Tuesday, October 17, 2006

"So this is how liberty dies..."

It may have been uttered by a fictional character, but the words ring loudly and the impact of that moment bears tremendous similarity to the reality of the previous passage of the USA PATRIOT Act and now the Military Commissions Act.

A common catchphrase in the United States has revolved around the idea that if we do nothing, 'the Terrorists have already won.' Meant to reinforce Edmund Burke's comment that "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing," the phrase has taken on new and muddled life.

In standard parlance, it actually means that we cannot allow the terrorists to get away with anything, and that any and all sacrifices made to enable that are acceptable. Oddly, this is in direct contrast to another laudable historical thinker - Benjamin Franklin - who said, "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.*"

America is experiencing an identity crisis directly tied to its leadership. For generations we have billed ourselves and believed ourselves to be the greatest bastion of liberty and justice in the world. Indeed, we prided ourselves on our tolerance, on our willingness to allow the guilty to go free in order that the innocent escape state injustice, on our position as the fulcrum on which the free world moved.

Certainly some of our previous wonder was hubris and myopia, and perhaps that is the root cause of our current problems, but the fact is that the United States is on a downward ethical slide and we can't find the brakes.

A smile crinkles his eyes every time Bush tries to say soberly, "I am doing this to protect the American people," and all the while he slowly strips away civil liberties and fundamental American freedoms in the name of security and safety. I talk to people daily who agree with not only his goals but his methods.

Perhaps the greatest irony is the comment Bush made, "We will answer brutal murder with patient justice."

This new Act strips rights from people previously protected by the Constitution. The Constitution of the United States has always implicitly protected all people coming into contact with the US legal system, polity or territory outside of military considerations. Now however, we eschew the previous American justice where people are innocent until proven guilty for something more strikingly Mosaic or Hammurabic. We will extract our justice (i.e. vengeance) in blood and oppression.

We can now skirt the Geneva Convention, the US Constitution, and common decency such as it is, to torture - I mean, coerce - testimony from a prisoner. We deny them the right to challenge their detention legally. We have fundamentally changed American justice and what it stands for.

No more is America the Land of the Free or the Home of the Brave. We have become shackled cowards who fail to realize that the terrorists won when we changed our way of life and altered our legal system to become more like them.

I can only pray this measure comes before the Supreme Court to be struck down as unconstitutional.

* Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

This one time, at Jesus Camp...

Watch this. Jesus Camp.

Now, I have yet to see this film, so I'll deal more with some of the themes it touches on rather than comment on the film itself. But just the trailer there raises some interesting and important subjects.

Two things stand out in particular: "We pledge allegiance to the Christian Flag..." and the images of the children in camouflage, with painted faces, acting like warriors.

Having been involved (still am, on the surface) in a religious organization regarded by many as fundamentalist itself, I've seen this behavior and dogmatic reinforcement at work first hand. Christian churches of the fundamentalist sort enjoy seeing themselves as under siege morally, ethically, and culturally. It provides them ammunition of the sort enjoyed by martyrs, victims of genocide, and paints them a world of moral superiority for their reviled yet righteous ways. They view themselves unapologetically as the last bastion of righteousness in the world, beset on all sides by agents of the Devil bent on tearing down the Kingdom of God and dragging every last soul kicking and screaming into Hell.

Because the stakes are so high, they must bring their message of hope and salvation to the world or God will hold them accountable for doing nothing in the face of wickedness. In some cases, rejection of the message is accepted though not understood. In others, it is met with vitriol or violence. They cannot conceive of a paradigm where Christ could be rejected.

This mentality of "Us vs. the World" leads to some interesting evolutions of thought and practice. The construction of a monolithic and near unassailable enemy mandates not just the ally that is God, but unwavering loyalty and a separation from that which may corrupt. If it makes you uncomfortable or is not explicitly about Jesus Christ, it is of the Devil.

The problem comes, in large part, when the reality of the world crashes through the front door and these people realize that their comfort zones are defined in large part by homogeneity. Things that are different make them uncomfortable and sometimes include ideas that aren't necessarily at home with the Bible. Suddenly these things that were otherwise innocuous or that may have had the potential to educate and enlighten are evil. Evil they must be, but they are also enticing to the children.

The only way to protect the children, in their innocence and inability to discern the wiles of the Devil, is to indoctrinate them young. Surround them with Jesus, teach them about Jesus, tell them that those who do not believe in Jesus are going to Hell. Tell them at their very lives and souls are on the line, that it is a war and that they are its most vital and powerful soldiers, and tell them that those who oppose them are in league with the Devil. They are evil and if they cannot see the error of their ways, they will be as dry wheat before a raging firestorm.

The End is coming and if you are not with Jesus, you are against Him.

THIS is what frightens and disturbs the rest of us. In our own backyards, neighborhoods, boardrooms and coffee shops there are people who are so opposed to any lifestyle that eschews Jesus Christ that they are bringing up their children to believe they must be Warriors for God, that the only way to deal with the heretics and infidels is through conversion or violence...violence sanctioned by God.

This is about fundamentally remaking American society in the image of the Evangelical. They don't want to share the world with the rest of us. Like the old saying went: "Make the world England." So it is that the Evangelical Christian bloc moves to make the world Christian.

Everyone wants to be able to identify with other people, to see in them pieces of ourselves and know that they aren't that different from us. In and of itself, this is healthy and normal. We select, group, sort and judge in order to facilitate every aspect of our lives. But what happens when we decide that it isn't good enough to try to find like-mindedness amongst the selection and that we simply want to do away with all choices but one? What happens when we value everything different as 'bad?'

We can all look at ideologies opposed to our own and see where they fail in their own doctrine, but it is far more difficult to look at ourselves. Just as this camp continually claims persecution for its ideas, it wants nothing more than to persecute others for theirs. The America they wish to build has no room in it for the rest of us, and in time they would find that it would selectively exclude some of the prior faithful as well, until true homogeneity had been achieved or the entire structure collapsed in on itself.

Perhaps someday their children will begin to think and question in spite of their indoctrination to do no such thing, and perhaps it is in those children that America will find it's true saviors.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Mormon Women

I haven't posted for a while. I blame school. I've been going for a very long time and I was finishing up some classes that gave me fits. Anyway, that's over and hopefully now I can vent my spleen with the best of them.

I decided recently to begin cataloguing my issues with my childhood religion and began with an issue that bothers me significantly: Cain and Abel. I acknowledge that my issues with this tale are rather pedestrian and unsophisticated, but it seemed as good a place as any, since tackling Creation, Evolution and Intelligent Design is being handled in such wonderful overabundance these days. In the course of it I was distracted by tales of Lilith.

Tales of Lilith, Adam and Eve (there were two?!) turned to discussions on obedience which turned to my recent discovery of New Order Mormon, Zarahemla City Limits, and other sites. While I could easily become distracted again with the overwhelming amount of information and topics that spill out of this line of inquiry, these sites in conjunction with my reading about obedience in the church reminded me of a General Conference talk given a few years ago that appalled me and that caused my wife and I to mock it rather relentlessly.

A Woman of Faith is a shocking opus to the role women play in the LDS church and the degree of indoctrination that permeates the fabric of the religion concerning the expectations of women. I don't believe the link contains the entirety of the talk, as I remember it being longer, but there are no notations that it was abridged, so I'll assume it is complete.

