Four Boxes

20 02 2008

Just over 30 years ago (12Feb78), the Government of South Africa decided not to pursue an investigation into the death of Steven Biko.

For those of you less than 30 years old, Steven Biko was a prominent opponent to the South African policy of apartheid (an Afrikaans word roughly translated as segregation). The South African Government officially divided the population of the country into distinct groups: White, Black, Colored, and Indian. As is usual with such stupidities, all groups were not treated equally. Whites held all of the power and most of the wealth and land. Everyone else was treated as a second-class citizen (at best). Laws were enacted and ruthlessly enforced to preserve the White monopoly on power.

This is an old story, and not unique to Africa. One group fears losing its power and becomes increasingly oppressive to anyone who threatens that power. The list of those who might threaten that power rapidly grows to include all of the population not actually in the Government. Increasingly draconian measures are needed to keep the population in check, and those subject to the Government’s rule grow increasingly rebellious in response. Oppression is generally a losing game for the oppressors, because eventually the entire population becomes part of the oppressed group. People who otherwise might tolerate the Government’s actions find themselves legitimately fearful of falling victim to those actions.

Steven Biko started several political organizations in South Africa- all of them vocal opponents of apartheid. This made Biko very unpopular with the Government. He was Banned- which meant he was legally forbidden to leave his home district, talk to more than one person at a time, or make speeches. Quoting anything he said- even casual conversations- was also against the law. Despite the Ban, Biko started several grass-roots organizations in his home district, mostly dedicated to helping the families of political prisoners and promoting self-reliance among the non-White population of the country.

In 1976, Black students in Soweto starting protesting against Government requirements that only English and Afrikaans were to be taught in schools. The protests grew violent as the police arrived to “restore order”. The majority of the protesters were marching peacefully, but a few were throwing stones at the police. A police unit was surrounded, and the shooting started. The protesters began rioting, destroying bars and beer halls and attacking the police- and every other White they could find. This led to a well-known White doctor who had devoted his life to promoting social welfare among Blacks getting stoned to death by the mob. In all, 23 people were killed.

Biko was tied to one of the organizations which had started the protests, so the Government focused its attention on him. He was arrested at a roadblock in August of 1977, and charged under the Terrorism Act. This law- passed a decade earlier- broadly defined “terrorism” as any act which might endanger law and order. Under those rules, Biko was deemed a terrorist and treated as such.

While in police custody, Biko suffered severe head injuries. He died of those injuries while being transported (naked, in the back of a land rover) 1,200 kilometers to Pretoria. The Government claimed he had died during a hunger strike. Once pictures of his beaten body were made public by Biko’s friends, the Government claimed he had inflicted the injuries on himself during a suicide attempt.

Nobody was buying the Government’s line anymore, and Biko’s death galvanized public opinion around the world against the South African government. 16 years after deciding that Biko had beaten his own head in, the South Africa Government finally gave up apartheid.

What’s the point of re-visiting this horrible bit of history, you ask?

In reply, I ask, “How many other Steven Bikos have been killed by their Governments without being noticed?”

Four boxes. There are four boxes to be used in defense of liberty. In order, those boxes are: soap, ballot, jury, and ammo.

Steven Biko had been using the first two boxes, and his Government decided that it didn’t want to listen to him anymore. He was handcuffed in a cell and beaten to death by the police because the Government didn’t like what he had to say.

In the United States, most of us have been incredibly lucky. Most Americans do not get imprisoned and murdered by the police. But some of us have. I say, “us“, because we are all Americans. Injustice to any of us is injustice to all of us. The law is supposed to be blind. Everyone should be treated equally under the law. Whenever the faint odor of corruption wafts its way into our collective noses, we have a duty to root it out. Anything less is injustice. Worse, it is suicide.

Our Government has once again decided that certain people in this country no longer have the same rights as everyone else. Some people have more rights (elected officials, rich people, celebrities, etc), and some people have fewer rights (anyone with a relative in Saudi Arabia, for just one example). The Government tells everyone else, “Don’t worry dear. It’s for your own good. We’re just protecting you from Bad People. National Security, and all that.”

Am I the only one who detects the disagreeable odor of bullshit?

There is a procedure for dealing with this sort of issue. There is a special court set up for the purpose of getting warrants for eavesdropping on people or organizations deemed dangerous to the country. It’s called FISA- the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Under FISA, the Government can present its case to a judge, who decides whether or not to issue a warrant to permit surveillance, searches, and spying in the interest of National Security. In my opinion, this is the best choice of a bad set of options for protecting National Security and the right of the people to be secure from unreasonable search and seizure.

