25 September 2009

Tennessee Gun Permits and Thomas Hobbes

This gun business has gone far enough. I’ve been waiting for common sense to kick in, or for someone with more time and energy to express more vigorous opposition, but my patience has been officially exhausted.

The infamous legislative bill arming the general public has never been about anything but money. If it were genuinely about anybody’s rights, the capitol would not be excluded from the growing list of gun-tolerant properties. In fact, I dare say that if it had anything whatsoever to do with the Constitution, any such committed and idealistic legislators would be fighting for the chance to be the first to share space with the newly armed. Why isn’t that the case? It’s something of a “health risk,” plain and simple, and they all know it.

Legislators have shown repeated disregard not only for Tennessee voters’ opinions, but potentially for our lives and those of our families and children. Many have reportedly solicited contributions directly from pro-gun groups and individuals since this circus began. What that means, essentially, is that this legislation was a sale, one big, greedy business decision, the direct investment of Tennesseans’ safety and well-being in a very lucrative interest, possibly to replace revenues lost due to the weakening of the tobacco lobby or the Bible belt disadvantage of the alcohol lobby.

How much money can possibly be involved for elected officials to threaten their constituents (their supposed livelihoods) with lawsuits for not complying with legislation that was unwanted by so many to begin with? Isn’t anybody curious?

That’s just the stuff that should bother our heads. As for our hearts....

Philosopher Thomas Hobbes proposed the theory of a “social contract” voluntarily, but necessarily, adhered to by members of a society in order to avoid giving their existence over to chaos. In other words, if you don’t want everybody else doing whatever they please, especially in public, then you agree not to either.

If I want to carry a gun, what is the worst that can happen if it’s not "allowed," and I can pretty safely assume that most, if not all, the people in the room with me are unarmed as well? If I do not want a gun anywhere near me, what’s the worst that can happen when it’s very possible that a great number of the people in the room with me are armed? The main reason I’ve heard given by the pro-carry people (besides “it’s my RIGHT, damn it”) is that if the bad guys are going to have guns, they want them, too. Following that logic, the more people there are who carry guns, the more people there are going to be who didn’t before but want to now. Statistically, the more people who adopt the practice, the better the chance that it was an impulse, that they’ve had minimal gun education or experience, that they’re more afraid, their judgment not as sharp, and so on.

I support, albeit sometimes with great reservation, the second amendment. I don’t care if people own guns and in fact agree wholeheartedly that everyone has the right to protect themselves and their property. I simply think that once that desire for protection leaves an environment where my individual needs are quite reasonably the only priority (my home, my vehicle) and spreads out into an environment where many individuals’ needs must be balanced (our workplace, our restaurants, our parks, our movie theatres, our churches, or your workplace, your garage sale, etc.), and my need is one that, under certain circumstances, has the proven potential to do direct and grievous harm to others, then I should be willing to lay down my need, to maintain order in the society in which I have chosen to be a part.

We actually have, in keeping with that same amendment, a militia formed for our defense—they’re called police officers. We could take care of ourselves, in whatever manner we find most reassuring, in our own homes and even in our cars and continue to trust our public protection to the properly trained, equipped, and legally informed force we already have in place. Even given the exceptions committed by the evil and desperate, I would prefer that to being at the mercy of what are potentially nothing more than a bunch of yahoos armed with guns and self-righteous ignorance.

The HPV Racket

If drug companies like Merck and GlaxoSmithKline can get their HPV vaccines mandated by the states, or even individual school systems, they sell tons more of it. Go to opensecrets.org, search for Merck (ahead of GSK in the HPV vaccine race) as an organization, and look at how much money they've contributed to campaigns, already almost a half million by their PAC for just the 2010 election cycle--meaning only congressional candidates! Communicate more with your legislators!! (AND your children-girls and boys!) Their mission is obviously to buy a government "contract" to make mass profits off of a drug/disease people know less about and will be less resistant to than, say, an AIDS vaccine (AIDS being 100% fatal). Now go to CDC.gov and read about HPV. In 90% of cases, the body clears it; there are several other cancers more frequently observed resulting from HPV than cervical cancer; the vaccines do not prevent ALL types of HPV (and don't prevent HIV at all); smoking is also a contributor; PAP tests will catch most precancers; and abstinence prevents all STDs 100%. The latter is just the better known and therefore more feared.