In this admonition to set aside all aspirations of independence, free-will, and equality, we see illustrated the utter contempt some Mormon women have for themselves. I won't break it down point by point, but let you read it and decide for yourself what you take from each bullet point and her illustration of what a Woman of Faith ought to be. What I will do is describe what my wife and I took from the talk.

In it, the speaker describes a woman who is able to put herself after God, after her husband, after her children, and after her social obligations. She trusts God, the prophet, her husband's counsel. In more than one spot, a Woman of Faith is described through her relation to and trust in, the male participants in her life. In almost no written exemplar of masculinity is a man defined by his relation to a woman of any sort. Here, a woman is defined almost solely by her male-prescribed role.

But more than that, more than her utter reliance on the Lord to give her life meaning and more than her life revolving around the utter selfishness of total self-sacrifice is the general message (in spite of several comments to the contrary) that a Woman of Faith is perfect. She does all the right things, prays at the right time and for the right reasons, never loses faith, never makes waves, and glories in her servitude. She is the unattainable, the unfathomable, the unbelievable.

A Woman of Faith is an ideal that makes the fallible women the talk is targeted at feel an overwhelming sense of guilt when they comprehend they are not that woman. No one can be, yet to be a Woman of Faith the highest ideals of the religion must be realized. Self is relegated to a position of unimportance or at least delay as service consumes all. A Woman of Faith is unrealistic, yet set as the standard rather than the ideal.

I'm certain the speaker didn't intend that message. I'm certain she felt that the image she presented was one of the ideal to aspire to, yet the presentation was such that I wasn't the only one to come away from it utterly aghast. My wife only owned up to feeling the same way after an offhand comment I made about Women of Faith being perfect. Perfectly stupid.

As a standard, a Woman of Faith fails. She represents an idealized and pedestal-bound painting, perfect in its execution and humble in its artistry. She never steps outside her authorized territory - never threatens the status quo. She is happy to take patriarchal orders and exercise the little power she has through the moral authority she is automatically granted by virtue of her sex, deserving or not.

In all, a Woman of Faith is complicit in the subjugation of women in the church. By subordinating her will to that of the male authority in the organization, she not only allows control, but glorifies her secondary position to the extent that to oppose it is to oppose virtue and goodness. From within the context of the faithful, the idea is nearly unassailable.

Anyway, I've ranted enough for now. Suffice to say that we use the term Woman of Faith as a humorous derogatory in my house. It's for the Super Soccer Moms, the women that don't exist or that are not-so-secretly dysfunctional and unable or unwilling to cry out for help. Whenever my wife says she's having stress or trouble dealing with the issues in her life, I tell her, "Honey, if you were only a Woman of Faith, you'd have no problems you know." It usually gets a laugh.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Flaming Lips

So the day after posting that last bit about the flag-burning, I heard an interview with Orrin Hatch, sponsor of the bill.

There are two things that illuminate this issue more than any other. I'm going to have to paraphrase.

The first thing he said that seemed completely nonsensical was that no one could possibly be against anti-flag-burning measures. If I remember the comments correctly, he said of the bill, "Who could be against that?"

I can only assume he's willfully ignoring the fact that since it has yet to pass the Senate, people obviously have their reasons. I outlined several of mine previously, but let's again not forget the First Amendment and that people may wish to express themselves differently than he does.

The second thing he said was far more illuminating: Hatch said he felt the Supreme Court was thumbing its nose at Congress and the will of the people and that they had no business in the crafting of law.

I am boggled.

The whole point of the Supreme Court on a macro level is to provide a counter to the power of the President and Congress. Certainly the Court doesn't actually draft law, but they are fully within their purview to denounce, validate or otherwise pass judgment on laws that come into question before them. Their job is to interpret law and even to reject law if it is found to be incompatible with the ideals of our civil justice system.

But I'm sure he actually knows this and is seeking to appeal to the stupid or the uneducated.

Ultimately, I came away with a realization that this has nothing to do with the will of the people, this is internecine squabbling of the calibre my pre-teen children engage in. This is about bullying and hurt feelings and other things that should have no place in government (yet sadly do).

Grow up, Hatch.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Burn, Baby! Burn!

Once more, Congress has decided to spend their time trying to pass an amendment to ban flag-burning, or in point of fact, desecration of any sort.

I'll let that sink in.

The key word here is Amendment. The Constitution of the country is the foundation of its legal and political frameworks. As such it provides a baseline for law, national ethics and values. Coupled with the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments), the document defines how the United States approaches law through the implementation of community standard (majority rule) and its coupling with protection for the rights of minority groups. Since its inception, amendments have been made with the intention of being so sweeping they represented the will of the nation to a degree that should be unassailable by special interests.

It hasn't been all shining moments and progressive lawmaking (see the amendments on prohibition for our case in point), but that only drives my irritation home further.

The 11th Amendment restricted Judiciary power. The 12th established the Electoral College.

The 13th and 14th Amendment freed the slaves and guaranteed them rights and citizenship and the 15th Amendment circumvented popular interpretation of some wording in the Constitution to ensure them the vote.

The 16th Amendment clarified income taxation. The 17th removed the appointment of Senators and made them subject to popular vote. The 18th and 21st Amendments are the aforementioned Prohibition Amendments and we'd all do well to forget that travesty of lawmaking. The 19th Amendment did for women what the 15th was supposed to do for the ex-slave population. The 20th limits the damage an outgoing President and other lawmakers can do. The 22nd Amendment limits Presidential terms. The 23rd Amendment gave D.C. residents the ability to vote, which they had not had previously. The 24th Amendment removed the polling tax, allowing more access to the vote. The 25th Amendment clarified succession to the Presidency. The 26th Amendment lowered the voting aget to 18. Finally, the 27th Amendment modified the way Congress votes itself raises.

At least 9 of the post Bill of Rights Amendments deal directly or indirectly with voting. Others with distribution of power, taxation, and corruption. These are all vital and important issues dealing with some of the fundamentals that affect the functioning of the republic.

Yet...Congress now wants to rehash ground not dissimilar to that traversed by the 18th through the imposition of a law desired by a select group of special interests that trample freedoms established through previous articles, namely the first.

The proposed 28th Amendment reads: The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.

First, like so many items championed by the great United States Congress, the verbiage here is profoundly vague. This is, no doubt, intentional. Just as the open nature of the 1st Amendment allows a broad reading for its interpretation, this proposed amendment will be similarly sweeping if it ever passes.

The definition of desecration includes disrespect and as such, limits freedom of speech in ways no other censor has managed. Granted, the verbiage utilizes the word physical which limits its scope somewhat, however, the generalized nature of the declaration allows for punitive action through legislation and judicial challenge.

Here's the real thrust of my objection, though:

The flag is...well, a flag. It's cloth. It is certainly symbolic of the United States and of the values and ethics it espouses, but in the end, it is just a tapestry of iconography. It is not mystically powerful nor is it a housing for the soul of the nation. It is, and only is, a standard to be waved over national assets and holdings.

I don't think those that wish to obstruct the mistreatment of the flag realize that they are empowering those they're trying so hard to neuter. By imparting inflated relevance to Old Glory, they inadvertently supply their detractors with significant power. If it is as important as they say, then those who burn it accomplish more than protest, they achieve an emotional and ideological victory through their public destruction, indeed their public desecration, of the flag. By supplying them with the means to inflict ideological trauma, they will use it.

