Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Thoughts on Marriage

Love is blind and marriage is an institution.

So this means when you get married, 
you check into an institution for the blind.

I am a married man who is anti-marriage.  Now, before my wife thinks I am going to haul her in for a surprise divorce on her upcoming birthday... No.  I love her very much and plan to grow old with her... unless she kills me first.  Rather, I make that statement based on my Libertarian philosophy, and I am anti-marriage from a government perspective.

We are culturally steeped in the idea of marriage, so I really hadn't given it much more thought than "I do" or "I don't" until recently with all the hoopla surrounding same-sex marriage.

I'm no sociologist but I know marriage has existed in various forms and for various reasons throughout human history.  Sex & procreation, a helper/cook, a protector, or to ensure the preservation of a bloodline or title, to pass along property, and so on.  The idea of love is a modern one, since many marriages have been, and still are, arranged. I'm not saying that love has never existed in nuptials, just that it has not been a primary reason for initiating wedlock in every instance or culture.

Fast-forward to today in the U.S.A., I wonder why government at any level is in the marriage business?  Licensing, sanctioning, regulating, etc.  Despite claims by some, there is no mention of a god or particular belief system in The Constitution. We are a "Christian Nation" in tradition alone. Otherwise, we are (supposed to be) secular.

In my view, marriage is a two-part process for many.  One part is religious, the part where one's chosen religion sanctions the union before God, etc.

The other part is legal, in which certain rights and privileges automatically kick in simply because one is "married."  Next of kin, survivorship, hospital visitation, decisions on life support, property, inheritance, insurance, and the list goes on and on. I'm not a lawyer, but to write those same rights into a civil contract would likely require many pages of documents, powers of attorney, notary seals, etc.  Yet simply by saying "I do" it's like finding the Golden Ticket and the rights magically disburse quicker than you can say "Habeas Corpus."  Why is this?

My version?  Any two consenting adults should be able to walk into a courthouse and fill out a simple checklist that extends some or all of the rights we typically associate with marriage. So it could be a "full marriage" or one with caveats.  Traditional marriage already does that with prenuptial agreements, so it's not without precedent.  Step in front of a notary, say vows if you wish, sign papers... boom. You're the same as what we now consider a traditional married couple.

If the religious portion is desired, then simply find a church that will perform the ceremony.  And if you're a same-sex couple, some may choose to not do so, as is their right.  With aforementioned legal papers in hand, before your god, the clergy, your family & friends, say your vows, sign your papers, notary/clergy seals it... boom. You're a married couple in the eyes of your religion, with whichever legal rights have been shared.

Complicated?  I don't think so.  Put the lawyers and legislators to work on it, it can be done.  Probably won't, but imagine... the government governing, but not forcing one person's version of morality on another. But it's not likely, because it will be spun as "taking away" or "killing" marriage.

I don't advocate this as a lesser settlement for those desiring same-sex marriage. Rather, I want to level the playing field and get the government out of the marriage business, other than issuing the documents and enforcing the contract(s).

But as I said, I don't think it's likely to happen.  Which is why I voted in favor of same-sex marriage here in Washington, which thankfully passed.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Big Brother is Watching...

Seems that almost every day lately, we hear of some new way we didn't know about in which "Big Brother" is watching us.  Take this example from The Pacific Northwest Inlander, July 23, 2013:


Rolling Surveillance

Guilty or not, law enforcement license plate readers track and compile photos of where you drive 

[Photo: Young Kwak]

