liberals want the legal right to kill off their vegetative gay
spouses.

How did we get here? Good question. It would be tempting to give you
an easy black & white answer, but then I’d be doing the same thing.
In reality, there are quite a few factors.

It starts with our two-party system. While we have far more
political parties than two, the stark facts are that there are now (and
for the forseeable future) only two realistic choices for political
parties: the Republicans and the Democrats. At times in our history,
there were significant differences between how the two parties acted.
You’d never have caught a Republican president enacting some of the
measures that FDR pushed through in his years in office, for example,
and even as recently as the ’80s, there was a clear difference between
Reagan’s politics and those of his opponents in the Democratic party.
As our politics have gotten progressively more polarized, however, the
differences between the parties have become harder and harder to
discern.

Add in the big media conglomerates. Quite frankly, polarization sells.
Bread and circuses have long been a favorite of those who would control
the masses, and polarization accomplishes that nicely. (Look at the
minsicule, nay non-existent differences between the various chariot
racing and gladatorial factions in Rome for a chilling object lesson.)
The more we make our target seem like the Other, the less time you
spend checking what we say. I don’t think there’s any malice involved
here; I think it’s simple human behavior. The less you have to compete,
the more likely it is you’ll stop working to your very best. Big media
companies have killed off their competition and as a result,
journalists have gotten lazy. This, by the way, is why bloggers piss
off the big media; we are lean and hungry. We’re willing to dig, we’re
willing to work, and we don’t have any editors to be accountable to.
Since most of us don’t derive a living wage from the sales of our
writing, we don’t work under the same imperatives. By and large, we
gain our following by finding and amplifying a common voice, not by
creating one from whole cloth. If we cheat or cut corners, we’ll lose
our readers.

Next cause? Information overload. We’ve got too many sources of
information, far too many bits of data being flung at us. Everyone is
clamoring for our attention. How do we respond? By looking for the
viewpoints that reinforce the way we naturally think. We want
validation and the comfort of knowing that we’re not standing alone in
how we look at the world. We’ve got a wealth of information available
to us, but to make best use of it requires the willingness to be wrong,
to hold final judgement on our opinions until we’ve weighed the matter
from all sides. Our educational system hasn’t been teaching us the kind
of critical thinking we need to do this well for years.

So, we end up with Skins vs. Shirts, Red States vs. Blue States,
Rocky vs. Apollo Creed. (Remember that Rocky and Apollo ended up being
friends? We should be so lucky.) Bloggers aren’t any better about
de-polarizing our communications; we’re just as likely to do it as the
next guy. Hell, it’s that validation thing again. You don’t see it
exactly the way I do? You must be an idiot, and a pox on your house!

Enough, I say. A pox on both your houses.

It’s time for everyone to spend five minutes in the corner, more if
you can’t learn how to disagree nicely with the other children. Don’t
get me wrong; I’m not against strongly worded disagreement. I’m more
than willing to call someone an asshole if I feel their beliefs and
behavior warrant it. What I am against is labelling everyone who is aligned with the asshole for that particular issue
an asshole as well. Our two political parties both need to sit the hell
down and shut the fuck up until they regain some common sense and
simple human decency. We need to relearn how to look for common ground
instead of searching for differences to exploit.

Call me Demosthenes

Steph has started indulging in a nice habit, now that I’m getting my home office more mucked out; she’ll drag her chair into my office, along with some craft project such as knitting, and sit with me while I’m working. We may not talk much depending on how hard I’m concentrating, but she provides a comforting presence.


Today I was writing up a reaction to CNET’s interview with ITU Director Houlin Zhao for my work blog and she made reference to the story thread with Peter and Valentine in Ender’s Game (written by Orson Scott Card. For those of you who don’t know (or remember) the plot, Peter and Valentine are the brother and sister of the protaganist. While Ender is off in space learning how to lead armies and kill things efficiently, they’re back on Earth building up a power base through eloquent punditry using anonymous accounts on the worlds’ information networks. Their most successful identities are those of Demosthenes and Locke, a virtual Odd Couple who are just about guaranteed to take opposing viewpoints on any matter.


Steph pointed out that between web forums and blogs, we’re starting to get to that stage. We’re a little more transparent than Card envisioned — as a blogger gets popular, the ability to find out who they really are (and more importantly, who is funding them) increases. Likewise, today’s bloggers are not nearly so dependent on corporate sponsorships to pay for their blogging, although there are a growing number of bloggers who are making money just by spouting their opinions.


[Editor: I’m down with that. Yo, phat cash deals for corporate blogging consluting? I am so there.]