It is mostly, if not entirely, propaganda for profit. Other resources: CDC.gov for the facts about HPV, related cancers (and worse diseases), & their causes, preventions, and treatments; followthemoney.org for trails between contributions and state-level legislators; attachmentparenting.org for advice on staying really connected to your kids, because that is the most important element here.
Do not be sheep; the two most effective ways to help your children are to stay CONNECTED as parents...and QUESTION EVERYTHING!!

As far as Merck’s “donation” of $500 million to other high-risk countries...
There are about 10 million girls age 10-14 in the U.S. This vaccine runs upwards of $300 per series. That's $3 BILLION potential profit in the U.S. alone, especially if they can bribe state and federal legislators (the actual function of most non-individual campaign contributions, not an exaggeration-see opensecrets.org, search for Merck and do the math yourselves) into mandating it, which would also ultimately save them millions in advertising. $500 million is a pretty affordable investment/gimmick when you stand to make 6x that in this country alone.

25 July 2009

A Sinking Ship

You really can't outrun the truth. For years now, the conservative, mostly Republican, religious right anti-gay advocates have been raising seven different kinds of endless hell (ironically) about gays, gays in relationships, gays raising children, gays and their alleged promiscuity and deviance, gays and their threat to "traditional" marriages and families and education and the world at large. Meanwhile, the scandals have been piling up, most of the subjects having been vocal proponents of and personally fueling, at some time and in some aspect, the anti-gay movement, under one or a combination of its aforementioned themes. Hmmmm....(scratching head, brow furrowed)

It is a fact - not my opinion, not simply conjecture, but fact - that frequently the people who make the most noise have the most to hide. It's even a tactic of war: cause an enormous explosion on one side of the field (in this case, the right) so nobody notices all the sneaking around. Clearly, these people are skilled at the effective employment of this tactic, but so many have fallen - Mark Sanford, Paul Stanley, John Ensign, Mark Foley, Ted Haggard.... There are plenty who have known the truth all along and not been sucked into their loud and colorful displays, but others have doubted, and many swallowed it hook, line, and sinker.

I would ask of the latter: Do you still believe it? And if so, why? Seriously, how? Aren't you almost beginning to perceive the depth and volume of the declared convictions even as an indicator of the extent of the "deeply convicted's" own sins? Don't you wonder why, if the bucket they sold to you was so solid and so impenetrable, so fault-less, you've found yourself back at the house with no water and a big, wet trail leading all the way back to the well?

To the true deviants, the cowards and liars whose main motivation is more and more clearly simply to get away with their own transgressions against all of the "institutions" they've claimed to hold so dear, I would say: Go ahead and scream with all the voice you have left. You must be so afraid, and I pity you.

Whose "Best Judgment" is Best?

I've been thinking about the electoral college, the will of "the People," the out-of-control Tennessee legislature shoving guns down all of our throats, and the fact that, for all the bitching and moaning, the voters are the ones who put them there. Does anybody really not understand that, by the way? Why in the name of time do we need TERM LIMITS when they only get to stay if WE re-elect them? How far ahead of the horse can we possibly put the cart?! Good grief, people! This is not rocket science! Would we want to limit the terms of people we thought were doing a great job? Because we have had, all along, the power to "limit the terms" of those we perceive to be making it worse, and we simply refuse to use it.

Voters often complain of feeling like elected officials are too far removed from “real life." That’s absolutely true; voters do have valid reason to feel like that, but who do they think elected the people of whom they have this perception? They didn’t just wander into the offices off the streets. And how is it that “the people” can have this view and the reelection rate of incumbents be so high, like in the U.S. House (usually >95%)?

We cannot (reasonably) hand somebody a solid gold, indestructible “mandate,” specifically to remove themselves from what you call “real life” and go make your decisions for you, keep reaffirming it for them, sometimes for decades, and simultaneously criticize them for doing it. And I’ve actually seen quite a few candidates over the years who were exactly what people keep saying they want, somebody from their own block, or could be, who’s maybe worked as a teacher or a bus driver or something, highly intelligent, knows exactly where to start to really turn some things around. Voters not only do not vote for those people, the people they claim to be their model legislators, in theory; they crucify them. “The people,” media, voters, other politicians, everybody, not only refuse to elect such candidates but mock them endlessly and mercilessly, for daring to even look at public office, for being nothing and nobody, even though nothing and nobody was the order they put in the day before.