A steady beeping sounds as Spokane Police Officer Dan Cole cruises down Monroe Street. Equipped with an automatic license plate reader, his patrol car snaps a photo of every vehicle he passes, recording plate numbers, times and GPS locations.
Each beep signals a new license plate being scanned and instantly checked against a statewide database of “flagged” stolen or suspect vehicles.
“I drive around all day with the beep,” Cole says, logging several thousand scans in a shift. “I don’t even notice anymore.”
Any suspicious license plates trigger an alert for the officer, but all vehicles — flagged or not — get logged into an extensive SPD database. As Cole patrols his beat, his reader compiles a sweeping snapshot of local drivers and parked vehicles along his route.
With Spokane’s infamous auto theft problems, police officials consider the plate readers an invaluable tool for recovering stolen vehicles, finding wanted suspects or gathering intelligence on criminal comings and goings.
But while local law enforcement agencies hope to expand their use of plate reader technology, the American Civil Liberties Union last week voiced new concerns about the rapid proliferation of such systems. In a new study called “You Are Being Tracked,” the ACLU warns plate readers give police an unprecedented and overly broad record of who goes where.
“Ordinary people,” the ACLU states, “going about their daily lives have every right to expect that their movements will not be logged into massive government databases.”
Within the past few years, hundreds of local, state and federal agencies have adopted plate reader technology. The Spokane Police Department and Spokane County Sheriff’s Office now run three mobile plate readers mounted to patrol cars. The scanned plate data feeds into a joint server, which both departments can search for driver and location information.
Idaho law enforcement agencies for Post Falls, Coeur d’Alene and Kootenai County also operate a joint system made up of three mobile units, as well as nine stationary plate readers fixed along Interstate 90 and other high-traffic streets.
“It’s a very beneficial program to have,” Spokane Police Cmdr. Joe Walker says. “There’s a lot of uses for it. … That’s why we’re trying to do more.”
Much of the criticism against readers stems from the broad dragnet cast as they scan vehicles. For every worthwhile “hit” on a suspicious plate, the readers scan and record thousands of other law-abiding drivers.
Every license plate scanned — hit or not — gets logged into a searchable database with a record of the time, location, plate number and a photo of the vehicle. Chances are, if you’ve driven Interstate 90 by Post Falls or passed a mobile reader in downtown Spokane, your data is in the system.
In April, a single Spokane Police plate reader scanned more than 46,900 vehicles. Records show just 310 plates registered a hit, a success rate of .66 percent. But most were false hits on bad scans or out-of-state plates with the same numbers as Washington plates on the watch list.
During a recent three-month period, Spokane Police readers scanned more than 123,400 plates, the department reports, resulting in 30 recovered stolen vehicles and three sets of stolen license plates.
Despite the minuscule hit rate, police say plate readers have accelerated stolen vehicle recovery, located dangerous suspects and cracked important cases. Patrolling officers can flag plates for vehicles of interest in local crimes. Investigators can also position readers near a crime scene to track who moves in and out of the area, gathering potentially vital intelligence.
Post Falls Police Chief Scot Haug says the readers often provide other important community searching functions — finding missing persons, scanning for Amber Alert vehicles or locating drivers with outstanding warrants.
“The technology is saving lives,” Haug says. “We have literally dozens and dozens and dozens of cases that I think would not have been solved [otherwise].”
Jamela Debelak, technology director for the ACLU of Washington, says license plate readers can serve as a legitimate law enforcement tool, but they primarily track law-abiding drivers without their knowledge. Many citizens remain unaware of the technology or its implications.
“With any type of surveillance technology, part of the problem is we don’t know about it,” she says. “If you don’t have knowledge of what the government is collecting and tracking, you’re not going to be upset.”
Debelak says massive police databases open the door for institutional abuses. Police could monitor the movements of local activists, officials or journalists, piecing together their driving routines from various reader scans. In New York City, officers reportedly patrolled around mosques to make a record of people attending services.
“Information about all of our driving habits is being stored,” she says. “If there’s no hit, there’s no reason to be storing this information on innocent drivers.”
Few states have regulations on how plate readers can be used, Debelak says. Individual agencies set policy on who can access the collected data and how long the information is kept.
Spokane agencies keep plate data for 90 days unless a specific plate is deemed significant to an ongoing case. Meanwhile, local Idaho agencies keep all plate reader data going back to the start of the program in 2007.
“We retain data indefinitely,” Haug says. “We’ve found that the data is very valuable even a year or two down the road.”
Debelak argues driver data should only be kept as long as necessary to be useful — days or weeks instead of years. Many drivers may shrug off the surveillance, thinking they have nothing to hide, but she says that doesn’t mean the information couldn’t be used against them in unforeseen ways in the future.
“In our society,” the ACLU states, “it is a core principle that the government does not invade its citizens’ privacy and store information about their innocent activities just in case they do something wrong.”
Mobile plate readers, which cost about $21,000 each, have operated locally with little complaint in recent years. Spokane Police Chief Frank Straub has praised their successes, suggesting the department may soon look to install stationary units around the city. In Post Falls, Haug calls plate readers the most important law enforcement tool since DNA testing.
Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart says he has ridden with an SPD mobile plate reader and witnessed firsthand how effective can be.
“They’re very functional,” he says. “They provide a very good service.”
Stuckart recently introduced an ordinance to require extra council review of any new police surveillance technology such as drones. He says new stationary readers would require review, but he has no problem with the current units.
Spokane Police Ombudsman Tim Burns also reported his office had not received any complaints or concerns about the local use of plate readers. He called them “amazing technology” that should be used with care.
“The big question is how is it used,” he says. “Not everybody is a criminal.” 