What Card got right, though, is that more and more, a blogger’s real identity is less important than what they have to say and how they say it. You don’t have to be a law professor to be the Instapundit (hi, Glenn!)…okay, bad example, but you get my point. By the time the real identities of Demosthenes and Locke were unmasked in his book, they had such a loyal following that they were able to wield significant influence in global politics, even though they were children. Bloggers aren’t nearly that influential, but the constant clashing between big media and bloggers seems to prove that bloggers of all stripes are exerting more and more influence on the world around them.


Heady stuff. Where do I sign up? I’d be a benevolent dictator, I promise.


[Editor: I see I’m not the first person to remark on this.]

Word of the Day: knowledgeababble

knowledgeababble pronunciation for knowledgeababble
adj. 1: having extensive
information or understanding coupled with the inability to refrain from
impulsive disclosure of one’s expertise and opinion, resulting in a
flood of words and a drought of wisdom; “Alan Keyes is a
knowledgeababble commentator.
” See also shut up you damn fool.

What the hell is Alan Keyes thinking? To quote:


The word supreme means highest in authority. There can be no executive
authority in the state of Florida higher than the governor. No state
law can create an executive authority higher than highest in the
Florida constitution. Therefore no court order based upon such a law
can constitutionally create such an authority.

After stating that the Pinellas County police would be committing
“assault on the government of the state, which is to say insurrection”
for not standing aside and letting the Florida court orders about Terry
Schiavo be violated in their jurisdiction, he goes on to say:


Since Florida’s highest law grants him supreme executive power, the
governor’s action would be lawful. No one in the Florida judiciary can
say otherwise, since the whole basis for the doctrine of judicial
review (which they invoked when they refused to apply “Terri’s law”) is
that any law at variance with the constitution is no law at all.

WTF?

Alan, buddy, the key word you skipped over in your little dictionary lesson is “executive“. Governor Bush has supreme executive authority.
That’s one phrase — the noun “authority” with the modifier
“executive.” They go together; no separation allowed. The executive
branch doesn’t get to make laws (that’s legislative authority)
or even make the final interpretation of which laws are legal and which
ones are in conflict with higher (Constitutional) law (that’s judicial authority). Executive authority means you get to, well, execute the laws. You get to implement them and put them into practice.

executive authority, legislative authority, and judicial authority
— wow, that sounds like something my high school Government teacher
tried to tell me about. Oh, right! That little thing called “checks and
balances” that helps ensure no one branch of government gets to collect
all the power to itself.

When Gov. Bush says that his hands are tied, he’s not fooling, Alan.
I’m glad he knows the limits of his powers and duties. This is the way
the system is supposed to work. It may be a crappy law and a shitty
outcome, but it is the law of the land — something
that we’re all supposed to respect, even as we strive to make it
better. You don’t show respect to the law by ignoring it. I’m glad Gov.
Bush knows that.

Here’s the real tragedy of how the Terry Schiavo case is
going down, thanks to the fumble-fingered intervention of the federal
government: the stage is being set for a continuing set of clashes
between the executive and legislative branches on the one side (so
conveniently both “conservative” right now) and the judicial branch on
the other (oh, those nasty “liberal” activist judges!). The public
response on this one may not have gone the way some folks thought it
would — most folks seem to think the feds should have kept their nose
out of what is ultimately an issue for the states to decide, one that
has not been co-opted to the federal level by the United States
Constitution (wow, what a truly conservative principle of government)
— but it won’t keep the administration and Congress from trying until
they find an issue that does raise a groudswell of public
anger. And then, I wonder, will we see a weakening of one of the key
checks and balances in our government? Or will it be a wholesale
dismemberment?

Nah, probably not. These guys aren’t that Machiavellian. They
wouldn’t be trying to build up hard feelings towards the vital
functions our judicial branch performs, would they? That would require
a repeated pattern of press statements and spin that implied that our
elected officials were powerless to prevent the machinations of an
out-of-control judiciary, were unable to follow the mandate of their
constituents because those evil judges ruined everything.

I’m glad I don’t see that pattern. That would be worrisome.

Much busy, soccer moms, and the UN.

I have been really busy lately, in a good way. Lots of productive stuff getting done, but it’s taking all my time. I mean, you know I’m too busy when I don’t have time to rant on my blog and write up my next People Whose Asses I Need to Kick post.

Just because it’s wrong, I’d like to share this thought and link with you. I’m sure you’re familiar with the whole “anti-drug” commercial campaign going on. Well, I don’t have an anti-drug, but I do have an anti-soccer mom. It’s here.

