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Bits and Pieces 4

Bits and Pieces 4

Just a few things that have been rattling around in my mind’s attic…

Oh thank you Supreme Court and Fox News for informing us that racism is dead in this country. I’m sure that all those unarmed African Americans who have been shot by white police officers can take comfort in that their deaths weren’t racially motivated at all. And I’m sure Native Americans were thrilled to discover that “Redskin” is actually a name of honor, meant to convey respect to their people and their culture. We sure don’t need those pesky protections from the Voter Rights Act.

So why is it that African American males are involved in police shootings at an inordinate rate? Me, I think they should exercise their Second Amendment rights and start open carrying. Might as well if they’re going to get shot anyway; at least they have a fighting chance to defend themselves. I’m sure though we won’t hear the NRA supporting their Second Amendment rights because, after all, they’re the criminals right?

And while we’re on the subject of open carry, what are these morons trying to prove? And yes, they ARE morons. There is no intelligence being displayed here; only some sort of primal male ego thing of showing what a badass we are. I found the one open carry guy who was robbed of his gun at gunpoint to be one of the most hysterical things I’ve heard recently. Talk about karma.

But I digress. Why do you need to have a weapon on display when you’re walking around? Are you that afraid to go to your local Wal-Mart? Maybe some homeless guy is going to drag you into an alley and rape you right in the tush? Puh-lease. You might as well drive to work in a tank and carry around a bazooka wherever you go. If you can’t make it from point A to point B without a loaded weapon in your belt you probably shouldn’t leave the house. Maybe you should just kill yourself before the criminal hordes come to get you.

Can we take a deep breath for a moment and try not to panic about Ebola? Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very serious disease and it shouldn’t be taken lightly, but for one thing, it’s not coming into this country from Mexico, it’s not a plot from the President and you can’t catch it from breathing the same air as a victim of the disease. It can only be transmitted through things like blood, vomit or feces. If you don’t come into contact with any bodily excretions, secretions or waste, you’re not going to get it. It doesn’t work that way. If you’re still a little shook up, wash your hands regularly. Like more than once a day – I’m talking about after every meal or before and after you go out. Use soap and water or a good sanitizer. You’ll be okay. And don’t travel to West Africa if you’re really concerned. Plenty of people there don’t have the disease and Liberia is claiming it will be eradicated there by Christmas.

Many who know me will tell you that I am not a believer in organized religion. I find there to be too much hypocrisy in the leaderships of various churches. However, listening to Bill Maher’s diatribe against Muslims and then his debate with Ben Affleck made me a little bit uncomfortable. Certainly there are a lot of Muslims who believe in things like honor killings, execution for apostasy and female genital mutilation and those things are indeed barbaric. However, if you look closely at the numbers from the Pew poll where much of this information comes from, you’ll see that the people who believe this are mainly in the Middle East, in places like Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen to name a few; Muslims from Europe and the Americas tend to be against these things. Honor killings predate Islam by the way; Arabs were engaging in that behavior even before Muhammad was even a twinkle in his daddy’s eye. It’s a cultural thing that should not be tolerated but an entire belief system shouldn’t be torn apart because of some regions where the religion is very strong subscribe to it.

Religious fanaticism is a bad thing regardless of what religion it is. Fanaticism is all about intolerance, a desire to feel superior to others. My religion is better than your religion and if you’re not a part of my religion then you deserve to die. It’s one of the reasons I prefer to have faith in a greater power rather than subscribing to any specific religion. That doesn’t mean religious organizations don’t do a lot of good around the world as they have done throughout history, or provide comfort to those who subscribe to them. That’s all well and good and I would never want to see a world without religion. However, they are also responsible for a lot of bad things, like jihads and crusades and inquisitions and wars. I have always believed that true faith is a subscription to peace and tolerance, allowing all to believe as they wish without penalty.

When you say that Islam is about death, intolerance and ignorance you then have to figure out a way to explain the golden years of Islam when the Middle East was a center for learning, architecture and peace. During the Middle Ages caliphs and imams were far more tolerant than their Christian counterparts and welcomed Jewish and Christian scholars to their universities. I can’t explain how things changed and grew so extreme over the centuries but you can’t say how barbaric the religion is without explaining what it has been.