Contrast this: by never legislating a change to the ability to destroy the flag in protest, lawmakers and U.S. citizens retain the ability to snort in derision or indifference and move on with their lives, removing a significant portion of the ideological power breaking the law would have in a situation like this. Unlegislated, the imagery of foreign nationals burning the flag is incendiary (no pun intended) but not aggressive. Aggression manifests when such protests breach legal boundaries other than those governing open fires within city limits.

Ultimately, this movement is a waste of time, energy and focus. Legislators need to concentrate on vital and important issues like our eroding freedoms under the U.S.A.P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act or our civil and human rights record in relation to Guantanamo Bay or our farce of an educational system.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

My Lai Redux

Haditha Massacre

I really, honestly hope it isn't what it looks like. I hope this character assessment is more accurate and that something else happened here, but I'm losing that hope rapidly.

But what this conflict showcases for the United States is something it doesn't want to face up to. The US doesn't want to acknowledge that it's lost the moral authority to intervene in the world's problems anymore and worse, it doesn't want to acknowledge that the blame is squarely with the policy makers and I'll tell you why: Those guys that committed the massacre are children. If not biologically, then ethically and emotionally.

They are not psychologically equipped or prepared to face what they do day in and day out and as a result, they are becoming trigger-happy. They live in a world where their enemy looks completely innocuous before they explode or pull a gun. They, in turn, become murderous as a survival mechanism.

Couple this with the tension of wartime activities and the reality of what happens when people have guns in their hands, and this is what you get.

No one in the Capital or in the Joint Chiefs seem to think that psychological attention needs to be paid to the people we send out there to make sure they can make good decisions and that they aren't damaged to uselessness by what they experience. They don't prepare them and they don't de-condition them. We apparently learned little from Vietnam.

While the immediate fault still and always lies with the killers, nearly equal blame can be laid at the feet of those who treat them like fucking hammers. They are not, and never will be, tools. Rather, they shouldn't be, but they are.

No one on the Hill cares about them. Despite sharing culpability, this will be coined an isolated incident and swept under the rug as quickly as possible.

Killing in the Name of...

Wanna be freaked out? Read this. Then come back here.

I play video games religously. I love them. I believe in video games - even violent ones - as a legitimate form of entertainment. I don't believe that video games make people violent and I don't believe that video games are inherently corrupting or brain-dead.

In point of fact, I assert that video games are like anything else. Used as a form of entertainment, they are no better or worse than any other sort of entertainment.

Even before games developed the level of verisimilitude they have now, people opposed them for being violent and simulationist. The Army even has a shooter they use to indoctrinate or evoke interest, depending on your political and social stance, lending credence to the ideas that video games can be used to train and/or indoctrinate.

Lt. Col. David Gross wrote an engaging book called On Killing that dealt in some part with what it takes to produce killers. While I disagree with a number of his assertions, the data he provides is stunning. I recommend it.

So when I found this article (sent to me by a friend), I tried to step back and look at it simply as a video game. But as I sifted the details and read the statements by the creators, it all got much darker.

When you read interviews with mainstream video game designers and publishers, they expound on the story, the characters, the options and the fantasy. They discuss their creations in ways not unlike authors or directors with stories to tell. Even when the production is laden with meaning, they first and foremost want to entertain.

It's fairly clear that this is little more than hate-propaganda wrapped inside a video game. Certainly some will say that all video games including violence peddle an agenda of one sort or other, but this is an order of magnitude more...dangerous. The express purpose of this game is indoctrination. The offensive content and gameplay (murdering anyone who disagrees with your God-given mandate) are designed to reinforce dogmatic intolerance and through the endorsement of the clergy plant the seed of violence as acceptable and desirable.

Certainly I'm treading dangerously close to the idiots who make decisions about how I should parent and what forms of entertainment are acceptable. I recognize this. There is, I believe, a stark difference.

This game and others like it, as peddled by the Aryan Nations supporters and their ilk (search on White Law and Ethnic Cleansing), spread a very real message of hate and intolerance. Most games have enemies like mercenaries, fascist state security, monsters and animals and when they include moral grey areas they do just that, showing you that the decision you make in the context of the game is a difficult one or at least one that is driven by motivations that can be seen as good or bad. Most games do not make absolutist moral statements concerning the belief systems of others and most games certainly do not pretend to be anything more than entertainment.

I suppose we should be glad we can see these people for the violent misanthropes they apparently are. I, for one, am disturbed by the implications of the game's potential success.

Monday, May 22, 2006


Bush's long reign of violence is set to continue, if the markers are accurate.

Once I would have dismissed claims of the United States invading Iran as fanciful stupidity. What would we stand to gain in relation to what we stand to lose in that arena? Conspiracy theorists have always talked about our orchestration of the invasions of other countries, sometimes with justification or proof but most often only with conjecture and that's how these claims would have been taken 5 years ago, or even 3 years ago.

Before the United States stepped into Iraq for the second Gulf War, I was sure of my convictions that the United States - no matter who was at the helm - would never violate the sovereignty of another nation without provocation. I always pointed at Gulf I where the invasion was prompted by Iraq's own invasion of Kuwait, an ally of ours. That was a war of liberation and it was fought for a good cause if any war can be. We stopped when the international community said to stop and we did what we could to curtail future military adventures by the Warlord of Baghdad.

After the towers fell, we rode into Afghanistan to take the fight to those most directly responsible. While debatable, the trail of evidence here seems solid and the expedition mostly successful.

All was still fine in my head. We hadn't overstepped propriety with regard to sovereignty or thumbed our nose at our allies and while we were rapidly losing our much-vaunted freedoms, our problems were internal.

That all changed when Bush's rhetoric became action and the military rolled into Iraq, not stopping until Baghdad - one of the most ancient and fantastic cities in the world - had fallen. Justification for the war, tenuous at best before it had launched, evaporated and turned into a manhunt for a dictator who had already been emasculated.

Suddenly, all pretense of America's greatness came crashing down. Certainly we are still unmatched on the battlefield (or is it merely that we fight only those we know we can beat?) but where we once enjoyed the sanctity of our beliefs in democracy and justice there stood instead a hegemonic and dictatorial aggressor piloted by a sub-literate ape with a conqueror fetish.

It is clear now that George Bush Jr. desires little more than to pave his way to history in the blood of hyperbolic enemies. Like his father, he speaks in terms of good and evil, right and wrong, but unlike his father he has no grasp on the realities of the world.

Indeed, his own father uttered this oft-overlooked phrase:

"To occupy Iraq would instantly shatter our coalition, turning the whole Arab world against us and make a broken tyrant into a latter-day hero ... assigning young soldiers to a fruitless hunt for a securely entrenched dictator and condemning them to fight in what would be an un-winnable urban guerilla war. It could only plunge that part of the world into even greater instability."

It is a comment he has ignored with the tenacity of a teenager set on defying his father just to prove his independence. He has steadfastly ignored his failing public approval, educated criticisms, international censure, and his father's advice to set out on escapades that risk not his life, but the lives of others for his own self-aggrandizement.

To characterize any of the moves he's made since the invasion of Afghanistan as anything but selfish and personal is ridiculous in the extreme. He personalized the invasion of Iraq while also couching it in terms of non-existent terrorism and at the same time, set the stage for future developments when he made his infantile 'Axis of Evil' comments. Comments that included, not accidentally, Iran.