Ben Franklin once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Ben Franklin was a very smart man. I wonder if anybody would vote for him today.

With all of this in mind, frankly, I’m not sure I want to give any more power to “the people.” I don’t know that they can be responsible with it. And I hate that, too, that we can’t all be trusted to focus on the greater good, or, taking the subjective quality of "good" out of the equation, to support equality and fairness according to our guiding legal principles and not succumb to our whims and prejudices and such. I'm hoping we get better at the accountability thing, but in the meantime, I don't mind it being tempered with some good, clean constitutional wisdom, even if it means that I don't get everything I want all the time either (keeping the gun-funded Tennessee lawmakers out of the process as much as possible).

We have free speech, and we have the right to elect our leaders, pray to whomever we want (or not), stand in the street and say the president sucks... How bad can it really be, and if it is, how can it not have a whole lot to do with us?

I would like to see the presidential electoral process changed. After we all change our minds and get ourselves straightened out and either elect some of “us” or stop whining about who has the jobs now, we can call some sort of special national constitutional convention and develop a new electoral system that allows for more competition, credits all Americans’ opinions equally (and dismisses them equally on some points), reins in the parties and closes loopholes in campaign finance regulation as a bonus, and write an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that details all of it, specifically enumerating and prohibiting powers as needed. That’d be fun.

Tennessee Taxes

Tennessee collects state income tax on dividends and interest and all sorts of taxes on businesses, and of course, a huge chunk of its revenue comes from sales tax and license fees. It has one of the lower gas and cigarette taxes and pretty low property taxes, too. According to the US Census, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and West Virginia are the only states with a lower median income than Tennessee, 2006-2007. The median income here during that time was $41,521. That’s not a lot of money. That means people in Tennessee are not rich, as a population. (Remember that’s only the median because half of the households make less.)

The problem with that is all the complaining about things like state healthcare, college tuition, and the like. Tennessee pays a lot in state employee wages and insurance benefits, and a ton on public welfare, one of their higher expenditures. To have that as a high expenditure in a state with one of the lowest median incomes, one of the highest sales taxes, and such a blindly immovable opposition to a state income tax doesn’t make a bit of sense. To have as a main revenue source something as dependent on the general state of the economy (or perception of it) as sales tax doesn’t make a bit of sense either. To live in a state with such close access to other states with lower sales taxes, when the people with the money can easily drive there to make large purchases (especially when the biggest Tennessee cities lack some really major, cool, high-priced stores you can find as close as Atlanta) doesn’t make a bit of sense. The people without the money, meanwhile, have to spend a huge chunk of their meager incomes on tax on food, clothing, and other general necessities, can’t afford to do enough shopping to really boost the revenue, and apparently frequently enough end up the recipients of the public welfare programs funded by what revenues the state does make.

It’s easy to see the block to a state income tax. The people with the influence, the people who vote, basically, are the people with the money, who benefit the most by not having that tax and having so much control over their vulnerability to the other taxes. The people without the money are trapped here, make paltry little money, have to spend so much of it to survive, are typically less educated, less motivated, etc, don’t vote in as great numbers, therefore have little influence and are guaranteed to never have any. There is a tall, wide, and solid wall here between the haves and have-nots, and the people on the have side like it that way, until they want to bitch about roads and schools and other things they don’t realize they’re costing resources.

I hate the sales tax, and I like balance, so I personally would like to see instituted a state income tax. The 2007 federal tax on that median $41,521 (taxable income, not even counting deductions and exemptions, filing single) was only $6725. That’s not exactly a killer. On the have-not side, say with a $20,000 taxable income, it’s only about $2700. No state income tax sounds great until you do have to come up with college tuition; make a $1000 repair to your car that costs $1100; there’s a serious recession when nobody shops and your state still has to pay for stuff like hospitals and welfare and emergencies and education; or all the roads need work and they raise the gas tax, especially when gas is already $3 or $4 a gallon. Chew on it.