I didn't know our local law enforcement was using this technology. It's Orwellian, in concept and scope, for free & innocent citizens to have their movements recorded. Be aware... and wary. Your local law enforcement may be using it also. Traffic light and speed trap cameras, the NSA snooping scandal, drones overhead, Google search records opened up... now this. Where does it end? Do I think our government is out to get us?  No.  The government is ambivalent of what you do.  However, the government is made up of individuals, groups and agencies.  The majority are well-intentioned (and the road to hell is paved with good intentions.)  Some are incompetent. And a few are malevolent. Many, perhaps most, people will not care. Many are far too bothered to learn their rights, much less speak up for them. They are too worried about who wins at American Idol or when the next episode of "Honey Boo Shore" comes on...Learn to stand up for your rights, or learn to Love Big Brother! (And I don't mean the stupid TV show...)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Death (Graphic content)

Having gone through back surgery in February reminds me of my own mortality. I don't think I have "malignant necrophilia" but I do think of life and death more often these days.  (I'm not even sure that is the correct clinical term... but I did come across it a few years ago.)

Hurting sucks, my middle-aged body is breaking down. I also find that my eyes are not working as well as they once did.  I can understand how people grow weary of living, of how they're ready to move on when the time comes.  I don't intend to go anytime soon.  I love my wife, my kids, and my other relatives. I know what it feels like when someone checks out prematurely, and I love those around me enough to not hurt them in that manner. Plus, as I sometimes say, I am curious to know what happens next.

I do, however, find it a topic of my consciousness.  Not so much of "how" or "when" I will go, rather what happens to my mortal remains afterward.

My mother always used the stereotypical "pine box" statement.  When she passed, it was difficult to find one. We wound up buying a nice "oak box" for her. Wasn't cheap, but I personally don't regret what we chose. It was nice, although probably more than she would have selected.

(An aside:  One of my cousins is petrified of snakes.  After my mother's ceremony, and when I was emotionally spent, I was reluctant to leave the cemetery. As the dirt was filling the grave, my uncle tossed a dead garter snake between my cousin's legs.  He did a little dance, made a little noise, (Sorry, Bee-Gees) and nearly fell into my mother's grave. Irreverent, totally inappropriate... and funnier than shit.  I literally laughed until I cried.)

I have told my wife that I wish to be interred in the local Veteran's cemetery. Of course I have no final voice in the ultimate disposition of my remains, but I believe she'll honor my wishes.

My wife's oldest brother passed last Spring. His funeral was not fancy. And he was buried in a wonderful, handmade pine box. The ceremony was simple, and his brothers and I took turns tossing dirt into the grave. All part of the cycle, in my view.

I actually found plans online for several book cases which can be converted into coffins quite easily. I like the idea of laughing in Death's face. But of course, He will ultimately win and have the last laugh.

(Warning: From this point, my post is going to get quite graphic.)

Some Tibetans have a "Sky Funeral" in which, after a period of ritual, the body is "broken" by professionals. (Chopped up, in other words.) The body is left for vultures to devour. I personally find that elegant. It is also practical, for the mountains are rocky and burial is difficult. Cremation is also not a simple option, due to the lack of combustible material.

Hindus have their sacred Ganges River... corpses routinely float in plain sight.

Zoroastrians have "Towers of Silence" where, much like "Sky Funerals" the bodies are left as carrion for the birds.

Call me morbidly afflicted. Death is the end result of the terminal disease of life. We may practice embalming in our Western culture, deceiving ourselves into some illusion of immortality, but we are all destined to become worm food, like so much road-kill.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Headline News, Part 3 (Facepalm)

Marginally better... but not by much.

Headline News... Part 2

Really, CNN?

The bold headline screams “Crash kills more than 56”

I am sorry for the fatalities and injuries. 

But “kills more than 56?” How many? 57? 58? 92? It just seems silly to me to use a discrete quantity (56) and compose a superlative headline. (more than…)

I didn't even go to newspaper school…

And I'm going straight to hell for this... but the train mainly crashed instead of the plane in Spain?

(They'll have to use a crane to clean up the train on the plain in Spain...)

I could go on... but I think I'll just shut up like I should have before I posted this.

