All or None, Your Choice…

I had good intentions. Really, I did. My last couple of posts were calm rational opinion pieces almost completely devoid of the hyperbole and profane ranting that one usually expects in this space. I fully intended to return from my Retreat to the Holy Land and continue in that vein. I had another semi-rational, thoughtful post outlined and ready to write. But no, that will have to wait. Some crazy fuck decided to shoot up a theater and the pundits circled the bodies like vultures before the last shell casing tinkled down the aisle. Oh well, fuck good intentions. Here comes the profane ranting…

Of course what happened in Colorado was a tragedy. Of course it sucks on just about every level. Of course I wish it hadn’t happened. Duh. So having stated the obvious, I have three main points to make: 1- Why do we tolerate politicians/pundits who morbidly try to advance their agendas on the backs of dead victims? 2- Why does this shit keep happening? 3- Why don’t I give a damn?

I think I’ll start with the leeches that immediately start sucking up camera time every time something hideous happens. The pools of blood were still congealing around dropped popcorn and they were already at it. There are two flavors of these ghouls; blame some freedom we have or blame society in general. They’re both far more evil than the poor sick fuck with the batman fetish. (He’s probably batshit crazy and they have no excuse for their malevolence.) This next paragraph is for them…

Fuck you. Fuck every last one of you. Gun rights were not responsible. 87 million gun owners didn’t kill anyone last week. We don’t need to censor our speech or our movies. We absolutely don’t need the TSA violating us at every screening. Abortions and gay people had literally nothing to do with it either. God has not forsaken anyone. Obama and Romney were irrelevant. One fucking isolated incident, no matter how horrific, should never be the basis for broad constitutional changes or sweeping assessments of the world. Shut up and climb back into whatever crypt you inhabit between sad occurrences.

How about we all agree to put politics aside and chase anyone who tries to advance a cause during a tragic event out of the public square? Every punk-ass politician, pundit, or journalist that violates our mourning with bullshit is publicly shamed until they slink off the TV, never to be seen by decent folk again. That would be a fitting legacy to all those who died.

Having dispensed with the blood sucking ghouls climbing over corpses to score a political point, let’s look at why these things keep happening. I don’t know. Neither do you. It’s too complicated. Hell, there might not even be a clear reason. Some people are just crazy or evil. You might as well as try to wonder why a tornado hit one house and left it’s neighbor untouched. We live in a random universe and sometimes shit just happens. But there are a few things that are worth discussing if we can manage to do it without over-reacting or blaming each other.

We are a violent society. I think part of the reason for this is that we’ve gotten really lazy. We look for and expect quick and simple answers to profoundly difficult questions and all too often those easy answers involve violence. Radical Islamists? Send a drone. Too much crime? Lock up and execute more people. Addicts and crime killing the inner city? Try more Draconian laws and maybe shoot a few people. Our politicians love easy violent solutions. It keeps them from having to make actual decisions and we let them get away with it. Hell, we declare ‘war’ on everything. And maybe, just maybe, it’s a bad idea to let small children be exposed to that kind of thinking in video games and movies. A constant societal message stressing violence as a solution must have some effect on the weak minded among us.

Speaking of the weak minded, we don’t take very good care of our crazy people. Schools and other social institutions lack the funding and training to help those people who lack coping skills or have been traumatized by life. We can’t even provide enough resources to treat our homebound mentally scarred soldiers. Look outside in any major city and you’ll find a crazy person sleeping on the street or ranting on a bus. Surely if we cared for our damaged people better it would lead to fewer violent outbursts, wouldn’t it?

Look, I know these observations aren’t exactly rocket science but they are realistic. And I have one more. How about we stop marginalizing entire populations? We’ve gotten really bad about that in the last 30 years. Poor people don’t matter. Black and brown people don’t matter. Atheists, bikers, gays who want to get married, liberals, tea party members, the list goes on and on. Get one small step out of the mainstream and some other group will decide you aren’t a ‘real’ American or God doesn’t bless you with the same vigor. Any message signaling that some people are lesser is bound to make that group a target.

