Friday, September 23, 2005

State of the Nation

I am deeply concerned about the state of our nation. We have become a nation of complacent decadence. The following is by no means a complete list of what has me concerned. It is however, a good start.

1. We live in a nation whose professed ideal is one of selfish achievement. It’s no longer about keeping up with the Jones's; it’s about smacking the Jones's the fuck down. Many of us have become so competitive that we’ve ceased to think of anything but ourselves, and what we stand to gain or lose.
2. Our country is all about profit. Rich men doing the bidding of richer men while all the while telling us they care about us and our needs. The Demicans and Republicrats (thanks Ani) couldn’t care less about our poor and middle class butts, we don’t contribute enough money to weigh in.
3. We live in a nation that preaches tolerance from the pulpit while it demonstrates, by its actions, only tolerance for people and actions that adhere to Christian ideals. People who dare mention this hypocrisy are dubbed deviant and/or anti-American. This is ignorant in the extreme.
4. We live in a nation that claims to be a republic – a representative democracy. At what time have rich, predominantly white and predominantly male, aristocratic bureaucrats been representative of the public as a whole or held the interests of the poor and middle classes chief among their concerns?
5. Following that logic, in national elections, our electoral college is supposed to vote according to the popular vote in their districts. They are not required to do so and, they are anonymous. In reality, our presidency is decided by 538 votes of which 270 are needed to elect a president. I graduated in a class of 330 or so. Guess how many of those folks I knew and actively disagreed with?
6. The appointment of Duhbya, George of the Bungle, Bush to the office of President was a direct and obvious mockery of a system that is ludicrous on its face.
7. The political parties give “we the people” the choice between two men who are essentially the same and give us a vote so that we feel like we can exercise that choice. It’s crap. A vote for the better of two evils is still a vote for evil even if that vote is meaningless.
8. Our money isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. When the government needs more, it prints more. It’s not backed by anything other than the US’s financial reputation which is deteriorating as the backed Euro gains ground.
9. We are borrowing money to pay for our tax cuts, the war on terror, the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, the rebuilding of Iraq and Afghanistan, the hurricane Katrina disaster, and I’m sure, the recovery efforts surrounding hurricane Rita. We cannot continue just putting all of this crap on our tab. Sooner or later, we will get tossed out of the bar.
10. China is buying up our debt at record rates. It doesn’t take a genius to realize what would happen if they called due and demanded payment in, oh lets just say, Euros.
11. Alternative fuels exist and are relatively easy to produce save that the oil and auto companies do not want them produced. For example, we have the farming capacity to produce enough bio-diesel to almost eliminate our dependence on fossil fuel. Why not? It’s about profit pure and simple – greed see #1.
12. Immunizations and Flu shots. This is the biggest load of crap served to us since we were given the vote. This is not to say that some immunizations haven’t benefited civilization, obviously some have. However, going out to get yourself a case of the flu in the form of a flu vaccine so you don’t get the flu and so that you can give it to everyone around you who didn’t get the vaccine only helps to put money in the pharmaceutical companies pockets. Take a closer look at the CDC’s flu numbers if you doubt me. Or better yet, take a look at Jon Rappoport’s No More Fake News.
13. We have legislated and continue to legislate personal safety - helmets, insurance, immunizations, seat belts, speed limits etc… Soon we’ll have to legally carry health insurance if we have children. Yay! I have kids, and I have health insurance. I carry insurance because I think it’s a good idea for me and my family, not because I think you should too.
14. We moved to impeach President Clinton for lying about a blowjob. To paraphrase Bill Maher, Bush has lost two trade centers, part of the Pentagon, four airliners, the budget surplus, a couple of thousand soldiers, and most recently a major metropolis – maybe he’s just had a bad string of luck? He's appointed his unqualified cronies to positions like the director of FEMA (two separate appointments in fact), and the American/Islamic good will ambassador and despite all of this, no serious consideration has been given to the idea of impeaching an incompetent, albeit I think well meaning, President.
15. The speed and effectiveness of our response, both at the State and Federal level to the Katrina disaster and now the Rita evacuation, is shameful and embarrassing.
16. Many of the people in the countries of the world hate us because of our leaders and their policies. While most of us wouldn’t do what our country does in our name, the perception of the world is that we’re all behind it. This is particularly ironic in that most of us don’t even excercise our right to vote - regardless of whether or not it would make a difference.
17. We the people are easily distracted by non-issues like flag burning, gay marriage, and gun control. Constitutional amendments don’t just happen folks. Read this post by Wigwam Jones who elaborates on this point far better than I would. Every time flag burning comes up, I start looking for what the other hand is doing.
18. We focus, and are meant to focus, on race, religion, sex, social class and economic concerns. This keeps us divided and at each other’s throats rather than focused on our leaders and their actions or inaction. We the people don’t keep our eye on the ball. It’s no wonder we play the patsy so often.
19. This focus is formed and refined by the public school system which was designed by the wealthy industrialists of the last century to produce good workers. They teach suspicion and mistrust of others in an environment of competition for meaningless prizes. Sounds a lot like the environment at work eh? We are taught, and we teach our kids to work for money. The rich teach their kids to make money work for them.
20. We live in a loosely controlled police state. It was made less loose with the Patriot Act and the implementation of Homeland Security. Now all that need be done to execute an unreasonable search and seizure is to allege terrorist sympathies on the individual to be searched. That person can then be incarcerated without trial or parole indefinitely. Yet another nail in the coffin of the Bill of Rights.
21. We have old women taking their shoes off in airports and piles of confiscated fingernail clippers and knitting needles while our borders remain all but wide open north and south. After 911, Bush encouraged all Americans to be watchful and notify authorities of anything suspicious. Recently, he criticised the Minute Men saying that they were disruptive vigilantes. The Minute Men, to make a point, camped on the border for a month, at their own expense, and reported any crossings to the border patrol. They were non-violent reporters. I ask you, if people can walk across the border unchecked, why bother protecting the planes?