Prior to all this craziness in the Middle East, my only exposure to Iran had been the hostage crisis during Carter's tenure while I was a child, and a girl I knew in high school who was an Iranian immigrant. I looked at Iran a lot like Russia at the time and I only wondered why they hated America so much. I harbored no ill-will than I can recall. The girl was another story entirely. She was pretty, smart, friendly and really American. Yet, she was also proudly Iranian and did a lot to educate me.

When I separated from the Air Force, I met a man who had spent his teenage years in Iran with his father who moved there for work. He did even more to show me the budding progressive liberal movements that existed there, and during the 90s I watched the country fairly often to see what was happening.

So for me, Iran has never been an evil nation, rather one that needs ideological and political support, not condemnation or criminalization, actions that only serve to lend them ammunition for rhetoric, justification for conservatism.

Part of being an adult is recognizing that others are going to disagree with you and finding ways to cope that don't involve a fist. You quickly learn that violence is a path rewarded only with more violence and that to resort to it means you have become incapable of operating or competing in the arenas of discourse and debate.

In terms of nations, fists become armies. Like fists, armies don't change minds or hearts. Like fists, armies encourage more of the same. In the end all we are left with is pain and blood.

An invasion of Iran will certainly make the primate in office feel quite masculine. After all, he is rapidly becoming one of the most successful conquerors of the modern world and there's little to hold him back with his one re-election under his belt. He can retire from office and say to himself, "I have secured the United States from foreign aggression and protected the people of this great nation. I have driven back the terrorists and defended the freedoms of America and the free world. I have conquered where my father failed. I am a great hero to this nation."

In every case he will be wrong and the rest of us will pay the price of his arrogance for years to come.

Check out what Iranian Americans are doing to prevent war with Iran: Iranian-Americans and a War on Iran.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Ride the Lightning

Throughout recorded history, individuals have existed whose crimes transcended imagination, whose brutality has shocked nations, whose spectral terror has haunted generations. Their names resound through our collective consciousness: John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, the Harps, Gille de Rais, the Boston Strangler, Jack the Ripper, Muhammed and Malvo. They prey upon the weak, the unsuspecting, the convenient.

They are the inter-species predators that live among us, at once a part of us and apart from us. The question arises with what to do with them when we catch them. Certainly it would smack of a suppressed survival instinct to let them go, to let them continue because it is the natural order of things, so the question becomes, “What do we do with them?”

A common trend has been execution. Throughout recorded history, executions have taken place for a variety of offenses ranging from burglary to treason. Cultural trends play a part in the crimes so punished and the methods used to carry out the sentence. Some methods used are and have been: burning, crucifixion, decapitation, drowning, electrocution, firing squad, gassing, hanging, impaling, lethal injection, stoning and the use of animals. Other methods of varied cruelty or humanity have also been employed.

During the years of 747 and 759, China banned the death penalty, and is the first recorded nation to do so. They did, however, reinstate it as can be seen in present-day China. China is also credited with the second-highest rate of executions per capita, based on Amnesty International’s numbers. Some claim those numbers are low.

The Grand Duchy of Tuscany was the first nation to permanently abolish capital punishment in late 1786. The Duke was inspired by a book called On Crimes and Punishments that questioned the value of torture and execution to society at large. To this day, the region of Tuscany celebrates November 30th as a holiday.

Later, even more drastic steps would be taken in the legal arena concerning capital punishment. In 1949, West Germany and Costa Rica both took the step of banning capital punishment in their constitutions, laying the precedent in the framework of their legal and political systems.

Other countries, such as the United States, much of Asia and the Middle East still maintain the option of execution with regard to what are deemed the worst of criminals. In the United States, individual states are allowed to handle the legality of capital punishment and hence, some parts of the United States practice capital punishment while other parts do not. The Federal government retains the ability to employ it, however it is rarely utilized.

Some countries such as Brazil and Argentina maintain the death penalty in only very specific and rare circumstances.

In countries where the death penalty is employed, some countries allow the execution of minors, while others do not. The definition of a minor also varies. In the United States, it is individuals under the age of 18 while in Japan it is individuals under the age of 20.

But the question is not about whether or not it has been done, to whom, and how. The question to us today is: should we?

Suppose we assume we shouldn't. The simplest and most straightforward argument put forth is that killing is inherently wrong. Since executions are a form of killing, the logic goes, they are also wrong. Fingers are pointed to such works as the Bible and its Ten Commandments, Jesus' law of love and the seminal work of Cesare Beccaria, also said to have influenced the development of Utilitarianism.

Many of the methods used in the execution of criminals and prisoners have also been widely criticized as inhumane. At its simplest, the denial of life to anyone is often said to be inhumane, but many of the methods used (including modern methods such as lethal injection) are and have been tortuous and imprecise. Those bringing this argument ask us to consider the ramifications of a botched beheading, lethal injection, or the prospect of being picked apart with tools or animals. The very Constitution of the United States along with the writings of John Locke[1] (who can be said to have inspired parts of the Constitution) make clear references to the inhumane treatment of criminals and prisoners and that we, as a people, should eschew such things.

Human elements are also commonly cited as a reason the death penalty should be abolished.
People have been wrongly executed, with evidence clearing them coming to light only after their deaths, while still others have been exonerated sometimes only minutes before their appointed time of execution. Anecdotally, the numbers could be very high, given the number of exonerations and convictions that have arisen from the advent of DNA testing and other advanced forensics.

Public defense is often used in the case of defendants who cannot afford their own attorneys. These attorneys are often seen as simply mediocre and unsuited to compete with those who are handling the prosecution, leading to a skewed rate of conviction.

In some places, execution is used punitively. The PRC is said to utilize capital punishment for this reason rather liberally, as are many Middle Eastern countries. Reasoning follows that if it occurs there, it could be done here such as in the case of Randall Adams where the police framed him knowing the difficulty of convicting and executing a minor.

The cost of keeping a prisoner on death row is also cited. Simply listing the cost of the initial trial in Kansas gives us a number of approximately $508,000, 16 times the cost of a non-capital case. Appeals are said to reach 21 times the cost of other appeals. Indiana’s Criminal Law Study Commission has discovered that a death sentence is 38% more costly overall than a life sentence. Additionally, supporting earlier arguments, 20% of all capital convictions are overturned and given life sentences.

Several Supreme Court justices have come, over the life of their appointments, to see the death penalty as ineffective and possibly flawed. Harry Blackmun and Lewis Powell are two such examples. More recently, Sandra Day O’Connor stated, “If statistics are any indication, the system may well be allowing some innocent defendants to be executed…”

Contrarily, there are also many arguments in favor of capital punishment.

Execution is an efficient way of dealing certain types of criminals. The punishment is, after all, permanent and that offender can never again commit the crimes that incurred the wrath of society. In areas where it is still practiced, it enjoys democratic (though not always popular) support.

Capital punishment is a statement of how the society in question views the severity of the crimes in question. Crimes a people are willing to execute for are obviously the most heinous and severe (or should be). In some ways, it demonstrates the state’s willingness to protect its citizenry from criminal elements. By showing that the state is willing and able to take the life of an offender for doing so to other citizens, the state assures its citizens that it cares for them and tries to protect them.