Want to see how damaging marginalization is? Go spend time in a junior high school. Watch how those designated as ‘different’ or ‘outcast’ are treated. Now remember that every one of those kids will be adults in a couple of years, and some of them are pretty pissed off. I know it sounds a little hippy-dippy but if we were all a little more tolerant and inclusive there might be a lot fewer angry loners.

And that brings me to my last point. I DON’T REALLY FUCKING CARE ABOUT THE VICTIMS IN THIS LATEST SHOOTING. Yep, that sounds harsh. And I mean it. Allow me to explain…

A couple weeks ago a wonderful 15 year old boy that I had worked with was killed in his driveway. He dreamed of being a fireman and had just started a program that would allow him to pursue that dream. But now he’s dead. When I related this loss to people they were justifiably saddened and horrified. At least they were until I mentioned that he lived in Oakland. When that piece of information was provided they stopped caring as much. Cause, you know, it’s Oakland. And he was black. In fact he was the 46th young black person killed in Oakland this year and no one really gives a damn. A marginalized population.

I’m a biker. I belong to some biker websites. Every single fucking weekend there are requests for prayers because some rider was run down by a distracted driver who just couldn’t wait to call or text someone. There have been about 50 so far this year on this one sight alone. And nobody fucking cares. Because, you know, they’re bikers. Thugs and criminals. And they decided to ride. Another marginalized population.

12 people died in Aurora Colorado. And that’s sad. But four times that many have died in Oakland this year and one of them was a beautiful young man. Four times as many bikers have been killed on that single website. How many gay kids have killed themselves this year? How many American soldiers have died? How many innocent kids who just happened to be under a drone strike? And guess what? EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THOSE DEATH WAS PREVENTABLE. A little understanding, some resources, ending a stupid war, or putting down the fucking phone would save them all. AND NOBODY REALLY FUCKING CARES.

If, as a society, we’ve decided that black kids, gay kids, foreign kids, soldiers and motorcyclists don’t count then I’ll be damned of I’m going to sweat a couple of moviegoers. Get back to me when we bother to end the preventable deaths of marginalized people and I’ll start giving shit about suburban white people. And the same goes for victims of 9/11. Don’t care. ALL LIVES ARE EQUAL. Until you value every single one of them, you value none of them. And if this pisses you off you need to spend some time talking to your God because I’m pretty fucking sure that He doesn’t marginalize humans. Saor Alba, Vaya con Dios and Viva la Revolucion.

Saor Alba

As we all know last Wednesday was “Independence Day” here in the good old US of A. Of course I’m tempted to harp on the irony of the holiday in this age of constant surveillance, strip searches, terrorism bullshit and ever increasing legal encroachment on our lives and choices. But you’re smart and self aware so you already know that freedom and liberty are little more than campaign buzzwords fed to the masses by an increasingly corrupt elite. Instead let’s be a little more creative and solutions oriented. No, not in an ‘eat the rich’ kind of way. Let’s talk about a free Scotland, and, in the next post, what such a thing might mean to us here in the states.

A free Scotland? Why does that matter? Aren’t they already free? And why the hell should I care about some little country full of burly men in skirts? Well, it does matter, no they aren’t free, and apathy is unbecoming in human beings so shut up, listen and learn something…

What defines a country and makes it distinct from all the other countries of the world? I suppose it starts with a specific plot of land. A small piece of the Earth to call one’s own. A sense of place. Some hills, a river or two, maybe a port on the sea. An area distinct from the surrounding lands. A place to love and hate. Next you need some history. A set of shared experiences among the people who’ve lived there. Victories and losses, disasters both natural and man made, conquests and follies, A sense of having survived together. This happened here and to us. That’s a good start.

Once you have those things you’re well on the way to having a culture. A shared language, maybe a religion. Some stories and a few deeply held beliefs about the world. A bunch of customs and a few silly rules. A style of dress, maybe a specific style of music, dance or art. A unique collection of traits and behaviors that define your people as one distinct group. Sure, some of those things will be shared with other countries but not in exactly the same way. “This is how we do things here.”