I could probably go on but you begin to get my point. The system is quite simply broken. Any student of history will tell you that this is nothing new – rather a new iteration of an old cycle. I am a patriot. I love my country and what it was meant to stand for – liberty and justice for all. If our country is to exceed historical tradition, we must grow through and past this. We cannot hope for success by surrendering our freedoms for the illusion of security. Any of us could die at any time and for any number of reasons. To live in a state of inaction perpetuated by fear is no life at all. To quote Ben Franklin, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Remember, powers once given to the Federal Government are NEVER returned to the people.

For those of you whom I may have offended, I support your right to disagree. Free and open discourse on such issues is one of the few freedoms we continue to enjoy. I think it is only through conversation that compromise can be achieved. For those of you unwilling to compromise, yours must be an uncomfortable position indeed. I once said, “When neither side is even a little wrong, neither side is really right.”


Sunday, September 18, 2005

09.18.05 - Life Update

I split the difference on my principle issue I told him, “I wouldn’t provide you the documentation if I had it, which I don’t.” He asked me to repeat myself and I did verbatim. He was dumbfounded and kept insisting that it was really very simple, that just about anything would suffice. I thought whimsically of calling my wife and having her write me a note but I ultimately let it go. I did take the time to clarify my reasons and to let him know that I understood the consequences. This made him very uncomfortable. I concluded by verbalizing my support of his right to run the class in any way that he sees fit and agreeing that he had been very clear in the syllabus and that I simply disagreed with his policy to the extent that I was willing to be penalized a letter grade for the sake of his peace of mind. He grudgingly agreed and indicated that he wanted no hard feelings and I told him that I had none and that I had enjoyed his class so far. On a whim I added that in any discourse between rational people there might, in fact, be disagreement but that it shouldn’t necessarily affect their ability to enjoy each other’s company. Needless to say, he was flabbergasted and I chuckled all the way to my next class.

