Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Bill Of (mmmhmm. Yeah,) Rights

On this date in 1791, The Bill Of Rights was ratified.
Let's take a closer look at this.

The First Amendment
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Unfortunately, freedom of religion has not developed into freedom from religion. I say believe what you want, be it Yahweh, Allah, Buddha, Jesus, Flying Spaghetti Monster, but don't expect me to believe the same, or at the same level as you do. Religion can be like a sunset: some of them can be beautiful and have great qualities, but if you stare at them too long you will go blind, and some people have seen better sunsets.

Freedom of speech applies only as long as you don't shout fire in a crowded theater, say the dreaded seven words on the radio, or use a reasoned answer on Fox News. Probably more than any other right, this one has been walked over the most. To borrow a quote from Voltaire “I do not agree with what you say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.”

The right to peaceably assemble and petition the Government for a redress of grievances...unless you are in Zucotti Park, in front of the White House, live on a Reservation, are Japanese during World War II, named Eugene Debs, are accused of being a communist in the 1950s, etc.

The Second Amendment
A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

This is the fun one. “Well-regulated militia” is pronounced “Domestic terrorist” today. The First Amendment was refined by the courts to decide what it meant, this one probably should be too. When this was written, the best shot in the world could squeeze off three shots in a minute, and even with as good as the minutemen were, the likelihood that they would hit their target was fairly nil. Today's weapons are much more rapid and precise. I'm not against hunters owning guns. I'm not even against an average citizen owning one. However, there needs to be a smarter approach to this. If we can not come up with a well-reasoned and logical solution, I say we just regulate the bullets. They can;t form the National Bullet Association because the acronym is already taken.

The Third Amendment
No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”

Citizens cannot be forced to share their house with someone in the military during peacetime. Good idea.
..or during wartime unless prescribed by law. BAD IDEA! The U.S. is currently involved in a few wars (thankfully our objectives in Iraq have been achieved, and we are out of there as of today. Those objectives'll have to get back to you on that. Nevertheless, there are still active wars we are involved in. They are not as grand as the World Wars, or anything like the Civil War (by the way, people in the South, you lost. Get over it and stop bringing it up). Military bases are closing. The Federal budget is a greater wreck than I am. All it would take is one crackpot leader to make the leap in logic and say “to save the operational costs of military housing, the soldiers are moving in with you.” (with that I would like to announce my intent to run for President).

Fourth Amendment
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Kind of a double-pronged one on this. Yeah, a lot pf people get upset when a lawyer gets a client out of a jam by pointing out to the judge that the warrant issued was for the house next door. The system isn't perfect by a long shot. Something to consider: the Fourth Amendment is one of the Amendments that tries to protect a individuals right to privacy (even though most of us can guess what you keep under your bed, in the pillowcase, or in the sock drawer). The right to privacy is also something that is being forfeited by individuals very quickly. Ironically, the web has led to a number of people broadcasting deeds to the world that they should keep to themselves.

The Fifth Amendment

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”

There is a lot in this one. Double jeopardy (not like Trebek), right to remain silent, due process, and compensation. If you think double jeopardy does not exist, think of O.J. Simpson. A jury found him NOT criminally guilty for the murder of his wife and her friend, the public found otherwise. Furthermore, he was found civilly responsible which requires a lower level of proof. Then he screwed up again, and had the book thrown at him (after he threw a lot of other things around the hotel room). Do you really think that there was not a level of retribution going on?

We also need to work on our prejudice against anyone that takes the Fifth. It is widely assumed that any pleading the Fifth has something to hide. Common sense says that this makes sense. Strategically, in a courtroom, common sense does not apply. It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

Now for a personal favorite, “nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.” Manhattan was sold for a bag of beads. The rest of the country has not been paid for.

The Sixth Amendment
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”

The right to a trial as quickly as possible so that you are not sitting in a cell for longer than necessary waiting for the State to make their case. Good idea, but it doesn't happen. Neither does the public trial part. I am a fan of recording devices and cameras in ALL courtrooms. A lot of courts disagree (including that big one in D.C.). The decision (since courts don't have to argue) usually hinges on phrases such as: “We don't want the world looking over our shoulder,” “It protects the sanctity of the court,” and “We need to ensure jury anonymity.” The sanctity of the court comes from upholding the laws, and the only way that we can be certain that the court is doing this, is by looking over their shoulder. As far as protecting the jury, people in the courtroom can see them (put up a screen in the courtroom if this is really a concern).

The Seventh Amendment

In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.”

Aside from giving us a starting point for the actual value of a human life ($20, which in some cases is too much I think), this gives us our right to trial by jury. Twelve people who could not think of a way to get out of jury duty will decide your fate. A jury that is not allowed to ask questions, and is supposed to come in to the proceedings as completely impartial.

I've only been called for jury duty once. I went without trying to get out of it. I like the idea. I also brought a book with me because I knew there was going to be time to kill while I waited to be voir dired. The book I was reading at the time was The Runaway Jury by John Grisham. I tried to conceal it when I was called to the jury box. The first question I was hit with during voir dire was “What are your views on drug use?” I didn't miss a step. “Legalize them, regulate them, make them safe, tax them, and balance the budget. That being said, I am aware of what the law currently has to say on the matter and can follow that.” I was dismissed immediately.