Why Gun Owners Are Right to Fight Against Gun Control

In April, the Senate rejected the Toomey-Manchin gun control proposal. In the wake of its defeat many asked why gun owners and their organizations resisted so limited a measure. Granted, it would have had little but symbolic benefit. Its core was to require background checks at gun shows (which Bureau of Justice Statistics concluded involved a whole 0.8 percent of crime guns) and on Internet gun sales (a miniscule proportion, most of which probably go through licensed dealers anyway). But why not accept something so modest, in light of the draconian ideas then being floated as alternatives?
Understanding the rejection requires understanding gun owners’ shared experiences. Compromise requires that both parties relinquish something. If your counterpart’s position is “give me this now, and I’ll take the rest later,” there is no real compromise to be had. Over decades, that has been precisely the experience of American gun owners.
Back in 1976, Pete Shields, chairman of what is today the Brady Campaign, candidly laid out the blueprint for The New Yorker:
We're going to have to take one step at a time, and the first step is necessarily — given the political realities — going to be very modest. Right now, though, we'd be satisfied not with half a loaf but with a slice. Our ultimate goal — total control of handguns in the United States — is going to take time. My estimate is from seven to ten years. The problem is to slow down the increasing number of handguns sold in this country. The second problem is to get them all registered. And the final problem is to make the possession of all handguns and all handgun ammunition — except for the military, policemen, licensed security guards, licensed sporting clubs, and licensed gun collectors — totally illegal.
The group’s first target was “Saturday Night Specials,” inexpensive small revolvers, alleged to be criminals’ preferred gun. When that approach gained traction, Shields shifted to a larger target, claim that criminals were now using “expensive, but small pistols,” so all small pistols had to be banned. “Concealability is the key,” he now explained.
As the years passed, it became apparent that this was going nowhere; a different first “slice” would have to be found. In 1990, Violence Policy Center (VPC) announced that it had found it. The debate must be switched from small handguns to large “assault rifles.”
Handguns, VPC explained, had become a media and political nonissue, while calls to outlaw “assault rifles” would benefit from mistaken impressions, i.e., “the public's confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons—anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun.” That rifles of all types were involved in about 300 homicides a year was beside the point. The search was for a target of opportunity, not a solution to crime.
The major gun control organizations bought the idea, to the point of changing their names to replace “handgun” with “gun.” Pete Shields’ group, Handgun Control, Inc., became the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The National Coalition to Ban Handguns became the Coalition To Stop Gun Violence.
The change underscored a lesson gun owners had already learned. Their opponents would go for any target of opportunity—if handgun restrictions didn't fly, try to restrict rifles—and use that as a foundation to take more in the future. Any “reasonable compromise” would simply be a first step in a long campaign to make firearm ownership as difficult, expensive, and legally risky as possible.
Take the example of California. There, 1920s legislation required a permit for concealed carry of a firearm, required dealers to report handgun sales to the state, and imposed a one-day waiting period for handgun sales.
The one-day wait was meant to impede “crimes of passion,” but in 1955 it was increased to three days, in 1965 to five days, and in 1975 to 10 days.
Open carry of a firearm was initially allowed. In 1967, open carrying of loaded guns was prohibited. In recent years, open carrying even of unloaded guns was forbidden in incorporated areas. The mere sight of an unloaded gun was apparently too much for the California legislature to tolerate.
In 2001, dealers were forbidden to sell handguns that were not approved by the government, after rigorous laboratory testing, funded by the manufacturer. Every slight variation, even changes in color or finish, required a new certification. The tests actually had nothing to do with reliability or safety, as evidenced by the exemption of law enforcement firearms from them.
Along the way, the state banned “assault weapons,” magazines holding more than 10 rounds, and private gun sales that didn't go through dealers. In 1999, “one gun a month” was enacted, for no discernible reason (why would a gun runner pick the most tightly regulated state in the West as his source?)
Today, the weapons regulation portion of the California Penal Code Annotated spans over 1,050 pages, yet at last count 68 more gun control measures are pending in the legislature. No matter how much the advocates of gun control get, it will never be enough
Or try New Jersey, which requires a license to own guns, plus a separate permit for each handgun. Carrying open or concealed is in practice forbidden (the legal standard for a permit is “urgent necessity”), carrying of hollow-point bullets is subject to complex rules, and magazines are limited to 15 rounds.
That’s not enough, apparently, since the New Jersey legislature is considering bills to cut the magazine limit to five rounds, and to require psychiatric evaluations and home inspections before issuance of the firearm ownership license. Recently three legislators had an embarrassing “hot mike” problem after a gun bill hearing, in which someone proclaimed, “We needed a bill that is going to confiscate, confiscate, confiscate.” 
Or try New York, long considered to have the strictest gun laws in the country, including requiring pistol possession permits (issued at the sole discretion of police, with application fees as high as $340), carry permits limited in some jurisdictions to government officials and celebrities, and a 10 round magazine limit. Then came the Newtown slayings, and the legislature decided it must do something more. The legislation it rushed through reduced the allowed magazine capacity to seven rounds (effectively outlawing the many firearms for which seven round magazines have never been made), required background checks to buy ammunition, and greatly broadened its “assault rifle ban.”
New York’s Attorney General described this as “modest first step.”
So much for compromise.