Social media has become a kind of community in and of itself. It is a means of informing the world of who we are, and yet I think we’ve erected walls around ourselves that are even taller and more impenetrable than ever. We share everything about our lives – what we’re eating, what movie we’re seeing, which parties we’re attending – and yet we know less about each other than we ever have. How often do you really open up and post something about how you feel, and I’m not talking about politics here. I’m talking about YOU, who you ARE, what you’re all ABOUT. What makes you tick? What keeps you getting out of bed every morning? What do you dream about, wish for, hope for?

We’re a world of enigmas, everything on the surface is on display but nothing about what’s inside. We can scream and shout about Obama or abortion or whatever the topic of the day is, or get catty about what Beyonce is wearing or who’s playing Batman or what that bitch just said to you. We communicate in memes and soundbites. All style, no substance.

It takes courage to show the world who you are and what you stand for. Not many can. Most of us are too worried about what others think about us to be real. I’ve learned in my years that it’s okay to offend. It’s okay to take offense. Real maturity comes in understanding that we’re not going to agree on everything. Some things about you might rub me the wrong way. Some things about me might drive you nuts. That doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. There folks in my life who think very differently than I do. They are at the opposite end of the political spectrum, have different personal philosophies of life and/or a different way of doing things. That’s all good. It doesn’t make them bad people, nor does it make me a bad person.

We’re all unique and we should be proud of who we are. There’s no shame in supporting Israel, or in voting Democrat, or in wearing Crocs, or subscribing to Maxim, or following Big Brother. I can be friends with just about anyone as long as they respect who I am and what I stand for and allow me to be who I am. I’d much rather be friends though with someone who stands up and says “I believe differently than you” rather than someone who agrees with me just to avoid conflict. My friends Louis and John, both die-hard conservatives, disagree with just about everything that I believe in politically. We often have heated conversations about it, and while I occasionally will see their point and sometimes change my mind on certain matters, most of the time it’s just stating opposing positions. We don’t always talk politics; I appreciate Louis’ humor and his ongoing friendship and John’s faith and service to his students – he teaches and coaches at a Southern California high school. I’m proud to call them friends. They are who they are and I wouldn’t want them any other way and I respect that they have the courage to say who they are. That’s what friendship is about, isn’t it?

So while they’re tickled pink about the mid-term results, I’m obviously less happy about it. I see a country that has become a shadow of itself. It allows a small minority to dictate terms to the rest of us, while we sit back and play Call of Duty. Yet when that duty calls in our real lives, how do we answer? By not voting. About a third of this country’s eligible voters cast their ballots in the recent mid-terms. Many young voters and minority voters stayed away from the polls. I know some have an aversion to voting, feeling like they don’t understand the issues or know the candidates well enough to make intelligent choices. Others feel that no matter who they vote for, it isn’t going to make a difference. Still others just don’t want to take the time and effort to either fill out a ballot and mail it or go to a polling place. The other 364 days of the year they tend to be the loudest bitchers and moaners too.

I don’t agree that this Republican sweep was necessarily the will of the people, as the Republicans seem to think it is. It is the will of a bit more than half of 37% of the people. That’s about 20% of the eligible voters decided that we’re going to be bearing right for the next two years and that they’re perfectly happy with the worst Congress in the history of this country. However, since 63% of the country didn’t vote, the will of the people turns out to not give a crap. Which is essentially the message we send to those who are running the country.

We are responsible for caring. We owe it to ourselves, our family and our posterity. We take advantage of the freedoms that this country provides and yet we choose not to answer that call of duty when it comes in November. WE THE PEOPLE have to get out of the mindset that our vote doesn’t count for anything, that it doesn’t matter whether we vote or not. It matters. Because the government that makes our lives better, worse or indifferent is elected by those who do care. And if you feel “Well, I’m in a Gerrymandered district so there’s no point,” then make it a point to make your voice heard in other ways. Not just as anonymous posts on the Internet but in concrete, positive ways. If you’re satisfied with things the way they are then by all means, do what you’re doing. If you’re not though, take action. Fight for your country – if not in the military but here at home. It deserves your defense.


Petty Larceny

Petty Larceny

When the Supreme Court struck down provisions of DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act), lost amid all the rejoicing was something else that the SCOTUS had struck down – the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The ability of the Justice Department to strike down state voting laws that were judged to be discriminatory was said to be unnecessary given current conditions.