The Eighth Amendment

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

Such broad language. Excessive bail and fines cannot be imposed. How are you going to define excessive? By an individual's resources? Let's imagine that the same crime has been committed by two different people. Jaywalking. One person owns a multi-trillion dollar corporation, the other person sleeps in their car and hasn't eaten in three days. The rich man gets a $50. fine, and pays the drop in the bucket. What do you fine the homeless person who has nothing?

Creul and unusual punishment (sounds like Reality TV to me, but I don't think that was what is meant). Again, this is very subjective. Let's look at this under the extreme (because that is what I do). The death penalty. Almost everyone has an opinion on it. Ask yourself this question: Is it more humane to put someone to death for a crime that they have committed, or to keep them locked in a 5'x10' cell for the rest of their life?

Ninth Amendment

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

What did that say? Most people have no idea. A lot of judges have no idea. In a very vague way, the Ninth is saying that there are probably other rights that exist that might be violated, but are not necessarily protected by the Bill Of Rights or the Constitution. In other words, “We are not perfect folk. This is just an outline. Use your heads. Sincerely, T.J.”

The Tenth Amendment

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

States rights. You can vote with your feet. If you don;t like the laws in a state that you live in, but like the laws of another state, you can go there and be ruled by that state's laws. The federal government knew that it could not, and probably should not, decree every law of the land. States, and local municipalities, were going to have to step up and be the real driving force. Governmental influence should have operate under the reverse model that it does now. Your local mayors and councilmen, are the people who should be most directly affecting your lives, followed by State Senators, Representatives and Governors, and then finally the guys and gals in D.C. Now, name your councilman or your mayor. Congratulations if you were able to. Most can't.

So there you are. Our Bill Of Rights. It isn't perfect, but it's a start.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Couple of Words of Caution

Issue #1
It is to be expected that anytime something like the Occupy Movement is getting started that a few of the more extremists come out of the woodwork. It seems like for every JFK; RFK; Medgar Evers; MLK Jr.; and John Lennon, there is a Lee Harvey Oswald (or whoever did it); Sirhan Sirhan; Byron De La Beckwith; James Earl Ray; and a Mark David Chapman.

We need to be careful, and carefully vigilant on some of the material that is starting to seep out there. Yes, a lot of the problems are with the Financial Institutions and those who control them. That does not mean that this is, or should be, an antisemitic campaign.

I say this because I stumbled across a couple of things today that blurred that line. Now, I have a personal problem with religions (I have gone into that in the past), but this movement, on this stage, is not the place for grinding axes (especially narrow-minded ones).

Issue #2
Violence should be a last resort, not a first response. I understand the frustrations, but don;t let them cloud your judgement. As I see it, in order for this to work, we need to use our brains, not whatever brawn we may have.

Just had to clear that up. Use your heads. Keep euphemistically fighting!


I started blogging as an outlet for myself. In some ways it is cathartic for me. It gives me an outlet to express and vent my thoughts and frustrations. Sometimes these thoughts and frustrations come across as clear and concise, other times they are little more than the disjointed ramblings of a madman (but hey, I tell you that upfront).

Over the years I have written about various subjects (religion, sex, politics, the arts, humanity, and so on) on assorted sites. I usually get inspired to write something because of a news story that is floating around that is either getting under-reported, or poorly reported on. I am an avid news junkie. The problem with the news today though is that it is not “news,” it's sensationalism and spin.

Gone are the days of Walter Cronkite telling us “That's the way it is,” they have been replaced by the 24 hour news cycle essentially telling us “This is the way we see it.” The news isn't news anymore, it is commentary on a perception of events.

Another problem comes in when the corporate news sources think they are being threatened by actual news events. A case in point is the Occupy Wall Street Movement. For the past three weeks citizens of this country have descended on Wall Street in protest to the corporate greed structure and the government corruption that allows and encourages it to exist. The media has been less than enthusiastic in either their ability, and/or willingness to follow this story.

It's a great story. It's a sensational story. It has human interest qualities to it. It has been widely buried by a lot of the press (who do you know that knows more about burying something than me?).

The model that the protesters have been using, and in fact were inspired by, is what is known as the Arab Spring model. Arab Spring refers to the protests that took place in the early part of this year (primarily the one in Egypt which I wrote about here).

I rarely associate myself with organizations because of what I see as the inherent corruption that exists in many of them. It seems like, most of the time, whenever there is an organization formed, organized corruption is not far behind. However, I made one of my rare exceptions in this instance, mainly because these people are doing exactly what I wanted to see done in my blog.

Since these people are actually making a stand in a way that I thought that we should months ago, and since the media seems reluctant to devote significant coverage to it, I would be remiss and extremely hypocritical if I did not lend my voice and support to them now. I hope you do too. Even though I was horrible with math in school, even I know that 99>1.

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words (On Facebook)

The purpose of raising your voice or standing up against something that is wrong, is not to be recognized for being right. The reason you do it is because something is wrong and needs to change. There are thousands of people in this country that are speaking out and standing up that will never get recognized.
Here's my idea for the night: For those of you that have a Facebook page or Twitter account, Change your profile picture to a picture of "V" for the next week to show solidarity with those in NY and elsewhere. I've seen a lot of you change your picture for lesser reasons. Remember that it is not about recognition.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


As anyone who uses Facebook, Twitter, or any other social platform knows it seems that some things (as insignificant as they are) have a way of picking up steam and developing a life of their own. Most of these "jewels" tend to be asinine fallacies such as Facebook starting to charge for services or other such nonsense.