Headline News

I refuse to click on any link to a story about the new heir to the British throne.  I’m a rebel.

But a glance at CNN’s home page (and I took a screen grab because I can’t make this stuff up…) leaves one wondering.

Curious? More Famous Georges
            All we need now is the Man with the Yellow Hat and my life will be complete.

Haiku clue in Japan serial killings
            I didn't even read this one yet… I probably will… the comments alone will likely be worth it.

NSA leaker still stuck in airport
(Hopefully he doesn't have to look too far to take a leak...)

Why all the big crimes in Cleveland?
(Ummm... Because it's Hot in Cleveland?)

Another Anthony Weiner scandal
(in which Gloria Borger ponders whether he tells the whole story.  Seriously? The whole Weiner?)

But my favorite thus far today…

Flock of Seagulls find stolen van

            Yes, the group from the 80s.  Their van, their van was so far away…. But apparently the thieves got away.

I really didn't make this up...

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Who are you? I am me.

Last night, with a bit of vodka in my system, I got into a bit of a flame-war and argument on Facebook. I won’t mention names in this forum, but suffice it to say, I disagree…

Some like minds posted… but I will likely, and eternally, disagree with the others.

It all originated with a friend’s post about Alan Turing, a brilliant mind who also happened to be homosexual. He was later forced to undergo chemical castration, because homosexuality was illegal in the U.K.  He subsequently committed suicide. In other words, he was forced to wear shoes that didn't fit.

His mind is now forever silenced. How many voices and minds have succumbed to sunset… simply due to bias? How many have chosen to be subdued, for fear of being exposed as “wrong?”  How many cures for cancer, the common cold, herpes, or genital warts, have died with those voices? How many methods of transport to the stars, or new ways of viewing life, or the future… or the past?  How many?  How much?  It is a question of infinity… of which we will never know the answer. They are now forever silent.

A rising tide lifts all boats.

Was he a child raper?  I don't know. Homosexuality does not equal that, any more than my thinking black nylons on a woman's high-heeled leg is sexy or will lead me on the path of perversion. Some proclivities just are... we are more than the sum of our parts. Sometimes 2 + 2 is greater than 5. And if Alan Turing ever harmed a child, I would be elbowing you out of the way so I could stab him with a dull screwdriver.

I just know he had a brilliant mind.

First of all, as humans, what difference does it make which orifice I choose to penetrate?  Heterosexuals glorify the blowjob, some men have anal sex with their wives, yet to some, anything other than the “missionary position” is a sin, or even spilling seed onto the ground, is a sin… (Not to mention the Nair and Optometry bills….)

I don’t want to go too much into my personal sex life.  I am heterosexual, and some nights I am tired and want to sleep. I find my wife to be extremely attractive, but sometimes it is just nice to hold her, to feel that connection. Some nights she is tired too, or not well. And I hold her for comfort. Touch is healing.

Some use the book of Leviticus as justification for their bias. The same book that says eating anything without fins or scales is also an abomination. I could dissect that chapter to infinity. I love cherry pickers… it is so easy to pick them off.  (Especially with a pellet gun…)

Live and let live. You want to be gay or dwell on the island of Lesbos?  Fine. Who am I to judge? I am no greater or less than you… or anyone else.  Love yourself; treat those among you with respect.

If I am wrong, and there is a god… he or she will sort things out.  Until then…


Monday, July 22, 2013

You think the Internet is offensive? Try watching someone fist-fuck a prostitute...

Airstrip One has landed.

I want the Internet to be as raunchy as it can be.  I want to walk through the Red Light district of Amsterdam.  (I have, several times, btw... once unintentionally with my young daughter who asked "Why is that lady sitting in the window in her underwear?")

I survived. So did she.  (Although it was funny throwing lit cigarettes and money to the bums. They are quite acrobatic for disabled people...)

I want bacon, I want cigars, I want to eat things that I'm not "supposed to eat."  Give me dolphin or give me baby harp seal!

That bison steak at "Tender" in the Luxor in Vegas was pretty awesome. Although the sider-ways Wonka-vator trip back to the room left something to be desired...

(EDIT:  For anyone not familiar, "Airstrip One" is the name George Orwell gave to Great Britain in his dystopian future novel 1984. )

Royal "Who Gives a Shit?"

CNN posts in giant letters on their site “BREAKING NEWS” “ROYAL BABY ON THE WAY”





Other than hoping she, along with thousands of other mothers today, has a healthy delivery,


I did not even use the contraction “don’t” in that statement.