Of course several Red States with Republican legislatures and governors went right out and proved that the Act was still necessary by enacting voter registration rules that tend to work against minorities but are really discriminatory against those who vote against Republicans. North Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Florida were among states that quickly drove through legislation that required certain types of identification in order to vote, shortened the early voting period and made it difficult for college students to vote. In Texas, for example, the name on the picture ID has to match exactly the name on the voter rolls; this becomes an issue because the state requires that married women have their maiden name listed as a middle name on their drivers’ license; most women are not registered to vote with their maiden names. Thousands of Texas women under current law will be unable to vote or at least have an extremely difficult time in doing so.

North Carolina will only accept state issued identification to vote; college students for example cannot use student IDs as a valid picture ID. Sure, they can always go out and get one but they don’t always have time or transportation in order to get there. I think it’s pretty telling that the states that have enacted the most restrictive voter ID laws are primarily red states and primarily in the South where the most egregious voter discrimination took place prior to the enactment of the 1965 law.

We’re also seeing voter purges taking place – tens of thousands of voters being removed from the rolls for a variety of reasons; some for legitimate reasons but not all. In the most recent election cycle there were reports of people who have never had issues voting before being suddenly informed that they were no longer eligible to vote.

This is outrageous. The party that is so solicitous of 2nd Amendment rights seems to be less sanguine about the basic right of voters to vote. It is literally easier in some places to buy a gun than it is to vote – in Texas, for example, all you need is a photo ID to buy a gun at a gun show. As I mentioned previously, in order to vote there your photo ID name has to exactly match the name on the voter registration rolls. I guess we know which activity Texas politicians find more dangerous.

And honestly, they’re correct. Your vote is the most power that can be wielded in this Republic. Your vote determines who governs, and they determine which laws are passed, repealed or kicked to the curb. Your daily life is deeply determined by how you cast your vote. Think about it; if it weren’t so important, there wouldn’t be so much effort generated in trying to take that right away from people.

There are some politicians who have floated the idea of literacy and civics tests being administered in order for people to vote. Quite frankly, I’m not sure some of our politicians could pass those tests. It sounds good in theory – only let informed voters do the voting – but who determines what constitutes an informed voter? Can you imagine if a board of Tea Party activists devised a test that determined if you could vote or not? I suspect that if any state were foolish enough to pass such a law, the ACLU lawyers would have a field day.

There are those who proclaim that voting isn’t a right but a privilege. I disagree. Voting is a responsibility that each of us needs to take seriously. It is so important that some politicians who realize that they can’t win elections on their platforms are trying to keep enough of us out of the voting booth so that they can continue to remain in power. It is nothing short of petty larceny – and quite frankly those legislators who think that using these methods to keep members of the opposing party out of the voting booth are pathetic losers who don’t have enough confidence in their own message to let it stand on its merits.

The good news is that there are signs that people are getting fed up and angry with these kinds of tactics. These sorts of win-at-any-cost extremists who are hell-bent on pushing their agenda on us whether or not we want it are being seen for what they are and have begun to lose elections. 2014 will be a big determining factor on whether or not we can take back our government from those who have held it hostage. That they think it can happen is why you are seeing these desperation tactics of preventing large groups who would vote against them from exercising their right. See them for what they are and vote in your next election. It’s never been more important than it is now.

Bread and Circuses

As a species, humans tend to be easily distracted. This isn’t a new fact; even the ancient Romans knew that if you gave the people bread and circuses, they would pretty much be satisfied with anything, no matter how despotic.

We are in much the same boat today my friends, except we’re getting Big Macs and digital entertainment. Our lives have been made so easy with gadgets and devices mean to give us instant gratification that we have become complacent and lazy. In the meantime, we have abrogated our rights to special interests, corporate lobbyists and other unscrupulous sorts.

From time to time we’re aroused from our stupor, particularly when our pocketbooks are impacted. Taxes go up? We take notice. The economy takes a header? We demand change. Yet we sit idly by while the financial institutions that we entrust our money to act irresponsibly in the name of chasing profits, while our climate is done irreparable harm and while our rights are eroded with legislation that on the surface is meant to “protect us.”

Most of us probably couldn’t name our congresspersons or local representatives. Only a very few of us are probably more than peripherally aware of their voting records. Fewer still are aware of any legislation out there other than the most controversial bills. A surprising number of the people who live in the United States are more than generally aware of how their government works.

