Sunday, October 2, 2005

Truth, Justice and the American Way

I just finished reading a story. Well ok I’ll admit it- a comic book – a Superman comic book. It was published in January of 2001, well before the events of 9/11 that fundamentally changed the United States of America.

Superman has always been a fighter for good. Unlike many superheroes like Batman, Wolverine and other vigilantes, he has always tried to work within the system and not around it. He has been called a “boy scout” and unrealistic because of this, but its one of the things I most respect about the character. From the beginning Superman has been one of, if not the most powerful beings on his Earth. He chose not to use that power to enforce HIS will upon people; he chose to use it to serve the people and THEIR will.

The saying goes,”absolute power corrupts absolutely.” In Superman we have a character that defies this truism and instead voluntarily limits himself to be ruled by the will of the people (the government of the US.) Instead of hunting down Lex Luthor and tossing him out into space once and for all, he lets our system of justice rule the day. Does Luthor keep coming back? Yes. And Superman keeps bringing him to justice. Is it hard to keep fighting the bad guys day after day when you could just end it? I’m sure it is.

Being the good guy is hard. You have to follow rules, you have to listen to other people’s opinions, and you have to lose sometimes even when you know you could have won by cheating or looking the other way just this once. If being good was easy; everybody would be wearing a white hat. The guys wearing the black hats have more fun. They get to do whatever they want. They don’t like the way you look they kill you. They want your car? They take it and you are lucky they didn’t kill you. They don’t care. They just do. They feel they have the right to do anything they can get away with.

Since 9/11 the United States has slowly been losing its iconic white hat. We used to be kind of the Superman of the world at least symbolically, and now we are turning into a vigilante at best, the evil black hat at worst. I’m not na├»ve. I know that the U.S. government has always done things that are not 100% above board and law abiding. But it used to be that the government would have to hide the extraordinary rendition, the illegal wire tapping or the unlimited detainment of people under a haze of plausible deniability. If they didn’t the People would rise up, expose the problems and they would have to at least release some people or stop some project or another. I guess what I mean to say when someone ferreted out that the government was breaking the law – we the People had some recourse to stop it. Now, the government pretty much just DOES stuff and if they get caught they say “So What?”

I liked the fact that we were Superman, and I think we are in danger of going past the point where we can never get out white hat back again.

Sunday, April 3, 2005

Organized Religion is Not for Me

Religion is a personal thing for me, and I think, many others around the country. We are the people that check the “other” box in surveys. We’re not Christians or Jews, Muslims or Hindus, for that matter we’re not even Wiccans or Mormons. We don’t go to church but we believe in God or at least a Supreme Being or Beings. Some of us like to discuss religion in an attempt to understand what compels people to gather together and celebrate their beliefs in a group. Is it the need to reassure themselves that they are following the “Right” God? Is it the need that almost all people have to form a community of like-minded individuals? What drives their belief in the same aspect of a Supreme Being? I am one of those that would like to have a serious discussion with religious folks about their religion.

Unfortunately, religion has always been one of those topics that are difficult to have a real discussion about without falling into an argument. This seems to have gotten worse in the last few years. The religious fundamentalists have always seemed to ally themselves with the most conservative politicians in our country, for obvious reasons I suppose. Both groups dislike change and are generally representative of the less tolerant members of our society. This alliance has emboldened both parties and allowed them to exert influence out of proportion to the members of each group. These groups have worked together to make it tantamount to political suicide to not be an overtly religious person (of the Judeo-Christian religion of your choice). And if you disagree with the government wearing the Christian religion on its sleeve, then you hate God right? Or you are prosecuting a “War on Christianity.” It is the same method the Right uses to shore up support for its political policies: “Why do the liberals hate America?” Both methods use the easiest method of persuasion; they twist people into believing that everything is an “us against them” proposition.