That’s not good enough for the Gummint. The Government wants the authority to spy on anyone, anywhere, anytime- without even the tiny degree of oversight provided by a FISA court.

No.

The Government is already swollen with power. I see no need to furnish the tax-fattened hyenas who infest the Logic-Free Zone with any more tools with which to subjugate We (the People).

We’re back to the four boxes.

I’m using the first box right now. I’m calling on every American with the power to do so to make use of the second box. Find out how your elected representatives voted on the so-called warrantless wiretap legislation. Every single one of the political asshats who voted in favor of this lunacy should be told by his or her constituents to say goodbye to the halls of power. Vote against every last one of them. Forever. If your Congresscritter voted in favor of this law and was running for re-election against Mickey Mouse, you’d be better off voting for the cartoon character. Having a vacant office on Capitol Hill would be better than permitting power-hungry fuckwits to scissor away at our rights.

The Constitution of the United States is chock-full of rules designed to prevent the Government from becoming too powerful. We (the People) need to get back to the philosophy that Government cannot be trusted with power and money. We already know that giving money and power to Government is like giving a teenaged boy a case of beer and the keys to a Corvette. Both are recipes for disaster.

Back to those four boxes. If the first two boxes aren’t enough to limit the power of the Government, take the bastards to court. Public servants are supposed to serve the public, remember? We are the public. Hold the stupid bastards accountable for their actions- today. Tomorrow. Forever. Refuse to put up with the bullshit. Sue the motherfuckers!

We (the People) need to remember what happened to Steven Biko. We need to remember why it happened. It happened because the Government was allowed to get too powerful. We (the People) need to use those first three boxes to trim the Government down to a manageable size- often. It’s cheaper and easier- on every level- to spend the time and money and sweat to keep the Government responsible to the People than to resort to the fourth box.

If we ever let things get to the point where we have to use that fourth box, the United States of America would cease to exist. We’d go the way of Yugoslavia. Internecine warfare. Ethnic cleansing. Genocide. Those are all Bad Things.

I’m just optimistic enough to think that America is still a Good Thing. So let’s keep it that way. Speak out. Vote. Sue, if necessary.

Current status: Somber

Current music: The Band Played Waltzing Matilda by the Pogues

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Waste, Fraud, and Abuse

13 02 2008

We (the People) are being ripped off. Ungodly amounts of our tax dollars are getting poured down a rat-hole by our elected oafishals who are trying to convince us that they’re actually accomplishing something. The secret is out- they are accomplishing something. They’re wasting our time and money.

This particular venture into criminal stupidity involves the so-called Sports Doping Scandal and the related investigation by the pusillanimous vermin we sent to the Logic-Free Zone so they wouldn’t pollute the air at home with their insipidity. Congress (the opposite of progress- remember?) is holding hearings to investigate this important matter. In a Universe occupied by rational sentient creatures (I include politicians as a courtesy), one might imagine that our elected representatives would be spending time dealing with a hugely-overinflated budget, the two wars we are currently fighting, the very real probability that our primary source of energy is approaching the cost of printer ink, or even passing (or repealing) legislation in the best interests of their constituents. Mind you, these are not the only pressing issues which should be getting our Congresscreatures’ attention- these are just the really high-profile, life-or-death issues. One would think that these weighty problems would be getting dealt with by the so-called “ruling class”.

One would be wrong.

No, the biggest issue on the agenda of our political elites today (judging by the prominence of the story in the media- more on that later)  is the possibility that a bunch of sports stars might have taken performance-enhancing drugs.

Oooo! Scary stuff. Booga! Booga! This issue is apparently far more important than such trivia as actual fucking shooting wars or funding the fucking Federal Gummint!

Why are we (the People) letting these ass-hats get away with this shit? Come to think, why are we sending these morons to the Logic-Free Zone to be our elected representatives? Weren’t there any Elementary-school drop-outs available? Some of these imbeciles don’t even know what the fucking Internet is, let alone how it works (“it’s not like a truck … it’s a series of tubes …“)!

Here’s an idea: Quit electing people with an IQ lower than room temperature. Rather than use actual IQ tests to sort out who should or should not be elected, I’ve developed a couple of easy ways to root out the fools, poltroons, and scoundrels who should never be permitted to make decisions for anyone else.

Solution #1- Anyone who actually wants the job should be automatically (and permanently) excluded. These people can safely be entrusted with the job of Town Drunk or (possibly) Shopping-Cart chaser.  Never let them operate anything more complicated than crayons, and make ’em all wear electronic tracking collars so we can keep tabs on their location at all times.