The way I see it (and I will concede that my view can be more askew than Kevin Smith's production company), we may as well use the viral nature of the web to actually say something that is short, sweet, and simple - because let's face it, it seems that there are a lot of people who cannot handle much more than short, sweet, and simple.

So here is what I want you to do, I want you to take the famous video clip from the movie Network and start circulating it on your social platforms and/or email. It's not difficult to do. Just start doing it, and let's see how far it goes. Here is the link

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Calling in a Contract

When I was able to work, I did a lot of retail management. By many accounts I was extremely successful at what I did. I quickly ascended to overseeing multiple stores at the same time, and assembled some of the best people to work for, and with me.

The common assumption that was made was that I was not actually comfortable unless I was in a leadership position. That was actually not true. The truth be told, I always preferred being the strong second to someone (think Alexander Godunov's Karl to Alan Rickman's Hans in Die Hard). However, I loathed incompetent leadership, and in my view, if the leadership was going to act irresponsibly and in a reckless fashion, then I might as well take over because the right-hand-man is usually the one in charge of keeping the eye on the target and navigating towards it.

So I took over one store, which lead to taking over another store, which lead to overseeing other stores, and became known as a “District Hitman.” The short and sweet job summary of hitman boiled down to: if I showed up at your store, someone (probably you) was about to get fired. I was good at what I did (if you don't believe me, ask around).

Incompetent store managers were replaced by either myself, by someone I trained, or by both. District Managers, Regional Managers, and a few executives sought my advice. I was in a good position, well respected, and even feared to a certain extent.

My immediate supervisors openly told me that I made them nervous because they never knew when I was going to replace them. What my bosses failed to grasp was that I would have only taken their job if they weren't doing it properly.

Which brings me to the world today. The great experiment in Democracy has failed. I don't know exactly when or where it skidded of the tracks, but it has skidded of the tracks and we are plummeting into the ravine. I think, although I cannot prove this, that a majority of the people in this country agree with this assessment, but yet nothing is being done.

Since our leadership has failed, and continues to act in an irresponsible and reckless fashion, and since nobody else seems to be willing or able to step forward and say or do anything about the level of corruption, the degree of incompetence, or atmosphere of hopelessness/helplessness, then I will stand up on my one good leg, lean on my cane, and fight this storm.

In my experience, the best way to re-build is to start from scratch. A case in point: there was one store that I walked into once and systematically fired everyone that worked there (with the exception of one worker who was actually doing the job). The same thing needs to happen, and happen now (actually it needed to happen years ago) with our government. It is past time to rip everything down to the studs, and to begin rebuilding with the knowledge we have acquired from our mistakes.

Another thing that I have learned is that I could not do everything on my own. While I was doing what I did for the companies that I worked for, I always made sure to surround myself with similar minded individuals. I never brought on a “warm body” to fill a spot on my staff, I always hired the right person for what was needed for whatever particular location I was working at. Some of them I got along with; others I didn't, but that didn't really matter because they were capable of getting the task at hand done – which is exactly what we need now.

I am looking for people who agree with me AND who disagree with me. I am looking for leaders AND followers. WE know what the problem is. WE know where the problem is. What WE need to do now is set aside whatever petty differences that we have (religion, sexuality, Left/Right wing, dog or cat person), and focus on the similarity that we do have: We are all in this boat together and the boat is sailing towards an iceberg. Help me steer the boat.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Throwing Stones

Sarah Palin. Moron extraordinaire. Former Vice Presidential Candidate. More than likely Presidential candidate in 2012. Stands a chance at winning in 2012.

Hey! America! WAKE THE FUCK UP! Yes, times suck right now. Yes, we are in a dark time (who knows more about the dark than me). Electing the village idiot will not solve the problem!

I realize that I am screaming this into the wind, but as long as I am doing my exercise in futility let me also throw in this reminder: you can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need...and sometimes what you deserve.

Friday, May 6, 2011

From A - T...and that's the problem

This country is fraught with a host of medical problems, both physical and mental. From AIDS to Zygomycosis, and from Adjustment Disorders to Tourette's...HEY! Wait a minute! Psychological disorders don't go to “Z.” The reason I suspect that psychological disorders stop well before “Z,” is because of a collective problem that is experienced in this country: A.A.D.D., or American Attention Deficit Disorder.

Collectively, people in this country seem to have the attention and retention span of a four-year- old that has had several of those old Pixie Sticks in the giant plastic straw (not the wimpy paper ones), and has poured them into a truck stop dinner's coffee, before chugging the concoction down. We remember little about what happened only a short time ago, and seem content to chase the next shiny object that floats in front of us.

Case in point: The Arizona shootings earlier this year. A true whack-job walks into a political function, opens fire on the crowd, and hits nineteen people, killing six. In the aftermath, this country (briefly) realized that the partisan political bickering may have reached too caustic a level, and individuals from both sides of the political aisle vowed to tone down the rhetoric.

It lasted for about a month.

What? Too far back for you to remember that one clearly?

Let's try this: Two months ago an 8.9 earthquake struck Japan. The carnage was massive. A nuclear power plant was severely damaged in the quake and nuclear radiation levels attributed to the Fukshima Plant have risen globally.

Do you still wonder how that whole story is going?

What? Too far away? Still too far back in time?

Okay fine. Let's try yesterday: May 5th. Cinco De Mayo. This country that was founded largely by immigrants, has seen fit to take the stand that we don't like immigrants (unless you're Native American, the logic is truly dizzying on this). Prejudices against immigrants in this country might as well be officially recognized as a national pastime. We have loathed so many cultures and races over the years that it is hard to keep track of who we actually like. Chinese, Irish, Italians, French, Germans, and Poles, are just a few that have been ridiculed and persecuted.