Drive Your Bus

I remember going to the Democratic picnics and such with my mom and stepdad when I was 10 or younger. I didn't have any idea what the importance of any of it was for awhile yet, although I also remember carrying around a piece of paper with "Carter" and "Ford" written at the top and asking people who they preferred and marking it on the paper. I was eight. (I don't think it was nearly so much a possible future as a pollster as simply a deep drive to organize and log and chart and list, that kind of thing.) Anyway, I know that things like the picnics in particular are why I was a Democrat. It was just something we were, instead of being something else, the same as we lived in our house and answered to our names, even though they never made any effort to impress it upon me directly. If I am one now, it's because of my own experiences, although I'm completely uncommitted to the party as a whole and would vote for anybody else in a second whom I thought would do a better job, even if I didn't like them very much as a person, if they weren't much further off of my own philosophy than others; and there have been several people I liked but wouldn't ever want in charge of anything.

I'm not most of the stuff I was "raised" to be (good and bad). I understand that it's basically unavoidable in most cases to avoid being imprinted with the beliefs of the major "forces" in your life, but I still don't ever understand the answer "it's just how I was raised" as a primary reason for one's practices and reflexes (as opposed to "beliefs" and "opinions," which require critical thinking and perspective at some point) that actually make an impact. I feel like at some point we all get our own buses, and if we're not driving them, who is? Buses with no drivers do a lot of damage. It frustrates me.

24 June 2009

Who's "Defending" Marriage from the GOP?

With the news today of South Carolina governor Mark Sanford's Argentinian affair, and his apologies to his wife and four (4) sons (for whom this is truly sad), I have to ask: How, again, are gays and lesbians a threat to our cherished "traditional" marriages??

Now I am not even suggesting that Democrats don't cheat, too; of course they do. However, they're also not the party typically leading the charge in the defense of this oh-so-sacred institution (that's also still a church issue). Sanford, John Ensign, Vito Fossella, David Vitter... seriously? You're afraid of what damage some committed, monogamous gays are going to do to the franchise?

20 June 2009

Guns, Dogs, Gays, Voter Turnout & Accountability

Who’s against more guns on the streets, as well as in bars and on playgrounds? Only the governor of the state, some sane and otherwise funded legislators, the Metro Nashville Police chief and force, and a large number of business owners themselves. What really troubles me is that so many states, Tennessee included, get to vote about something as irrelevant to anybody else's lives as the validity of another couple's relationship (even though I haven't gotten to vote on some I thought were pretty foolish), but we do not get to vote on whether we are comfortable walking around in public with more people armed. Or having dogs in restaurants. And as a sidenote, I personally love both guns and dogs, but I do not believe, as long as I live here with other people, that I should just have the run of the place with any guns or dogs I happen to have in my possession, especially when both potentially directly affect everybody around me at any given time and neither are almost ever necessary for survival. It's similar, in my perception, to cigarettes.

People keep talking about dogs in relation to health codes. They also bite, usually when people least expect them to, because the very best ones in the world can be very territorial. Heck, people are unpredictable, but at least you can sit them down and explain the rules. Many, many people are also badly allergic to them. And why in the name of time, without even a vote, could just anybody take their guns and dogs to dinner with them whenever they please when we all got a say in deciding that I can't just sit here in my living room in any legally recognized commitment to my sweet baby whatsoever, which nobody would ever even know about unless we told them?

Some possible reasons why people don't vote (besides the present electoral college system and the number of times "our" choice has actually not won the presidency): inconsistency and deep discrimination in the legislative offerings; pacification (my theory of letting the electorate decide emotional and subjective issues so they feel involved and less victimized by the sometimes far more regulatory legislature that just gets passed and defeated without us ever having a say); and our own profound lack of accountability and deeply codependent relationship with our government caused by constant preemption of natural consequences. This, again in my perception, and granted, I do spend too much time in my own head sometimes, is illustrated by things like the McDonald's lawsuits (both the coffee and the Super Size Me references), the endless "safety" features (like automatic shut-off electric blankets and car-backing cameras), and the rescues. Obviously, sometimes, as with Hurricane Katrina, when so many people literally did not have the resources to evacuate themselves, or when there is no warning, people don't choose their fate. But I know that I personally have heard over and over and over again about communities of perfectly capable people being warned by every government agency in operation about the devastation they will face if they remain where they are, and after they completely blow off every warning and every last speck of evidence and sometimes are in the middle of their "disaster party" when said disaster hits, the calls start coming, begging for help, pleading for every previously ignored government agency to spend their precious resources, risk the lives of their people when the danger is at its peak, to come save their arrogant asses.