I suppose in the vacuum of news, of people dying in Syria, car crashes on the freeways of the U.S., poisonings in India, or just stabbing each other in the eye with pencils…

This is newsworthy?

My ancestors fought a revolution in order to NOT care about the monarchy.

CNN, please follow suit.

Atheist Discrimination

I think that atheists are discriminated against more than any other "religion" even though atheism is no more a religion than the "off" position on a TV is a channel to watch. (We don't have meetings that I know of, btw.)

I am not militant in my non-belief.  I don't preach it.  My mother and grandmother were Christians, and I love them very much, along with many other family members. I happen to believe they are all wrong in their faith, as I believe billions of others are. Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Taoists, Pagans and Wiccans... ad nauseam.  You are wrong, I am right.

Why would I knowingly believe something that I say is wrong?

Yet, somehow, declaring oneself an atheist is tantamount to eating kittens or drowning puppies. Even a Satanist believes something, I suppose. But to suspend belief and faith is sacrilege.

I don't think there will be an openly atheist member of Congress, much less President or Vice President, in my lifetime.  There are far too many sacred cows afoot.

I believe in nothing. I have not been to a church service in about 30 years. If there is a funeral I attend, I will bow my head or close my eyes and respect the prayer that may be offered. At my wedding last fall, my father-in-law gave a Catholic and Native American blessing... I was OK with that. I respect the belief.

I am simply affirming my practice with action (or lack thereof). I don't go to service for a reason. Now I am backing it up and not being a hypocrite.

I am an atheist. 

I don't eat kittens or drown puppies. In fact, I think I'm a pretty decent person... but I'll leave that for you to ascertain.

The Smell of Freedom... and the Feeling of Bugs in my Teeth

Took a trip to Walmart tonight at about 11:30 PM. Drove the speed limit on the way there, but put the window down. Felt and smelled the air along the way.  On the way back, did the same.  The air was sweet and heavy. It smelled like freedom. Drove 70 in a 45, intentionally in the left lane. (Don’t worry… it was a straight, level stretch for a mile.)  I've actually driven my car at 150 MPH top-end, on the Autobahn in Germany, and regularly at 120 - 130 MPH.  Including across Montana in 1997.

I can’t wait to ride my motorcycle again… back surgery SUCKS.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Do you live in a free country? I think not

I am a U.S. citizen.  For my entire life, I have been told that I live in a free country. “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” “The Star Spangled Banner” “America the Beautiful” etc, etc.  Those songs are propaganda.

We do not live in a truly free country.

True freedom is doing whatever you want, whenever you want, wherever you want.

Of course, part of living in a civil society means surrendering some of those rights.  (I really don’t want to run down the street covered in green Jello anyway.)  I respect your property rights, and my right to swing my fists ends at the tip of your nose.  But what is truly happening?  I sense an erosion of those rights. George Orwell’s “Big Brother” is waiting to make his entrance onto the stage.

NSA wire taps, drones, police and Federal questioning of “why you’re here?” TSA searches of grandmothers with diapers, as well as 2 year-olds.  Homeland Security (boy, does that sound Nazi-ish or what?) conducting random searches in the Southwest (NOT at border crossings, mind you.)  All violations of the 4th Amendment.

Born here or Naturalized… we all have the same rights.  Read the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution of the United States. Learn them. Live them.

Here is my encapsulated version of the Bill of Rights:

  1. Speak, listen, and read, worship if you wish… learn.
  2. Protect yourself, your family, and your community.  Live your life without fear.
  3. No military service member shall reside in your home without consent.
  4. A big one… the right to be secure in your person, possessions, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizure. That is a big one these days. Should I censor myself on the Internet, simply because it can be an enduring and somewhat public record? No, but it is not an infinite right. Because this ties in with the 1st.  I can say what I want, wherever I want… but it may be recorded if I say it openly. But the government (NSA?) should not be prying into my conversations where a reasonable expectation of privacy exists, such as the U.S. Post, e-mails, and phone calls.
  5. When questioned by the police or agents of the government, don’t talk. Ever. You will never gain an advantage. If you are charged, you can state your case in court. But don’t volunteer evidence. I worked for the Census Bureau in 2010, and I now understand this even better. The anti-Federal “kooks” have a point.  And don’t even get me started on how, once acquitted, one can be charged for civil rights violations, or sued in civil court.  (aka, George Zimmerman case)  We’re not supposed to have double jeopardy, yet he potentially faces triple jeopardy.
  6. The right to a speedy trial by jury with counsel. Not by the Pope, the King, or the local magistrate. It is not perfect… but it is better than a single person’s bias or hidden agenda.
  7. Another right to due process, although I do find it amusing that the Fathers codified $20 into The Constitution.  Hell, I drop that into a slot machine without a second thought.  I assume none of them were economists.
  8. Excessive bail and “cruel and unusual punishment.” We may wish for vengeance, to impose suffering on the guilty, but our system is imperfect.  We must rise above our primal desire for revenge, and strive for justice.
  9. The 9th does not deny rights to the people just because something is spelled out in The Constitution. Remember that.
  10. And this is one of the most beautifully ambiguous of the Bill of Rights, and is worth quoting “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.”  If it ain’t in The Constitution, from where does the Federal Government derive its power? Power flows UP from the people, not DOWN from the tyrants those in power.
Our public schools no longer teach civics and rights… “No Child Left Behind” seems to have left our society behind.  It is now incumbent on us to ensure the mantle of freedom is passed to succeeding generations… otherwise the words of Benjamin Franklin are prophetic:

The story goes that as Benjamin Franklin emerged from Independence Hall at the close of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on September 18, 1787, a woman asked him, “Well Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?”.

Mr. Franklin replied, “A republic, madam – if you can keep it.”

I intend to keep it.

Less than an ant

As you may surmise by my earlier post regarding Carl Sagan's "Pale Blue Dot" and his eloquent comments, I am fascinated by the size of the Universe.  It is simultaneously humbling, yet gratifying, attempting to comprehend the vastness. We are physically less than an ant pondering a continent, were the insect cognizant to do so, yet our minds are almost vast enough to encompass the whole.

A galaxy is an enormous, yet small part, of the entire Universe. Here are a few representations of a smidgen from our part of the seemingly infinite whole.

(click on each image if you wish to see a larger version)

There are a number of videos on YouTube illustrating this as well. This is a good one, but feel free to search. The term "star size comparison" will get you several hits.  I personally never grow tired of watching them.

"Stand under the stars and say what you like to them.  Praise or blame them, question them, pray to them, wish upon them.  The universe will not answer.  But it will have spoken."
-- Timothy Ferris

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Apollo 11 anniversary

Today, July 20th,  is the 44th anniversary of Neil & Buzz first walking on the moon.

I’ve been following NASA and the U.S. Space Program for as long as I can remember. I still recall some of the grainy video of a few Apollo missions in the early 70s. I don’t remember exactly which missions, but the experience made an impression on me, even as a child.

I vividly recall the Apollo-Soyuz link up, and Skylab in the 1970s.  I remember the Viking missions to Mars in the U.S. Bicentennial year of 1976, and wondering if they’d find any evidence of life.  The Voyager 1 & 2 missions captivated me, and I eagerly awaited each of the “next stops” on their grand tour of the outer planets.  Later, I watched the prototype space shuttle Enterprise being released for glide and landing tests, and finally, the maiden launch of the Columbia in 1981. I was in Florida for the maiden voyage of the Challenger in April, 1983 and still get goose bumps when I think of how that felt from miles away… the physical rumble and sound, the power, majesty, and the visual of the craft emerging from the cloud of smoke, riding atop a column of flame into the heavens.

And, of course, I remember the heartbreak of losing the Challenger and later the Columbia, along with their intrepid crews.

So I’m a big fan of space exploration.

Recently, I watched a series of shows called Mars Rising on The Science Channel about a manned mission to Mars.  It goes into detail about a human mission to Mars, the engineering challenges, the dangers, as well as the psychological and physiological issues the voyagers will face.

Of course the timetable might shift beyond 2030, but I can’t help thinking that maybe we’ll just be throwing things and people up into the sky with no long-term plan, much like the Apollo moon missions. As awesome as they were, it was a contest in which the public eventually lost interest.

I think we need to seriously rethink this.  We should be planning for Mars, but first I believe we need to establish a permanent presence on the moon. We should pick up where we left off with Apollo 17 in 1972. We can learn how to live on another body, protecting ourselves from cosmic radiation, all the while learning to build and function in that hostile environment. Once we have a reasonable mastery of that, then we begin building a Mars craft in lunar orbit, and eventually make the leap to the red planet.

Perhaps someone is already thinking like this, but I have heard little of it.

I want each of our future steps into the cosmos to be firm and permanent, not like the lost colony of Roanoke Island where we are left scratching our heads and wondering what went wrong…

E-mail subscriptions

I've just added the e-mail widget via Google's Feedburner, so now anyone who is interested should be able to subscribe to this blog. Type your e-mail address in the upper right form, and it will send you a verification message with a link to click and complete the activation. It will only e-mail you if there is an update to the blog, so there should be no spam.

Hope you enjoy my random musings!

Think you're not going anywhere in life? Think again.