Currently our xenophobic problem is with Mexicans. Actually to be more accurate it is with anyone from anywhere South of our border (Guatemala, Panama, etc., we just see them as Mexicans anyways). The exception to our rule came yesterday. Just like when everyone is Irish on St. Paddy's Day, everyone yesterday seemed to be caught up in the festive activity surrounding the Mexican Army's victory over the French.

I don't condone nationalistic prejudices; however, if you are going to be a narrow-minded idiot, I do think you should at least try to do it well. I have a suggestion for cultures around the world that Americans seem to have a problem with: Find a holiday of yours that allows Americans to either eat or drink (or both), and we'll at least leave you alone one day out of the year. Until that day comes, just keep supplying the majority here with Ritalin.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Thoughts from the Dead Man on the dead man.

Okay so we got him. The “soulless” son of a bitch that put a hole in my skyline, left nearly 3,000 families with a waking nightmare, and guaranteed me an additional four years of the Bush Administration, is dead. Yes, after nearly ten years of hunting for a man nearly six and a half feet tall in a region of the world where the average height is about a foot shorter than that, our Special Forces finally tracked down the guy who needed to be hooked up to a dialysis machine several times a week and sent him to the other side.

Everything should now be good now, right? We can have our fairly tale happy ending, right? No, wrong. Dead wrong.

Now that bin Laden is no more, and is off with his celestial virgins (hey, maybe even a beer volcano and a stripper factory, who knows?), the book is not closed on him. In many circles all that has been accomplished by his death, is that he has been elevated to martyrdom status. We've taken a human and turned him into a myth. If you think it was difficult to fight him before when he was tangible, you haven't seen anything yet. The reason wars against philosophical and ideological opponents cannot be won (i.e. Communism, Capitalism, Terrorism, the Crusades, and so on), is that there is no definitive opponent, and no concrete measuring stick. Wars of this nature are like trying to punch the wind. Bin Laden is now the wind.

One of the cornerstones of this nation is fairness and equality (even if it is mostly just on paper). “Innocent until proven guilty” was a building block for us when we established our Constitution. With bin Laden, there was never an official charge, and will never be a trial. Trials in this country, under our laws, give the opportunity for even the most guilty person to get off Scot-free. This was never afforded to bin Laden. He was accused, tried, and convicted in the media and court of public opinion. By abandoning this basic principle, we have sold our collective “soul” in order to obtain a measurement of revenge. How does it feel America? You know that little bit of unease that a lot of you have been describing feeling about not feeling just right about celebrating the death of an individual? It's because you know it's wrong. You can get a prosthetic arm or foot if you have to have one of them amputated; There is no prosthetic for the “soul.”

So what's next? Where do we go from here? We have cut off the head of the serpent, but like the Hydra, another head (or forty) is going to just grow back to take its place. We are going to have to find out who the new figurehead is and what level of retaliation we are going to face for our actions yesterday, because there will be a retaliation. My crystal ball sees dark things in our future, and when I talk about something being dark, you should pay attention. We did not make the world a safer place yesterday, we kicked the hornet's nest.

I realize that it may sound like I am defending bin Laden, I'm not. I am questioning the morality and hypocrisy of our actions. After the Towers fell there were news stories that featured some people in the Middle East dancing in the streets, cheering, and singing. People in this country were overwhelmingly appalled that people could rejoice at the loss of life. Yesterday when the news began to break, American crowds spontaneously gathered in American streets to cheer and sing about the loss of life. We have lost the moral high ground. We became what we beheld, and are content that we have done right; We shouldn't be.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Inmates are Running the Asylum...and Won't Stop Watching John Wayne Movies

As most people who know me know, I am from Vermont. Vermont is the home of the truest maple syrup, dozens of ski resorts, people so left on the political spectrum that California looks like a communist state (they have a Socialist in Congress), Ben & Jerry's ice cream (Karmel Sutra lovers represent!), and the Green Mountain Boys – a militia formed by Ethan Allen (no, not the furniture store) during 1760s and were instrumental in several Revolutionary War battles.

A stain on the Green Mountain Boys was left by one of it's members during the Revolutionary War, a little known person who went by the name of Benedict Arnold. Arnold became upset that he was continuously being passed over for promotion and failed to receive recognition for some of his accomplishments, and eventually defected to the British side during the war – making his name synonymous with back stabbing, treason, and turncoats.

Arnold was also possibly one of the earliest shapers of American foreign policy – by doing what he is notorious for – being a turncoat.

You don't even have to look that hard to find evidence of this. Just during the last 25 years the United States has helped countries such as Iran, Iraq, and Libya in assorted and sordid ways (the reason we suspected Iraq had WMDs, was because WE SOLD THEM TO THEM in the 80's).

During the 80's my father was in the Navy. He was deployed to go sit off the coast of a fairly insignificant nation in the Mediterranean Sea because some crackpot allowed his ego to get in the way of reason and drew a “Line Of Death” in the water (if you think drawing a line in the sand is stupid, water is even more so). The leader of Libya (who has so many spellings of both his first and last name that I just refer to him as Ted now), was a known supporter of terrorism before terrorism was the big buzzword it is now, and was harboring the individual that was responsible for the bombing of Pan-Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

The whole event over the completely arbitrary line was actually fairly laughable, and the whole thing was over before it began. We didn't force Ted from power; we did however do what has become a specialty of the U.S., we bombed Libya back to the stone age...setting it back about 3 days. Then we decided to leave Ted alone. We knew where the nut was, and we were content to assume that Ted was just a mental patient and Libya was his padded room.