The pursuit of justice is, perhaps, the most cited reason for the implementation or retention of the death penalty. While there is no way to restore what was lost in the commission of a crime that leads to a death penalty conviction, the closest approximation is the retribution of death. Since the United States doesn’t allow for torture (implied in the adage of the punishment fitting the crime in many capital cases), the only reasonable alternative allowed to victims and states is execution.

Deterrence is cited as well. If a crime may land you in the electric chair, you are far less likely to commit the crime in question. Further murders of other innocents are also prevented by the assurance that the individual to be executed is never released or escapes.

If the death penalty were abolished, it is said we could reasonably expect the following behaviors:

First, inmates sentenced to life in prison would feel no compelling reason to avoid killing one another. Prison is a violent place and murders are already more common than they ought to be, but by denying the authorities the ability to take them permanently out of circulation, the state enables inmates to perpetuate violence upon each other with little to no impediment.

Secondly, the rule of law loses much of its authority when capital punishment is not an option. People become more likely to take upon themselves the burden of retribution and justice for the most heinous of crimes. Vigilantism and other escalating and violent methods of exacting personal justice may rise as a result.

Our decisions about capital punishment reflect how we feel about the basic nature and value of human life. At some point we must step back and examine the innate hypocrisy of the support of the death penalty. If - as so many of us assert - we place inherent value on human life, why do we feel it is appropriate to value one life differently than another?

Certainly scripture of all stripes values life based on belief and unbelief so in many cultures people are already conditioned to see some lives as worth more than others. Murder and other sins that lead to the legal end of capital punishment serve as a method by which people are comfortable devaluing the lives of those they wish to see executed.

We can look close to home in most cases and find a situation where we'd love to see someone die for their crimes, crimes so heinous as to tacitly amount to a willful surrender of the right to life.

There was a man who once worked for me named Britt Ripkowski. He was weird and he was a bit maladjusted socially, but never once did I consider him to be dangerous. Yet, shortly after he moved on in the company, the sordid details of his crime surfaced. Here is a man who wantonly and wilfully murdered a young woman and a very small child. Every fibre of my being wants him to pay in blood for that.

The question I must ask myself is if I am willing to support a system where I will get my wish, the price for which is the risk of executing the innocent. People in prison have been exonerated repeatedly based on new evidence. How many have wrongfully made it to the executioner?

If the answer is even one, it is too many.

Read more:


Death Penalty Information Center

The New American

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

[1] Interestingly, John Locke was a supporter of capital punishment.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Hall of Mirrors

The contents of this article are terrifying and illustrative.

Often seen as a conflict of bloody misunderstanding and intolerance, the War on Terror/Jihad is intent on showing us the ugliest facets humanity has to offer. It is also far more complex than any 'blog could possibly illustrate due to its roots in political movements that absorbed religious fanaticism as a tool for change within its own society all through the modern showdown with men whose forces and causes we (the West - don't think for an instant that just because you aren't American your country isn't complicit) once supported.

The current state of the Jihad and the War on Terror shows us the reach of hate, and the bitter aftertaste of fear.

I will begin with my own beam before I pluck at the Middle Eastern mote, as it were. Rumsfeld has long been both lauded and reviled over the last 50 years. In spite of the initial appeal of taking both Afghanistan and Iraq with as few soldiers as possible (alternately seen as both forward-thinking and short-sighted), there are many things he has done to both offend and abuse the American soldier.

In the Defense Review, Rumsfeld cites several worrisome activities. While in and of themselves, they make perfect tactical and strategic sense, some seem to flout our responsibilities to the international community, law, and democracy.

For instance, it makes sense that the military would be restructured further to adapt to the current world environs and that the military should never be allowed to become complacent.

But it is passive-aggressive imperialist doctrine to state categorically that we plan to conduct war in countries with whom we are not engaged in hostilities. Rather than admit that we must first pursue diplomatic and political solutions to cases where a country offers a safe haven to those we oppose, the document expresses the arrogance of power. Few countries would dare march an army into a neutral or allied country with the intent of waging war on a specific segment of those within those borders. Even in cases where the country being violated may be politically belligerent, such an action is patently an act of war not only on the target but on its host.

Yes, yes, a solid case can be made in the interest of security, but the broad strokes used to outline this doctrine send the message to the world that we will do as we please without regard to treaty, law, or the long-term ramifications of such bellicose activity. Would the United States stand for another country doing the same to it? The answer to that hardly warrants asking.

The bits reproduced read like an imperialist manifesto. Certainly it can be taken at face value as reorganization and recognition of the changing theatre the military occupies, but it could also be seen as similar to the British Navigation Act of 1651 - as a vehicle for empire - or the United States' own Manifest Destiny.

It also lays out the presumption that this is a conflict that can be won through violence, an assertion the article's author correctly disputes.

So let's move on to everyone's favorite Mastermind: Osama bin-Laden.

What we see here is far less sophisticated in terms of details but no less sophisticated in its ability to influence those he intends to reach. His points are full of spurious and fallacious logic, arrays virtually the entire world as enemies of Islam, and even promotes internal religious strife and violence.

Most disturbing, though, is his refusal to acknowledge the reality of dissent. Instead, Osama bin-Laden takes the ethical stance that because our leaders are democratically elected, we are responsible for everything they do. From a very simplistic standpoint, this makes perfect sense. Our leaders are intended to represent our will. The problem is that no government actually works this way. Ideally, certainly, but we do not live in that sort of world.

His statements as reproduced in the article linked above imply genocide. If you are not with us, you are against us...sound familiar? The absolutism of his hate is staggering.

Sadly, this is a common - if lamentable - sentiment among religious fanatics and in this way, Osama bin-Laden and George W. Bush (and no less importantly, their supporters) don't seem much different, and that is frightening.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

French Bread

It is difficult, at times, to understand the frustrations and fears of people living in another country. Those outside the US sometimes presume that those of us here are all militant, gun-toting, bible-thumping imperialists while those in the US often presume those outside have no idea how to defend themselves, that they are professional victims or are hopelessly backward and provincial.

Premier in the public consciousness is the fact that once again, French streets are awash in humanity decrying some injustice many of us are not quite clear on.

What most Americans know (or seem to know):

  • French students are protesting a law allowing them to be fired without cause.
Okay, that's really about the extent of what most of us here understand.

So I thought, "Let's find out what they're upset about." I embarked upon many readings and one of the first things I noted was the terrible coverage CNN gave it. More and more that place is best for soundbites, it seems.

So off I flew to places like Open Democracy, the BBC, and even the Brussels Journal. What I read in these places was eye-opening in many ways, not least of which was the French protest. Maybe I'll discuss some of my other discoveries later.

The first thing I learned is that France has a very protectionist attitude about its workers. It is difficult to fire them and they are compensated heavily if they are terminated. This protectionism is widely seen as one of the primary contributing causes to French unemployment which by some accounts is nearly 10% among the general populace and said by some sources to be higher than 20% among its youth. Employers are unwilling to hire indiscriminately for fear of having a layabout for life. This is both reasonable and understandable.

After last year's riots, legislation was pushed through that allows employers to fire without cause any employee under 26, within their first two years of employment, and on their first job. Looking at a synopsis like this, as a US citizen, the initial reaction will be one of astonishment. After all, it gets progressively harder to fire them during their two-year trial and they get some small compensation when they're fired. There are more details but that's really what's salient.

My first reaction was, "Cry more. In the United States that's fairly normal. Go back to your state-paid education and quit whining." I was certain that it was just spoiled French kids without any proper perspective. In an environment like the US, compensation for being fired is unheard of outside layoffs and executive ousters.