My point is that, as a society, we cry and cry about too much government interference, bad or no options, too much regulation, not enough freedom...we want to do what we want, until we get into trouble. Then, frankly, we squeal like pigs for some kind of "bailout." And government, for its part, keeps feeding us the rope until we inevitably hang ourselves, so they can swoop in and save us and then wag their fingers and show us the proof of how inept we are at managing our own lives. And we let them, because too many people don't really want the responsibility. I believe in my heart that that collective attitude is going to need to be the first thing to get adjusted for voter turnout to increase or anything else to change.

17 June 2009

Darfuris Still Waiting

While I truly appreciate the collection of plates that our government has spinning at the moment, I am compelled to offer another plea for assistance and a concrete plan for peace for the people of Darfur.

The heinous Sudanese President Bashir remains free and has continued to persecute the citizens of this region – with no “fault” beyond being black and Christian - including expelling multiple aid organizations that have been the only source of relief and hope to this area’s millions of refugees.

I vividly remember watching the Sudanese delegation at the United Nations meeting in which President Bush declared that the actions of Sudan’s government and their janjaweed hitmen would not be tolerated. They laughed at him, at us, at the international community, at the idea that anybody could or would do anything to stop the atrocities they had already been committing for several years. No small feat, a warrant was finally issued for Bashir's arrest months ago, an invitation for intervention by the global community like none before. Still, no action has been taken, and in fact, the situation has only deteriorated further.

Make no mistake, I am no less deeply concerned about the plethora of domestic issues plaguing our country. But I believe in my heart that every second that we allow the continuance of the humanitarian crimes in Sudan (as crimes they are), we give up so much of ourselves, and so much of what we claim to have learned from our collective international genocidal history, that all measures to save ourselves will ultimately be irrelevant and pointless.

It is long past time to stop this. We are running out of time, not only to help these people, but to seize this one of a long list of opportunities (the Holocaust, Bosnia, Rwanda, etc.) to change our pattern: letting it happen, condemning it afterward, and swearing, “Never again.” We are running out of time to say, as a nation, “Not on our watch,” and mean it.

11 June 2009

Discrimination Never a "States' Right"

I’ve been thinking about President Obama’s [at least partial] answer to Brian Williams’ question last Friday about whether or not gays and lesbians have a friend in the White House. I have to say that I agree that it is unproductive, unnecessary, and not government “business” to be redefining “marriage.” But it is absolutely necessary to begin the process of redefining whatever we are to call the lifetime legal contract between two people that it is government “business” to license and which guarantees those two people the rights heretofore associated with “marriage.” Let us finally begin to adhere to the First Amendment and allow churches to do what they want; but let us also begin to defend the Constitution against those same churches. This is not a religious issue, and it is not a state issue.

I wholeheartedly support the Tenth Amendment as reserving to the states the powers not prohibited to them by the Constitution. However, the language of the Constitution very clearly does prohibit discrimination against any state's citizens by any other state. All citizens are one hundred percent equal in the eyes of the Constitution (at least more or less, since the Civil Rights movement), but government and the Constitution have proven many times to be two different animals. In application, it’s beginning to seem as though, to borrow from an old saying, nothing is equal but death and taxes. Church weddings aside, being a practice of the church and therefore out of the legal reach of government according to the First Amendment (along with their willingness or unwillingness to perform any such ceremonies), the actual legal contract binding two law-abiding, tax-paying, consenting, adult American citizens, whatever it's called, cannot, at least Constitutionally, be afforded to these two of the aforementioned citizens, and not those two.