After a few years, a bizarre thing happened with Ted. Ted became a buddy to the U.S....WHAT?

Ted apparently responded well to therapy (sanctions), and orchestrated the handover of the bomber, paid some reparations for the bombing, and all was well again...NOT!

After the Egyptian uprising earlier this year, many Libyans also decided that they were exhausted of their autocratic ruler who had begun palming his meds and avoiding his therapy sessions. The U.S. (who has had a serious problem thinking that it is the cavalry in a John Wayne movie) decided to step in and put the smack down on Ted again.

Libya is just the latest in the growing list of examples of America doing what it sees as one of its greatest villains in its brief history did. Friend today, foe tomorrow. Britain, Germany, Japan: if I was you, I'd be very careful. Sure we have been buddy-buddy lately, but we have kicked your ass before – and we are always looking for a fight...and we think Ted is erratic.  

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Sanctity of Death

Yesterday, the Supreme Court handed down a decision in favor of The Westboro Baptist Church, siding with them that they were entitled to protest at the funerals of fallen soldiers. The Church contends that the United States is being punished by “God” for “the sin of homosexuality.”

Religion, Politics, freedom of speech, homophobia, and respect for the dead. How could I not have an opinion on this.

To start with, I am a staunch freedom of speech supporter (if you read even a smidgen of what I put up, you realize quickly that I have to be). If you ever want to see me fly into a blind rage, tell me that I can't say something.

When I was sitting on the Board of Directors for a theater group I was a part of, I received an e-mail one day from a director questioning whether or not a particular script should be censored for language. The e-mail was about two sentences long; my tirade response was about a page and a half. I made reference to Edward Albee once saying that he'd rather see the theater burn to the ground than have one word in his script changed, pointed out that theater exists to expose people to various points-of-view, and concluded it by saying words to the effect of “will I vote for censorship? FUCK NO!”

The show went on, uncensored.

Freedom of speech does exist to protect unpopular speech. Nobody is really afraid of saying “watching a sunset is beautiful,” could ever be a phrase that would fall under the attack of censorship. So yes, Westboro Baptist has the right to spew their venomous, misguided, philosophically twisted rhetoric at a military funeral as much as the Klan has the right to march through Harlem. It does not make it right though.

Even as brazen as I can be sometimes, there are some lines that I do not cross out of respect (and honestly, sometimes I am outnumbered). Sure I tend to rail against the wars that we are involved in, but I don't wish our troops any harm. Yes, I think religion is a fairytale, but I don't sneak into churches in the middle of the night and replace Bibles with copies of Goldilocks or Rapunzel. I see that as being in poor taste (however, the replacing the Bibles may be a little funny...especially with the Westboro Baptists since they obviously haven't read the damn thing).

If you're against the wars: take to the streets, march on Washington, write Congress. If you're against homosexuality: feel free to make a picket sign, organize a march, or create a blog to announce your narrow-minded idiocy. If you don't like what I have to say, read something else (it's called freedom of choice) but don't go to the supermarket and knock all of the apple juice off the shelf because you have a problem with what I do; it's called displacement, and it's unhealthy.

I have stood over the graves of over 400 people. I have watched over 400 families say goodbye to someone that has died. I have shoveled the earth on, and laid to rest the memories of over 400 lives. I did it all without telling the families that I thought their hopes for an afterlife for their loved ones was, while poetically nice, realistically foolish. I kept my mouth shut, and my ideas to myself because it was not the time, the place, or the situation for me to speak. Westboro should also know that a funeral is not the place to carry out their agenda. Even the English and the Germans had a Christmas Day cease fire during World War I because they felt it would be in poor taste to continue fighting during what they saw as something sacred.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

I Wish The "Real World" Would Just Stop Hassling Me

I hate Reality TV. Actually, to say that I hate Reality TV is a gross understatement. If it was possible to weaponize my distaste for Reality TV, it would be possible to annihilate a small galactic planet (Jupiter for example).

I grew up in theater and film, creating characters from the written word of writers that took their craft as serious as I do. From the first time that I stepped foot on stage and got a response from the audience, I knew that was where my home was. There is a high that I can get from being a performer in front of a live audience, which is completely controlled by my every motion, pause in speech, twist of phrase, or reaction, that is more fulfilling to me than any alcohol or drug induced high that I have received.

I know that it is common for a lot of little kids growing up to say that they want to be an actor/actress when they get older, I actually meant it. I was fortunate enough to have support and encouragement from family that shuttled me around to auditions, rehearsals, and performances in my pre-license years, and were there to help when I needed to run lines with someone.

I used to get myself involved with anything that came along, and it was not uncommon for me to be involved in five to seven shows a year (that may not sound like much to some of you, but trust me on this: it's a lot). It didn't matter to me if the show actually had a place for me in it. If there was no role that was right for me, I'd get involved backstage doing props, costumes, stage managing (if you think I wear a lot of black now, you haven't seen anything), house managing, anything to keep me in the theater where I could learn from what was going on.