Confident I'd figured it all out, I sat back and skimmed. But the more I read the more I realized it wasn't that simple, and that they weren't just whining.

The very nature of their job market is what's at stake here, not just young adults complaining that life isn't fair. If an under-26 is easy to fire, why bother with a potentially experienced worker who may have lousy work habits (after all, he or she is seeking a job post-26 so they must have been fired at some point, right?) when you can have what, in France, amounts to a disposable worker?

This means that young French workers have little of the security their older counterpars have, while also facing a market after firing where they will compete with their disposable erstwhile peers.

Granted, there is a fair bit of speculation here, and the slippery slope of logical fallacy lurks at the edges, but were I an employer in France these are thoughts I would have about my options concerning employees.

In France, unlike in the United States, workers have a lot of guarantees as an assumption of their job market. These are guarantees almost no US worker enjoys, so when a US citizen looks at the protests, it is very easy to assume that the French youth are spoiled brats looking for free money. But what some of us are missing is that, in France, what they are asking for is nothing short of the status quo. It would be like the US youth (we'll assume 18-26) protesting over the denial of access to a job based on their age. We don't tolerate that here and the French shouldn't tolerate what amounts to age-discrimination either.

Context is important. It is crucial to understanding, tolerance, and acceptance. This doesn't mean there are no absolutes at all, but that our experience is rarely the experience of those halfway around the globe and it becomes us to attempt understanding before rendering judgment.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Clotting Factor

I gave blood for the first time when I was 18. I am O-Negative and my little brother has benefitted directly from blood donors due to some operations as a child to fix a deformed leg, so it's been something of a moral imperative for me. I've given blood now for nearly 17 years every 8 weeks.

Saturday I was getting ready to go to my 11:30 AM appointment when I thought I'd better get that silly card they're always sending me. Last time I went, they told me things would go faster if I had it. So I remembered that a Red Cross envelope had arrived two weeks ago I'd never opened. I assumed it was the card in question and tore open the envelope.

Rather than find a donor card inside, I found material on HTLV-II. The letter said my blood was part of a batch that tested positive for it so was retested, but came up clear. Okay, so far so good. It went on to say that it was highly unlikely I have HTLV-II but that because my blood was in a lot that included an erroneous test result, I am now ineligible to donate blood. Ever.

HTLV-II is a permanent infection and if it's present, they don't want to take any chances. It's unclear what HTLV-II actually causes though it has tenuous links to a few conditions and it's generally thought that it must be present for several decades before symptoms of anything arise. The vast majority of HTLV-II infected people (on the order of 95% give or take) remain asymptomatic their entire lives.

I can't describe what I feel about this. It's irrational and childish, but it broke my heart to find out I can't give blood anymore. I think I'd be less crushed if I actually had HTLV-II.

Anyway, in case you're interested, there's an informational page here about HTLV-II and several Red Cross sites discuss it. I'm going to sulk a bit longer and then try to find something less self-indulgent to do about it.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Dogma and Catalysts

I grew up during the Cold War, when we had nightmares about nukes at night and garbage like Red Dawn in the theatres. Back then France was where we looked to see what was beautiful, England was the cradle of Democracy while we thought ourselves Democracy's exemplars, Germany no longer deserved its divisive fate, and we all hoped Sting had it right with Russians. It was a time when Thatcher and Reagan worked. It was all so deceptively simple.

I turned 18 in time to cast my vote for Bush, Sr., and I did so without regret and with very little consideration. Democrats were failures like Carter while Reagan and Bush had carried us with more than middling success. Bush was a bomber pilot from World War 2, to boot. It was all so neat and tidy in a world I was sure could turn to ash with a single misstep.

In 1989 I joined the USAF. I watched the Wall come down and students die at Tienanmen Square, we invaded Panama and liberated (yes, liberated - suck on it) Kuwait and then watched things unfold in bloody time in the dusty streets of Mogadishu. Yugoslavia tore itself apart. Russia changed forever and suddenly the world wasn't as black and white as I'd always thought.

The world I was raised in was very polarized, divided along ideological and dogmatic lines. There was religion and there was the secular world; NATO and the Warsaw Pact; Republicans and Democrats; villains and heroes.

I was taught to identify with one segment and reject the other. Looking back, I can see this sort of exaggerated self-identification as a survival mechanism*. In the face of the missiles we all thought could end the world overnight, it was comforting to think of ourselves as the heroes, the ones with all the answers, the morally and ethically superior.

I left the military in 1993. The world was either crazier than it had been previously, or I was paying more attention. I'm fairly sure it was the latter. Regardless, my world had changed and I wasn't sure what to do with myself anymore. Russian states were undergoing their so-called Velvet Revolutions and if someone decided to end the United States, it wouldn't be them.

It wasn't just the Post-Cold War world that did it, though in some ways it was a catalyst. I suppose I started this process of self-evaluation before the wall fell, before I joined the military, before the world as I knew it had changed.

As a child, I was always taught that I was supposed to love God more than my family. I was supposed to have a sort of child-parent relationship with Him and know that He loved me implicitly because He was the God of Love. I was never able to do this. Even when I was little, I knew I didn't love God in any quantifiable way, but that to say so was tantamount to breaking my family's heart. I didn't even want to love Him because I could never pin down anything He did for me, and I knew that people who loved each other did things for each other.

Over the years, the Atonement of Christ and the gift of our physical bodies and the advancement of our souls were all trotted out as things God had done for us and why I should love Him. What I couldn't shake were all the times God ordered genocide or committed it Himself upon His own children (though the language used rarely indicates any affection for those He destroys). I couldn't escape the intolerance He displayed and the hate that was often preached in His name.

In the end, it never made any difference and rather than fostering love, it fostered resentment in me. More importantly, it paved the way for me to begin critical self-examination. Though I clung desperately to the appearance of piety, I have never really believed so much as I wanted to believe. After all, things are much easier when someone hands you all the answers and you never have to think too deeply about it. But what this process of trying to find God's love has done for me is illustrate how to find answers myself.

Growing up religious means you have a whole extra world of pressure to conform to. If you rebel against the religion it isn't about you deciding the religion isn't for you, it reflects directly on those who continue to believe. In dysfunctional fashion, they make the entire situation more about them than you. They get angry, aggressive, offended and self-conscious around you. In the end, there are social and familial pressures brought to bear as weapons to enforce conformity. You are not allowed to dissent because that then becomes a direct threat to the absolutism of religion.

Many of us, as a result, don't break away until we are adults. We fight our disbelief because we want peace or because it's all we've ever known and to just toss it away is like giving up a beloved stuffed animal. It is uncomfortable and distressing.

The thing is, we haven't really changed, we've just acknowledged what we've thought all along. Sometimes this acceptance of what we really are and what we really believe is the hardest part of all.

Politics and religion are the same in this way. Political ideology, like religion, provides easy answers if you let it. You don't have to think about anything and can go about comfortably in the knowledge that multitudes believe as you do and have done all the thinking and postulating for you and have worked out the best way. After all, all Republicans and Democrats think alike, right?

We can all see that statement as preposterous, yet few of us do anything about it.

As my world changed and I watched the altered political landscape unfold around the world, I realized I had supported the last 12 years of Republican control out of habit and expectation more than actual belief. I supported them out of a survival mechanism and the beliefs I held in connection with that. The US war machine, the Cold War, the church...none of it was quite what I'd believed it was and it was, in fact, sometimes very hypocritical.