Of course, it should be mentioned that he put us all on a seating chart the very next class to, “reduce the time spent on taking roll.” Yes kids, an alphabetical seating chart. I thought I had escaped this sort of blatant dehumanization upon completion of Jr. High School! So I am no longer sitting in the front row, as is my custom. Rather, I’m sitting in the back row with all of the other students who are unfortunate enough to have last names whose first letters land on the wrong side of the alphabet. The problem is that I can no longer see well enough to read overheads from the back row. One potential benefit is that I can make sarcastic comments under my breath about things like attendance policies and seating charts without being heard. Of course, I’d be more than willing to shout them across the room should he ask.

I’m working on a post that may well piss some people off being that it is on politics and the state of our nation. Keep your eyes peeled. I’ve also been working on the music post I mentioned in my tag post. I’ll also be updating the Photoblog and the Audioblog today or tomorrow.

I’m reading “Gulliver’s Travels” this weekend for my Great Works in American and British literature class. Perhaps I’ll let you know what I think when I’m done. For the last two weeks, it was Shakespeare’s “Othello.” For the two weeks prior to that it was, “Sir Gawain & the Green Knight.” The funny thing about this class is that I’ve read all but two of the six works we’re looking at previously though not in many years. It’s been fun because the teacher is not fixated on one specific point of view (usually his own) and is willing to discuss anything that can be supported within the text. I have taken many a “C” in lit classes for not regurgitating the teacher’s point of view. It looks like that will not be an issue this time around – a fact for which I am immensely grateful.


Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Placing principles before personalities...

The trouble with having principles is that they are expensive not only to get, but also to maintain. I’m sitting here before class contemplating a conflict of principle. For those of you who listened to my recent entries on the AudioBlog, you can skip the background and move on to the third paragraph. I had to miss class last Tuesday because Cher and I carpooled to Denver. I had class and she had an orientation to attend. The plan was for me to attend my first class and pick her up after her orientation, take her home, and then come back for my second class. As it turns out, her orientation ran long and I realized that I wouldn’t have time to get back for class. Being a good egg, I quickly found the syllabus for the class in question and read that two unexcused absences would result in a reduction of my final grade by one letter grade. Reading on, I discovered that excused absences could be had if there were a viable reason and if the professor was notified in advance. I had already missed the first day of class due to the move before I even knew about his policy.

Being reasonably sure that my wife had orientation that ran long was not going to fly, I conceived of a reason that he might consider viable. I told him that her car had broken down and that I had to miss class so that I could help her out and pick our kids up from school on time. I don’t generally lie – not for any noble reason mind you, just that it often creates more trouble than it’s worth. I figured I was good and then, in a stroke of genius, sent him an email as well on the odd chance he didn’t check his voicemail. I was considerably more vague in the email. So, after class on Thursday, and a pop quiz on the class before, he pulls me aside and asks me for documentation to prove the reason for my absence. He points out that the need for documentation is expressly pointed out on the syllabus and that he has to be consistent. Trying to show no reaction, I tell him I’ll do what I can and go about my business.

The more I thought about this predicament, the more pissed off I got. First of all, I wouldn’t have lied if I had deemed that the very reasonable circumstances that caused me to miss class would be acceptable. In effect, I lied for his comfort as much as my own. Secondly, I’m 33 yrs old and I PAID to take this class – that makes me the customer. If I don’t choose to use what I paid for it’s on me. Thirdly, I’m 33 yrs old and I have RESPONSIBILITIES – If I need to miss, I’m going to miss and you need to trust me to figure that out. I can only surmise that he feels his time is VERY valuable and that he needs his students to demonstrate the respect for his position that he feels he deserves. I would even go so far as to assume he’s been more lenient in the past and been burned for it – hence his blanket policy. What I disagree with is treating everyone in the class as though they are untrustworthy and irresponsible. Treating people as though they might be dishonest encourages them to be dishonest. The same applies in reverse. Trusting someone encourages them to be trustworthy.