I would sit and watch rehearsals and performances of shows that I was not directly involved in (and some that I was) soaking up and absorbing everything. I had some veterans take me under their wing and teach me big and small picture things ranging from stage positioning to line delivery and character interpretation. Some of my mentors went out of their way to pass along the knowledge that they had by staying late/coming in early, even by sometimes giving me a lift to the theater and home again (something I am sure was appreciated by the adults in my house).

Just about every performer that I have met over the years has had the same dream: they have all wanted to be able to make a living performing. Very few of them actually wanted to have the mansion in Beverly Hills or the penthouse overlooking Central Park; In fact, many of us would be content with sharing a dilapidated loft in Compton, or a one room apartment in the Village.

[Enter what many see as my senseless rage against Reality TV.]

Folks, Reality TV costs performers (and many writers) jobs. We have trained ourselves over the years to be professional entertainers. Every time someone turns on their idiot box to watch some wretched program like Real Housewives of Some Neighborhood You Don't Live In, or the headache-inducing bane of my existence American Idol, they are destroying the hopes and dreams of people that I have worked with, dreamed with, and been inspired by...and people think I'm senselessly cruel.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Yes, I'm Going There Too.

So far I have railed against politics and religion. They are two of my favorite topics. I think it is necessary to shine the light in to the dark corner that nobody wants to talk about because dark corners are ignored too often, but contain things just as real as anything in the sunlight. The old adage that one should never discuss politics or religion in polite company is lost on me (in case you haven't noticed), as is the notion that people should not discuss what is quite possibly the most sacred “taboo” topic: sex.

I don't know if you have noticed this or not, but people in this country have a serious problem with sex. If someone brings the topic up, there is a palpable change in the atmosphere of the conversation. People begin to fidget and blush as they attempt to redirect the conversation back to some other topic...any other topic.

When the topic of sex is thrust (no pun intended) upon the nation, the reaction is very odd. Case in point: the notorious Janet Jackson “nipplegate”/“wardrobe malfunction” during the SuperBowl XXXVIII halftime show. For those of you who may not know what I am talking about, or have forgotten what the uproar was about (or just want to see it again), here is what happened Press this to see the end of civilization.

The reaction to this brief millisecond occurrence was so visceral that one may have thought that the people in this country were told that their government had been lying to them and not acting in their best interests for years. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson (two of my most admired people on Earth) famously condemned the incident, CBS, Justin Timberlake, and Janet Jackson (as well as a host of others). Falwell was particularly bent out of shape because he claimed that he was watching the game with his grandson and was horrified that his grandson was exposed to such a sight. 

This may surprise you, but I agree with Falwell. That his grandson had to be exposed to the spectacle of some very large, testosterone-overloaded, brutes FIGHT OVER A BALL, may not be the thing you want to expose a young and impressionable youth to. As for the other thing, as an Irishman I know is fond of saying, "are you fookin searious?" Falwell's argument hinges on some staggeringly bizarre logic. Even though his intentions may have been "good," his argument breaks down to: violence = good, sex = bad. So in Falwell's ideal world we would have a society that would beat the hell out of one another over trivial matters, but not engage in what some see as love (and this guy lead the Moral Majority).

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that more parents would rather their children grow up to one day have sex, than to one day grow up to be in a fight. I don't have any statistical backing for this assumption, but over the years I have met more people that have told me that they want grandchildren than have told me they want their child to go and die in a war (maybe it's just the group I tend to hang out with). 

Personally, I have been in my fair share of physical fights over the years. I see violence as a last resort, not a first response (a policy that I would like to see the United States adopt). Some of them I walked away from, other's I wasn't so fortunate with. Regardless of the cause or outcome, one thing is a constant after any fight: you tend to hurt a lot. I'm against increasing my already high pain levels. I've also had sex. Guess which activity I've enjoyed more. 

Maybe I'm just not meant to understand why it is that in our society it is far more acceptable for someone to talk about how they cracked someone's ribs, knocked a tooth out, or broke a nose, than it is for them to talk about something that is, in every definition of the word, more pleasurable. Our priorities seem to be a bit fucked up. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Walk Like An Egyptian

Despite the best efforts of the media to keep everyone in this country quarreling amongst ourselves, there is still one thing that a large number of people in this country agree on: We're fucked. Here at home and throughout the world, America has lost ground, and it is not getting any better. It is tempting to blame the woes of the nation on our elected officials; However, that is a cop-out, and hides a far more unpleasant truth: It is not really the fault of our elected officials, the blame belongs to the people.

We the people of the United States in order to form a more perfect view of the television have sold our soul to non-involvement. Sure, you can walk into any bar, barbershop, or coffeehouse, and find someone in there that will tell you “what the problem is,” but aside from these boisterous individuals, when was the last time anyone ever saw someone in this country actually do anything?

During the 1960's, masses of people in this country did sit-ins, marches, and protests for civil rights, because they were against Vietnam, and sometimes just because it was Tuesday. Citizens would pack the streets, college campuses, and business establishments, to make their voice heard on a cause that they believed in.

Occasionally we still see a march or a rally for a cause, but they are ceremonial for the most part, and are too few and far between to carry the impact that is needed to really facilitate any kind of change. People attend these demonstrations as a status promoter, and leave the message at the rally when they go home to be picked up by the sanitation department that is also cleaning up the half-empty (full if you prefer) bottles of imported flavored water from the South Pacific that was filtered through a lava rock dipped in lemon juice.