I began to look at the world and consider the values I held personally and how it all fit in with the world. I came to the realization that I wasn't a card-carrying Republican any more than I was a pious Christian. I came to the realization that I wanted to think about the issues I saw killing and oppressing people the world over, that I was concerned with the ideals of democracy and human rights, and that I didn't want anyone to hand me an answer. The strongest realization was that these were things I'd always thought, that I hadn't changed so much as I woke up and acknowledged myself.

I'm still working out what I think. Right now I just need to get thoughts out of my head, to try and pin down what's there. Issues in this world are too complex for anyone to tell you what to think, feel, and believe. Certainly it's easy, and certainly it's comfortable, but in the end it isn't me and I'm willing to bet it isn't you.

*For a fantastic read on Identity, it's benefits and the dangers inherent in it see In the Name of Identity. It's less scholarly and more personally insightful, but I highly recommend it.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Death and God

Abdul Rahman, not to be confused with the terrorist or former Iraqi president, faces impending execution or church-instigated populist violence for his decision to convert from Islam to Christianity.


The world over, people try to make a case for Islam being a tolerant, peaceful religion of love. We cite that only an estimated 15% of Muslim sects are extremist and/or violent and that most others are more moderate or at least less violent. We talk about the similarities of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam in that they worship the same entity and espouse many of the same virtues when you flip through their scripture.

Then we see things like this. Yes, yes, I know I'm viewing this through the lens of western secular education and philosophical tradition. I realize that this behavior is predicated on their upbringing and predispositions, but how could any rational human being with any compassion at all in their heart call for the death of a man who simply disagrees with them?

I can understand anger, disappointment, even resentment...but murder? Isn't the God of Abraham supposed to be all about love? No, given the prevalence of God-instigated genocide in the Old Testament that's not entirely true, is it?

Regardless, at some point every human being begins to ask questions about the fundamental nature of their beliefs. This questioning varies in depth from person to person, to be sure, but every one of us goes through this process at some point and to some degree. During this process we wonder about the things we've been taught, we question and deconstruct them.

Some people analyze and reconsider their beliefs and come to accept them based on new criteria such as a change in piety, education, or experience. Others turn back to the institution that provides the answers for them, subverting their desire to validate their beliefs themselves to an outside entity purporting to provide the answers, the Truth, or something similar (in this regard religion and partisan politics are nearly identical). Others come to find that what they thought they believed both dogmatically and personally isn't resonating for them anymore and they seek out new modes of thought.

That's what this man did, and in the process decided that he did not believe as a Muslim anymore. His family has rejected him, his nation has rejected him, the religion he once loved has rejected him, and all any of them want to do is see his blood...because he changed his mind.

The most absurd part is this statement by trial judge Ansarullah Mawlazezadah:

"We will invite him again because the religion of Islam is one of tolerance. We will ask him if he has changed his mind. If so we will forgive him."


Exactly what part of this entire setup is tolerant? It's bullying, extortion, and intolerance at its finest.

I'm amazed and glad of the fact that the US is not currently demanding a specific resolution to the matter, that my government is simply stating its position and that it will be highly disappointed if this man is executed or murdered by the mobs. Ms. Rice has said that it is important for them to observe freedom of religion.

Sadly, the Afghan constitution is based on Sharia Law, which makes these actions acceptable and legal. While they allow Christians in their communities (People of the Book), they still reserve the right to destroy anyone who rejects Islam if they have accepted it at any point.

Ultimately, this makes the actions against this man constitutional and legal in Afghanistan.

Now before you run off thinking I'm anti-Muslim, let me tell you a secret: I don't think this ultimately has anything to do with religion. I think it has everything to do with power.

As far back as I can recall, religion has been used by men in power to validate and embolden their lust for more. We see it in Shrub's insistence that God wants him where he is and to wage the wars he does and we see it in the Afghani clerics calling for the blood of Abdul Rahman in the world today.

I don't really have a big point to make with this (except, perhaps, the insinuation that these Clerics and their establishment simply want to retain control through any means necessary), I just wanted to express my outrage at the treatment of this man. He's by no means unique, but the situation he's in is casting extraordinary attention on his plight.

People like me will be disgusted and disappointed, and the already anti-Muslim people of the world will simply catalogue this as further ammunition in their bigoted crusades. I'd like to hope that if his death results in nothing else, it causes not only Afganis to question the value of this law and the value of a human life, but that it causes the rest of us to look to our own societies, at the injustices and intolerance we all practice to some degree as cultures and societies. None of us are free from culpability, and I hope that the lessons we learn from this enlighten rather than embitter us.

CNN Story

BBC Story

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

V for..Something Witty

Sorry. Everyone else is doing it!

First of all, let me state for the record how miserable the life of a critic must be. I read the reviews of this film and they are filled with expressions of boredom for the Matrix films, comic books and staples of storytelling. I am made to wonder if they enjoy much of anything. More than that, it leads me to wonder what bias they operate from when they approach a given film, especially one as blatantly cautionary as V for Vendetta.

It's this bias I'm interested in, though not - as my first paragraph leads you to believe - that of the professional critics. I'm interested in the people taking blatant offense at the film and why.

Anyone who has seen it is aware of the absence of sugar-coating. Where many films with an agenda or socio-political commentary place that message in a thematic metaphor, V for Vendetta beats you over the head with it. It eschews the elegance of allegory for the brutality of blatant representation. It makes no qualms at all about what it is and what it attempts to say (in spite of the director insisting it is no more - and no less - than a work of fiction).

Due in no small part to this brusk presentation, viewers of the film are typically falling into two camps: those that love it, and those who take issue with it to the point of frequently being offended by it. Unsurprisingly, this division is primarily along superficial political lines.

I am among those who enjoyed the film immensely. As such, I'm curious about those who disliked it and why. I take no issue with those who were just not entertained by it, but could appreciate and recognize the intent of it, but those people seem few and far between. The vast majority of those I encounter who do not like the movie don't like its message.

More accurately, they don't like what they saw in the film, not necessarily what was there. The major complaints about the film are outlined and discussed below. Bear in mind that I am addressing what I have experienced and I am in no way stating that these ideas are universal or categorical among those taking issue with V for Vendetta. All of this is anecdotal, from me*.

  • V's protagonists are terrorists.
  • The film promotes and endorses terrorism.
  • V's themes are anti-American, anti-Christian, and anti-family.
  • V is pro-Muslim.

Both V and Evey are described as terrorists. This is not wholly incorrect. Given the actions they undertake they could be described as terrorists. They blow up buildings, assassinate people, and incite the populace to revolt.

The American Revolution undertook similar activities in destroying public property, killing officials, and taking up arms against their legal government. So what makes a terrorist?

According to the ICT (http://www.ict.org.il/Articles/define.htm), the largest gap in what differentiates a freedom fighter and a terrorist is their selection of targets. This definition sidesteps the idea that revolutionaries and terrorists are merely the same people labeled differently by their opponents. There are other differences, to be sure, but when your army is one guy in a mask, neither definition really works wholesale.

This article could be taken to mean the characters are or aren't terrorists, depending on how you classify their targets, but at no point in the film do any of the protagonists actively engage to harm civilians despite V insisting that the entire populace was culpable for the regime he fought.