In that sense, and in the sense in which I guarantee it to be perceived, it is no different than being denied the right to vote, or drive, or carry a gun. And it is absolutely no different in subjective foundation from the laws forbidding interracial marriages only a few short decades ago, until Loving v. Virginia (1967). The original judge in that case convicted the Virginia couple after they married in Washington, DC (because it was illegal in Virginia) and suspended their sentence only if they agreed to get out of the state. On appeal, he upheld his original ruling, actually saying: "Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix." That sounds to me very similar to the arguments flying around regarding today's marriage issues. The problem is that no one belief is ever going to be stronger than any other. That's just the nature of beliefs, and of opinions, but the law still has to be the law.

The Lovings' sentence was eventually invalidated by the Virginia Supreme Court, but they upheld the state's Racial Integrity Act, which had been in place for over 40 years (along with the Sterilization Act (OMG), not even completely repealed until the 1970s, not only banning interracial marriages but ordering the sterilization of everyone classified as "insane, idiotic, imbecile, feebleminded, or epileptic," used on a sufficient number of minorities hospitalized for different reasons, a precursor to the Nazi practice about 10 years later).

The U.S. Supreme Court finally overturned the convictions and held that "Marriage is one of the basic civil rights of man.... To deny this fundamental freedom on ... classifications [then just skin color] so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens liberty without due process of law."

Do we really want to start that far back? Can we afford to be this slow, again, in realizing that, in our attempts to defend God, we may actually be committing irrevocable offense? This is wrong. My beliefs, my opinions aside, the collection of principles governing this issue was written down and has been defended repeatedly for more than 200 years, 221 to be exact, as of this June 21. We should give it more credit.

Case facts from Loving v. Virginia, Supreme Court Cases: The Dynamic Court (1930-1999), 1999.

15 May 2009

"Marriage" DEBATE is Unconstitutional

The absurdity of the stereotype(s) being perpetuated by the people and legislators of the state of Tennessee alone is its own blog, but let us begin with the bones of the overall issue.

How many of you are actually familiar with the 1st Amendment, or any of the Supreme Court decisions further clarifying it over the last couple of hundred years? Since the main ongoing argument I hear about it is the one about the “unGodliness” of it all, I thought that I would try to address this again, because many people apparently remain deeply confused and/or deluded about it.

There is plenty in the original text of the Constitution about equality. You probably know how it goes…that talk of life, liberty, property, “the pursuit of happiness,” etc. etc. Clearly, all of that is debatable, has been since it was written, and is never actually going to be afforded any minority group without a fight, even if they are American citizens and minus any Constitutional language suggesting only equality for the majority. Therefore, perhaps we ought not waste our time on that.

What typically confounds me even more is the continued involvement and influence of the government in the issue of “marriage,” particularly when openly founded on at least the interpretation of Biblical principles, and that of religion in the making and passing of laws regarding legal partnership contracts between two consenting, law-abiding, tax-paying adults that have no tangible effect on another living soul outside that relationship. The 1st Amendment, in other words, the first thing on the minds of the founding fathers when generating a Bill of Rights protecting the American individual from the potential abuses of government, begins: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; ….” That should cover it, frankly. If it is true that gay marriage is so reprehensible due to its violation of God’s law, that makes it a purely religious argument, and the government has no business being involved in any way, shape, or form.

Presently, no law, no legislator, no advocacy group on either side of the argument, can legally force a church to marry or prevent a church from marrying anyone. First of all, do you really want to change that, and why? Why in the name of time would anyone open such a huge can of worms that will enable Congress to decide who a church, any church (listen up, Mormons), can or cannot marry? Presently, any couple wanting to marry must have a license, for a fee paid to their local government. If “marriage” is truly a religious issue, open to religious interference regardless of the practices of the marrying couple, how can we need a license we buy from the government? I was raised Catholic. I was baptized and received first communion and confirmation all without a license. And can anyone imagine the hell that would have been raised if the government had dared step into that and try to require one?
So, hypocrites, here’s the thing…either:

A. “marriage” is truly a religious institution, dictated by the Bible and the church, presently being unconstitutionally licensed and taxed by the government, and the church and heterosexual “property” it is being claimed to be, in which case every non-church-based marriage performed in our history should be immediately annulled and every “marriage license” fee refunded to the unfairly taxed individuals or their descendents, that whole practice immediately discontinued, and an entirely different system (and vocabulary) instituted for all people wishing to be bound for life outside the church; OR

B. “marriage” actually does not "belong" to the church; is, in fact, a legal covenant, guaranteeing certain legal rights and privileges to the two aforementioned consenting, law-abiding, tax-paying adults; is entirely outside the realm of religious influence, much less persecution; is exactly one of the certain, inalienable rights of every citizen of this country; and the church, and any such tightly pocketed legislators, need to just back off.