So here’s the thing, I typically clean up my messes as soon as I realize I’ve made one. In this case, I’ve been dishonest. However, I did not create harm by my actions. I feel like I should apologize for the lie even though it’s not important to my principle in this case. On the surface, apologizing up front weakens my argument against his policy. In practice, it’s integral to my point – that if you treat people as though they are dishonest, they will be. I may or may not apologize for the lie – I’ll have to wait and see if it’s going to be beneficial or not. I will absolutely let him know that I’ll respectfully not be providing documentation despite the potential negative impact on my grade based on a principled disagreement with his policy. If he chooses to ask me about my principles, then I’ll proceed delicately.

I actually like this teacher and enjoy his class so I don’t want to upset him unduly but if it happens, it’s his shit. I guess I’d like to point out the fault in his thinking even if it’s not my place. Perhaps he’ll offer me the opportunity. I rather hope he doesn’t. It’s absolutely worth a letter grade to stand by my principles. My GPA will survive. I think it’s silly to ding an “A” student, someone who is responsible, for not being in class. If you can not go to class and still get an “A”, more power to you.


Sunday, September 04, 2005


Well, I've been tagged folks. This marks the first time I've ever been tagged. Very cool! Amandarama has asked that I divulge the 5 songs I think "dig hard". Sorry it took me so long to notice lady! As I think about Dave's original tag to Amanda, he was talking about current tunes. The problem is, the only current tunes I listen to are nameless radio tunes or techno. So anyways, here ya go (mind you I'm getting older by the day):

Since I've been loving you - Led Zeppelin
1952 Vincent Black Lightning - Richard Thompson
Recuerdos de la Alhambra - Francisco Tarrega
Green-eyed Lady - Sugarloaf
Home - Mark Broussard

It occurs to me that 5 is not even close to enough to even get close to outlining the music I dig on. I foresee a long post coming up. Still and all, It's my turn to tag Yay!

Chipper Dip
Johnny Virgil
Weary Hag


Saturday, September 03, 2005

Thanks for noticing...

I've really enjoyed all the pestering I've gotten lately about not posting more often. It's nice to be missed! Thank you all for being patient. I updated both the AudioBlog and the PhotoBlog so take a look at those. There's a pretty comprehensive life update on the AudioBlog that I'll probably not take the time to duplicate here. Instead, I thought I'd tell you a story.

My dad, like most of us, was many things. He was a son, a brother, a father, a man, a musician, a salesman, a computer programmer and consultant, and a friend to many. He was also, like many of us, flawed. He was a good, highly intelligent man with a delightful sense of humor for whom the world became gradually too much to deal with. In the end, he died alone in his home at 49yrs old due, in part, to his own stubborn unwillingness to check in to a hospital. That was almost 5 years ago.

I was terrified of him until I was in the midst of my 19th year. He didn't discipline me often, but when he did, it was severe and memorable. My parents had separated and I, after a brief foray into the real world, went back home and lived with him for a while. He drank a lot and often though in those days, never before 2pm. He and I had never really had to face each other as men and I will never forget the time I spent with him. We had some real give and take. As it turned out, he fully expected that he and I were going to have a fistfight before it was all said and done.

He himself had taken his own father in the backyard at about 19 and broken his arm. The difference was that I weighed 135lbs soaking wet in those days and I was a gangly, geeky, burgeoning intellectual and not at all inclined towards physical violence. I told him that it was simply not going to happen and that I thought it was ludicrous. He was dumbfounded. He actually cried - one of only a very few times that I can remember. It was the icebreaker for the relationship we were to have from then on.

He really had several personas. He was Dad. He was my Mom's husband for a while. He wanted to be a Chemical Engineer. He was a talented musician. He was like Norm from the TV show Cheers at the bar. The uncomfortable thing and the thing I think he found ultimately irreconcilable was that these personas rarely crossed and none of them adequately allowed him to express who he was. I got to know him, the real him, a bit better as time went on but it was like approaching a half-wild animal. He was very skittish and I was only able to catch glimpses. We went out to lunch almost every Wednesday for a year.