Detractors will say “that was a different time.” I couldn't agree more, and that is part of my point. It has been forty years since we stopped doing something about anything that we didn't like, and started allowing ourselves to be distracted and placated by Atari, jelly bracelets, and trying to figure out who shot J.R. There are those who say “the country just doesn't operate that way anymore” (and I'm the pessimist?). Again, I agree. It doesn't operate that way anymore, and it probably should start.

We now live in a time where mass communication is at nearly everyone's fingertips. With a text, a Facebook update, or a blog, people in this country can reach out to anyone and organize a movement from the comfort of their double stuffed, heated (with the optional massage feature) Barcalounger. We can, but we don't. We have allowed ourselves to become passive to something we know is wrong for the sake of comfort and the misguided thought that nothing we can do will matter. We are wrong.

We do not actually need to look back forty years to see what the power of the people can do, we just need to pick up a newspaper or turn on a reliable news station today and read or watch what is happening in Egypt. The citizenry in that country became so fed up with their corrupt non-representational government taking away larger amounts of their already miniscule rights during a time of economic concern that they took to the streets, overcame the inconveniences of leaving their homes, and actually affected change...and I thought we were supposed to be the beacon to the world for how things should be done.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Correction

In the Birthday Wishes post from a couple of days back, I said that hostages were being held in Iran during the Iran-Contra Affair. This is incorrect. They were being held in Lebanon. My brain and fingers were not working in sync with each other apparently.
This is why I should never be taken as a news source.

A 'Host' of Problems

I lost tolerance for religion a long time ago. If your religion works for you and is that one thing that gets you out of bed in the morning, I'm fairly okay with that – for you.

My disdain for the Church did not happen over night. Believe it or not, I used to actually attend on a regular basis. To borrow a line from one of the greatest social commentators of the last 50 years “Catholic, which I was until I reached the age of reason...” The man: George Carlin, the point: nail on the head. I first started doubting religion when I was about six years old. I learned around that time that there were many more denominations than just the narrow one that I had been exposed to (note: not exposed to in what has become the common form of exposed to with the Catholic Church these days). I remember being in the dining room on the first floor of one of the houses that I grew up in listening to Simon & Garfunkel's Mrs. Robinson, when the thought occurred to me: “If there are so many religions in the world, each of them claiming to be the 'right' one and the only way to salvation, then there are going to be a whole lot of disappointed people when this dance is over.” The thought has stayed with me to this day.

I began asking priests, monsignors, nuns, and other cloistered individuals about this idea. I am not certain whether they were trying to dumb down their answer for the precocious six-year-old or not, but I do know that their answers didn't match up (a sure sign of lying).

Years went by, and I still attended. I didn't have much of a choice really. When the adults in the house are going, you sort of have to go, so I went. I listened to sermon after sermon, Sunday after Sunday. I watched the ceremony of countless masses, and knew that it was well choreographed theater (I had already been doing theater for a few years at this point).

I noticed glaring hypocrisy in the message.

“Everyone can enter the Kingdom of Heaven and deserves God's love” (EXCEPT homosexuals, non-believers, followers of another faith, people who have been divorced, anyone that dares to eat meat on Friday, and so on).

When I moved South, the family and I bounced around from church to church for a while before abandoning the Catholics and joining up with the freewheeling dealing, beatnik hippie, pot smoking alcoholics of the Episcopal Church. They were a far less rigid group of people to say the least.

They actually seemed to look out for one another fairly well, and the rules were far more relaxed (granted, saying something is more relaxed than the Catholic Church is like saying someone is smarter than Sarah Palin). So I hung out with the Whiskeypalians for a few years. I made some friends that I still stay in contact with on occasion, and genuinely enjoyed the company of. The problem was the questions in my head persisted, and my ability to use logic sharpened, which is usually the kiss of death with believers.

Even the open-minded Episcopals eventually had problems with me asking about conflicting Biblical stories, the gap between what should be done versus what is done, and the somewhat notorious question of “what is the difference between religion and mythology?” did not go over well either, but paled to the observation I made about communion being ritualistic cannibalism.

The answer to a lot of my issues increasingly became “you just have to have 'faith'.”


Faith is blind trust in the imperceptible that everything will work out for the best.

I don't know if you have noticed this yet or not, but I have a lot of seriously MAJOR trust issues (it doesn't make it right, it just makes it the way it is). Another complication is I tend to be ever so slightly cynical. So positing that I should accept, without cause, that someone or something has my back and the world will be a better place, is the wrong line to use on me.

I split from the Episcopals after a few years, abandoning organized religion all together. I continued to study it here and there though. I have made a point of learning about Islam, Judaism, Jain, Shinto, Buddhism, Voodoo, Wicca, and so on. The more one looks at these varying theologies/philosophies, the more one can notice the common thread that exists in almost every religion. At their core essence is a single message. The Christians know it as “The Golden Rule.” It basically says “hey, be nice to each other.” I can endorse that idea. The window dressing that comes after it I have a serious problem with.

Because I tend to dissect people's beliefs, I am often considered to be an atheist. I am not. Truth be told, I have just as much a problem with some of the basic principles of atheism as I do with theism (although I do admit to siding with the atheists on a lot of issues); However, atheist arguments tend to use science as a justification for their position. Here is my problem with that: it is not the province of science to examine philosophy. I will stipulate that historical evidence regarding the beginning of the planet is easily measurable; however, it is not possible to prove that something does not exist. You can only prove that it has not been found yet. For that reason, I consider myself to be agnostic. While I seriously doubt the existence of any supernatural being, there is absolutely no way to be certain that one does, or does not, exist.