13 April 2009

Baby Seal Slaughter

I can't believe that the Canadian government still condones the brutal killings of baby seals. For my entire lifetime, I have railed against this horror, and still it goes on. Since fur is not even worth the energy of an argument, except to incredibly ignorant, greedy, and shallow people, the only "reason" I've ever heard is that it's the livelihood of the hunters. Obscene waste, greed, and complacency have become the livelihood of Detroit automakers and many bankers; that certainly doesn't mean it should go on unchecked.

These are BABY animals, sometimes just born. They are helpless, in the most literal possible definition of the word. It can't even be called a "hunt." They just walk up and beat helpless, harmless infant animals to death, and that's if the seals are "lucky." Sometimes they just skin them alive. My God.

Do you realize that these animals feel pain? Unimaginable fear? Surely, if you're among the policymakers, you've seen the practice with your own eyes, or at least plenty of footage of it, to have made any decision about it. Do you not hear the screams of the babies and their mothers, who fight to help their young and are sometimes killed for it as well? How can anyone with a soul let this continue. And yes, I meant that as a statement, not a question, because there really could never be an answer.

Nothing, nothing, nothing should ever go on just because "that's the way it's always been." There has never, in the history of language, been a weaker, less valid, more cowardly, and frankly less intelligent, reason for any practice. This is simply a gross abuse of our role as stewards of this earth and everything in it. It is torture. It is murder. It is WRONG.

20 March 2009

Suicide is Painless/The Fall

It's a line in the M*A*S*H theme song. I'll bet a lot of people still didn't know that song had lyrics, but it does, and they're actually pretty good.

Suicide, of course, isn't painless at all, to anybody, the victim, their friends, family, coworkers, anybody involved in it, even sometimes people who just happen to be passing by.

Last Sunday, we went to church for the first time in months. We'd been to a prayer service there the Monday night before, to help focus people on finding solutions at this time in our country's economy and invite God to do what he can. We were reminded of how positive it was, how much it contributed to our lives. We'd just gotten out of the habit of it, taken for granted, I guess, the relationship, which is always easier to do than anybody realizes.

That previous Monday night, a teenage boy spontaneously took the microphone at the end of the service and told about how on a September night in 2007, he had attempted to take his own life; how he believed that the body cannot survive if it's completely out of hope; and how he found out that deep within him, there was a flicker of hope he hadn't recognized, because he had survived, with God's help and love. It reminded me of how I felt so many years ago, all the time, and how important it is to have even the tiniest bit of hope to cling to.

Sunday morning, after breakfast and an extraordinarily passionate delivery by Dave, our pastor, that suggested that he'd had our house bugged for the past several weeks, we waited for a fresh CD of the message (great idea) to take with us. It took a few minutes to get them copied, but we didn't mind. Then, only a couple miles down the road, a kestrel falcon sitting on a power line caught my eye. It's one of the things/animals/sights that's rare enough and special enough that it will stop me every time, no matter what. I made a u-turn and pulled onto the opposite shoulder, and we all admired (mostly me) the beautiful little bird, and I shot some film of him with the camera I'd brought along for no apparent reason. After several minutes, he flew away, and we made another u-turn and headed home. The kids started to bicker a little, and Christy wouldn't have it poison our wonderful morning, so she immediately initiated a gratitude exercise in which we went around the car, taking turns telling things we were grateful for, however small, until we each had at least five. I think we were up to four when we got to the bridge.