It’s understandable why we got to the place we are. We have to work harder and harder to make ends meet; it takes energy and commitment to keep up with politics and the things that affect us. Energy and commitment are largely limited to young people, which is why the vast majority of political activists are under 40. After all, you can’t feed your family on a volunteer’s salary.

At one time, the newspapers (and to a certain extent radio, newsreels and television) were watchdogs on Washington and our local state capitals (and Ottawa and our local provincial capitals – insert your nation here). As the media has largely become corporate-owned, the media began to swing more in the direction of protecting corporate interests. Today it’s very rare for the mainstream media to do any investigation into things that don’t sell advertising.

The Internet is, in many ways, the last great hope for keeping the citizenry informed but unfortunately it has devolved into something of a shouting match where people on both sides of the aisle promulgate dubious facts which eventually begin getting circulation as gospel truth. How many people actually believed that Obama’s Health Care Reform would include death panels whose only job was to weed out the elderly?

Our political knowledge tends to be informed by 60-second soundbites we see on CNN or in political ads. Conservatives worship at the altar of Sarah Palin and her teabagging cronies; Liberals get their marching orders from Jon Stewart and Bill Maher. It’s like nobody has a mind of their own anymore.

And yet we all have our own causes. Some of us are passionate about animal cruelty; others are pro-life to the core. Some people are big supporters of gay marriage while others think that our borders should be protected more vigorously. Left, right and center, we all have opinions on things that matter to us.

We rarely do anything about them however, beyond voting on bills that support or threaten those causes near and dear to us and even that only when we feel motivated to. Until 2008, more people voted for the American Idol than for the American President in any given election year. Somewhere along the line, our priorities went haywire.

That’s because it’s far easier on our psyches to spend our energy on things that don’t require much thought. Thinking is really hard work. It’s much easier to navigate the headwaters of celebrity gossip rather than the often conflicting arguments behind financial reform. It’s easier to have our opinions handed to us rather than to formulate one of our own; if your family has always voted for one political party, you’re going to tend to believe in the precepts that party espouses.

I was like that too. My father was a staunch Republican and so was I, for quite awhile. However, there was always a niggling feeling in the back of my mind that I was fighting for the wrong team, and after my father passed away I did some soul searching and figured out that what I really felt strongly about were of a more liberal nature than the Republicans believed in. For the longest time, my political philosophy had been not to argue with my Dad, which was a shocker to someone who had always thought of himself as relatively intelligent. Like most human beings, I was prone to dancing to the tune that was being played for me.

At one point, it became obvious that following the herd was not as preferable as following my heart, so I broke with my dad’s beliefs and followed my own. We all do that to a certain extent – how many times have you said to yourself “I am not my parents”? – But we usually do that when we’re young. It’s much harder as we get older to change our way of thinking, particularly if it’s the way we’ve done things since we were young. Once you’re comfortable in your own skin, changing it is a tall order.

But you can teach an old dog new tricks, contrary to belief. Change is a matter of will, and we all have at least a dollop of willpower. It comes down to how badly we want things to change, and how willing we are to make that change happen, for change often involves sacrifice.

Sacrifice is sorely missing from our lives, the willingness to give up something we want for the betterment of others. My parent’s generation had it. My grandparent’s generation had it. Even the Flower Power generation had it. Somewhere between Woodstock and Live-Aid we lost that crucial element of our make-up. We’re far too busy texting and playing Mafia Wars on Facebook to take a look at the things that truly affect our lives. We act as if we’re living in a hotel, and whatever mess we make will be cleaned up by the housekeeping service.

Except it is our children who will have to be housekeepers and the mess we’re making may soon become too much for anyone to clean up. We have a responsibility to our kids – even if we don’t have any yet – to be caretakers for our planet and our society. I’m very anxious that the freedoms that I have always taken for granted be passed on to my son and his children someday; there’s a very real possibility that he won’t have the same rights and privileges that his mom and I have now.

We have to get off of the couch and switch off the television. We need to step away from the laptop and turn off our cell phones. We need to open our eyes and look around us. We have been seduced by bread and circuses. The trouble with that is that it only worked for a short while in Rome, and then Rome fell. I don’t want my children or grandchildren to see our civilization fall as well.