The fact is that different countries and ideologies have different ideas about what constitutes a terrorist. Most of us, like the author of that article, define it in terms of targets. Because of that, I can't really consider V to be a terrorist, rather a man left with no other avenues for change. His opponents understood only control and violence, and so he sought to deprive them of control through the only vehicle available: violence.

Nowhere does the film insist that violence and terrorism is the only or even the best way to effect change. In fact, I'd argue that the resort of V to these activities is an expression of failure. All other methods of rousing the populace to action against those oppressing it had failed and his actions were as much personally driven revenge as a desire to effect real social and political change. It was, in short, the only method left to him in that situation. Nowhere was the option for discourse illustrated as feasible.

V for Vendetta is said to be anti-Christian, family, and America. I didn't see that. What I saw was a recrimination of intolerance. The example of the Qur'an as beautiful while no representation of the Bible was made was not a deliberate slight to Christians as is often claimed. Instead, it is a comment on how a religion so superficially different can become a bogeyman despite its merits.

Several characters are depicted as homosexual. This is, again, seen as an attack on an institution, the family in this case. The plight of the homosexual in this film is an allegorical illustration meant to evoke images of the Jews in Nazi Germany or the educated and religious in Cambodia when the Khmer Rouge came to power. They are people who are simply different in one way or other, and therefore deemed bad. They are labeled as inherently bad and linked with one or more societal ills, then made to pay for it with their lives.

The common theme is differences any neighbor could possess. People you enjoy and talk with every day become the enemy and everyone sits back and watches the terrible things happen.

I am reminded of Reverend Martin Niemoller's poem.

First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out--because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the communists and I did not speak out--because I was not a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out--because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak out for me.

That's the point of those illustrations.

The final and most entertaining objection to the film is the idea that 'liberals**' believe modern America is like this. Only the most screechingly out of touch believe we're to the point depicted in this film, but that doesn't make the message it sends unimportant.

V for Vendetta is ultimately a cautionary tale. It is an illustration of how a populace can willingly allow a government to oppress and abuse them and how it is up to that populace to effect change. A government maintains its power primarily through the consent of those governed whether that consent is based on fear or love being immaterial.

The government in the film changed not because V assassinated the key conspirators, but because the populace rose up and, in effect, woke up. They were presented with solid evidence that they had been enabling their government through abstinence from the political process and wallowing in manufactured fear.

Like most of us, I don't really know what I think until I start to talk about it. Once a thought becomes public, you must take responsibility for it, defend it or change it. You have to think about your thought. In like fashion, I may not have articulated some of this as well as I hope, and perhaps I can be brought to think differently on some points once I get the chance to mull it over, talk about it more, and educate myself further.

I haven't touched on everything, just the most widespread things I've encountered. There's more and there are likely more articulate rebuttals to much of the offense some viewers are taking. In fact, most people acting offended, need not be as it is not an attack on them or their general views. The message here is rather more specific and less a general assault on conservative and American views as some reviewers imply.

In the end, V for Vendetta has the capacity to make you think. As one poster on an overwhelmingly conservative site said (I am paraphrasing), "Conservatives should have no problems with this film; partisan Republicans probably will."

* If you'd like to see some of what I've seen, go to sites like Rotten Tomatoes, Free Republic, and the like and check out the negative reviews of the film. Then talk to people you know that disliked it and find out why. It's interesting to me how polarizing it's been.

** I find it interesting that Liberal and Conservative are thrown about as insults. I suppose they always have, but it seems to have taken on added vitriol in the last 4.5 years.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

My First Rant

What's a 'blog without a good rant? So in that vein, here's my first.

* * * * *

I’m still not entirely sure what this guy is trying to say:


When I first started to read the article, I figured it would be simply and assuredly of the same vein as this article:
http://www.newswithviews.com/news_worthy/news_worthy.htm where the only message I can walk away with is, “Wah, wah, why won’t a man do it for me?”

However, the Claremont article starts off screeching, and by the time it’s over, I’m not sure what I’ve read. I had to read it more than once.

My gut reaction is that this guy is just another breed of bigot, labeling anything he doesn’t understand or agree with as wrong, but he goes on to say some rather insightful things amid the absurdist ramblings about ‘real men.’

He advocates shame as a viable method of discipline in spite of the psychological evidence that it is damaging to a child, leading to other self-destructive behaviors. Yet buried in this bizarre recrimination of both ‘barbarian’ and ‘wimp’ there are a few moments of understanding.

I’ve read enough pop psychology and been male long enough to realize that I see and experience things differently than most women, yet that same body of knowledge has shown me that gender tendencies are just that: tendencies.

There is a reason psychology uses the terms masculine and feminine rather than male and female.

In my opinion, his biggest mistake is stating categorically that men and boys need X, and women and girls need Y. This is patently and provably untrue, yet it IS true that masculine and feminine psyches develop differently and respond differently to stimulus and environment. The problem is that the issue isn’t binary and never was.

Ultimately his thesis implies that men are incapable of competing on a level playing field socially, academically, or fiscally, yet it is apparently a pro-male piece.

Gender roles, as I understand them, are mostly arbitrary these days. They are the product of our evolution and the progress of our civilization. Many of the things we regard as gender roles grew out of a biological imperative that no longer holds the power it once did.

Technology and advances in our understanding of psychology have made spaces for people once marginalized. Women warriors are more acceptable due to technological and societal advances and male caretakers have shown that women are not inherently better suited to providing emotional support to children.

What radical feminists and these chest-beaters seem to miss consistently is that there is common and middle ground to be explored that doesn’t trivialize gender or overly homogenize us.

Gender issues are things I think about regularly, and I don’t claim to have all the answers, but the attitude taken by many that we re-discover our gender identity all too frequently come with the added baggage of denigrating our counterparts. In the Claremont article, he advocates the use of such language as, “You throw like a girl.”

The implication of a statement like that should be clear: girls don’t throw well or more generally, you (as a boy) are expected to be better than a girl.

This is dangerous thinking because it sets in place divisions that are not governed by what is, but by what the speaker believes ought to be. It encourages the arbitrary gender division of activity and capacity making opponents of us. It demeans over half the race.

Research makes it clear that we have tendencies given our genders, and that methodology for dealing with each must vary, but it also makes clear that these tendencies scale and as human beings, we all reside at different points in the spectrum of potential. All men do not occupy a single coordinate any more than all women occupy another.

In any event, I don’t know it all and I won't claim to. Feel free to disagree. If you do it civilly and convincingly enough, I might even modify my stance.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Initial Drivel

I really don't know why I'm doing this, but like all good webloggers, I have an abundance of opinion and just enough arrogance to think someone might care. I like to tell myself that posting a 'blog isn't a cry for attention but let's face it, a 'blog says, "Look at me!" with the same intensity as reality television or a Dr. Phil guest.

So yeah.

I'm getting dinner ready and I look at the back of the Spam can I just opened (don't ask) and I find this little nugget of sheer brilliance under a 'Spam Quesadilla' recipe:

Do not be fooled by the simplicity of this recipe. Yes, it is easy to make, but the flavor is complicated and exotic. Like something that fills your senses and pulls at your heartstrings and then flies away, wanting to be chased. And you will chase it, oh yes, you will.

The absurdity of that just blows my mind. Genius. Pure genius. I'm saving that can.

I'll put up something worth reading next time...I hope.