Solution #2- Find the dumbest person you know and ask them who should be allowed to run for office. Get a list of names, and ask those people the same question. Anyone who appears on both lists should not be permitted to vote, let alone run for office. Those who name themselves should be shot. Instantly.

Solution #3- Eliminate from consideration anyone making more than fifty thousand dollars per year or less than twenty-five thousand. Anyone in between can safely be considered to have been promoted at least once for competence and not be too hard-working to waste in Washington. Note that this solution would exclude all lawyers but include most mid-level professionals- exactly the sort of people who could be trusted to get the job done as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Solution #4- Use all of the above. I’m partial to this solution- largely because it would eliminate me from consideration.

Here’s another idea whose time has come:  Voters in each state could change the rules to require a vote-of-confidence election for every elected oafishal every year. The incumbent has to win a 2/3 majority or be replaced. Immediately.

Any politician who votes for a Congressional pay-raise should automatically be forbidden from running for re-election. Ever.

These pernicious numbskulls are supposed to be working for us. Anyone working for me who displayed the gross incompetence shown by Congress would have been fired after the first month.

Speaking of gross displays of incompetence, I now move on to the self-appointed watchdogs of democracy- the media. Allow me to give you a quote from a journalist describing the “dramatic moments” of the Congressional Sports Doping Scandal Hearings:

“Roger Clemens walked into the room from the right. He was wearing a dark blue suit, and was followed by his wife, Whatsername– who was carrying a yellow rose. Whatsisname– Clemens’ former personal trainer- entered from the far side of the room wearing a light grey suit …”

At this point, I was overcome by nausea and turned the “news” off. I may faint from the sheer drama of that scene!

Setting aside the fact that this hearing is a criminal misuse of Government time and money, why the fuck are their wardrobes newsworthy- let alone “dramatic”? If “journalists” want to claim to be the watchdogs of democracy, could they at least pretend to be doing their fucking jobs? Why aren’t these “journalists” (defined as English majors who can’t speak or write grammatically-correct English) asking useful questions? I’m not a journalist, but I can think of several dozen important questions which deserved more air-time than that quoted report. I imagine Walter Cronkite is actively considering slitting his wrists, and Edward R. Murrow is probably spinning in his grave so fast we could hook him up to a generator and power Atlanta for a year.

We (the Consumers) have it in our power to stop this. It’s easy- just don’t put up with it. Demand that your elected representatives do their fucking jobs. Punish them with your votes, and tell them in writing what you’re doing and why. Refuse to accept pandering to the lowest common denominator from the media. Stop watching their broadcasts, buying their newspapers, or reading their magazines. Punish the media companies by refusing to buy products advertised in their publications/broadcasts. Make sure the advertisers know what you’re doing and why. If the advertisers get a bunch of  letters and emails on this subject, they’ll stop or reduce their advertising on the offending media. That gets the publishers’ and producers’ attention real quick.

We deserve better from our elected representatives. Demand better. Hold politicians accountable for their actions (or lack thereof). They’re counting on you being too apathetic to do anything.

Prove them wrong.

Current status: Foaming-at-the-mouth furious

Current music: The Voice by the Moody Blues





Gender Issues

3 02 2008

Whenever I receive some hoary old joke by email, I usually consign it immediately to the rubbish bin. In fact, anything with “FW:FW:” in the subject line is automatically dumped without reading. Some time back, however, I received an email from a female acquaintance that I actually read and gave some of my attention.

The joke she emailed me was one of those ubiquitous Men/Women/whatever are better than their presumed opposites because… internet memes entitled, “Men have it easy”. I spent some time considering this nonsense and wondered why this sort of thing is so popular.

Human males and females are different. Accept it. Physiologically, both genders have been designed by evolution to accomplish the same task (spamming the environment with rough duplicates of themselves) in slightly different ways. Neither gender is superior to the other, they’re just different. Cope.

One of the biggest offenders in creating and maintaining the artificial “gender wars” is the person who wrote, “Men are from Mars. Women are from Venus“. Instead of accepting the biological fact that males and females are designed differently, this person (and the scads of others trying to sell books) focused entirely on social differences- even going so far as to dredge up some very tired astrological metaphors to sell the ideas.

Here’s an astronomical fact to counter the metaphor: Men are from Earth. Women are from Earth. Deal with it.