Organized religion, especially Christianity, seems to be uniquely suited to this proposition. The very foundation of most Christian sects is that the word of God comes to them through the Bible and one of the most important parts of the Bible is the Ten Commandments where God says, “thou shalt not have strange gods before Me.” This is not exactly a tolerant attitude. If you combine it with the proselytizing that seems to be a part of most Christian religions, then it can easily be warped into the attitude that anyone that doesn’t accept their version of religion is the enemy. This is not reflective of the majority of religious people but it seems that a frighteningly large number of the more fanatically bent “people of faith” are drawn to these types of religious sects.

It may be unfair to dismiss organized religion based on a small subset, but the influence that these fanatical people exert paints all similar religions with the same brush. If the more moderate and reasonable sects of a religion don’t want to be lumped into the extremist category of their more fanatical relations then they should make an effort to distance themselves from them. Just as Christian religious leaders call upon moderate Muslims to denounce the terrorist acts of their extremist sects , it’s only fair if other people can call upon the moderate Christians to denounce the extremist Christians.

Where I live (Seattle, WA) there are many churches that do good charity work. They save lives by hosting and feeding the homeless; they raise money for disaster relief and host informative forums about political and social issues affecting the area. They do good work and are an asset to the community. But I also feel that I live in an area that is not dominated by extremist sect. We don’t have an aggressive push for prayer in our schools, or at public events. We don’t have churches calling for rewriting science textbooks to include creationism or push for banning books.

Other areas of the country aren’t so lucky. They have churches pushing their Christian agendas on the secular arena. They use their influence to push values that they believe in on the general public that may not believe in them. If the more moderate sects don’t believe that this is right, why don’t they speak out against it? Why don’t they use their status as religious leaders to call for a more tolerant attitude from these more fanatical sects?

I don’t know why. Some kind of religious politics I suppose, maybe someday someone will explain this to me. But until then, this will be one of the reasons that organized religions don’t appeal to me. It seems hypocritical to be for tolerance but not speak out against intolerance in other sects of the same religion. It is a failure of sorts and one that has a profound effect on the country. Until I see some organized religion that is willing to stand up to the fanatics, especially those in their sects, organized religions will be forever lumped into the category “watch – may be dangerous.”

The First Amendment to our Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” to my mind this reflects the intent that government should stay our of religion and religion should stay out of government. Organized religions don’t seem to be able to grasp this concept.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Since When Was The United States Founded On "In God We Trust"

Joe Scarborough is apparently doing a series on the topic:

If America was founded on the words “in God we trust", Joe asks "Why are so many liberal elites so against religion?"

(The current MSNBC page doesn’t have this ad but this cashed one does.)

Well, first lets ignore the inaccurate statement about liberal. Since when was our country founded on ‘In God We Trust’? That particular phrase on our money dates back to 1864 over 80 years after the founding of our country. The phrase was invented at this time to be used instead of the "Our Country; Our God" or "God, Our Trust"

The Constitution of the United States nor its predecessor the Articles of Confederation do not mention God a single time (the latter is dated “In the Year of Our Lord”, a convention at the time) so where do people get the idea that the United States was founded on Christian values? If Christian values were so important to the Founding Fathers you would think they would have codified the 10 Commandments into the Constitution instead of the First Amendment that reads, “Congress will make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”

To my mind the Bill of Rights exemplifies the founding principles of the United States of America. A lot of thought and debate went into their writing. It wasn’t just slapped down in the spur of the moment. The Constitution laid down how our government was supposed to work; the Bill of Rights laid down the core principles that concerned the Founding Fathers so much they had to be explicitly delineated.

Where is the mention of Christian Values, or for that matter where are the values delineated in the Bill of Rights mentioned in the Bible? I’m no Biblical scholar, but freedom of religion seems to go against the 10 Commandments. The first Commandment says (depending on translation) “I am the Lord Thy God; thou shalt not have strange gods before Me.” Not exactly religious tolerance.