Okay, now that you’re all upset with me for being tasteless, I’ll point out that there’s apparently a huge amount of controversy being generated by that charming little ad. The networks don’t want to show it and that pisses people off. At the same time, other people are getting pissed off because they think the UN is trying to guilt-trip America yet again.

Me? I just think it was poorly executed. I’m not against the use of schock in advertising, especially when trying to make a point (and I think the UN, spineless and ineffective as it is, has a valid point). I think the UN is not the one to be trying to make the point. Really, is it better to keep kids safe from landmines when you’re just going to rape them instead? The UN’s history of child protection is just a tad stained for their ad to play well here. I think they should thank the network execs from keeping them from looking like even bigger fuck-ups than they already do.

A line in the sand

Thanks to PNH of Electrolite fame and Wil Wheaton, I learned about the list of blogs and bloggers taking a public stance against the nomination of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General of the United States.

The original kick-off is here and the overflow list is here.

Count me in. This one is a no-brainer.

Grassroots and the Internet

It seems the American Family Association is upset with FCC Chairman Michael Powell, according to the e-mail I received from them last night. They’ve set up a lovely website for you to register your displeasure with a few clicks and contribute to what they hope is an overwhelming volume of e-mail in protest.

I did in fact make use of their site, but as I suspected, they left the text of the message open for editing. I didn’t send the exact letter they asked me to. I’ll paste the original e-mail, the text of my e-mail, and the original text below. If you feel strongly about this, I encourage you to head to http://capwiz.com/afanet/alert6755986a.html and do your part. Feel free to use my text if you like my opinion better than the AFA’s.

The original e-mail:


FCC Chairman Powell sides with ABC on use of ‘f’ word

Dear Devin,

The children of America and those who love decency need your help.FCC Chairman Michael Powell has asked that no action be taken against the ABC stations that aired over 20 uses of the “f” word and at least 12 “s” words during “Saving Private Ryan,” which shown during prime time last month.Powell’s reason for taking no action opens the door for broadcasters to show any type programming. He believes there should be no action because the use of the profanity was part of an accurate representation of the events depicted, and this made them acceptable.Using Powell’s reasoning, a show about the sex life of two homosexuals would be free to show graphic sex because it would be an accurate representation of their sexual activity. There would be no limits regarding what could be shown and the law regarding indecent material would be meaningless. Any program, no matter how indecent, could claim that the material was needed in order to be an accurate representation.If Powell can get only two other Commissioners to agree with him, then the networks and local broadcasters will be free to show anything. Everything they show, no matter how indecent, could be classified as being an accurate representation. That is what they have been wanting for years. Powell is only two votes away from giving the broadcasters their desire.We realize it is important for families, especially our children, to recognize the sacrifices made by our loved ones during wartime. However, airing excessively profane language during prime-time television hours is not necessary to convey that sacrifice. We believe ABC should have aired their salute to heroes without violating broadcast decency laws.The movie could have easily have been edited for TV, but ABC refused. Powell is now defending ABC’s move, making it possible to open Pandora’s box on program content.TAKE ACTIONPlease send an email letter to your Representative and Senators. Ask them to personally tell Chairman Powell to enforce the law, not to destroy it.Your email will go to your two U.S. Senators, your Representative, Chairman Powell and the other four FCC Commissioners.Please send your email now. Then forward this to your friends and family.


My text:


I was informed about this issue via a mailing from The American Family Association, who has been spreading a scare campaign revolving around the fact that FCC Chairman Michael Powell has publicly stated that no action should be taken regarding the prime time airing of “Saving Private Ryan” on ABC last month. He says no action should be taken because the 20 uses of the “f” word and 12 uses of the “s” word were an accurate representation of the events depicted in the movie.

So far, so good. Where the AFA goes wrong is to state: “Using his reasoning, nothing could be declared indecent or obscene. A program on homosexuality would be free to show homosexuals having graphic sex because it would be an accurate representation of the program.

“Apparently Chrm. Powell has decided to abandon his responsibility to the public and give the networks and broadcasters what they have long wanted, the freedom to show anything they desire without fear of violating the law. They can always argue that their program was an accurate representation.”

Although I am Christian in my beliefs (as the AFA claims to be), I am using the website and mechanism the AFA has put together to allow their members to send you a message that is different from what they would like me to say: let Chairman Powell do his job to the best of his conscience. If he is breaking laws, then let him (in the same spirit of civil disobedience that prompted Martin Luther King Jr.) take the consequences of that action as part of the price of standing up for what he believes. If such an action is within his authority, excellent.