Over time this culture will become more and more distinct from the rest of the world. Years of births, marriages and deaths will weave that land, those histories, stories and habits into one remarkably cohesive thing we call a country. It’s one of the profound ways we humans gather into communities for support and to order the chaotic universe around us. More than that, it’s one of the ways we define ourselves as individuals. Our ability to attach into a time line much longer than our own lifespan is a crucial tool in coping with mortality and change. Is there anything more comfortable than a sense of belonging? And is there any sense of belonging more profound than one’s own heritage? It makes the heart swell even if you’ve never seen the land of your ancestors birth. Powerful stuff.

Wait, it gets better. Humans move around a lot. We immigrate. We relocate. We get kicked out of places. And because we’re such marvelously complicated creatures, we both keep our old ancestry and adopt a new one. If you move you get to define yourself as a member of your new community and still remain a member of your old one. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be you that moved. It could have been your great grandfather. You can still claim his heritage even if you’ve never even ventured onto the continent of his birth. How cool is that?

Our heritage, whether ancestral, adopted, or both, is central to how we see ourselves as human beings. These things called ‘countries’ matter. Now having defined one’s selves as a country, what do people want most? What’s the next step? That’s easy, self determination. Everyone wants to set their own rules and laws. They want to decide for themselves what to do with their resources and how to divide up their wealth. They want their own government and their own police. And they DON’T want some other country to do it for (or to) them. Especially if their history includes being violently conquered by that country. Don’t all of us humans deserve that?

Is there anyone that would argue that Scotland doesn’t meet the definition of a ‘country’? Is there not a specific place called Scotland? Are there not Scottish people living there? Don’t they have their own culture, dialect, heritage and history? Are there not people around the world, myself included, who define themselves as Scottish? Are there not immigrants to Scotland who now define themselves as Scottish? Not English, Scottish. So why are they ruled by England?

Scotland was conquered, repeatedly, by England. Just because it didn’t happen yesterday and there aren’t English troops in the streets doesn’t mean that English rule is any less unjust. The people living in Glasgow deserve the right of self determination just as much as the people in Boston, Melbourne, and New Delhi. Scottish taxes should stay in Scotland, as should Scottish revenues. Scottish men and women should serve in a Scottish army. These are basic national rights that every single group of people deserve.

The passage of time does not make injustice any less onerous. Through hundreds of years of English rule Scotland has remained a distinct country with a unique culture. By no stretch of the imagination did it become ‘English’ and it isn’t English today. If the Scottish had any intention of becoming English don’t you think it might have happened by now?

Humans are funny creatures. You can tell them any old thing you want but they’ll almost always decide for themselves how they feel. For hundreds of years the Scottish have been told that Scotland is naturally a part of England. The problem is the Scottish still don’t believe it and likely never will. The Tibetans will NEVER wake up and think of themselves as Chinese. Not tomorrow, not next week, not next year. Not ever. You are what you think you are, and the people who live on the north side of that particular island off the north west coast of Europe are Scottish. End of discussion.

In your everyday life it probably doesn’t matter whether the taxes paid by a carpenter in Aberdeen go to London or Edinburgh. Fair enough. But it does matter. Free people controlling their own destiny should concern everyone. If we can’t accomplish this simple thing in Northern Europe how can we hope to solve situations in the Middle East or Asia? If you’re American it should be particularly resonant. Their struggle is similar to the struggle by which we define ourselves. Besides, Scottish people and Scottish ideas were central to building this country. Perhaps we owe them at least some support.

In 2014 the Scottish people are going to vote on creating a Scottish Government. They need to be given every level of support possible and if they’re brave enough to head out into the world community alone they need to be applauded and accepted. More over, their example might need to followed here in the states. More rights, more freedom, more self determination. Saor Alba, Vaya con Dios and Viva la Revolucion.

Po Po Problems

So, I almost lost my life last week. Not that strange an occurrence for somebody who chooses to ride motorcycles. A car ran a red light and almost put me down. I managed to avoid him, as did two other cars. Tire squeals, one car onto the side walk, pedestrians screaming. All very exciting. The driver that drifted through the intersection was busy texting with both hands off the wheel and no eyes on the road. He would have had a real chance of getting a ticket if he hadn’t been a member of the local police force out on patrol.