I’m not going to dwell on the evolutionary pressures that created the physiological and behavioral differences between males and females. I will state that those evolutionary pressures have largely vanished- rendered mostly obsolete by the social, technological, and economic changes to our environment we have created over the past ten thousand years or so.

The fact remains that males and females are different, and there’s damn-all we can do about it. In my opinion, it’s a Good Thing that those differences exist. My wife and I are both very intelligent- just about different things. We complement each other. The two of us are more than the sum of our individualities. That synthesis of personalities is a valuable social and economic survival tool for us. Instead of getting wrapped around the axle about the existence of those differences, people should be celebrating them. Make use of the strengths from this individual diversity.

And now, having run that into the ground and begun barking at the hole, I present the “Men Have It Easy” joke that started this train of thought. The original points are followed by my responses (in italics).

Men have it easy.

1. Your last name stays put.
This is largely a matter of choice these days.
2. The garage is all yours.
Ditto.
3. Wedding plans take care of themselves.
YOU want the fancy trimmings, you do the work. We’d be satisfied with a Justice of the Peace and NO ceremony.
4. Chocolate is just another snack.
To most rational creatures.
5. You can be President.
Nothing says you can’t.
6. You can never be pregnant.
Of course not! If men got pregnant, the species would have gone extinct millennia ago!
7. You can wear a white T-shirt to a water park.
Speaking for ALL men, we would appreciate it if you wore a white t-shirt to the water park. Seriously.
8. You can wear NO shirt to a water park.
Ditto
9. Car mechanics tell you the truth.
It’s called, “the value of abstract knowledge”. Learn about cars so you can catch the bastards when they lie to you .
10. The world is your urinal.
Unless someone is watching. Then it becomes a misdemeanor and a lifetime on the Sex Offender’s Registry.
11. You never have to drive to another gas station restroom because this one is just too icky.
Prior Planning Prevents Poor Piss Performance
12. You don’t have to stop and think of which way to turn a nut on a bolt.
See #9. Women can learn this if they want to .
13. Same work, more pay.
You don’t have to accept lower pay. We don’t.
14. Wrinkles add character.
Character adds character. Wrinkles are simply proof that we have poor skin-care habits.
15. Wedding dress $5000. Tux rental-$100.
See #3.
16. People never stare at your chest when you’re talking to them.
Please tell your boobs to quit staring at my eyes.
17. The occasional well-rendered belch is practically expected.
This is another one of those not-difficult-to-master skills. Practice.
18. New shoes don’t cut, blister, or mangle your feet.
We manage this trick by insisting that our shoes not cut, blister, or mangle our feet. Try it sometime.
19. One mood all the time.
You’re just jealous because we can successfully control our emotions.
20. Phone conversations are over in 30 seconds flat.
It’s called, “efficiency”. Cope.
21. You know stuff about tanks.
And dumptrucks and back-hoes and front-loaders and road graders. Try watching the Discovery Channel sometime so you can keep up.
22. A five-day vacation requires only one suitcase.
A five-day vacation SHOULD only require one suitcase. What the Hell are you packing?
23. You can open all your own jars.
A complaint which has been rendered largely invalid by technology .
24. You get extra credit for the slightest act of thoughtfulness.
Really? From whom?
25. If someone forgets to invite you, he or she can still be your friend.
Unlike some genders, men are quite capable of such traits as forgiveness, understanding, and logic.
26. Your underwear is $8.95 for a three-pack.
If YOU are dumb enough to pay tons of money for clothing no one is going to see, that is hardly OUR fault.
27. Three pairs of shoes are more than enough.
Precisely. Cope.
28. You almost never have strap problems in public.
Some women need to wear bras. Why is this fact embarrassing?
29. You are unable to see wrinkles in your clothes.
Not exactly. We are unable to see a reason why this is a national emergency.
30. Everything on your face stays its original color.
What do you have on your face that changes color and why?
31. The same hairstyle lasts for years, maybe decades.
See #20.
32. You only have to shave your face and neck.
We don’t have to shave anything, and neither do you.
33. You can play with toys all your life.
So can you.
34. Your belly usually hides your big hips
This is true of some women, as well.
35. One wallet and one pair of shoes — one color for all seasons.
What does the season have to do with a wallet or shoes? Seriously.
36. You can wear shorts no matter how your legs look.
Why can’t you?
37. You can “do” your nails with a pocket knife.
So can you.
38. You have freedom of choice concerning growing a mustache.
So do you.
39. You can do Christmas shopping for 25 relatives on December 24 in 25 minutes.
See #20.

Current status: Bemused

Current music: Electric Requiem by QueensRyche