After the divorce was final, he moved to Texas. Communications faded to once a month or less and they became almost surreal. He'd had a woman who was obsessed with him follow him in his move to Texas. We heard some information from her but really just bits and pieces. His behavior became more erratic. He brought a woman he'd met in a bar the week before to my sister's graduation from college - that whole thing was just icky. After I'd stopped drinking and had children, I told him his was welcome in my home only if he was stone cold sober. He honored this request on every occasion though it obviously hurt him to do so. He would sweat and shake so badly that I was worried about his health.

Apparently he did quite well in Texas with regards to business. He made more money during that time than he had ever made in his life. He bought a house and a truck and began speculating on commodities on the stock market. He got involved with a woman who we know almost nothing about save that she hung herself in his living room so that her 11yr old wouldn't find her in her house. This, it seems to me, was the turning point that caused him to shut down almost completely. He had groups of friends that knew nothing of each other - he kept them all very compartmentalized and safe. None of them knew too much and none of them thought of him as a drinker.

He'd always been into women. He cheated on my mother off and on throughout their marriage. I think, and this is only speculation, that he divorced her when he thought he might have a chance to pursue the love of his life - a woman he had met some 8-10yrs prior to the divorce. She was married and had kids of her own. I suspect he divorced my mother thinking that she'd divorce her husband and that they could be together. He would fly out to see her anytime her husband was away on business. This was yet another of his secret lives. She never divorced him and he once remarked to me, "Be careful that when you find the love of your life, she's not married to another man."

He gave me a couple of other bits of wisdom as well. He told me, "Your pride is the most expensive thing you'll ever own" and "Never marry a woman who's smarter than you. If you do, you'll end up with a kid that's smarter than you." There was something about prostitutes being cheaper than girlfriends too but I always found that a bit crass. He also encouraged me to develop my vocabulary saying that it was useless to try to get anywhere in this world if you didn't know how to speak and write effectively.

I miss him. I miss him a lot some days. I think he's finally moved on because I haven't "heard" from him a whole lot in recent years. Some of you may write me off as a total flake at this point but almost without fail, when someone dear to me passes, they visit me shortly after their death in that half-asleep/half-awake time. It's usually before I know they're dead and they say goodbye. Dad was one of the exceptions to this rule. I stayed at my sister's house the night before we flew to Texas to begin settling his affairs.

I was sleeping on the couch with my hands clasped behind my head. I woke, and I do mean fully awake, to an enormous weight on my arms - not uncomfortable but I couldn't move them. Dad said VERY clearly in my mind, "Take care of your Mother and Sister boy" and then he was gone. The weight was gone and I was left to sob in the dark. We flew out the next morning and arrived at DFW around noon. That airport is HUGE. He, also an exception to the rule, has shown up occasionally since then with a sense of warmth, love, appreciation, and pride. I thank him out loud often still today for the things he gave me.

What we found when we arrived was startling and disturbing. He obviously hadn't planned on dying when he did. It made me consider seriously, for a long while, what my house looked like and whether or not I'd want my kids picking through it in that condition. Suffice is to say, I hope I have some notice before I go because there are some things a child needs not to do for his parent once they're gone. It took months to sift through his things and find what was important and toss the rest. There was no will so my sister and I split things 50/50. Here's an interesting kicker, he left a life insurance policy with my mother as the beneficiary. He'd sold life insurance so he knew how it worked. My only conclusion is that he did so deliberately.

I'm not one to sully the family name by posting this kind of thing. Really, that wasn't my goal. I'm proud to call him Dad and I'm proud to be his son. He wasn't the perfect Dad - he wasn't even really very good at it most of the time. I still loved him more than words can say and his words echo in my mind still today. I suppose my message is to love the people in your life and treat them as best you can. It's never wasted and you can always do more.