Our traditional broadcast media have always been heavily subsidized by advertisers. If the AFA and their army of outraged families don’t like ABC’s policies, let them respond by informing ABC’s advertisers. Let them stick up for *their* beliefs by boycotting advertisers that sponsor programs they don’t like. Let them be willing to shoulder the burden of their convictions on an equal playing field with the rest of us.

I don’t need the AFA to make parenting easy for me. If I don’t want my kids to watch shows with depictions I find disturbing, *I don’t let them*. It is really that simple. The AFA does not appear to be concerned with teaching their followers how to be good parents and how to pass on morals, ethics, and wholesome values by example. They appear to want to deprive me of the choices I have because they find it easier to bully the government into doing the parenting for them.

As one of your constituents, I implore you to stay out of an FCC internal matter and let the AFA and its members practice what they preach by actually being the adults and moderating what they and their families see and hear, rather than demanding government censorship to do it for them.

Thank you for your time.


Their original text:


The American Family Association has informed me that FCC Chairman Michael Powell has publicly stated that no action should be taken regarding the prime time airing of “Saving Private Ryan” on ABC last month. He says no action should be taken because the 20 uses of the “f” word and 12 uses of the “s” word were an accurate representation of the events depicted in the movie. He is wrong! Action should be taken against the stations that violated the law.

Using his reasoning, nothing could be declared indecent or obscene. A program on homosexuality would be free to show homosexuals having graphic sex because it would be an accurate representation of the program.

Apparently Chrm. Powell has decided to abandon his responsibility to the public and give the networks and broadcasters what they have long wanted, the freedom to show anything they desire without fear of violating the law. They can always argue that their program was an accurate representation.

As my elected representative, I implore you to personally speak with Chrm. Powell and tell him to enforce the law, not to unilaterally change it.

May I hear from you on this matter?


Good jokes and the serious thoughts they provoked

(Blog note: I’ve switched skins. I ditched the other one because a) it used a dark background, which looks dramatic until you have to read text on it and b) it behaved badly under Mozilla/Firefox.)


I have a few blogs I read on a daily basis. While many of them are technical and work-related, there are many that aren’t. For example:



  • Wil Wheaton Dot Net — author and actor Wil Wheaton. Wil’s a fantastic writer and I’d happily throw down lots of cash to buy volume after volume of Wil’s poker stories. I found out about his blog from my good friend Andrew (the soon-to-be ex-Managing Editor of Steve Jackson Games. w00t, ‘Drew!) and from one of my bosses at work, both on the same day. I’ve been a regular reader ever since.

  • Whatever — another author, John Scalzi. I haven’t any of his books yet, but they’re half as good as his blog, I’m in for a treat, and I’m eagerly awaiting his first published novel, Old Man’s War. (He’s got another one available for download, Agent to the Stars, but I hadn’t gotten around to downloading it yet and it’s MIA from his site right at the moment.)

  • Making Light —  Teresa Nielsen Hayden, editor for Tor Books. She and her husband Patrick help keep me in new reading material and have been extremely gracious people every time I’ve had any interaction with them, usually via Usenet and e-mail many years back when I still was active in the rec.sf.arts.written groups.

Speaking of Making Light, Teresa posted a good joke today, with another fantastic one provided in the comments.


I find these three blogs especially appealing to read, because these are people who are directly involved in the profession that I am currently working on acquiring the discipline for: writer. Reading their blogs has helped me make some interesting discoveries about myself. See, I’ve always thought of myself as fairly conservative on the political spectrum; I’m the registered Republican in the household, while my wife leans Libertarian. The last year or two, I’ve been struggling with the notion that perhaps I really am a liberal. Granted, I’ve never been the kind to vote on party lines or to be strictly conservative, but in my head, the term “liberal” still has that faint whiff of decadence and indecency that it carried during my formative years. My parents were pretty good at filtering out most of that polarized world view, but they could only do so much; you grow up in a washed-out lumber and tourist town in Central Oregon, you grow up in a hotbed of conservatism.


Coming to terms with the fact that I’m not nearly the conservative my self-image would have me believe has been an interesting process. Wil, John, and Teresa in particular have helped ease my growing pains; these are people I professionally admire, people that I think I would like to hang out with, and they are not at all shy about their opinions. They explain their opinions clearly, they provide clear reasoning to support why they hold those opinions, and they make no apologies. I agree with them more often than I disagree, but I have no trouble pointing to why I disagree with them and I continue to respect their opinions. They are not idealogues; they are people of reason and principle. In short, these are people I admire; I can only make myself a better person by following their example of clear thinking, personal integrity, and forthrightness.