I think everyone needs to have that one thing that motivates them to get out of bed in the morning. For some people their one thing is religion; for me, it's the thought of knowing that coffee is going to be in my near future.  

Monday, February 7, 2011

Setec Astronomy

People who know me, know that I don't talk much. I follow Polonius' advice in Hamlet to a great extent and give many people my ear, but few my voice. It has made me a confidant to a lot of people over the years because they know that I don't say a word.

It's difficult sometimes to be the protector of someone's secrets. Thankfully I have yet to be in the position of being confided in where keeping something to myself would cause any kind of moral dilemma for me (and yes, I do actually have some morals). The few times that it has even come close to being a moral issue, I have sought advice from people that I trust (there's one or two). While doing this I become like a mafia under-boss that knows he is being recorded (I know a guy that knows a guy that thinks maybe..), or a lawyer that is bound by the canons to not reveal certain information, but can circumvent it with a simple word: hypothetically (Let's say, hypothetically, that I know someone that...). Like I said, seeking advice doesn't happen often though.

Another thing that I don't do often is offer unsolicited advice unless I think it is absolutely necessary. There are far too many people in this world that want to tell people how to live whether or not someone wants their advice, and I don't want to be one of them. However, if you ask me for my advice or thoughts on a topic, I will usually give them to you. I don't expect anything I say to be seen as gospel, I am probably going to ask you a couple of probing questions (because you probably know the answer), and I should also let you know now that I have a tendency to be brutally honest. The only thing that really pisses me off is when someone asks me what I think, gets a response from me, and then berates me for what I think and why I think it. If you don't like what I think, don't follow what I think. I didn't attack you for having a problem, don't attack me for offering a solution.

As I alluded to, there are very few people that I trust, and even with them I only go so far. I have been burned over the years a few times by thinking someone that I confided in would hold to the same standard I do (when time passes and you hear a very specific phrase used in a very specific way, you know that the pat on the back just marked the spot for the knife). So even with the one's I still trust, they don't get the full story, anymore. One day my confidants will get together and figure it all out.

To be fair with some of this, I don't have a lot of personal secrets. I am fairly open. I have little choice. We all know a lot of what I have done (even though a couple of those stories have been slightly exaggerated). I am no saint, and I will not be winning any humanitarian awards. I do though actually have a few things that I do not let out; However, there is one secret that I have that I will let you in on since you have read all of this: Not many people know this, but my intentions are usually for the best, I just fail miserably at it on occasion.  

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Birthday Wishes

I enjoy politics. I have studied U.S. Government, and understand how it operates better than most, I think. That does not mean that I endorse how politics in the United States operates.

They say if you want to cook a lobster, you should start off by putting it in a pot of lukewarm water, and then slowly increase the heat. The lobster does not notice the increase in temperature, falls asleep, and doesn't wake up again. Serve with butter. The people of the United States have been cooked. Rights, ideals, and freedoms have been boiling in the pot for quite some time now.

Who was the culinary master that put the pot on the stove. Some will claim George W. Bush and the death of Habeas Corpus (among other atrocities of that Administration). I, believe it or not, disagree. Bush was the waiter that served what was prepared. The true criminal would have had his centennial birthday today: Ronald Reagan.

Reagan actively sought the support of the then named (immoral) Moral Majority, now the Religious Right. He climbed into bed with figures such as Jerry Falwell to help secure his election (twice), putting a major crack in the wall between the now fabled Separation Between Church and State. Since this point in time, religion has become a more dominant force in American culture and politics, taking it from something that was largely a private, personal exercise to a public measuring stick of one's morality. (For anyone that wants to argue the Kennedy angle on this: it was a blip on the screen).

Aside from the shady ethical positioning with the Church, our birthday boy also was also at the helm steering the ship when his appointed adviser told him “Hey, there is this rather outlandish dictator in Iraq that is having a problem with Iran and would like to buy some weapons from us.” The adviser Donald Rumsfeld, the dictator was Saddam Hussein. I am going to trust in your memory of recent events to remember how that dance worked out.

Then came the whole Iran-Contra affair. The United States sold arms to Iran (you remember Iran, right? They were the country that was fighting with Iraq, the other country we just armed.). The intention was to sell the arms to Iran, to secure the release of hostages held by Iran, and then use the money to support the Contras in Nicaragua. Here is the problem with this: aside from arming two powerhouses in the region that were at war with each other, the U.S. broke several of it's own policies in doing this. “We do not negotiate with terrorists” (unless there is a buck to be made). Congress had also prohibited the funding of the Contras, in part because the Contras were known to be trafficking cocaine into the United States as a means to raise money, something that was a hot button issue because of the “War on Drugs” at the time (I wonder how that war worked out for us). Reagan claimed ignorance of the affair insisting that the buck stopped way before him.

The Gipper may have been able to present a good speech. He may have overcome his own personal dislike of the Soviet Union in an attempt to forge a new relationship with Russia. He may have died a horrible death at the hands of a disease that most fear. However, this does not make him a saint. He blurred the line of the Establishment Clause. He hand delivered barrels of gasoline and crates of matches to the Middle East. He thumbed his nose at Congress when he was told “no” (and don't get me started on the Air Traffic Controller travesty). During Reagan's eight years in office (twelve, if you count the first Bush), the groundwork was laid in a very meticulous fashion to support the rise of W. and all that he was able to destroy so easily.

Happy Birthday Ronnie. Your gift: a crippled nation.