I’m not knocking Christianity I’m just saying that our country wasn’t founded on Christian principles. Our country was founded on the principles of the Enlightenment a radical school of thought brought forth for the first time that the power of government should come FROM the people not be imposed UPON the people.

Send Joe Scarborough (joe@msnbc.com) a letter telling him he really needs stop spouting misinformation.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Shotgun Flamethrowers Oh Boy!

Here's a quick quiz...

Which of the following types of ammunition are illegal in every state in the U.S. (the answers are below the cut):

A) Armor Piercing
B) Incendiary
C) Flamethrower shotgun shells
D) None of the above

Trick question...all of them are legal in most states.

A) Armor Piercing - The technical definition of Armor Piercing is :

18 USC Section 921(a)(17)(B), the term “armor piercing ammunition” means:

1. A projectile or projectile core which may be used in a handgun and which is constructed entirely (excluding the presence of traces of other substances) from one or a combination of tungsten alloys, steel, iron, brass, bronze, beryllium copper, or depleted uranium; or

2. A full jacketed projectile larger than .22 caliber designed and intended for use in a handgun and whose jacket has a weight of more than 25 percent of the total weight of the projectile.

However I think the definition should be anything that can penetrate the average police issue bullet proof vest. That said, I guess most rifle and many shot gun ammunition just inherently penetrates bullet proof vests and we shouldn't outlaw all of these bullets because that would unfairly affect hunters and sport shooters.

BUT, I think that any ammunition made for the purpose of penetrating body armor should NOT be sold to civilians. EVER. For example these .50 cal military surplus bullets.

B) Incendiary - These bullets are designed to start fires. A quick Google search turned up:

This site and this auction site which boasts this ammo was tested by police in Florida and "one round shot through the windshield to the interior of a car ignited the car on fire and burnt it to the ground". Is there any reason at all for civilians to own this!?

C) Flamethrower shotgun shells (down at the middle of the page) apparently can't be shipped to California, Florida, Iowa or New York City addresses; what a relief....NOT!

Now I think that people should be allowed to own guns for hunting/sports and self defense. But these ammunitions have two purposes - playing around and criminal. The playing around purpose doesn't override the possible criminal uses. These type of bullets should be banned

Tuesday, March 8, 2005

I'm Back!

Ah... it has been a long time since I have updated Turpentine (Note: my old blog) and lots of things have happened since. So to bring everybody up to date:

In mid-October 2004 I was diagnosed with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome so I was forced to give up much of my typing and since I have to do some at work...this blog had to suffer.

In early November 2004 - Bush was declared the winner of an election that had MORE irregularities than the last one he was declared the winner of in 2000. Not to mince words - this fucking depressed the hell out of me. To compound my depression Kerry basically gave up without a fight. He reneged on his promise to make sure every vote was counted; he really screwed the folks in Ohio.

This depression/funk lasted through Retail HELL Season (Christmas) when we store owner work 7 days a week 12 hour days, and towards the New Year when we STILL didn't have a governor here in Washington.

Then Christine Gregoire (D) was determined to have won the election for Governor by less than 150 votes after 3 counts. This gave me some hope for the future of Washington even though this result is still being disputed by the Republicans. In some of the thickest political irony I've ever seen they want to have a REVOTE. Can you see the bloody murder they would be screaming if the Democrats had suggested such a think if Rossi had won? (Not to mention Bush.)

But what finally snapped me out of my funk was Howard Dean being elected to the chair of the DNC. Now I have hope that the Democratic Party is not going to swerve to the Right to try and get votes from people that will never vote for them anyway. I think that I would rather have us fail and be true to our values and ideas than try to squirm and weasel our way into victory.

Coincidentally, my carpal tunnel symptoms seem to have lessened so I can type now. I even got another letter to the editor published in the Seattle PI, this one about how the Republicans are trying to twist FDRs words into an endorsement for their "private/personal" Social Security accounts. The letter I was responding to is here.

Thanks for stopping by...see ya soon.

Scott