Highway 96 between Franklin and Fairview runs under the Natchez Trace Pkwy bridge, a mammoth structure that seems to run through the clouds across the valley that cradles the highway below. As we approached it, we could see a few police cars on the left side of the road, and a van on the other side, a little up the road from them, with what looked like a surveyor standing in front of it, looking in the direction of the police cars. I believe the mind typically runs through the things it knows best first. I've seen car accidents, and I've seen surveyors, though never together. I've seen news crews, though never at small accidents in the country, and when I realized that it was a news van and a cameraman, and then that there was no wrecked car, I knew. Part of my mind knew sooner, and made me resist looking up at the bridge to finish the thought, because that thought was still too hard.

As we passed the police cars, now obviously parked in a way that shielded something from passing cars as best they could, or shielded the people in the passing cars from something, I glanced briefly to my left. I don't know why. Maybe just to finish the thought for myself, as I've rarely benefited from leaving it open.

I saw a bright yellow tarp that wasn't big enough, and legs wearing dark pants, white socks, and black shoes, the officers standing next to the person, the cars, the flashing lights, all in a snapshot that I know will never fade, or at least not for many, many years, because that's the memory with which I am "blessed." It was not longer than a breath, and I felt a flash of what had happened, the pain someone has to feel to be there, what it meant in the world, in our day, in the day of the people who couldn't possibly have yet been notified that someone in their life was no longer in it...the fall. It was suffocating, even just to me in a glance, in the simple awareness of it. We only got about a hundred feet before I had to pull over and get out of the car, because the waves of it were incapacitating. Christy came and stood with me and hugged me while the sobs and gasps and shaking had their way with my soul for several minutes.

After we got back in the car and had driven in silence for a couple minutes, I offered my fifth thing. I was grateful that we were all together in the car, safe and happy, and with hope. I explained that somewhere, right that second, there were people, maybe a family, maybe a group of friends, but definitely someone, because there always is, going about their day possibly much like we were, with no idea that this had taken place, that sometime soon, someone would come and tell them that this person they knew and possibly cared deeply about was not alive anymore, and that the only reason he was not alive anymore was that he was in more pain than he felt like he could carry any longer.

I didn't realize until later that, judging from the scene and the fact that things weren't further along than they were, that it was possible that had it not been for Dave being so on fire and talking a little longer than usual and about things so personally relevant to us, and our compulsion to have the CD and its copying taking several minutes, and the rare sighting of the kestrel, that we might have come along much sooner than would be healthy for anyone in the car. I don't know what purpose brought our paths together at all, but I'm certain that there was one, maybe to show the alternate ending for the boy's story last Monday, maybe to illustrate our need for gratitude. Whatever the unknown details, I have continued to feel all of it a great deal. I pray for the others in that person's life, and for everyone who feels that bad, that they find whatever they need that gives them enough hope to find a living solution.

I know how bad it feels. I have felt it. But it really is true that in the next second, around the next corner, could be the thing that lifts you up. And in the meantime, whether you can feel it or not, at the very, very least, God sees you and loves you and hurts with you, and wants you to wait around long enough to find out why he put you here, that you weren't a mistake or an accident, that you're part of something bigger than you or anyone around you could possibly know. Death isn't the escape it looks like. It doesn't make the hurt go away. It just cements it, writes it in stone, and is what makes peace truly unrecoverable.

21 February 2009

Chris Buttars

Sen. Chris Buttars' recent comments are only further evidence of what he had already openly displayed, that he is a man of great prejudice and hatred for anyone different than himself, much like that of Adolf Hitler. His hate grows with his perceived power to spread it, and it is time for his peers and superiors, if not his constituents, to demand his resignation, before he does any more damage.

Words matter. As an elected official, Sen. Buttars' words set an example for the public. It is irresponsible in the extreme for him to spread lies using abusive language -- "they're the meanest buggers I've ever seen" -- that disparages people with whom he disagrees. Worth noting is that innocent people blindly attacked, finding themselves in the position of defending themselves against lies and bullying, are often viewed as what their attackers would call "mean."

These remarks are especially troubling in light of the growing danger of hate violence against LGBT Americans. As one of Utah's leading public servants, you have a responsibility to the safety and well-being of your citizens. I strongly urge you to take punitive action against Sen. Buttars' mean-spirited rhetoric.

I am gay. I have done nothing to anyone and obey both God and this country as solidly as anyone else, including Chris Buttars. I take this very, very personally.