Yep. A cop in a marked cruiser. No lights, no emergency, just cruising around and sending texts on his personal phone. Actually it’s the third time I’ve seen this guy in the neighborhood texting while driving. And yes, that’s illegal in this state. But who’s going to stop him? Welcome to the new police state.

Usually my writing is full of bluster and hyperbole. If you’ve read the blog before you may be expecting a lot of ranting and raving. Even though I have some passionate feelings about the police you’re not going to find the usual profanity laced hollering today because, in general, I LIKE cops and I revere what they do. I have tremendous respect for their sacrifices and the difficulty of their mission. My oldest and dearest friend is a federal agent. One of the finest men I know is a retired sheriff’s deputy. None the less we have a really big police problem in this country and it needs to be fixed. So perhaps a little reasoned restraint is called for here. I’ll do my best to walk that line.

In any profession there’s bound to be a few exceptional members, a few absolute disasters, and a bunch of people in the middle just trying to do a decent job and make it through the day. It’s unrealistic to think that every single cop is a good a decent human being.. It simply isn’t true for any vocation or group of people on earth. So if we accept that there are a few incompetent cops, and probably even a few sadistic creeps, how do we monitor the force that monitors us? Currently we don’t much do it at all.

A quick story: A couple of years ago I was teaching my two teenage kids how to weld and they got pretty good at it. One day they were welding with the garage door open. A squad car pulled up and the older of two officers started to yell at and threaten my kids. He told them that it was illegal for kids under 18 to weld (it isn’t) and that they were truant. He threatened to take them to juvenile hall even though they were being legally home schooled. I heard the commotion and came out, at which point he spent 15 minutes threatening me with all kinds of citations while his younger partner looked on uncomfortably. He finally told me to never let him see the kids out during the day or welding ever again. A short time later a Sergeant came over to apologize profusely and tell my kids they had done nothing wrong. (The younger officer had reported the incident to him.) He praised their welding and admired our safety procedures. He just said that the other officer was ‘sometimes a problem’. So why the hell is he still a cop? And this is only a tiny part of the problem.

Police officers are, and should be, focused on crime. We don’t want them to be thinking about civil rights, we want them to protect the innocent and root out the guilty. This singular focus makes them great peace officers but very poor protectors of freedom. And that’s okay. Protecting civil rights and personal freedom isn’t their concern, getting predators off the street is. So why do we let them set policy?

Just for a second look at a situation from a cop’s standpoint. His job is to keep us safe and arrest criminals. Wouldn’t his work be easier and more effective if he could walk into any house and search anyone at any time? Of course it would. And from his perspective as crime fighter that would be a great idea. But is that how we want to run our country? I should hope not.

Cops are important but their mission and skill set mean that they are the LAST people we should ask about civil rights policy. It also means that we MUST have very strong civil protections or their reasonable mission to protect us will over run our freedom. And that does not seem to be the case right now.

Two things seem to be bringing this issue to a head right now. First, there have been an awful lot of officer involved shootings. I expect that this is more of a result of diminished resources and training than it is bad cops. Even if that’s the case the situation still calls for more oversight. The more obvious problem is the way police have been used to suppress or disperse peaceful protesters. Pepper spray and tazers are only supposed to be used as self defense weapons and both are being deployed as compliance tools. This is illegal and cops who do it should be punished. Furthermore the ridiculous “not following a lawful order” laws are too broad and clearly open to abuse. They need to be replaced with something specific and enforceable.

My last point is that police organizations need to be very careful about whom they are protecting. All too often it seems that cops are used to protect those with money against those who have very little. That isn’t police work, it’s political terrorism.

No reasonable person can watch the video of college kids sitting quietly on the ground being hosed down with pepper spray and not think that something has gone drastically wrong with the police and our relationship with them. I understand the reactionary anti-cop rhetoric that I hear form some, but I think it ignores the fact that most law enforcement officers are good and decent people trying to do a very difficult job. They deserve a few things from us, like fair pay, great resources and training, clear policies that protect civil rights and freedoms, and strong independent oversight. Because when the revolution comes, they don’t want to be on the wrong side of history. Vaya con Dios and Viva la Revolucion.