I was just pondering the “solid” ground on which I stand, even though I know the North American tectonic plate is moving at 1 – 2 centimeters per year.

But wait… that’s not all. (Tell them what they've won, Johnny!)

At any given moment, you are traveling approximately 1,000 miles per hour. That is the speed of Earth’s rotation on axis at the equator, although it decreases the closer you get to the poles. That velocity is what makes our sun seem to rise and set.

If that’s not vomit inducing enough for you, think of the following:

Earth moves around the sun at a speed of approximately 67,000 miles per hour. That makes our calendar year.

The sun, in the outer arms of the Milky Way galaxy, travels about the galactic center at approximately 483,000 miles per hour. At this velocity, one galactic “year” equals 225,000,000 earth years.

And the Milky Way is traveling through space-time at an estimated 1,300,000 miles per hour.

Stand on the solid ground… look at your feet… ponder where you are going. What a ride we are all on.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Why the Gun is Civilization.

Human beings only have two ways to deal with one another: reason and force. If you want me to do something for you, you have a choice of either convincing me via argument, or force me to do your bidding under threat of force. Every human interaction falls into one of those two categories, without exception. Reason or force, that’s it.
In a truly moral and civilized society, people exclusively interact through persuasion. Force has no place as a valid method of social interaction, and the only thing that removes force from the menu is the personal firearm, as paradoxical as it may sound to some.
When I carry a gun, you cannot deal with me by force. You have to use reason and try to persuade me, because I have a way to negate your threat or employment of force. The gun is the only personal weapon that puts a 100-pound woman on equal footing with a 220-pound mugger, a 75-year old retiree on equal footing with a 19-year old gangbanger, and a single gay guy on equal footing with a carload of drunk guys with baseball bats. The gun removes the disparity in physical strength, size, or numbers between a potential attacker and a defender.
There are plenty of people who consider the gun as the source of bad force equations. These are the people who think that we’d be more civilized if all guns were removed from society, because a firearm makes it easier for a mugger to do his job. That, of course, is only true if the mugger’s potential victims are mostly disarmed either by choice or by legislative fiat–it has no validity when most of a mugger’s potential marks are armed. People who argue for the banning of arms ask for automatic rule by the young, the strong, and the many, and that’s the exact opposite of a civilized society. A mugger, even an armed one, can only make a successful living in a society where the state has granted him a force monopoly.
Then there’s the argument that the gun makes confrontations lethal that otherwise would only result in injury. This argument is fallacious in several ways. Without guns involved, confrontations are won by the physically superior party inflicting overwhelming injury on the loser. People who think that fists, bats, sticks, or stones don’t constitute lethal force watch too much TV, where people take beatings and come out of it with a bloody lip at worst. The fact that the gun makes lethal force easier works solely in favor of the weaker defender, not the stronger attacker. If both are armed, the field is level. The gun is the only weapon that’s as lethal in the hands of an octogenarian as it is in the hands of a weightlifter. It simply wouldn't work as well as a force equalizer if it wasn’t both lethal and easily employable.
When I carry a gun, I don’t do so because I am looking for a fight, but because I’m looking to be left alone. The gun at my side means that I cannot be forced, only persuaded. I don’t carry it because I’m afraid, but because it enables me to be unafraid. It doesn't limit the actions of those who would interact with me through reason, only the actions of those who would do so by force. It removes force from the equation…and that’s why carrying a gun is a civilized act.
-- Marko Kloos, 3/23/2007

My Inspiration for the Title of This Blog:

The Pale Blue Dot is a photograph of planet Earth taken in 1990 by the Voyager 1 spacecraft from a record distance of about 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles) from Earth, as part of the solar system Family Portrait series of images. In the photograph, Earth is shown as a tiny dot (0.12 pixel in size) against the vastness of space.

"The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it's different. Consider again that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam."

—Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, 1997

Monday, July 15, 2013

In the Beginning...

So I just began this blog. Nothing special, just random thoughts. I wanted to go back to MySpace (gasp) and retrieve a few posts I did there "back in the day" and transfer them over to this blog.

No dice.  MySpace has recently chosen to alienate the last 12 users they apparently still have by archiving or deleting their blogs, comments, etc.  To me, it's not worth getting out the pitchforks and torches, but it just shows how the mighty can fall. (Hear that, Facebook?) Maybe I'll get those few posts back, maybe not. But there are some people who had posts from while they traveled, or while going through a tough time in life, or maybe even comments from a deceased friend or relative.

No warning. No advice to backup.  Gone.  Of course everything on the 'net is permanent, while simultaneously ethereal.

Well, at least Jesus didn't lose anything from his MySpace account, because as we're constantly reminded... Jesus saves!